Opinion: Vote Yes in transit plebiscite if you want highrise congestion

The transit plebiscite is not just about “transit.” It’s about politics, and the manipulation of the public with missing or incorrect information. It’s about incompetent leadership, and ultimately the destruction of our city and our whole valley.

We have seen the big names who say “vote yes,” from Jimmy Pattison to the Mayors’ Council, to the B.C. government. In spite of that, the citizens smell a rat. It’s a total distrust of TransLink and its fat cat CEO, board of directors, and everybody else in the top positions; and at the nuts and bolts level: idle, costly turnstiles, everything going wrong and costing a fortune to fix. Who could possibly trust these same people to guide the huge expenditure proposed?

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The actual amount of money to be raised by the tax, or the total cost of the work, keep changing, and are strangely not on the ballot. How can this be tolerated?

Perhaps the worst misinformation is stating that if you vote “no” you will be forever stuck with an inadequate transit system. Don’t worry. When our provincial government feels the heat and is ready, it will simply push through transit expansion like it always did, without asking for our opinion.

We are told that improving and extending transit will improve air quality. It’s good for our lungs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But in fact, transit will accelerate housing development right up the Fraser Valley, and no, the lines will not stop at Langley City; they’re headed for Chilliwack. Every new dwelling in the Fraser Valley brings a car with it.

Our government tells us that a population explosion of a million people or more is coming into the Lower Mainland and is unstoppable. If that is true, our beautiful valley will be congested, polluted, destroyed. Highrises will stretch from here to Chilliwack. But such cancerous growth can be controlled if that is the will of the people. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Because Vancouver is the focus of the transit initiative we should look closely at that city. No citizen of Vancouver in recent times has seen a true, comprehensive, and professional plan for its growth, because such a plan does not exist. Some of us have seen fragmented pieces of a city plan; but nothing that ties it all together, nothing credible, nothing that we had the slightest influence upon. But if you ask a city planner, he will tell you that the proposed increased densities for city growth parallel and must reflect the transit system. So, the transit tail is wagging the city dog.

TransLink and its designers lay the lines and our council happily surrounds them with highrises. This notion totally obstructs any creative, sophisticated city planning, and will inevitably replicate Manhattan. The streets become tunnels between highrise walls. The single family residences behind these tunnels are destroyed, their owners move out, and no community is possible any longer.

Long ago there was something called the Livable Region Plan for the Fraser Valley, whose title tells its intentions, now scrapped by the government as obsolete.

Then there was the Agricultural Land Reserve: brilliant, far-sighted, intuitively accepted by the public, even in those days before science showed us the peril we were in from global warming and world population explosion. The ALR has been under vicious attack for some time by governments determined to black top our farmland and help out their buddies. None of the above regional planning stuff is referenced in the plebiscite material.

The first, most critical issue to be considered is long term population growth in the Fraser Valley. How many people can we handle without destroying our environment? How exactly will we impose these limits? What should it look like?

A new scheme should be clear, explicit, phased, and not stop at Langley. Citizens must be involved.

To achieve this we must first reject the transit plebiscite as it stands. Tell our government to come back to us in one year with a new team, and a believable, comprehensive scheme of regional planning that respects our city and valley, that controls population growth, and the transit lines and other facilities to service it.

Hubert Culham’s professional career has been in architecture and planning. He is a Vancouver resident.


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