The citizens of Vernon were witness to what may have been an historic event in Canada when business owners marched in the street with placards in opposition to the transportation policies of the city government.
What is to be concluded from this demonstration of dissatisfaction? First, there is a breakdown in communication between business and the City of Vernon. Second, street shrinkage is not conducive to the pursuit of business. Furthermore, the petition shows residents do not support reducing street capacity
There are reasons for the anger being expressed over the implementation of the City of Vernon transportation plan 2008-2031.
The plan is based on a strategy referred to as transportation demand management. The strategy grew out of the oil crisis in the early 1970s and is designed to encourage the use of transit, bicycling, carpooling and discourage the use of the private vehicle.
It is doubtful if the residents were aware that implementation of the strategy is coercive and would include shrinking roads, the proliferation of bicycle lanes and enlarged bicycle, walking lanes. In other words, the city failed to communicate the implementation specifics of the strategy.
What are the factors that militate against the successful implementation of such a strategy and is there evidence that they can be eliminated or modified?
Vernon is similar to other North American cities, having succumbed to box stores and urban sprawl. Simultaneously, all civic services, including public transit, are more effectively and efficiently provided when there is population densification. To achieve the level of density required, land use policies will have to change and development incentives be introduced.
Employment opportunities are critical to the realization of a vibrant community. The main centres of employment in Vernon are the City of Vernon, the hospital, and the box-store retail trade. There are no defined industrial or business parks.
From the 2006 census, 78 per cent of those employed reported using a car, truck or van to get to their place of employment. While less than one per cent reported use of public transit and 11 per cent reported they walked or bicycled. This indicates a wide area dispersal of employment that, without incentives and land use modification, presents a public transportation challenge.
Again, from the 2006 census data 27.83 per cent of the population is reported as 60-plus years old.
A number of seniors drive personal vehicles. Ask them what their biggest concern is and safety tops the list.
Does increasing the number of bike lanes, shrinking streets and adding a plethora of left turn lanes, which results in the misalignment of through traffic lanes, make the streets safer or, does it increase complexity, thereby increasing risk for all motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists?
An example of this quandary played out in city council, as reported in The Morning Star, when council ruminated over the latest accident statistics. Judging by the staff suggestion, which was to hire a consultant, they were not good. Perhaps it would be more informative to ask the user where the safety risks and problems are.
There are two other realities that must be factored into any transportation plan for Vernon. First, the climate is not conducive to a mode other than vehicular travel for at least four months of the year. Second, the terrain results in radical changes in elevation on many of the streets making walking or cycling attractive to only the enthusiast.
Vernon is a service hub for the surrounding rural area, towns and villages, and the city is supplied by 18-wheelers. The residents have chosen a lifestyle involving large vehicles, large boats, RVs and motor homes.
There is no evidence to indicate any change in preferences and hence a more balanced transportation plan that addresses reality is required.
M.E. Tinck, Vernon