From the Vault: The following post was originally published on June 28, 2015. It was one of the first things I ever wrote here at Connecting Dots, and for good reason. The people and transit systems of northwest BC taught me much since I first started working with their region as a newly-minted transit planner in 1999. And in particular–as I wrote below–I don’t think any other systems have played such a crucial role in shaping me and how I see the importance of transit.
— Moricetown Band Coun (@MoTown_BandCoun) January 27, 2017
Just as we find ongoing circles and echoes in many aspects of our lives, I had the tremendous honor of again working with the communities of the province’s northwest this past year. I was just one of many, many people working together on a project to improve transportation options for people living along the 750km corridor of Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George, a corridor that all too sadly became known as the Highway of Tears.
On Monday, January 30, 2017 service starts on the first phase of improved transit along that corridor, a new route between the Wet’suwet’en community of Moricetown and the Town of Smithers. (See the tweet from Moricetown Band Council, right, which I’m hoping is okay that I’ve shared here as it makes me so happy every time I see it).
This is a tremendous accomplishment and I offer my heartfelt congrats to the communities, leaders, staff and government agencies who helped make this happen. I also hope that this connection is the start of many more to come along all the communities in the corridor.
Given the start of the new service, I thought it might be worthwhile to re-post my original article on the neighboring Hazeltons Transit System. For those from more urban places, I hope it provides a sense of what transit in areas like Highway 16 is like and why it’s so important that we all keep enabling and adding to this fundamental mobility.
To learn more about the overall Highway 16 transportation project, you can head to the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan and BC Transit’s Highway 16 Transit Service site.
Whether big town or small, when people have transportation options, they have safety. When they have safe transportation options, they have independence. And when they have the freedom to connect to other people and places, they have opportunity and community.
We take that connection for granted in larger centres. Big town or small, I hope it’s something we can all take for granted someday.
Hazeltons Transit: Fundamental Mobility
(Originally published June 28, 2015)
Of all the systems and communities I’ve worked in over the years–big or small–none still hold a greater share of real estate in my soul than those in BC’s northwest region. The area has many existing transit systems: Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Terrace Regional, Kitimat, Skeena Regional, Hazeltons Regional and Smithers & District Transit.
Each of these small transit systems is as varied and diverse as the communities they serve. And of these, none is as unique and built on such a diverse partnership as the Hazeltons Regional Transit System.
Located in the northwest interior of B.C. in the vicinity of Highway 16, Hazeltons Transit involves one small bus serving a vast area of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and traditional Indigenous territories.
Over the course of a day, that bus connects two tiny towns (the Village of Hazelton and the District of New Hazelton) the unincorporated area of South Hazelton and six small Indigenous communities to each other (the Gitxsan communities of Kispiox, Sik-e-Dakh/Glen Vowell, Gitanmaax and Gitsegukla and the Wet’suwet’en communities of Hagwilget and Moricetown). Two days a week it also connects the local Hazeltons to the larger town of Smithers to the southeast.
While on a rational level I think I should be far more taken with the bigger projects I’ve been involved with–whole system restructurings or sizable implementations–the Hazeltons stay with me and continue to be one of the places I use as a litmus test when it comes to thinking about the implications of transportation policy on the large scale.
I think one reason the Hazeltons stick with me is because the area is one of the most beautiful places you will ever travel on a public transit bus. Its routes cross the Hagwilget Canyon on a one-lane suspension bridge, pass by the totems and long houses of ‘Ksan in the curve of the Skeena River and traverse valleys in the shadow of the spectacular Roche de Boule mountain range.
You meet all kinds of people and pass by forests and rivers that still seem healthy and whole. The one time in B.C. where I have seen a bear while riding a transit bus was in the Hazeltons.
All that said, I think the beauty is only part of it. What really holds me about the Hazeltons is that it strips transit down to its most elemental purpose and form. The system plays a vital role in connecting people and communities–many of whom don’t have a lot or other options–to each other. It connects people to the basics of life in the very basic linear thread of its routes: access to health care and services, food and clothes, the area’s two banks and many band offices, work, school and recreation.
It does what transit should fundamentally do in any community and it does it in its rawest, simplest form when there are not many other transportation options available.
It can be all too easy for those living in far more populous and urban places to cast aside or forget about small and rural towns. Why should I care about the 80 people using the Hazeltons Transit System in a day when I’ve got routes served by double deckers (capacity: 102) passing up others down south?
Why? Because whether big town, or small town or tiny village in a larger Territory, our lives, stories and well-being are connected and are our lives together. And because mobility needs to matter to all of us. For me, I think the Hazeltons have become my own personal heart-and-gut-level reminder of those truths and why we all need to keep working to make that connection happen.
Years ago, one of the Hazeltons transit drivers told me how she bent the “maximum two bags and they must fit on your lap” rule for an older gentleman coming back to Kispiox from Smithers. His special parcel? A new bike for his granddaughter for Christmas.
They strapped it to the rails of the wheelchair lift inside at the back of the bus. You can’t buy new bikes in the Hazeltons, relatively few people have a vehicle: it likely wouldn’t have got there otherwise. All the passengers pitched in to help unload the bike at the end of the line.
And that is community and mobility at its most fundamental. And big town or small, that is transit.
Want to learn more about the people and places of the Skeena and the northwest? Renowned artist (and Hazelton resident) Roy Henry Vickers has teamed up with author and oral historian (and Victoria resident) Robert “Lucky” Budd to create a series of picture books capturing thousand year old tales.
You can find more about this amazing series of books at Harbour Publishing.