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Your Ride: Edmonton

Jay Smith is a writer who cycles, walks and runs on Edmonton's streets and pathways.

Poor access to transportation helps keep Edmontonians in poverty

Recognizing the privilege involved in our transit systems is the first step.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

The ability to move around our city is easy to take for granted. Most of us think nothing of hopping into our cars to get milk or the missing ingredient for dinner, to drive to yoga class in the middle of winter, or to get our kids to school on time in the morning.

But last week, the food bank released a study about its clientele. It’s a sobering snapshot of the regionalization of poverty in Edmonton — and the burden that transportation issues are on the poor.

By interviewing more than 400 food-bank users earlier this year, researchers found the average respondent spent $135 monthly on transportation (for those without children, it was the biggest expense after rent, bills, and food). Almost a third were looking to reduce the amount of money they spent on transportation.

Yet food-bank users tended not to be living in neighbourhoods well serviced by public transit — or with viable options for active transit. Nearly two-thirds of users were from the northeast or northwest.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 per cent of respondents would participate in programs like money-management and employment-readiness courses at the Food Bank if they had an easier time getting there.

In other words: Transportation is expensive, time-consuming, and, for many, the barrier that prevents them from accessing supports that would improve their situation.

I’m thinking about this as the downtown is “developing” with an arena, new businesses and condos. The downtown poor are perhaps the least mobile of any population in Edmonton and, until recently, it seemed their fates were an afterthought to the Ice District.

Recently, a team of 20 city officials and representatives from various organizations went to Toronto to see how it “developed” its downtown with an arena — and what effects this had on the homeless.

Julian Daly, executive director of Edmonton’s Boyle Street Community Services, said the biggest challenge around the arena in Toronto’s core was not the actions of the street-involved people themselves, but rather the risk of homeless people being attacked by intoxicated game-goers “thinking it’s a bit of a sport or a laugh.”

Toronto’s home values are largely determined by its transportation network. The poor live in “transit deserts” accessible only by erratic bus service, while the rich live in uber–connected, Jane Jacobs-walkable neighbourhoods. Toronto embodies the same transit injustices as Edmonton.

To develop a city that ensures all our citizens can succeed, we need to ensure we can all get to where we need to be. Recognizing the privilege involved in our transit systems is the first step.

Jay Smith is a writer who has cycled, walked and run on Edmonton’s streets and pathways her entire life.

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