How long is too long to spend in your car? Is a two-hour commute to work too long? How about four hours to a vacation home?
Would you drive to work, back home and back to the city for dinner and a show?
Newfoundlanders are notorious for loving their cars. We demand parking directly in front of destinations and our highways are full of cars with single drivers inside. But everyone has a limit on how far they will travel.
Whether you’re talking about time in your car, on a plane or ferry, Newfoundland and Labrador is remote by national standards. Geographically, we’re vast and we have few large settlements, meaning transportation is more important to us than perhaps anywhere else in the country.
In terms of business and the economy, transportation networks are essential to keep this place moving.
Consider Bay Bulls as an example. Prior to the construction of the Robert Howlett Memorial Highway to the Southern Shore, the drive to St. John’s could take from 30 to 50 minutes from Bay Bulls. There had been no new development in the area in years and there was no industrial capacity.
Today, the town is booming, with more than a half-dozen new subdivisions and a huge marine terminal. Improved road networks allowed for a “rural community” to become a large town in a matter of years. A 20-minute drive made all the difference.
Compulsory commuting is a part of life today on the Avalon region and it’s not helping us get where we’re going any faster. Commute times affect economic performance, health and wellness, and the environment.
Newfoundland and Labrador reportedly has 100,000 more registered cars than people — a dichotomy that’s created a reliance on road networks as the primary means of moving people and goods.
Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012, a survey carried out by Money Sense Magazine, ranks 190 Canadian cities on factors of livability. On the list, St. John’s ranks fourth in new car ownership. On the ability to ride a bike or walk to work we ranked 73rd out of 190 cities.
If the Avalon region doesn’t have integrated, efficient and effective transportation links, we are putting a ceiling on our own economy.
Transportation networks are one area where the communities in the Avalon region can work together for the benefit of us all. Further, by working together, good regional transportation could become more than a concept.
Alternate modes of transportation are good for business, resulting in higher customer counts and greater shopping frequency.
The recent Brookings Institute Study on American transportation shows that for every $1 million spent on infrastructure for biking and walking, 11 to 14 jobs are created, while only seven jobs are created by every
$1 million spent on highways
A major aspect of regional transportation is public transit, an issue that is still hotly debated within the Northeast Avalon.
In fact, Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow French said that while he believes regional transit is necessary, he doesn’t believe people will ride from Seal Cove to
Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms does not believe a regional transit system is necessary for the metro area. His counterpart in Paradise, Mayor Ralph Wiseman, agrees.
Indeed, even Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien said the public transit system, while necessary, is not a priority or the responsibility of the provincial government. He also questioned whether people under the age of 60 years would use such a system.
Our members — that means more than 880 businesses and their thousands of employees — have told us in numerous surveys that regional transportation is their second most important municipal issue.
They’ve also ranked regional transportation — roads, public transit, parking and general transportation planning — as the worst of the services provided in the Avalon region.
In this region, we know that nearly 50 per cent of the people working in the downtown live outside the city proper.
But public transit would reduce the congestion of Topsail and Kenmount roads. It would mitigate the environmental impact of all that driving and the cost to upgrade such expensive road networks. None of this will become a reality without the support of other towns and cities in the region.
As well, people who live in St. John’s work in other places, too, just as those in Paradise, Torbay and Mount Pearl commute to the centre city.
That’s why the board is making this an election issue.
Now, let’s get out of our cars for a second and think about the bigger picture.
Every candidate should be asked what their stance is on regional transportation — and have a good answer.
Common sense would suggest that regionalizing transit isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity for every community. The question is, how far are the candidates willing to go to get your vote?
Denis Mahoney is chairman
of the St. John’s Board of Trade.