Suburbia Project

Stop Catering to Cars

Al Cormier lists a number of strategies for municipal and/or provincial governments to help suburbs prepare for the end of cheap energy.

By Al Cormier
Published October 21, 2005

Before I propose a few solutions, I am making the following assumptions:

  1. Peak oil will bring about a significant decrease in private automobile traffic. Alternative fules and electric vehicles will become more popular but traffic volumes will still be reduced.

  2. There will also be a decrease in long distance traffic, especially trucking, placing a stronger emphasis on locally/regionally grown food and products.

  3. There will be spare road capacity, especially on suburban arterials and on freeways.

  4. There will be many redundant gasoline stations.

  5. Travel patterns will change over time as people and jobs relocate.

Some of the strategies I would propose, which require municipal and/or provincial actions and respect the guidelines noted above, include the following:

Land Use

  1. Change zoning regulations to change suburban homes from single family to multiple family dwellings. This will spread the energy costs for the household, increase the population densities which will support better public transport and increase the possibilities for car pools, car sharing etc.

  2. Stop providing school bussing to exurb locations, thus encouraging those living there to move closer to higher density districts.

  3. Airports will be largely underutilized. Since these are well located for servicing by public transport, allow commercial/residential developments on their properties.

  4. Redevelop suburban shopping malls by allowing high rise residential on top of them. This would be much appreciated by seniors and others who could access many services by walking.

  5. Insist that new developments be higher densities, mixed use and allow for inter-generational living.


  1. Dedicate some lanes on arterials and freeways to public transport or public transport and high occupancy vehicles and bicycle paths.

  2. Create transit/pedestrian only sections of streets in city cores.

  3. Many suburban arterials have reverse frontage that leave a fairly wide strip of public lands between the curbs/sidewalks and right-of-way property lines. These strips of land can be zoned for commercial use allowing the possibility of retail shops within walking distances from the residential homes in the adjoining residential areas. This would also reduce operating speeds on these arterials making them much more people friendly.

  4. Allow the redevelopment of redundant service station properties into small malls offering retail services to residents nearby.

  5. Develop wider networks of pedestrian paths using green space and other public lands.

  6. Actively promote Telework through appropriate wiring of homes, etc.

  7. Actively promote Walking School Buses to reduce the need for school bussing and the need for children to be driven to schools.

  8. Change traffic regulations to allow electrically assisted bicycles on urban streets. This will facilitate bicycling for those with limited energy or physical capacity.


  1. Too many public buildings (schools, community centres, etc) are used for only part of the day, yet energy is needed on a 24 hours basis. Ensure that these buildings are used 12 months of the year and for as many hours per day as possible.

  2. Retrofit buildings for maximum energy savings, using the latest technologies and strategies. Presumably few incentives will be required if the energy savings are significant. Technical guidance will be necessary.

Al Cormier is the President and CEO of the Centre for Sustainable Transportation, based in Mississauga.


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