Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What is the weight of public consultation?

Great column in the Ottawa Business Journal about City Council's waffling on the city's recent transit plans, especially the inclusion of a tunnel underground. It raises some very pressing questions about why council isn't eager to move forward in the face of what seems to be the support of the majority of Ottawa's citizens:

Train or not, the overwhelming demand is that service be improved to get downtown faster. Various city bureaucrats and councillors have latched on to this idea and are now favouring quick and dirty ways to improve transit service from points east, west and south. This, they say, should come before a long and costly dig to bury transit downtown. We need solutions now that will ease the commuter flow from the 'burbs, they say, emphasizing there are a number of smaller projects that can be initiated in the short term.

These are all valid suggestions. But what happens when all that commuter flow converges on the downtown core? The faster the flow of people and traffic into the downtown, the more severe the logjam that will result – unless there's a bigger and better pipe to handle the pressure. The downtown core is the keystone of any long-term and comprehensive plan that best serves the entire region. It's the opinion of this na├»ve journalist that building a downtown tunnel first is the way to go and the rest of the system will follow more smoothly as a result.

But this isn't about the viewpoints of one journalist. It's about what the community as a whole wants and we have been led to believe that a downtown tunnel was top of mind for residents of Ottawa during the city's public consultations. Why else is a tunnel a key part of all the proposals on the table? Even an informal poll on last week demonstrated a severe bias in favour of a downtown tunnel as the first step. What message does it send if a group of councillors decide to ignore the weight of public opinion in favour of their own personal preferences, or to cater to their individual ward constituents? Or are these men and women ready to stand up and admit public consultation is nothing more than a hollow exercise in PR to be ignored when they don't agree with the results?

I couldn't agree more. Especially with the mentality that we have to address the inadequacies downtown before we rush to get people there, and with the questions about council dragging their feet to finally do something that's long overdue--update Ottawa's transit infrastructure.

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