Priority setting can be difficult. Someone will be disappointed and that is why politicians prefer to avoid it.
Most of us live in an economic situation that requires us to make choices. We don’t have enough income or net worth to buy everything that catches our fancy. Vacation or staycation? Sorry kids, but we cannot afford to go Disney World this year because we cannot afford both a vacation and a new roof for the house. Disappointing? Yes. Reality? Also, yes. Even our politicians (with some notable exceptions) face the same decisions in their private lives. So why do these same elected officials choose to shirk the responsibility of making difficult decisions when they don the robes of office?
The city will be spending about $6 billion in municipal, provincial and federal money on the first two phases of light rail. All without a ridership study to support the decisions, but that is a whole other problem. In short, the money is there, or at least the capacity to borrow is. At issue is whether this level of expenditure, to accomplish an undefined objective, was the right priority.
The city has identified a number of level railway crossings within the city, many on high volume roadways, and one being the site of a tragic collision between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train in 2013. What have our elected officials done about these high-risk crossings? Nothing. Their excuse? The city doesn’t have the money for infrastructure that would significantly improve the safety of the residents of the city, some of whom pilot their personal vehicles, others entrusting their lives to the drivers of OC Transpo buses. That won’t change when the LRT starts up later this year, nor will it change if and when the Phase 2 is open for business.
The city also acknowledged, in light of the tragic collision in rural last week, that there are 19 intersections that have recorded sufficient number of collisions to merit improved traffic management features, such as traffic lights. What have our elected officials done about these long-known hazards? Nothing. The city doesn’t have the money to implement solutions to address these safety hazards. However, the city does have $70 million to add bicycle infrastructure over the next 15 or so years. At least we see where city council’s priorities lie.
A friend of mine once asked me, far too many years ago, what my priorities were? It was a rhetorical question. He continued his monologue by asking me to pull out my old appointment calendars and my cheque book to see if there was any correlation between what I said was important, and where I actually spent my time and money. In short, he was saying that actions speak louder than words.
Oh, that our elected officials would take the time to do that. Talking about safety being paramount is much easier, and profoundly less expensive than actually acting on safety. Their actions tell us that improving the infrastructure for intersections known to be dangerous is not a priority. Their actions tell us that avoiding the political fallout that they might suffer if they approved an east-end bridge is far more important to them than taking tangible steps to prevent the next collision between a large truck navigating the sometimes narrow and always-busy downtown streets leading to and from the Macdonald-Cartier bridge and another vehicle, or a cyclist or a pedestrian.
A splendid set of celebrations, the benefits of which evaporated with the next mornings’ dew (much of Ottawa 2017) were a much higher priority to this city council than setting aside the funds to improve the safety of a few of those 19 intersections. Did they even consider allocating $1 million from that slush fund (and slush fund it is and will remain until there is a full public reporting of the sources and uses of the money) to fixing one of those intersections?
So, here’s a challenge to Mayor Jim Watson and the rest of council. What is more important? A new architectural masterpiece of a somewhat central library or an overpass for the Transitway near Fallowfield Road. Is the safety of the thousands of OC Transpo customers who take a trip on Fallowfield, or is it more important for selected elected officials to be able to look their counterparts in Halifax and Calgary in the eye when they compare the size of their libraries?
Good news and bad news kids. The good news is that we are going to Disney World. The bad news is that you will need a tarp over your beds on rainy nights because the roof is leaking. Susie, you are the oldest. Do you want the green tarp or the blue one?
Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association executive for the better part of three decades.