The Commute

I did a little crowd sourcing last night and asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers what I should write about in my next blog.  It wasn't that I was suffering from a case of writer's block, I was just interested in what would pop out as subjects that would inspire readership.  I'm fast approaching 50,000 page views on this blog since I began it as an exercise in literary transparency almost two years ago.

An accomplished author and former radio personality in Fort McMurray, Dawn Buckler, is interested in a blog about what she hears is a growing drug problem in our community.  That's a tough one for me, because I only write about that which I know.

A former resident wanted me to start a rumour that a major refinery will be built near Cold Lake capable of refining all the bitumen coming out of the oilsands.  That's an interesting notion that may be a little too close to the realm of possibility in light of the XL pipeline delay announced yesterday, though any rumour I start in that regard would have the development in our region, closer to the source.

There were a number of suggestions to write about events: Holy Trinity's Fair Trade Market, St. Paul's Jockey Fashion Show and Art Walk, and National Child Day.  We actually learned about the fair trade market at Council this week.  Two young ladies from Holy Trinity did a great job promoting this wonderful event running from 6 to 10 pm on November 23rd. The fashion show and art walk on December 10th sounds awesome, raising money for the Base Camp Foundation, Kids Forever and stuffed bears for kids in foster care in our community.  And what can I say about National Child Day on November 20th? Can you think of a better thing to celebrate than our kids?

I loved Mary Jane's suggestion to write about the passing of time, how it accelerates as you get older.  "Like the gas in your car," she wrote.  It seems to take forever to reach half a tank, but after that, it seems to disappear much more quickly.  So true Mary Jane, so true.

But I think it's fair to say that the thing that is on the minds of most people in Fort McMurray this week is the commute.

With the beginning of the bus lane program going down Confederation Drive, the opening of the Thickwood interchange and the arrival of winter, a perfect storm was created.

Lord grant me the courage to change the things I can, accept the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference.

A thousand eyes are looking at our commute challenges and trying to figure out how to make the drive to work better.  The rationale behind the bus lanes is solid, though its execution still needs some work.  Through the anger and frustration, extended commute times for those in personal vehicles, and many instances of bumper to bumper hell, lots of dedicated and talented people were observing and asking themselves the same question: how do we make this better?

Citizens, government and industry officials all agree that transportation in the community and region is on top of the list of priorities right now.  How do we get tens of thousands of people to and from work in a safe and expeditious manner, in weather both fair and foul?  What kind of infrastructure do we need that will result in lower commute times across the board?  What are the choices we need to make today to serve a population that is expected to eclipse 200,000 within the next 20 years?

These are big, lofty questions when thinking in the long-term.  There are more pressing, life-altering, life-making decisions that need to be made right now.  How people get to and from work in 2011 is the primary concern, certainly of our municipal government, and high on the list of priorities for our provincial government partners.

This week proved to be a mess.  Nobody can dispute that it was one traffic nightmare after another.  But despite the angst of the past five days, there is an underlying intention to make things better for everyone.  The creation of bus lanes enables the development of a rapid bus transit system, which will increase consistency, reliability and efficiency which will then lead (hopefully) to increased ridership and a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road which will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

It's not perfect, as anyone who experienced elongated commute times and increased blood pressure this week will testify.  But, we're watching and listening - hearing the concerns and ideas of hundreds of residents who called in - and gathering intelligence to make the necessary adjustments.  The most important thing is that every voice matters.  You might have an observation, idea, moment of brilliance, that could help.  So, I would encourage that you continue to share your thoughts, by phone, on Twitter, on Facebook, by emailing, in person - wherever and however you are the most comfortable.

"We shall overcome," they sang in the 60's as the civil rights movement gathered momentum.  "We shall overcome," we sing today, knowing and trusting that we're moving in the right direction, toward a community that moves efficiently, a home where all of us can truly live, work and play.

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