Over the course of the election campaign it was clear to me, as I worked the ferry lineups, that transportation on Bowen is a big issue. We heard, loud and clear, that there are few options for moving around the island. The lack of active transportation infrastructure permeates our newly-adopted transportation plan –it was the primary reason residents felt they had to use a car. They felt they didn’t have a choice. While we will probably be complaining about traffic and ferry marshalling in 20 years, I think most would agree that the “build it to meet demand” model has hit a wall and no amount of blasting is likely to provide a solution that will meet our future needs.
We are starting to see issues that will need a different mindset, one that doesn’t push the problem down the road for another generation to solve. Solutions that are affordable, create a safe and pleasant community and are environmentally sustainable.
The construction of the new bike barn is a great example of a new way of thinking about transportation and it is why I was so giddy recently when I saw a number of young students using their woodworking skills erecting one of the walls. The project will hopefully be the start of many new projects identified in our transportation plan, a plan that has, at its core, a goal to move people, not cars.
The bike barn, at a cost of $35,000 (paid for through a Translink program and reportedly under budget) is a relatively small project and won’t solve all of our traffic problems but it will be one of many initiatives that will hopefully lead to happier commuters. This is, in my opinion, the goal of any successful transportation plan.
My most memorable experience running for council this past election was a conversation I had with a young mother waiting for the ferry to load. She brought up her number one concern, transportation, and teared up as she explained to me how she leaves the house before her kids get up and gets home late at night, just in time to cook supper and go to bed. “My commutes are taking away so much of my family time, it has really been stressful for my entire family,” she told me. Her commutes were definitely the most miserable part of her day. If happiness is at the heart of good transportation planning, for this Islander we have fallen short.
So, how does the bike barn relate to happiness and a better transportation future on island? Why the excitement? For starters, this project will save our municipality a tonne of money. You can translate that to lower taxes and a more affordable lifestyle. In speaking with many summer cyclists and motorcyclists, the mother I spoke with being a cyclist, winters are miserable. Many give up the two wheels for four, not by choice but by necessity. Leaving your bike in the rain for the entire day is just not feasible: it destroys the bike and who wants to return from a tough day at the office to a wet bike, seat and helmet? A covered bike parking area will change all that. A secure location, protected from the elements is often all that is needed to encourage year-round, two-wheeled commuting. And I believe it will. The winter switch back to the car leads to more people parking in our “free” parking lot, taking away space for others. I highlight the word “free” because there is of course nothing free about this parking. It sits on land worth upwards of two million dollars, a bill we all pay for through taxes. It is the most costly parking we can possibly provide, space that is very limited in the cove. Projects such as the bike barn save us an incredible amount of money, provide residents with a healthy and environmentally-sustainable way to move and are meeting the need of Boweners to travel in an enjoyable manner. I suspect the barn will fill up fast, especially when we begin work next year on our cross-island path. What a nice problem to have.
Whether it is a bike barn, a walk-on ferry to downtown, a transit-fare-free zone on Bowen or simply better sidewalks to encourage walking, I see a very bright future ahead of us when it comes to increasing transportation choices. These choices will ultimately make all of us happier and save the Muni (us) a whole whack of money.