Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thoughts on Toronto's So-Called "Anti-Car" Culture

I heard Bill Carroll on CFRB this morning complain that this is an anti-car city, and it got me thinking about what kind of city this is, in practice.

The hale and hearty assume that car culture is all about hale and hearty and busy folks zipping round one by one in their big cars, taking up road space, taking up land in parking spaces, when they could be saving the city and our air by using public transit. But they're not the only ones. More and more, as medicine can save lives but not cure illnesses, we're becoming a nation of the chronically ill. These are in most need of cars; these are the ones who can't walk a block without breathing hard, who can't navigate stairs, or require help to do the most mundane of shopping chores. These are not the ones in wheelchairs or playing murder "pedestrians" with their electric scooters, who would be able to use an accessible public transit system, which we don't have, a few elevators notwithstanding. They need to drive from point A to point B just so they can continue to live independently. By restricting parking and making it few and far between and far away from destinations, politicians don't harm the hale and hearty -- they just piss them off like Mr. Carroll -- but they do make independent living for the most vulnerable harder. Yet a city full of parking lots is pretty much an eye sore. And a city that doesn't provide public transit accessible to our entire population is missing the point of public transit. It's a complex problem that everyone looks at as an us-them issue. And it's not.

Toronto politicians' simplistic way of looking at car versus public transit, of asking for and accepting the cheapest way, isn't working.

Toronto politicians talk lots about public transit, pedestrian-friendly design, and bike paths, but that's it. Public transit sucks in Toronto. We do not have Montréal's subway network, which would drastically cut down on commute times -- subways don't have to contend with narrow streets, bicycles, car pigs, parked cars, and darting pedestrians. By going the Light Rail Transit route and capitulating to the no-subways-for-Toronto idée fixe, Toronto politicians are trying to force the hale and hearty and time-challenged to transit the cheap way, but short of passing laws that forbid people from driving inside Toronto's city limits, it won't work. The only way to get them out of their quick cars is to provide a quiet, efficient, and quick transit system.

Politicians' must have some inkling of the inadquacy of our transit, one that no longer meets the needs of car folk, for they haven't enacted congestion charges, odd-even license plate days, or other "anti-car" measures. They aren't narrowing streets and converting them permanently to pedestrian-only places like in New York city or many European cities. They're dragging their feet on carving bicycle lanes out of roadways. And parking is difficult but not impossible like in some major cities. So I don't know what Mr. Carroll is talking about, Toronto being anti-car. If anything, the recent provincial hiccup in funding the new streetcars (sorry, LRVs), proves this place is anti-transit, anti- in the way it's not funded to meet the needs of commuters of all kinds. In fact, looking at the reality and windy words of car-public-transit-pedestrian-space, Toronto doesn't know what it wants.

2 comments:

krupo said...

I've experienced Montréal's subway network repeatedly - it's not *THAT* hot. I think our service is way more frequent in general. :)

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

krupo, it may not be as frequent but it's more comprehensive, it covers the city more effectively than Toronto's does. And now instead of expanding the subway lines, they're planning on tacking LRTs on their ends, which means more transfer points, like people who have options will subject themselves to that hassle.