Better than Better

Why do I even care about rapid transit in London? I mean, after all, I’ll be in my seventies – or, more likely, dead – when this thing is built. I care because I love my city and I want to see it take a meaningful leap into the future present. And, I care because I’m tired of London acting like a third-rate city.

London needs to be more than “conveniently located along the NAFTA superhighway.” We need to be more than “halfway between Toronto and Detroit.” We need to be more than “that town near Waterloo.” Geography alone cannot be our biggest advantage because geography means less and less with each passing day. We need to start feeling our strength, flexing our muscles, and taking calculated risks to become the city we want to be.

Last week, city staff put forward a recommendation that the city implement a bus rapid transit (BRT)-only solution for London. This was a big change from the initial staff recommendation for a hybrid light rapid transit (LRT)/BRT solution that council unanimously endorsed last fall.

Some people are concerned there would be insufficient ridership to support LRT in London. To address this, the recommendation put forth by council proposes that after BRT is up and running and ridership increases, we could take the BRT infrastructure and lay down tracks to install LRT. They’re positioning this as a sensible, phased approach.

Hogwash.

In a time of record-breaking citizen engagement we’ve decided to ignore the wishes of the citizenry who overwhelmingly voted BRT-only as the least preferable form of rapid transit.

In a time when other cities are investing in meaningful leaps forward, our city is setting the bar for success so low that anyone who’s actually paying attention to us has got to be laughing.

While we’re writing ambitious plans for the future of our city, we’re pulling punches on the most impactful infrastructure investment that can be made in our city – and for our future.

In a time of practically free money (near 0% interest rates), we’re nickel-and-diming investing in London, and in ourselves.

In a time when federal and provincial governments are both ready to match investments, we’re arguing in favour of the least ambitious rapid transit proposal possible and not even trying for something better.

Is this really how our City Council sees London? Is this how we see ourselves? Do we not deserve nice things? Do we lack courage to demand that we be treated equally with other cities? Are we utterly unwilling to expend any political capital to accomplish something great for our city?

Still, why does any of this matter? Well, I’m in tech and we have something close to eight hundred job vacancies in the London tech sector because we can’t attract and retain the talent we need. Conservatively, that’s well over $50,000,000 annually that these companies could be pouring into the local economy in just these new hires. That’s for one small industry. We’re losing talent to KW, Toronto, and Hamilton every day because London can’t won’t compete.

Bottom line? If I were a 20 or 30 year old starting up a company right now, I would start it elsewhere. I would go to a city that sees itself for what it can be. I would go where people scream “hell yeah, let’s do it!”

We need to take a leap. We need to set the bar higher for ourselves. We need to demand more for our city. Let’s not just demand to be at the big table, let’s be missed when we’re absent.

I love this city. Let’s not strive just to be better together, let’s be bold; let’s be amazing together.

If this resonates with you, please consider signing Jesse Helmer’s excellent petition.