Transportation

All Transportation, All the Time in the Toronto Star

By Ben Bull
Published April 19, 2010

It seems like it's all bikes, all cars, and all transit all the time in the Toronto Star these days. True to the paper's fabricated 'War on the Car' muckraking mantra, there's a lot of angst in the air:

"When I'm the mayor of the City," gloated Mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti in response to a bike lane question last week, "I will take them down (all the new bikes lanes) - and that will be the first thing that I do."

Thanks Giorgio. Well, at least he's honest.

This recent proposal to insert a couple of bike lanes along University Ave for the summer months appears to have ignited the ire of most of our municipal candidates.

When asked, "Are you in favour of bike lanes on major city roads, such as Jarvis St and University Ave?" only one candidate answered an unequivocal "yes" (Thanks, Joe Pantalone).

Never one to duck a controversy, the Star's Rosie D-Manno stepped into the cowpat with a typical stir-up-the-pot-for-the-sake-of-it contribution:

Personally, I find myself at endless war with both cars and bicycles since each clearly believes they own the road over pedestrians. Gas pedal, kinetic pedal - same difference when it comes to bullying the public space. And note I said pedestrians, which implies those who go about at a pedestrian pace. That does not include runners, be they even those middle-age stiffs who fancy themselves athletes, panting purposely and virtuously towards a place they have no hope of reaching: youth retrieved and physical decrepitude thwarted.

Wow. Who ever thought this 'war' would set its' gun sights onto the poor pedestrians!

DiManno's piece was, in fact, more of a diatribe against unruly (and unsightly...) cyclists:

I've got road rage issues with cars and bikes. While the former pretend they can't see pedestrians, especially when making a left-hand turn on a green light, those of us trying to negotiate an intersection - or a sidewalk - are apparently completely invisible to the latter.

We take our life in our hands stepping off a curb with a cyclist barrelling down the macadam. In my experience, pedal-pushers don't think traffic lights and crosswalks apply to them.

This is self-evidently true of bike couriers, a kamikaze breed who should, frankly, be segregated from the rest of society. But even otherwise mild-mannered individuals - tricked out with their stupid aerodynamic helmets, as if they were participating in Olympic pursuit races, and their exhibitionist crotch-hugging Gore-Tex pants - discover their inner demon while mounted.

I cannot count the times I've nearly been spoked to death by geeks who would never consider so much as, say, butting into a queue were their feet solidly on the ground.

Of course, regular Star readers have learned over the years that DiManno likes to pick a fight with, well - anyone, and facts or common sense be damned.

I have to agree with her on those Gore-Tex pants though. They really do look stupid...

Today's Star offers up some more rational discourse. Ajax's new plans to open up more of their asphalt to people powered modes of transportation are explored in the GTA section:

One fine day last August, two groups of politicians, planners and officials laced up their walking shoes, hopped on bicycles and hit the streets of Ajax.

"It was one of the biggest eye openers for us," says the town's senior transportation planner Angela Gibson. "We began to experience what our residents were experiencing daily."

That tour by cyclists and pedestrians, punctuated by pit stops to discuss observations and ideas, was the ideal starting point for an ambitious new master plan called Walkable + Bikeable Ajax.

Just approved by council, the $28 million, four-year plan - the first of its kind in Durham Region - aims to turn Ajax into a vibrant and accessible community where cars take a back seat to people."

And stranded-at-the-airport Urban Affairs columnist Christopher Hume weighs in from Berlin:

Although volcanic ash from Iceland has paralyzed air traffic across Europe, it hasn't paralyzed Europe. If this city is any indication, life goes on much as always.

But what if the jet stream flowed west, not east, and the smoke was blowing across Canada? The results would be beyond disastrous, they'd be catastrophic.

Why? Because in North America, we have no other serious forms of transportation. Take aviation out of the picture and what's left? The answer, sad to say, is precious little. Other than cars and trucks, we would have few alternatives.

Europe, by contrast, is connected by a formidable network of trains - high-speed intercontinental lines, intercity service and local commuter lines - that is never more than steps away no matter where you live.

[...]

As for high-speed rail, now so fast it takes barely more than two hours to go from London to Paris, it simply doesn't exist in Canada, not even in the densely populated Toronto-Montreal corridor. By the way, when you can get a seat and trains aren't delayed by the seemingly daily derailments, travelling between those two cities is an almost five-hour epic.

This conversation has been going on in the Star for weeks now. It's curious then, why mass transit, pedestrian safety and bike lanes don't appear to be on any of the municipal candidates' radars.

It's not in print for nothing, folks. Read the paper - take the hint.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 08:57:10

Regarding Ms DiManno... I'm always amused by how pissed-off people get by her columns. (My mom included; Rosi wrote a funny piece about Prince Charles and Camilla's visit to Hamilton that had my mom apoplectic...and me chuckling.) What she has to say about cyclists is dead-on. For a group that's trying to effect positive change, they (collectively) act like idjits and always have. (Yes, I'm a cyclist. And a pedestrian. No, I'm not a car-owner; I use mass transit. And yes, I was a bike mechanic for two decades, so it's not like I'm 'the enemy' here.) In just about every North American city I've lived in or visited, I've been constantly amazed at the amount of sheer ignorance (or arrogance) so many cyclists display.

As for "It's curious then, why mass transit, pedestrian safety and bike lanes don't appear to be on any of the municipal candidates' radars," why should this be a curious element? It's not to me. In a car-centric society, where so much is predicated on moving from Point A to Point B in an automobile, why should this mindset be bewildering? (my choice of words) It strikes me to be similar to secular concerns not being taken as seriously or as thoroughly as might be, in a religious-based society. (Like, for instance...ours.) Why should this surprise? It's the default. It might not be intractable, it might be completely and entirely changeable, but scratching your head over it? Now that's curious.

What I find 'curious' is the seemingly blinkered way that so much of the pro-pedestrian, pro-transit, pro-cyclist cadre view how things are...and choose to rail at how not everyone can see common sense (theirs) and join in the fight.

You wanna change the world? You wanna effect a sea change in societal mores, shift things in terms of our value system? (And for the record, I do.) Start by being honest about how things are, how we got here and by being patient and consistent in proffering sensible, workable solutions...instead of investing all those energies in carping about how people just (curiously) can't or won't see the light.

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By trolls to trowels (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 09:31:36

Sorry schmadrian but I have a hard time reading your long long long posts as anything other than sophisticated concern trolls. Your always sure to (parenthetically) insist that you're on the side of cyclists and pedestrians and that you want to see all these changes happen.........but every. Single. Post from you is a long (kinda sarcastic) explanation of why change just isn't gonna happen (even though it makes you SAD to have to break it to us) and all us transportation activists are blinkered and myopic and foolish and wasting our time and don't understand the car mindset and why can't we be more EVOLVED and SOPHISTICATED like poor world-weary you? Maybe then we'd stop worrying and learn to love the car culture!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2010 at 10:33:58

schmadrian opines re. the lack of public concern for cycling and non-gross mass transit ...

Why should this be a curious element? It's not to me. ... It's the default. It might not be intractable, it might be completely and entirely changeable, but scratching your head over it? Now that's curious.

He's not arguing for the default, as far as I can tell. He's arguing that we acknowledge it and realize that an awful lot of people like it (or think they do) and that we should not act like it's an inexplicable surprise.

I try to approach these things like a compassionate 19th century missionary rather than as a zealous 16th century reformer: learn the language, understand the lives, bring new knowledge, be an example, proclaim the good news ... rather than railing against the iniquitous way that the majority live and demanding that the authorities smash the altars and tear down the painted idols.

St. Francis of Assisi advised his followers to preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words. I believe that we argue eloquently for cycling when we signal our turns, obey traffic signs, walk our bikes on sidewalks, ride sensibly but boldly downtown sans lycra.

All that said, bloody minded fanatics like John Knox and Oliver Cromwell will often effect social change more quickly and thoroughly than half a dozen St. Francises. : /

I'm still opting for loving persuasion peppered with the odd rant, though :)

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-20 09:36:01

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 10:35:07

What a sad election for Toronto. These lame candidates need to pull their heads out of their asses and admit that Toronto is not a universe in itself. Thier stupid mantras of 'voters drive cars, drivers pay taxes' are no more true there than anywhere else, yet every other world class city is making exactly the same changes that they oppose. It makes me glad to live in Hamilton - sure we get screwed over and over again, but at least we're used to it.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2010 at 11:38:41

"As for "It's curious then, why mass transit, pedestrian safety and bike lanes don't appear to be on any of the municipal candidates' radars," why should this be a curious element?"

Huh? It's curious because so many of the voting public are concerned about it. The point I am making about the volume of transit press is that citizens (in Toronto at least) appear to understand that improved transit, bike lanes and pedestrian safety are part of the overall transportation solution. As opposed to just widening roads or manitaining the current car status-quo which so many of the current candidates seem to want to do.

Why do we have this disconnect? I honestly feel that these 'car at all costs' voters will be outnumbered in this election. And if our candidates don't 'get it' very soon they will be voted down.

Go Joe Pantalone!

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 11:45:15

"In just about every North American city I've lived in or visited, I've been constantly amazed at the amount of sheer ignorance (or arrogance) so many cyclists display."

A comment that nicely explains it is this one : http://raisethehammer.org/article/1061#c...

Inconsistent rules, infrastructure, and education means people have a different perception of what normal riding is to them.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/87...

As cycling and its infrastructure normalize in a community, I think overall Ryan's comment is true that behaviour starts to normalize around a consistent set of social and legal rules. People riding incorrectly and/or recklessly start to stick out and get prosecuted, just like drivers that drive dangerously draw attention to themselves and get ticketed.

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By change is hard (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:08:53

schmadrian, there's no way to present people with significant changes to the status quo without eliciting fear and reaction. Asking hard questions and questioning assumptions is intrinsicly subversive because the only way to change how we do things is to undermine how we do things by showing what's wrong with it.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 14:56:50

I deal with this all the time as a part of my business as our core product radically changes the way people accomplish some of their major tasks.

I spoke with a recent convert a little while ago who said that staff at first railed against it, then eventually deigned to try it and were shocked at how easy it made their lives.

Change is bad, even when it's for the better.

Comment edited by Brandon on 2010-04-20 13:57:14

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 22:15:16

Hard to have a thriving, dynamic city and a car in every garage. Can't be done. Cars just take up too much damn space.

That's what it all comes down to. There is no such thing as enough space for cars. They have 8 lanes on University Ave and apparently they can't spare one for the bike lanes.

I read an article that gave a figure for the equivalent amount of space every car takes up on the earth when you consider the parking lots, gas stations, and all the low value added land uses cars command in cities. I wasn't able to find it but maybe someone here will remember.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:17:33

What I find 'curious' is the seemingly blinkered way that so much of the pro-pedestrian, pro-transit, pro-cyclist cadre view how things are...and choose to rail at how not everyone can see common sense (theirs) and join in the fight.

You wanna change the world? You wanna effect a sea change in societal mores, shift things in terms of our value system? (And for the record, I do.) Start by being honest about how things are, how we got here and by being patient and consistent in proffering sensible, workable solutions...instead of investing all those energies in carping about how people just (curiously) can't or won't see the light.

I'll join you on that soapbox schmadrian!

Long journeys start with a single step.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 09:15:22

I think Schmadrian's got a point...the complete unwillingess of our society to change its ways based on reason alone.

No matter how much we continue to discuss the facts - peak oil, increasing traffic levels, the high financial as well as high external costs of auto dependency, this stuff doesn't matter a bit to Joe Public, who has been conditioned from birth that his car is his pride and joy, and the source of his freedom. No matter how logical it is, we will not be able to impose our will on the majority by logic alone.

To be successful we need to appeal to emotion. The debate needs to be framed in terms that everyone understands. When the guy in the pickup truck is stuck sitting traffic being passed by a cyclist, there's a moment. When the family that has one car (because one spouse cycles to work) can afford to take family vacations or invest extra funds in upgrading the home, there's another a-ha. It will take time, and an understanding that runs counter to the mainstream messaging (bike = freedom, car = slavery) to provide the kind of incentive that fosters change.

Here's an excellent blog post from Scott Schnieder which discusses the phenomenon in the US.
http://scottschneider.dbetv.com/good-ole...

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