Martin: Is it great transit or great mobility?

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As a transportation policy analyst for 25 years, Rocky Moretti thinks London has developed a bus rapid transit (BRT) plan that fails to provide better mobility for all Londoners. He knows what he’s talking about.

The city, Moretti says, came up with a solution to a problem it didn’t properly identify or address. So, the BRT plan will actually reduce mobility for some Londoners and fails to anticipate a future of ride-sharing, adaptive traffic lights, autonomous buses and cars. Not to mention the growing trend to work at home and “tele-commute.”

“I think the current BRT proposal fails to anticipate the tremendous changes that are coming about in how mobility is provided and consumed,” he says. By 2025, for instance, Helsinki will abandon public transit for door-to-door services. Oklahoma City has begun to rediscover its river for travel.

Moretti’s concerns come on the eve of a city council vote Tuesday to okay a business case to persuade Ottawa and Queen’s Park to contribute $370 million to the city’s $500 million BRT plan, despite no agreement with Western University across whose campus the 24-kilometre system will run.

Moretti is director of policy and research for TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that deals with a wide variety of transportation issues, such as traffic congestion, road safety, the condition of roads and bridges, transportation planning and air quality. He is also a Londoner, born here 57 years ago, and who returned in 2003.

“A number of people have reached out to me,” says the resident of North London, who shares his thoughts and expertise on the local situation voluntarily.

He has followed the transit debate closely for about 18 months, despite his travels, discovering “everyone in this discussion is motivated by a concern for the city. There are no villains.”

But he thinks unnecessary haste has produced a BRT plan that fails to address the mobility needs of all Londoners.

“We need a regional mobility plan . . . that includes users of fixed route public transit, people relying on private vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, in-line skaters, even canoeists and kayakers. We need to optimize current transportation corridors, take what we have and make it better.”

One obvious fix needed is the CP Rail crossing on Adelaide Street.

Moretti says the BRT plan eliminates lanes for motorists and creates bottlenecks, rather than eliminate them. Motorists forced off major arterials will divert to residential streets, he warns. Businesses unable to get customers or deliveries to their door will move to suburban locations, adding to sprawl.

Public transit is not growing. Across the United States in 2016, vehicle-kilometres travelled were up three per cent, he says, while transit ridership dropped three per cent. Another study shows that in 21 metropolitan areas which developed urban rail systems since 1970, mass transit’s share of work trips has declined about five per cent.

U.S. News and World Report identified 100 “great places to live” in the U.S. Moretti says of the 46 best comparators for London, he found only five have light rail, heavy rail or BRT systems. That puts the lie to one local slogan: “Great transit makes great cities.”

Instead, he says, “It is more accurate to say great cities have great mobility.”

“We need to take the time to design a regional mobility plan that benefits all Londoners and supports the region’s future aspirations,” he says. “I thought we moved too quickly to a solution.”

“Our focus should be on mobility,” he says, not something that reflects a “modal bias” in favour of trains, buses, streetcars, or other conveyances.

Moretti served on a blue-ribbon panel of experts that reported to the U.S. Congress on new surface transportation options and was the director of the Alliance for Clean Air and Transportation which promoted environment friendly transportation in the U.S.

He says he is entering the current transit debate because he loves the city his family left when he was 13.

“I came back to this city, because I love this city. I feel I have knowledge that could be useful,” he says.

“I can’t simply sit this out.”

We should consider his advice.

Chip Martin is a retired ­London Free Press reporter and author of books on crime and baseball. 

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