“...Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” by Margaret Mead

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

7  Discovering Enough:  Getting Around

Human society from the family home to the largest cities to the whole planet requires some means of getting around in order to function.  People naturally adapt to the modes of transportation available to them. How we design and develop our transportation systems define what are communities are and what they can be. 

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people got around on foot or by animal and life was very localized.  Public transit trolleys were initially animal drawn. The development of steam engines during the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th Century changed the way we worked and allowed us to travel longer distances. The discovery and use of oil for transportation fuel at the beginning of the 20th century and the advent of the private automobile has dramatically defined and altered the villages, towns and urban centres that we currently inhabit.

People travel to Europe to experience their way of life.  The communities of Europe were built prior to steam and fossil fuelled transportation.  They were originally designed  to be experienced on foot at a slower 3-5 mph pace.  This resulted in the use of human scale architectural details that can only be experienced at a slow pace and are inherently suited for pedestrian streets, bicycles, small parks and courtyards, small shops, and comfortable public spaces.  People can stop and talk with their neighbours. Shoppers and store owners know each other.  Place of socialization and recreation are accessible by the broad population.

Since the middle of the 20th century, North American cities and towns have been primarily designed to accommodate vehicular transportation with very little secondary consideration given to pedestrian modes of getting around.  Urban renewal projects condemned our older pedestrian neighbourhoods and dramatically modified them to serve the automobile.  The loss of the pedestrian community was replaced by a built environment lacking in human scale detailing and it is now experienced from within a vehicle traveling at high speeds.

Regional shopping malls were created to serve vehicular traffic and to replace what was originally available in pedestrian scale neighbourhoods.  Malls are designed and operated by a small group, not  by community consensus.  The environment is tightly controlled with little individual expression.  The shoppers are numerous and unknowable.  The stores are predominately national chains and rarely know their customers on a personal basis.  Shopping malls are shining examples of what we had and what we have lost.

Cities could redefine themselves with multi-modal means of getting around and a interconnected network of service and social nodes.  

New neighbourhood development and older neighbourhood retrofits could mandate pedestrian pathways and walkways as the primary means that allow neighbourhood residents to connect to small local businesses, churches, wellness centres, small scale nursing facilities, neighbourhood elementary schools, parks and playgrounds.  People should be able and encouraged to meet their everyday basic needs on foot within their neighbourhoods.

Mid-size district shopping centres or service nodes could be accessible primarily on foot or by an interconnecting network of public transportation.  Medium size businesses could offer basic items that are not part of the everyday needs of residents.  Goods could be purchased and delivered by the businesses rather than private vehicles.  District shopping centres could provide access to government service centres, district police and fire services, medical clinics, professional offices, libraries, middle schools, post offices, etc.

Urban cores accessible by foot, public transportation, taxis and lastly by private cars could provide major service and business activity, e.g. corporate offices, city government services, hospitals, arenas, museums, performing arts centres, high schools and universities, public gathering spaces, etc.  Residential development in the core would be dense by nature and served locally to the greatest extent possible.  Non-retail businesses could encourage their employees to use public transportation by providing passes rather than building and maintaining parking lots.  Retail businesses or business associations could offer public transportation rebates to their customers. 

Major urban cities could be interconnected by a system of light rail and busses. Four-lane highways cost $3 - 4 million dollars per kilometre to construct, not to mention the cost they require maintain. 

New Brunswick would remain connected to other provinces and the world by rail and air.  However, the need for multiple airports could be negated by connecting the different urban centres to a central airport facility by rail and bus. New Brunswick subsidizes 13 airports;  Ottawa (pop. 1 million) subsidizes one airport.

New Brunswick has limited itself essentially to planes and automobiles to interconnect its villages, towns and cities and to connect itself with other provinces and countries. Building roads and subsidizing airports are the most expensive modes of getting around for its population of 750,000 residents.  

Rail was used to interconnect communities prior to air travel or the private car, but has been allowed to decline or disappear.  We have no provincial rail system and the national VIA Rail system offers service only three day a week.  Rail is dependable, creates jobs and a more economical way of moving people.  Planes make sense for travel between New Brunswick and British Columbia;  trains make sense for travel between Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John. 

A final word on public transportation:  Public transportation was not and never has been developed to produce a revenue neutral enterprise.  For example, the airline industry could not operate without large government subsidies.  Public transportation is built and operated to provide universal public access to business and services which generate incomes and jobs that result in an expanded tax base that supports general public services including public transportation. 

The average cost of owning and maintaining a private automobile is between $5000 and $8000 per year.  New options are being developed everyday to private ownership, e.g. shared car pools, Uber service and expanded public transit systems.

Imagine the quality of cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods that could be created if we thought about getting around using a public transit system for the majority of our travel needs, e.g. visiting families and friends, going to work, going to school, running errands, etc.

Following are a series of personal opinion pieces as to where New Brunswick could head in the future.  With the effects of global climate change becoming more obvious each day and the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground becoming more imperative, these opinion pieces will put forth alternate ideas for job creation within a sustainable economy.  
Richard Lachance

Cocagne NB

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