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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 3 page 16


Grescoe does bop down to Bogotá in Colombia, where jitneys still crowd the streets but at the same time the city has launched a tránsito rápido bus system consisting of a bunch of accordion buses racing along exclusive rights-of-way between stations that resemble railway platforms. Fast bus systems are sweeping the developing world, according to Grescoe, because they're cheap to set up. A quote from former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa delivers an ideological clarity seldom matched north of the Rio Grande: “If in a democracy all citizens are equal before the law, then a bus with 100 passengers should have the right to 100 times more road space than a car carrying one person. When a fast-moving bus passes cars stuck in a jam, it is a powerful symbol that shows that democracy is really at work, and it gives a whole new legitimacy to the state and social organization.”

The trouble is that piling an ideological burden on transit can backfire if the system falters — as happened in Bogotá, to tell the truth, where the buses got so packed that many customers switched to motorbikes.

I'm glad for Grescoe that when he visits Vancouver, B.C., his ex-hometown from his street hockey days, he finds that from his point of view they've made real progress. They've grabbed lanes away from cars and given them to bikes. They pre-rezoned to make sure development would sprout around their newest SkyTrain stations. To encourage commuters to use the feeder buses, there's no Park'n'Ride. Result: 10% fewer cars enter the city now than a decade ago, average commute times have dropped, and Vancouver has the continent’s lowest per capita carbon emissions.

We have to keep trying and take heed of the good as well as the less good examples.