Or, How the HSR made me a car commuter.
By Frances Murray
Published July 19, 2013
Way back in the 1980s, I was a young, married woman living in an apartment in Stoney Creek and working on the mountain near Upper James. We were a one-car couple and taking transit was something I was accustomed to and didn't mind. My husband grew up in the country and was used to having a car, and with varying shifts, needed a car for work.
One day, I stopped on my way home from work to shop downtown, and I found out the hard way that the Delaware (#5) bus stopped running past Nash Road at 7:00 PM. I was stranded (in heels!). My husband was at work, and I had no way to get all the way to my home (King at Lake in Stoney Creek).
I don't remember how I got home that night - I may have called a cab from Nash Road. I do know that it wasn't long afterwards that I purchased my own car.
From there I didn't look back. We moved out to the country and having two cars became an unquestioned necessity. I was a full supporter of the "one-way expressways" through the city. "Don't slow down traffic!" was my mantra.
Time passed and my husband and I divorced. Living in Winona, I felt vaguely unhappy, but didn't understand why until I went on an impulsive trip to New York City. The blinders were off! It turned out that I didn't belong in the country at all - I loved the city, I loved the compactness and walkability and the ease of getting around by subway.
Our way of life here, driving everywhere, all of a sudden seemed ridiculous to me. My childhood roots were in Toronto, so city living felt "natural". Eventually, once my daughter finished high school, we moved downtown. Instead of Green Acres, downtown was "the place for me".
Partly for financial reasons and partly as a personal challenge, I took my car off the road for six months. I rented a car once per month to do heavy groceries and other errands, but otherwise took transit or walked. (It was winter so I didn't use my bike.)
I became reacquainted with that vaguely isolated feeling that I had felt living in the country. This was partially because of winter weather, but also because of the HSR's pathetic night-time and Sunday schedules. After 7:00 PM. and on Sundays, the Aberdeen bus runs once per hour. People should never have to wait one hour for a bus.
The Main and King routes were also very infrequent, and the buses were always packed. Striving for standing-room-only seems to be the HSR's policy.
Also - and not to be excessive in my criticism, but most bus drivers didn't seem to consider their standing passengers - or those who had to stand to get off at the next stop. The drivers hit the gas so the bus leapt forward and then jammed on the brakes at the next stop - and this was often the style of driving even when they were not running late! (Buses running ahead of schedule are another issue - this should never happen.)
I was so happy when I put my car back on the road. I still cycled to work in the summer, but having the freedom to get around was something I never want to give up again. (This was reinforced for me lately when my car broke down - a high repair bill at the end of a long line of repair bills. It was time to get a new car - pricey, but again, unquestioned.)
Look, I'm not blaming the HSR management or even the bus drivers for the lack of service. Funding for the HSR has been cut, or not increased in any meaningful way, since I was using transit on a regular basis in the 1980s.
The system needs a huge funding increase. Transit should be easy and cheap. At $2.55 per trip, our system is not over-priced, but it's not easy and service improvements are badly needed.
So the question at the top was: Complete Streets or Improved Transit? Without supplying reliable, easy-to-use transit, we will always have a large segment of the population who refuse to give up their cars and add to the vehicle load on our streets. With that segment demanding fast and smooth traffic movement, our push for complete street revitalization will never gain momentum with the majority of the population.
With improved HSR service, more people will take the opportunity to save some money and park their cars, especially as fuel prices rise. Bus-only lanes will become a necessity, leading to better street design. My contention is this: We need to vastly improve our transit system now, with or without the potential for LRT.
Anyone who cares about positive change in this city and moving toward complete streets should ask their city representative to vote for a funding increase for the HSR.
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