Announcement – Better Transit YXE and Bus Riders of Saskatoon

TL;DR version – Better Transit YXE’s twitter handle, @BtrTransitYXE, will become the Twitter voice of Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

When we (Shannon McAvoy and Brian Hoessler) started Better Transit YXE back in November 2014, we always knew it would be a short-term initiative. At that point in time, with the transit lockout having ended less than a month prior, we wanted to help shift the conversation to what transit in Saskatoon could look like. We have both seen transit work in other cities and felt the need to contribute in some small way to improving the system we have today.

With Shannon completing a volunteer placement with Brian’s consulting firm, and a mutual interest in the topic, it was a perfect opportunity to try things out, like handing out candy canes to transit riders and drivers, sharing stories online, and even presenting to an urban planning class at U of S. The greatest impact came from building connections with a diverse range of people and organizations interested in transit, including city staff, the growth planning team, cyclists, politicians, researchers, advocates, and ordinary transit riders. These relationships led to Ten Days for Transit, an initiative to encourage people to take the bus and engage in conversations about how the system could improve.

A natural partnership through the lifespan of Better Transit YXE was with Bus Riders of Saskatoon. Meeting for the first time in September 2014, Bus Riders has contributed to providing a space for riders to voice both concerns and hopes for Saskatoon Transit, including through dialogue with city officials. Given its mission and good work to date, handing the torch to Bus Riders of Saskatoon is the natural path for us to take.

So, it is with great pleasure and optimism that Better Transit YXE’s Twitter handle, @BtrTransitYXE will become the Twitter voice of Bus Riders of Saskatoon. Building on the work our organizations have accomplished, both separately and cooperatively, we will strive to build a powerful voice for public transit advocacy in Saskatoon. We also invite Bus Riders of Saskatoon to make use of Better Transit YXE, perhaps to continue asking “what if” questions and share ideas from across Canada and around the world. Although the two of us won’t be able to post regularly, we may occasionally provide guest content on Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

Although this is our stop with Better Transit YXE, it’s not the end of the line for this initiative – keep watching for the next bus and hope to see you on board!

Past and Present

In my opinion, Park Cafe on 20th Street West is a great spot for breakfast, and not just because it serves up the best rendition of the classic eggs-bacon-toast-hashbrowns combo that I’ve found to date (apologies to Broadway Cafe, Fil’s Diner in Ottawa, Star Diner in Kingston, and countless other greasy spoons I’ve feasted at). Nestled amongst the prerequisite 1950’s decorations – red stools and benches, car signs, and a rendition of Elvis in a convertible across the street from the cafe – are amazing historic photos of Saskatoon, specifically 20 West. These fading shots include an overhead view of the trainyards (the space now inhabited by Idylwyld and Midtown Mall) that originally separated this neighbourhood from the rest of town, as well as photos of street life in a different era where cars were in the picture but did not dominate. Another interesting artifact in those photos are the presence of rails embedded in the street, harkening back to the time when streetcars plied the corridor between downtown and Saskatoon’s then-western reaches, home to the city’s early suburbs. Although I’ve seen these photos countless times by now, they still have a power to transport me to a different time and place, one that’s both familiar and very different from the scene currently outside.

While waiting for my breakfast this morning around 9:30, I saw a 2 bus rush by heading downtown, standing-room only. That split-second view of transportation today got me thinking: would the streetcars that used to run this route be similarly full to overflowing? Would they have run at 15 or 30 minute intervals, or more frequently to allow those who could not have afforded a private vehicle (the majority in those days) easier and more reliable access to transportation? Did riders and non-riders alike view the system with pride, or was it just part of the background of city life, like sidewalks and fire hydrants and lights? What would those riders from past decades (even centuries) think of Saskatoon’s transportation system today?

I’m not advocating for or against a return to rail here – technology, society, and the shape of our city has changed drastically since those photos were taken. Perhaps such images should be left in the past as historical curiosities. However, we can also take inspiration from them: not for a specific route or vehicle, but for a time when transportation was a visible part of the community and helped shaped what the neighbourhood was and continues to be.