What The Simpsons’ monorail episode can teach us about transit

Is there a chance the track could bend? Not on your life my Whitehorse friend

Le tout Riverdale is talking about it.

One side thinks it is an example of clever government problem solving, while the other thinks it’s the most ridiculous idea since llama-drawn sleds during the Gold Rush.

I’m talking about the new trial of a Riverdale bus lane along Lewes Boulevard. During Riverdale’s rush minute, City of Whitehorse staff put up pylons to create a special lane so that the morning bus doesn’t get caught in traffic.

I guess it’s good practice for when the government builds the new francophone school in Riverdale and we have even more traffic.

I was once at a school council meeting about the new F.H. Collins school project and suggested the buses drop the kids off at a kiss’n’ride in the S.S. Klondike parking lot. The kids are high school age and that way so many cars wouldn’t have to drive in and out of Riverdale at peak times.

Other parents stared at me like I’d suggested we get the Canadian Forces Arctic Survival School choppers to drop our kids off behind Grey Mountain with a compass and one match each.

Eventually I remembered that back when I wore my hockey jacket and Nikes to school in forty below, I didn’t like that walk over the bridge either.

I wonder if the traffic light at Lewes and Hospital Road is part of the problem. The population of Riverdale hasn’t really changed, so why is traffic suddenly worse? The bottleneck fades quickly after that light. Maybe there are better timing options than blocking outbound traffic for almost a minute per cycle while the inbound lane often doesn’t always need all the time given to it. If an intersection has a queue in only one direction, that signals a problem with the settings.

Perhaps the buses could carry transponders that change the traffic lights to green, or we could have New York traffic cops at Hospital Road to control traffic more efficiently.

I fear we aren’t thinking big enough here. Without going so far as a bridge toll, which economists would recommend but which would cause a revolt, are there other ideas?

Why open an entire lane for just a couple of buses per hour? If the scheme is made permanent, will school buses also be allowed? What about taxis and carpoolers, as in some cities? People turning right up Hospital Road? What about the Sourdoughs at Macaulay Lodge and their van? There could even be priority, like in Moscow, to ministers and senior apparatchiks toiling in the public service.

What about extending the waterfront trolley? It currently ends at Riverside Grocery, and could turn left and cross the river into Riverdale. The trolley we have now is a former Lisbon public transit unit. I happened to visit Lisbon last year, and they have plenty left if we wanted to buy another.

However, Lisbon trolleys aren’t designed for Yukon winters. If there is anything worse than being stuck in Riverdale rush minute, it’s being told to get off a broken trolley at -40 C.

I once saw a public transit documentary called The Simpsons where a city about Whitehorse’s size — according to Wikisimpsons, Springfield’s population is estimated at 30,720 — bought a monorail.

Ours could run right down the middle of Lewes Boulevard. The median is only ever used by people who need a Christmas tree at the last minute.

There could be a station at Grey Mountain School, then Selkirk and then a straight run to the YTG building. The lobby is long and thin and oriented the right direction, so it would make a fine station if you ran the monorail through the middle of it. Then it would be onward to Front and Main where we happen to have a train station that needs a train.

Everyone in Riverdale who works downtown could take the monorail, immediately taking hundreds of cars off Lewes Boulevard at rush minute.

According to The Simpsons, monorails also bring a city a lot of attention and tourism. In Springfield, Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy shows up to help Mayor Quimby open the new facility.

If anyone from the City of Whitehorse communications department is working on talking points for the bus lane opening ceremony, I suggest they steal a few lines from Mayor Quimby. It’s not often a mayor gets to say, “May the Force be with you.”

The Simpsons’ monorail episode is a classic, and I’m sure many readers know it doesn’t end well.

Monorails are out of fashion, anyway.

What we really need is Elon Musk to build us a hyperloop. This is a visionary proposal for a vacuum-sealed underground tunnel where canisters filled with people hurtle along at speeds up to 1,200 kilometres per hour.

At that speed it would take only 8.1 seconds to travel the 2.7 kilometres from Grey Mountain School to Main Street, although the acceleration might spill your coffee.

While we wait for Elon Musk to finish his Mars project and get around to Riverdale, maybe we should try to think of some ideas that help the Riverdalians who aren’t on the bus. Many are driving to work locations not well served by the bus, due in part to past decisions we made as a city to encourage sprawling development.

Maybe someone could tinker with the traffic light timing.

What about a special (and free?) kiss’n’ride bus stop at the S.S. Klondike for students at the Riverdale high schools whose parents drop them off by car and contribute to traffic in both directions in the morning?

I also looked at the data for Riverdale rush minute on the app Waze. Unlike Toronto, the traffic doesn’t last all morning. The simplest solution of all might be to ask the government departments with the most employees in Riverdale to let their staff come an hour earlier or later.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.

public transitWhitehorse city council

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