Cars are not the answer
Cars were a great invention as they expanded the mobility options in many ways.
They transformed the way we live, work and play. We could move goods and provide services as never before.
Unfortunately cars no longer fit onto our streets, as there is just not enough physical space to accommodate cars for our rapidly growing population.
- 72 bicycles that use 90 square metres,or
- 1 bus that uses 30 square metres or
- 60 cars using 1,000 square metres.
When we see top executives in NYC travelling by helicopter, it seems like a nice idea.
That is until you find out it works out well for 100 people, but not for 1 million or more. The level of cost, noise, emissions, and safety issues would not make it viable. Similar is the case for cars; what is good for some does not work for all.
Clearly all cities need a combination of public transit, cycling, and walking as the primary mobility for rush hour. Cars will continue to play a role at night, on weekends, for people with special mobility needs, and for commercial and other uses.
New forms of car-use will also develop; in 2006 just 2,000 Torontonians were affiliated with car-share services; today it is over 22,000 and it is growing fast.
We have been building cities for over 5,000 years, but it is only in the last 60 years that we have been building cities driven by car mobility rather than on people’s happiness. Car focused cities not only generate isolation and congestion, they are also unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists and expensive to residents.
In 2009, according to the Toronto Police, a pedestrian was hit by a car the equivalent of every 4 hours and every 7 hours and 10 minutes a cyclist was hit. People using cars as the main mode of transportation spend over 25 per cent of their income on mobility compared to less than 9 per cent if they used transit.
Thousands of cities have tried to solve the issue of mobility and traffic congestion through building more road infrastructure, many adding expensive two and three story highways; there is not one city of more than one million residents that has accomplished the goal of solving congestion by focusing on private car use.
Throwing money at transit is not an option either; it has to be done in a smarter way.
Currently the municipal, provincial and federal governments are building 8.6 kilometres of subway extension in the north-west at a cost of $2,600 million (yes, $2.6 Billion) which will not even reach 5 per cent of the population. That investment is equivalent to 40 per cent of the Transit City plan which would cover all the city with Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit in dedicated corridors to move almost as fast as the subway but at a fraction of its cost (streetcars cannot continue to operate in the middle of cars, where 100 people inside one streetcar go behind a car with 1 person).
Within cities, mobility is not so much a technical or financial issue. It is political. Citizens need to participate and decide how we want to live, then decision makers can find the right system.
By the way, regardless of the combination of transit options selected, we need to keep in mind three realities: one, no transit system will pick you up in your place of origin and drop you off at your place of destination. Two, every trip, regardless of whether of you travel by car, bike, or transit, begins and ends with walking.
Three, even in the wealthiest and most sprawled areas of the city, over a third of the people do not drive: everyone under 17 years and 30 per cent of people 60 years or older. If the area is not as wealthy and is more compact, non-drivers can be over 70 per cent of the population. Great walking and cycling infrastructure is not just something nice to do, it is a human right: the right to mobility.
On election day, keep in mind that to move Toronto from a very good city to a great one, we need to be a great walking, cycling and transit city; this is not about left or right politics. It is about doing things right and especially, about doing the right things for transportation, the environment, public health, equity, and fairness.