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BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Keep your eyes on the road
And in the knock me over with a feather department, people are addicted to their automobiles.
I’m not sure what the City of Vernon was expecting when it commissioned a $32,000 household travel survey, but there hasn’t been a mass conversion to alternate modes of transportation.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s working,” said Coun. Catherine Lord of efforts to shift residents from vehicles to bicycles, walking and transit.
No kidding, especially if you have found yourself at virtual gridlock on 32nd Street, by Safeway, and praying you may eventually reach 43rd Avenue to make a right-hand turn. Or, there’s trying to turn left on to 30th Street as a steady stream of traffic on 25th Avenue means you wait through a couple of red lights.
The survey shows the number of drivers in Vernon has gone from 69.4 per cent in 2007 to 70 per cent in 2013, while transit, school, bus, walking, cycling and other forms of transportation have gone from a combined 13.2 per to 13.8 per cent.
It’s quite likely more people would love to park their cars given skyrocketing fuel costs and bulging wastelines. The reasons for lacing up the runners or strapping on the bike helmet make complete sense.
That is, of course, until a little thing called life gets in the way.
“We have a family of six. What are we supposed to do, bike to Superstore and somehow manage to haul 10 bags of groceries back?” said resident Chris VanderMolen on The Morning Star’s Facebook page.
And waiting for the bus may not be all that convenient when you have to pick up a kid from school and get them to their math tutor or job within half-an-hour, or have just a few minutes to drop one off at karate and the other at dance. Families have very active schedules these days.
There have also been suggestions that single-occupancy vehicles could be abandoned if more people walked or cycled to work, but what time would you have to wake up and leave your Okanagan Landing or Foothills home to hoof it to your job downtown or at the north end?
And then there is an aromatic issue.
“It’s not realistic to think people will just change clothes and be ready to work after sweating the climbs (hills) here,” said another resident on Facebook.
In a presentation to city council, survey author Clark Lim said, “It’s a very walkable city and there’s a great downtown core. You can get many places without the automobile.”
I’m not sure where Lim calls home, but it’s obvious he hasn’t spent a lot of time lugging shopping bags from the mall to Mission Hill or Bella Vista.
With the survey in hand, city staff will now use the results to analyze trip patterns and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as establish future targets and update traffic growth models.
Also under scrutiny will be evolving demographics as more seniors may lead to fewer cars on the road and extra bums on the bus.
However, many seniors remain behind the wheel well into their 80s and 90s, so the link between an aging population and alternate modes of transportation may be slow to materialize, if at all.
In the end, investments should continue to be made in transit and pedestrian trails as they are extremely critical to easing traffic congestion. The fact that walking increased by 23.7 per cent between 2007 and 2013 is impressive, as is the doubling of those using transit or cycling.
But at the same time, city officials cannot forget the very realistic situations that families, workers and active seniors must face on a daily basis.
The need for vehicles won’t disappear any time soon and long-term planning must ensure that travel networks keep us all driving firmly ahead.