By Jay Ménard,
Tonight and tomorrow, our elected representatives will discuss the future of the BRT proposal. As I had a few hours to kill waiting in a hospital today, I wrote one final letter to all of them for consideration and sent it to them earlier.
I present it to you below.
This BRT issue presents an interesting challenge for many of you. I encourage you to vote to send this proposal back to the drawing board. And I’d like to support my argument by starting by quoting one statement — and ask you to read on carefully.
‘Great cities have great transit.’
That is true. But nowhere does it state that BRT, or the system that we’ve proposed currently will lead to great transit. I have posted regularly on the challenges with the engagement process (see links below), but what’s most concerning me is that we are putting the cart well before the horse here. Both advocates and detractors of the BRT proposal agree on one issue — we want better transit for the city.
The problem with defining the last step first (as we have with the proposal to approve the BRT plan this evening) is that every solution thereafter must be retrofit to justify that initial decision, instead of being weighed solely on the basis of being the best solution for its users. The problem you create by approving the BRT corridors as proposed is that all future answers will be to the wrong question. Instead of answering, ‘What’s the best solution to improve transit in London?’ the question will have to be framed as, ‘What’s the best solution that justifies the investment in the BRT corridors?’
Those two, while not mutually exclusive all the time, are certainly not the same question.
The advocates for BRT, including many of you on council, will say that route revisions and service improvements will be part of future phases of this project. But that’s absolutely the wrong way to do it. Instead, it’s important to understand what we have in the system, repurpose and maximize our current investment and resources, and develop a system that works as well as it can first. Then we can see what service improvements have been made, what’s worked, and, if necessary, what new technologies and rapid transit options we need to have to improve the service and meet demand.
Currently, we don’t know that. And if we approve the process as it stands, we never will.
The goals of improving transit are to increase reliability, encourage change in transportation patterns for users (both existing and potential), and improve traffic flow for all users. However, one could argue that we’ve already seen vast improvements in reliability and access with the advent of dedicated buses to and from Western to downtown and the express routes. Those are solutions that don’t require the substantial BRT investment, but have made an impact. Reimagining the entire route, with the focus on ‘how do we optimize what we currently have’ can meet those goals: it can improve service levels and speed; it can increase reliability; and it can make transit an attractive option for many people.
There’s just no shiny, political-career-defining benchmark to point back to in order to say we did something. What there will be, though, is a legacy of good fiscal management, prudent thinking, and a council committed to focusing on delivering the best solution for people’s actual needs. The shiny toy won’t exist, but a foundation for growth will be built — one that’s strong, fiscally prudent, and focused on doing things the right way instead of retrofitting to chase a flawed dream. That’s a foundation, as a politician, that I’d like to build my legacy upon.
The current transit system, with the proposed BRT fix, is akin to building a golden path to a beautiful front door — yet ignoring the giant holes in the other three walls of the house. You don’t build a house from a shiny roof down. You built the strong, unsexy, less-dynamic foundations. Why? Because that shiny roof will crash if the supports around it aren’t built properly. Yet that solid foundation can support multiple stages of growth, dreams, and visions for years to come.
Sure, you may not get your smiling face in the paper for the cheesy grip-n-grin staged photo at the groundbreaking. But amongst Londoners who care about long-term sustainability, respect for process, proper inclusive engagement, and solving the problems of the majority of Londoners who need it — including disabled and those working through more challenging economic situations who need to deal with the reality of transit, as opposed to those privileged enough to focus exclusively on a vision built in their own image — the legacy you will leave behind will be a strong, solid, long-term and effective solution.
Let’s go back to the drawing board. Let’s properly reach out to users. Let’s examine the challenges we face now, see our opportunities, and maximize what we have. And then, and only then, do we build for a future — not one based on hopes and dreams, but one that’s based on a proven market and need.
Thank you for your time and attention to this message. Thank you for the dedication and effort you’ve put into this project so far. I know you have a lot to consider and I do hope you take the time to get this right. For all of London.
And if you want some older reading material… I even found a post from back in 2007 that may be of interest!
- Who do you trust
- The BRT Crash: How we got there and how we move forward
- Solution for Polarized London’s Transit Debacle? A Drawing Board and Inclusive Listening Skills
- A One-Track Focus on LRT Bypasses Needs of the Many to Satisfy Vision of the Few (May 2016)
- Finding the Right Route (January 2007)