Comment: The future is in rail transit, not more highways

The editorial on bus lanes (“Don’t give up on bus lanes, Sept. 10) could well have been headlined: “Give up on bus lanes,” and directed to those who promote highways and bus lanes.

The gift handed down to us — our rail corridors — is being completely ignored. Appeals go unheard for having a West Shore commute on the E&N rail line, especially during construction of the McKenzie interchange. (Of course, buses will be needed to serve the rail.)

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By using these corridors, the many who would prefer to travel by rail, not by bus, would be provided that option, rather than being forced to drive, forced to accept more highways, traffic lights and delays.

The concept of bus lanes is a close relative to that of using more highways and intersections as “the answer” to a transportation problem. Examples from the 1960s are Los Angeles, Seattle, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and many others, all now restoring rail. Our immediate need is to install rail transit now, rather than wasting time and money on bus lanes.

This region does not have a “too few people problem” that denies us rail; it has a geographical challenge, as illustrated in the accompanying line map.

The map shows our region divided at Six Mile. There, a narrow corridor, less than 144 metres wide, has major regional water and sewer lines, two major roadways and two unused rail corridors.

One rail corridor, the E&N, still has its rails. The other, the former CN line, is now referred to as the Galloping Goose Trail.

This walking and cycling trail is an asphalt path about 3.8 metres wide. But the actual width of the right-of-way itself is just over 20 metres. As a double-track of rail needs only 7.3 metres, there remain 6.4 metres for a walking trail plus the same for a cycling trail. Active people in those groups will benefit greatly when rail goes in.

With modern infrastructure, each of those two corridors is capable of handling thousands of passengers per hour. Expansion would require simply a more-frequent service or longer trains.

The line map shows transit exchanges at Six Mile and Uptown. For those living on the Peninsula, in the Western communities or over the Malahat, rail will provide an excellent, elegant and reliable ride to those centres. The same applies to folks whose destination is the airport or ferries.

Note that although the map has straight lines, it is intended that the actual route would go to the centres indicated. Likewise, Victoria General Hospital’s main entrance would be served by the line west from Uptown.

Some claim that rail is expensive. That misinformation has been used in many a downplay of it. Our unchallenged figures indicate that a full renewal of the E&N line, Victoria to Westhills, would be half the cost of the McKenzie project. It would also be many more times the value for money.

Apart from money, what of climate change, greenhouse gases and sustainability? Rail answers all.

If we are to avoid the agony of having ever more highways and major intersections thrust upon our precious tourist-attracting landscape, we must elect politicians who value our rail transportation corridors and will dedicate themselves to getting rail into operation.

This region — this Island — is the best place on Earth to live, but transportation dulls that bright view, and 1960s-style “solutions” will dull it further.

Other cities are setting the example that we must follow if we are to to see our transportation dollars actually improving life.

Let us choose our future.

Dick Faulks of Victoria has actively promoted rail transportation for 30 years through presentations, writings and by participating in local transportation studies.

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