Sun columnist and radio DJ Tyler Glen sparked some interesting conversations in the city with an item on Saturday dreaming of a “bullet train” that would cut the BrandonWinnipeg commute to 20 minutes.
If there was a special section for people travelling with IKEA flat-pack furniture, such a trip might even pay for itself — but the multibillion-dollar construction cost means this idea isn’t likely to leave the station.
But, as Brandon holds its breath for a delayed announcement from WestJet on new air service, it seems as if transportation is on the minds of many.
City council, for example, is committing $50,000 (matched by the feds) to a trial run of Sunday bus service. Brandon Transit will move to the seven-day schedule for four months in fall, with the hope that it becomes permanent in 2014.
We submit that such a change is long overdue — and should have been made when Sunday shopping rules were relaxed in the 1990s.
Councillors are also debating again the on-again, off-again pedestrian mall project downtown, including the converted one-way streets with angled parking.
We’re glad to see conversation in this city evolve past the “synchronize lights and pave potholes” phase. While maintenance and traffic control will always be essential, we think Brandon is big enough for some transportation experiments.
Sunday bus service is a great start. Brandon is a tough place to live without a car — tougher still if the buses aren’t running. Workers who must rely on taxis to go to and from their Sunday shifts take a huge financial hit.
If the city is serious about prioritizing transit ridership, we think the next logical step is to double service, so that buses run every 15 minutes instead of every half-hour — turning the calamity of missing the bus into an inconvenience.
And careful oversight will be required to avoid any future boondoggles like a shopping centre parking lot that can’t accommodate city buses.
We’re more cautious in our support for the pedestrian mall. Politicians playing at urban design managed to add 70 parking slots downtown. Too bad they put them on the wrong side of the street. Business-owners downstream from the pedestrian mall were also concerned when their traffic dried up.
A more vibrant, pedestrian-oriented downtown district is a laudable goal, shared by many other cities. Many of them are moving away from one-way traffic and restoring two-way traffic. This naturally slows down vehicles and reduces driver confusion. The success of pedestrian malls in other cities also seems to be determined by the number of people who live or work nearby. Putting up a few barricades — as pretty or as permanent as they are — will not necessarily ensure a functional pedestrian mall.
That’s why we were so disheartened to learn that the city isn’t making as much progress on building code equivalency as it had hoped. It’s a major part of the much-touted Roadmap for Growth and will be essential for the future. Too many downtown buildings sit empty or nearly empty because it’s impossible to make a heritage building fully modern. If all of those second- and third storeys were filled with apartments, not only would it help ease the tight rental market in this city, but a couple thousand more people would be living downtown. That would give a natural shot in the arm to downtown businesses.
Another possibility to consider as council weighs both downtown and transit issues is the future of the downtown bus mall. Does it still make sense in this growing city to force all bus riders to make a stop downtown?
Of course, any transformations are likely to be met with howls of protest, but that shouldn’t dissuade us from trying. Brandon has a long track record of noisy complaints when it comes to change — almost as long as our track record of successfully embracing that change. Just look at our traffic circles for proof.
Despite loud scoffing and complaints when the first roundabout was unveiled at 34th Street and Willowdale Crescent, others have followed. There are now three, and the biggest complaint we hear is that there should be more (Kirkcaldy Drive is frequently mentioned).
We appreciate this incremental improvement in our city. Because despite the bullet-train dreams of some, it’s slow and steady that wins the race.