Imagine a trolley car gliding down a Terrace street

European-style public transit can work in North America

“Evietato attraversare la linea gialla!” This might be a line from Dante’s Inferno were it not so pedestrian. It is probably the most spoken line in Italy (after the Hail Mary). Throughout Europe in various languages, its message is the same. “It is forbidden to cross the yellow line.”

In train stations, a broad yellow line about two feet from a platform’s edge warns travellers they are getting too close. Trains drift into the stations swiftly, regularly, and remorselessly. Occasionally a high-speed train will rocket through a station at about a hundred miles an hour. Yellow means danger.

Millions of Europeans cross the yellow line daily, but only after the train stops. Then swarms of travelers exit and enter train and subway cars, and usually within less than two minutes the train departs again.

In all of Europe, the number of people killed by trains is, on average, less than .5 per billion passenger kilometers travelled. Compared to Canada’s automobile record (in 2011, the last year statistics are readily available) of over seven per billion, their trains are amazingly safe.

These trains are part of the fabulous transportation infrastructure available in Europe. Enter any major city in Europe and public transportation is available to take you almost anywhere at comparatively low cost, conveniently and quickly.

Between cities high-speed trains, often powered by solar-generated electricity, speed passengers to their destinations at nearly 300 kilometers per hour. The ride is smooth and quiet. Children colour (within the lines) on the tables between seats. A polite hostess may drift by inquiring whether or not you would like a drink. Trains arrive, usually within minutes of scheduled time, at city centers, near hotels and business centers.

Within cities all manner of transport is available. U-bahns (underground trains or subways) create webs of high-speed transport between central railway stations and various suburban hub locations and nearby towns. On the surface, trams and buses follow logical routes at brief intervals (it is uncommon to wait more than 15 minutes for a bus or tram), usually within urban regions, but also by express to further destinations.

In Amsterdam, a city of about 700,000, there are nearly 800,000 bicycles! Cyclists travel dedicated lanes all over the city. Pedestrians soon learn to listen for bike bells and the whiz of quiet tires. In Vienna free bicycles may be taken from a rack in one area of the city and left at another official location miles away. Why steal a bike when they’re so freely available?

Getting virtually anywhere in these cities, or between cities, is simple, fast and convenient within the European Union. Governments have planned for this convenience, made it happen. It’s wonderful: it’s clean, comparatively quiet, well-organized, and for the consumer, inexpensive, especially when parking may run anywhere up to a hundred Euros a day.

Shopping areas are likewise efficient.  With a subway entrance or a bus connection every few hundred meters, subways and buses feed consumers into broad pedestrian-only streets that feature hundreds of specialty shops and ultramodern interior malls fronting onto them. Shopping can be done at leisure in pleasure and safety.

Although we face somewhat different challenges (distance, climate), we can continue to make a greater public commitment to efficient public transportation between and within cities and towns.

Consider Edmonton and Calgary, two major centers about 300 km. apart. A high-speed train could take travelers from city center to city center in little more than an hour, without the hassles of paranoid airline personnel or the nerve-wracking drain of a five-hour highway journey. Let’s fund Via Rail to turn it into a world-class travel experience: fast, efficient and comfortable.

Imagine Lakelse Avenue as a pedestrian mall from Kalum Street to Eby, without those unsightly mall parking lots. Perhaps a pair of electric trolleys could ferry people and their packages from one end to the other. The trolleys would simply run back and forth at predictable speed and intervals, intersecting with a central bus hub that connects to further areas.

What the Europeans understand is the nature of public good, that is, if public infrastructure is well built, operated and maintained, people will happily use it. Let’s see more yellow lines here.

Retired teacher Al Lehmann lives in Terrace, BC.

 

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