ENERGY MATTERS: Car-centric system unworkable

If we were living in Nanaimo a century ago, we would be thinking about transportation mainly in terms of boats, horses, and by foot.

If we were living in Nanaimo a century ago, we would be thinking about transportation mainly in terms of boats, horses, and by foot.

Our sense of connection and community was far greater, transportation was inexpensive, and we were in better shape.

Today, everything is spread out and fast-paced. This costs us in terms of reduced health, a sense of isolation and greater fear, as well as financially.

The average motor vehicle annually eats up a whopping $10,000, or about the same as many income assistance recipients.

Incredibly, for many others, transportation costs more than either housing or food, even without adding the road portion of property taxes.

As fossil fuel prices rise, transportation costs spiral. Virtually all motor vehicles depend on these stored sources of the sun’s energy, and this dependency is unlikely to change in any significant way for the next couple of decades.

The widening of Bowen Road, the most expensive capital project Nanaimo has ever undertaken, will continue our dependence to the single occupancy motor vehicle.

The Bowen project is so car-centred that it even fails to incorporate cycling lanes. As the March 15 editorial in the News Bulletin clearly articulated, this way of thinking only worsens the problem.

As such, we are doomed to continue to be car reliant, suffer rapidly rising property taxes, more air pollution, reduced provincial funding, reduced health outcomes and more.

Some will reply that there are wide sidewalks being built on the Bowen project, and that bicycles should go there.

This does three things:

It makes life far more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians (witness the recent death of a cyclist who collided with a pedestrian). Second, it sends the signal that cars are more important than are bicycles.

Third, it makes life easier for car traffic.

If we are to take transportation costs, air quality and health seriously, we must make it more difficult for cars (especially single-occupancy vehicles), while making “alternative” modalities easier.

Unless we seriously move into cost-effective, efficient, public transportation, separated cycle and walking paths, and designing neighbourhoods so as to minimize our car dependency, most of us can expect to pay a lot more to get around, make hospitals even more crowded, diminish our sense of community, and far more.

While nobody advocates for a return to transportation of a century ago, the punishing health, social and financial costs of the current system is simply unworkable for the 21st century.

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Ian Gartshore chairs the non-profit Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island (www.esvi.ca).