I went to the GWAC monthly meeting last night, and I am glad that I did. Learned a great deal of useful information, and you can’t claim that for every two hours in your life.
The meeting began with a presentation by Tamim Raad, former Director of Strategic Planning at Translink. The topic was “Building Better Communities: Best Practices in Transortation Policy.” This was a fast-paced, well-illustrated presentation by a speaker who, knowing his stuff down pat, needed no notes and who could respond rapidly to questions asked.
He took us through some of the basic principles of transportation planning based on time/distance served, and introduced the concept of Marchetti’s Constant which states: “people gradually adjust their lives to their conditions … such that the average travel time stays approximately constant” So, when walking was the basic mode of transport, cities could rarely be more than 5 km wide, or, say, an hour’s walk. The introduction of the streetcar expanded the efficient width of a city to about 15 kms, and this created the streetcar suburbs. Finally, the automobile exploded the available distance to what we see today in the Lower Mainland.
Raad noted his view that Grandview is a streetcar suburb within an auto city. He agreed that Grandview is already one of the most densely settled parts of the region. He said the average density in the region is 20 people per hectare, while Grandview’s density is already 80-120 people per hectare.
He noted his strong preference for walkable neighbourhoods, which means designing a permeable street structure to optimize traffic choices and thus reduce single-point congestion.
He expressed his opinion (and no doubt that of Translink) that investment in infrastructure has fallen woefully behind both population and, just as importantly, the available choices. He said that no matter how many times you hear politicians say their priorities are (1) pedestrians (2) cyclists (3) transit (4) cars, that is not how the money is actually being spent in the region. He sadly reported that even the very best planners have to live within a political environment that constrains the choices.
It was an impressive and valuable presentation. It is a shame that Raad had not been invited to speak to the Citizens’ Assembly. The members would have learned a great deal and I am sure their recommendations would have been affected by a new wisdom. The organizers could make time for a sales pitch by Boffo, but they couldn’t get an expert of this quality on something so important? Yet another chance lost in this endless Community Plan saga.
The second half of the evening was the begining of a conversaton about the Trasportation Priorities proposed by a GWAC Committee and which were described at length in a previous post. It was good to see that Mr. Raad stayed, and indeed participated, in this more local discussion. Priorities #1 and #2 were generally approved by the meeting. However, a shortness of time and the volume of issues raised on other points precluded any further specific decisions. However, let me quickly say that all the discussion and debate was extremely valuable, in good spirit, and I learned even more things (about the problems of the #7 bus, for example).
It was agreed by everyone that these are important matters and it is worth talking them out before GWAC approaches City Council and/or Transportation Department with them.
I have to express my concern that only seventeen residents (other than GWAC Directors) came out for the discussion. This is important stuff, folks; stuff that will affect your day-to-day lives. And Tamim Raad specifically pointed to groups like GWAC that can be the best channels for influencing Translink policy.