That remains relevant, especially with the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program announcing recently that it has settled on light rail as the transit option for a new I-5 Bridge. As The Columbian wrote editorially in agreeing with that announcement: “Including light rail on a new Interstate 5 Bridge is the best decision for both the present and the future.”
There are good arguments to support that position. Just are there are good reasons to oppose light rail. Hence, a healthy dose of confusion, doubt and uncertainty.
One argument against light rail is that Vancouver does not have the population to support a fixed-rail system. My family recently took a vacation to Chicago, where a robust public transit system allows for easy access to any part of the city and makes you wonder why not every city has it. But the neighborhood where we stayed has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile, creating much different needs than Vancouver’s density of 3,800.
Another argument against light rail is that it will invite a criminal element into Vancouver. This is specious fear-mongering and should be ignored in favor of grown-up discussions about light rail.
And then there is the nagging reality that it is expensive to lay down fixed rails for an inflexible system. Buses have more ability to meet the changing needs of the public, to extend to meet new population growth and to reach new destinations.
There is nothing new about any of these arguments. We have been pondering them in these parts for more than a decade. Which brings up the nagging thought that the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program is repeating the mistakes of the past.
Increasingly, the IBRC appears to be the Columbia River Crossing redux. From the bridge height — which last time led to an agreement for $86.4 million in mitigation payments if the bridge had been built — to the inclusion of light rail, planners have presented little that is new or inventive.
And yet, there have been changes in our community. Namely, construction of The Waterfront Vancouver and climate change. Downtown Vancouver has been transformed, highlighting the need for easy access across the river to the center of the city. And climate change must be a major factor in designing a new bridge; we no longer can pretend to ignore its impact.
Because of that, light rail might well be the best transit option for the new bridge. Critics argue that social engineers are trying to get people out of their cars. Of course they are; the need to reduce carbon emissions is existential.
But getting a majority of local residents to understand that will be akin to moving them toward the light.