The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

During the lead up to last week’s Gardiner expressway east debate and council decision, an interesting statistic was tweeted from Laurence Liu into my consciousness. buslineTaken from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow survey, it gave a breakdown of morning commute time travel modes into Toronto’s downtown core from all 44 wards in the city. In a previous post, I pointed out that in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, the beating heart of Ford Nation, ground zero for the war on the car, only 22% of those making their way downtown in the morning actually drove. 77% of Rob Ford’s constituents commuting to the core in the a.m. relied on public transit.

Strange, eh? With such heavy transit dependence in his ward, you’d think the councillor would have different priorities. You’d think.

Stranger still, as I was looking over the table, I realized in my ward, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, more people drive downtown to work in the morning than do those in Ward 2, 27%. crowdedbusThat’s right. In Ward 19 – as downtown a ward as you can get – more than a quarter of morning commuters to downtown jobs drive.

How is that possible?

Ward 19 is crammed full of transit options. Off the top of my head, 4 east-west and 1 north-south streetcar lines pass through it. There are three bus routes, I think. The Bloor-Danforth subway line. Ward 19 has some of the city’s best biking infrastructure in it.

And, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that I could walk from the most north-westerly part of this ward to the very southeast corner of the official downtown core in around an hour or so with a stop for coffee.

Why on earth would anyone living in Ward 19 drive to their job in the downtown core?

The simplest explanation, I’d guess, is that they can.

Often times, this war on the car that’s been raging in the minds of too many city councillors is couched in terms of looking out for the little guy, as one of the battle’s prime warriors likes to say. crowdedbus1We can’t talk tolls and other forms of road pricing because, well, some people depend on their cars to get around the city. Should they be penalized for that? We must keep road capacity in order for people to get as quickly as possible between the 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet

The automobile provides the life line to those who need it most, those hardworking taxpayers just looking to get ahead while spending as much quality time with their families.

Except that, owning and operating a car in this city is an expensive proposition although not as expensive as it should be, if gasoline was priced accordingly and the use of public space to park our cars charged properly. It would seem to me that car dependence is a burden on those struggling to get by not something to be encouraged. SeanMarshallMapWe do that by trying to make it easier to driver and short-changing the public transit system.

Sean Marshall created a map (which is what he does so well) from the table drawn up by Laurence Liu. Some of the heaviest transit use during morning commutes to downtown comes from the farthest reaches of the city. Northwest Etobicoke. North North York. Scarbourgh. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who couldn’t make up his mind last week on what to do with the Gardiner east (None of the above) represents a ward in this city were only 15% of residents drive downtown to work. You might think that he’d take every opportunity to divert money into transit projects that would benefit the other 85% of his residents who rely on public transit.

Now overlay that map with any that David Hulchanski’s produced over the last little while. The ones showing Toronto’s growing income disparity, and the specific locations of low income neighbourhoods. Funny, eh? There appears to be some sort of relationship between income levels and transit use. DavidHulchanskiMapSpecifically, the less you make, the more you use transit.

So tell me again why we must be redirecting public resources to free up car traffic instead of investing every dollar we can get our hands on in public transit?

Some of the highest car use in morning commute times to downtown come from some of the more affluent spots in the city, spots, in some cases, better served by transit than the places with more transit users. “Fun TTS 2011 fact,” Laurence Liu tweeted, “of those who drive downtown during AM peak period, 64% live in households with 2 or more cars.” Two or more cars? That’s not dependence. It’s an addiction.

You’ll have to excuse my impatience then with those trying to espouse notions of equality and fairness when they push for increased spending on road infrastructure or tout the need to bury public transit in order to clear up the streets for cars. openroadThis isn’t about the little guy. It’s about an overweening sense of entitlement by those who can afford to make an active choice to drive in this city. My neighbours in Ward 19 with every amenity at their disposal to get around but they pick the most expensive one because they can afford it.

— automiserly submitted by Cityslikr

8 thoughts on “The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

  1. This aligns exactly with John Tory’s views that transit exists to serve people “who can’t afford a car”. See John Barbers’s article in the Torontoist ( and the last bullet point within the embedded link [PDF, p. 2] ( I have no idea why John Tory ignores the recommendations of subject matter experts – not to mention his own beliefs! It’s got to be more than than just bad political instincts. The only thing that comes to mind is that he’s chosen support his demographic on this issue – those rich enough to drive (despite all the subsidies that go along with that activity as you’ve pointed out).

  2. The “war on the Car” has become the war *of* the car. Because the other side has now fully joined the battle. Rob Ford was the first crude manifestation of this, but commentators going on about “Ford Nation” forget that Ford was an effect, not the cause, of the downtown/suburbs rift. Suburbanites have grown wise to the assault being waged on their chosen lifestyle by urbanists.

    The city planning profession in Canada has become dominated by people like Keesmaat who have drunk jugfuls of the urbanist Kool-aid and have cars and on single family homes perpetually in their crosshairs. They have bought into a rigid ideology that holds that squeezing us tightly together and limiting our personal space, mobility and possessions makes us better and happier people. They will not be content until the car is at best a niche transportation mode.

    They realize however that they cannot simply call for the banning of cars. That would lay their authoritarianism bare and generate active resistance. But they realize that car owners have certain vulnerabilities. They require reasonably-priced gasoline (for now, anyway), and access to roads and parking. Raising the price of gas through taxation, closing roads and eliminating parking space to sufficient degrees would work together bring about a virtual ban on the automobile.

    So while they think public transit is great, public transit that slows or blocks private vehicular traffic is even better. While they think revenues to build transit, bike lanes and public plazas are great, revenues for those things generated by gas taxes or road tolls is even better. If mixed use towers full of micro-condos are great, then building those towers without parking is even better. They love bike lanes, but bike lanes carved out of road space currently allocated to cars are even better.

    • Can I suggest that you move to a less urbanized locale such as….Saskatchewan? It has a great outdoors greater than all the other outdoors with nary a midrise, tree or bicycle in sight.

      • Do you really believe the urbanists would allow “car culture” to continue to survive and thrive in rural Canada once they’ve managed to eradicate it in the suburbs?

    • Very well stated. You are bang on. Also, it is time to licence bicycles and the cyclists who ride them. Also force them to take out insurance to pay for the accidents that they cause on the roads.

      • The sure sign of a low level intelligence, massive over statements and scurrilous slippery slope arguments.
        Only the weakest thinkers would see urban planning as a ban on cars.

      • Lob insults all you want. Suburbanites have been crapped on for decades by academics, novelists and filmmakers (Sam Mendes seems to have made a career of it). The modern urbanist movement is only the latest of the assailants, but it’s the most aggressive by far. The literati were content merely to sneer and scold. The urbanists however come not merely to condemn suburbia, but to bury it.

        There have always been people who feel a need to tell other people how to live their lives. They have operated under various stated philosophies and have flown various banners. Urbanism is merely one of the latest of these.

        It’s not a slippery slope argument to say that most urbanists (and especially those in the planning profession) are anti-car and anti-suburb, and will support any measure to reduce the presence of either. Close enough roads to automobiles and eliminate enough parking and, presto, no more cars. Insist on walkability and higher density everywhere within the boundaries of a city and, presto, no more suburbs. The slope doesn’t have to be slippery if you’re being pushed down it.

        Whether their arguments are economic, environmental or sociological, their goal is to rid us of cars and re-engineer suburbs such that they will no longer have the attributes that differentiate them from core urban neighbourhoods. The fact that many who live in suburbia chose it for precisely these attributes is irrelevant to them.

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