A “Road” We Must Follow Further

Our region took a huge step forward this month as the Capital Regional District Board unanimously approved a motion from its Planning, Transportation and Protective Services Committee asking for a staff report on establishing a regional transportation function.  Essentially, this means examining how the CRD could take over planning and decision making for regional aspects of transportation. At the board meeting, directors Dean Fortin and Frank Leonard sponsored an amendment which added some welcome clarity but did not substantially change the committee’s motion.

The move to establish a regional transportation approach is long overdue. Currently, we have a dysfunctional model in which BC Transit runs the bus system, the Ministry of Transportation controls some roads and thirteen municipalities try to plan within their own borders. It’s hard, if not impossible, to develop a comprehensive, visionary, regional approach with such fragmentation.

Creating that comprehensive transportation vision is a must to avoid a congested future mess that steals mobility and quality of life from all of us. But it’s more than that. We know that compact, denser development patterns are needed to create a sustainable region for the future. Transportation choices are an important factor in determining that kind of land use. Put dedicated right of way transit such as light rail next to where you want density and you say to the development community: “We are here with necessary infrastructure and we are here for the long term”. Numerous examples across North America and the world suggest industry will respond. As we move forward, we must insure that regional aspects of planning for both transportation and land use are closely connected.

Undoubtedly, the push for a regional approach to transportation will stimulate the usual cries for amalgamation. Those who would push the “A Word” are likely wrong. In planning our future region, two interconnected, but distinct, processes are involved: creating the framework or skeleton for the region we want and putting the “flesh on the bones” in local communities and neighbourhoods.

Spreading authority amongst 13 municipalities and other agencies is not the best way to accomplish these two tasks but neither is an amalgamated, monopolistic mega-government. Best practices elsewhere suggest we should provide authority for regional decision making where it is needed, while retaining local authority to respond to local differences and preferences.  Getting the correct blend of regional and municipal authority will not be easy but it’s the best way to go.

We have started down “the road” to a sustainable future for our region and its communities. Let’s hope we find our way without being detoured by jurisdictional disputes or fruitless arguments about amalgamation. The stakes are just too great.

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