Put Cars First Cars Come First

As Paris burns with plans to build new transit lines, Toronto smoulders.


TTC, Metrolinx to debate disputed subway costs, fizzles a CBC news headline.

Oh, good god. Can we just stop with the back-and-forth and get on with it already? It’s almost as if we’re jawing about transit as a method of premastication in the hopes of coughing up a better network.

Granted, places like France seem to understand the need for a top-tiered transit system as a way of keeping their cities vibrant and competitive. pennyanteIt’s not just a local matter. National governments get involved with municipal transportation funding and enabling. National government not located in Ottawa that is. And no, Denis Lebel, some $300 million a year to the GTA is not getting involved so much as it is pandering.

So largely orphaned to figure out how to bring the region’s transit system up to 21st-century speed, the province and its municipalities bicker over the crumbs on the table. Piecing them together in order to construct a loaf of something substantial seems far beyond anyone’s reach. If I’m going to stretch this analogy even thinner, getting a consensus on the exact ingredients of that loaf is no… a-hem, a-hem… cake walk either.

We can only look on with envy as even one-time public transportation laggard Los Angeles convinced enough people to fund the undertaking of a massive overhaul of the way they get around. 3010First it was a projected timeline of 30 years but then last term mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went to Washington to secure a loan in order to speed things up to a 10 year time frame. 30/10. And we can only look to our Metrolinx’s Big Move and weep.

It’s one thing to be forever in awe of transit policies of more established, less car-centric places like Paris. Hey. The city wasn’t designed for cars. People were riding subways long before they were cars. There’s more of an affinity for the concept of public transit there than there is here.

But Los Angeles? Los Angeles?! L.A.? I Can’t Drive 55, L.A.? How are they beating us to the punch?

It doesn’t help to see commentaries like this filling up space in one of our national newspapers.

Public transit is better, but cars are faster.


What’s it take to get piece of commentary action on the pages of the Globe and Mail? An entire lack of understanding about a topic?

Even assuming Murtaza Haider, associate dean of research and graduate programs at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, is being upfront with the numbers he’s using from the National Household Survey, he seems to think travel times on various modes of transit operate in some a priori existence, undetermined by outside factors such as ease of access or urban plans partial to one type of transit.

Read this beauty and behold the logic at work:

The commute to work data challenges the notion that building more public transit will save travel time by shifting commuters from cars to public transit. How is it possible that transferring commuters from a faster mode of travel to a slower one will shorten travel times? Simple arithmetic and common sense suggests that system-wide travel times will instead be longer when more people commute by the slower mode, i.e., public transit.

You see, travelling by car is faster than public transit not because most of our cities have been designed for that to be possible but because… well, freewayjust because. Accept the conventional wisdom of the status quo and carry on as you were. Or as Mr. Haider recommends, “… building more roads and introducing congestion pricing on highways will make commutes even shorter by car.” As if the entire purpose of any reasonable and common sense approach to transportation planning is to shorten the length of car commutes rather than providing equal quality of choice across all methods of travel.

I know that’s not the point of the article. Haider is arguing that we need a different line of reasoning to convince the public to dig into their pockets to fund new public transit builds. But he dismisses the commute time one based on faulty thinking.

Commute times by car may be shorter even in more public transit friendly cities like Toronto and Montreal because that’s what city planners have been designing for decades now. It didn’t just happen that way. It’s not the natural order of things.

So, if you make it easier to get from point A to point B by car than it is by public transit, given a choice, sharetheroadpeople will take the car. Outside of the older downtown core of the city, that’s been the case for the past 70 years or so. Problem is, there’s now too many cars and no more space to build for them without adversely affecting the well-being of the city and region. The days of prioritizing car travel above every other way to get around are numbered.

Murtaza Haider doesn’t quite get that. But he’s not alone. We’ve all been slow to come to that realization. You’ll recognize the places that haven’t. They’re currently building public transit at a feverish pace, not counting the cost but calculating the return they’ll be getting on their investment.

putting-the-car-before-the-hoarsely submitted by Cityslikr

4 thoughts on “Put Cars First Cars Come First

  1. I was at a discussion on the Eco – Economy last night. People like Ford AND Harper are obstacles to progress.!
    There was a good to and fro on walking and cycling as areas to grow in Toronto…

    A.H. Dec. 31, 2010 – 76,549

    • There were signalling issues between Bloor & Eglinton on the Yonge subway today as Ford talks…at the all male Executive Committee. Eventually it was cleared up for rush hour! (smile)

      A.H. Jan. 31, 2011 – 76,993

  2. ” that’s what city planners have been designing for decades now”
    “People like Ford AND Harper are obstacles to progress.”

    These are simply absurd statements.

    It’s a well-known fact that planning in this city, certainly since the early days of the Miller Council, has been designed by councillors and/or the developers. The type of planning the folks at AFUITBS bemoan the absence of hasn’t been seen in these parts for donkey’s years.

    People like those on Council have been the greatest obstacles to progress since Amalgamation.

    It took Miller until 2007 to reveal his secret Transit City plans, which was also the year Vaughan killed the car-free King Street plan. The TTC has been dreadful for many years yet mayors and councillors have done nothing about it, except for using it as a political football. Stintz was for subways, against subways and now backing subways again. Matlow and Carroll voted to scrap the VRT, although they didn’t campaign on the idea. Council plans for a bridge but it gets cancelled. How many vote reversals have we seen in the last three years?? We have City policies that councillors regularly vote against. There is terrible waste at City Hall but an overpowering culture that prohibits any resolution.

    We tolerate all this yet comments such as above go unchallenged. Easy seen this site is all about political ideology and pandering.

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