Road Rage

July 6, 2016

I know most of you reading these digital pages on a regular basis imagine that I always write angry. To be sure, I do often write angry. elevenOften but not always.

Today, indeed, I am angry, really angry, like white fucking hot angry. Pissed was a spot way back there on the angry spectrum, just passed annoyed and miffed. I am 11 on the angry dial.

I live just a block or so from the intersection of Bathurst and College which is currently undergoing streetcar track and stop reconstruction. Since being closed to vehicular traffic a couple weeks ago, our side street has seen a stream of detoured car traffic making its way around the road work. When they’re not speeding crazily through the residential neighbourhood, they’re backed up at times for almost the entire block, annoyed, honking at garbage trucks that are in their way and whatever else they perceive to be blocking their forward motion. Walking down the line of cars, it’s always interesting to note just how many of them are on their hand-held devices. Hey. We’re stopped, aren’t we? Where’s the harm?

The alleys running between streets and behind the houses in the neighbourhood have also seen an uptick in traffic trying to find alternative ways around the slow down. carseverywhereThis has led to standoffs were cars meet, heading in opposite directions on what is decidedly a one lane right of way. You back up. No, you back up. No, you. Cue blaring of horns.

Traffic further south along Dundas Street, a big block south of the construction, heavy under normal driving conditions, is pretty much snarled now especially during what constitutes rush hours. On my regular runs… OK, not so much runs as grinds, like a first time marathoner slogging out those last couple miles… traversing Dundas at a couple points, I regularly encounter bad, egregiously bad, driving behaviour. Rolling stops, throwing out the anchors up on sidewalks and in bike lanes, reckless speeding past parks and schoolyards, the requisite reading phone while driving.

You know, your everyday, run of the mill driver entitlement. As a matter of fact, I do own the road, and the alley, and the sidewalks. caronsidewalkInconvenienced in any way whatsoever, and this sense of sole proprietorship grows even stronger.

Why wouldn’t it, though?

Private vehicle use enjoys the favourite child status in our transportation family. We build our networks around it. We subsidize it to a degree only dreamed of if you take a bus, ride a bike or even walk to get to where you’re going. We tremble in fear of getting car drivers mad at us.

The results of such coddling are predictable.

That’s about 5 weeks. 58 cyclists and 67 pedestrians struck by car drivers. Nearly 12 cyclists a week. More than 13 pedestrians a week. 1 dead pedestrian a week.

And the fallout from that?

What’s even less than sweet fuck all?diein

Unless you’re driving drunk and wipe out an entire family or, maybe, behind the wheel going race course speed or take off from the scene after mowing somebody down, chances are there will be no consequences to bad driving causing death or injury. A few demerit points, perhaps. Insurance rate hike. Occasionally, jail time spent over the course of a few months’ weekends because nobody wants to disrupt your life too, too much. Certainly, sometimes, a ban on driving, for sure. A year or two. Lifetime? Are you kidding me?

All extreme examples. Rarely do we see such penalties imposed even if the driver is at fault, and the driver is usually at fault, 67% of the time in collisions between pedestrians and drivers, according to a Toronto Public Health report, pedestrians have the right of way when they’re struck by a driver in a car. Yeah but… were they wearing bright enough clothes? Were the walking distractedly, looking at their phone? Did they signal their intentions to cross the street?

In an overwhelming majority of these situations, where car meets pedestrian, car meets cyclist, car hits pedestrian, car hits cyclist, the presumed assumption is what did the pedestrian do wrong, what law did the cyclist break? Idistracteddrivingn yesterday’s cyclist death (not registered in the above list), it was initially reported that the cyclist had been cut off and slammed into a parked car and the driver left the scene. Then came news that maybe a 2nd car hadn’t been involved. Then stated outright that the cyclist was at fault, and shouldn’t have been riding in between moving and parked cars. Oops. Correction. Cyclist had right of way after all. Investigation still ongoing.

Many jurisdictions have looked at what’s going on in their streets, examining the data and evidence, and come to the only conclusion they possibly could. The private automobile is anathema to 21st-century cities. It is the most expensive, least efficient way to move people around a region. Cars contribute mightily to greenhouse gas emissions and thus climate change, not to mention a sedentary lifestyle. The faster drivers are allowed to go, the more dangerous their cars become.

The spoiled child has grown out of control and has become a certifiable threat to everybody’s well-being. It’s time to roll back its privileges. crashstatisticsTeach it some lessons in sharing and responsibility.

Here in Toronto, though, we’re only grudgingly facing that cold hard truth. Official protestations to the contrary, the last six years we’ve done our upmost to improve the flow of cars not people. Spending on non-driving infrastructure remains infinitesimally low compared to what we shell out for those in cars. In doing so, we’ve only encouraged drivers’ disregard for other road users, inflated their self-importance.

As I write this, 2 more cyclists and a pedestrian have been hit since about 8:30 this morning by somebody driving a vehicle. Just the cost of doing business in a city that places such an emphasis on private automobiles. You want to stay safe on our streets? Get behind the wheel of a car, the bigger the better. Sure, you still might get hurt or killed but at least you’ve giving yourself a fighting chance to emerge from the wreckage alive.

We know the toll this is taking. We know the costs we are incurring. Worse still, we know how to solve this problem. deathrace2000It’s as simple as summoning the political will, screwing on a little courage and showing some leadership.

But I don’t see any of that anywhere in the places it should be. It’s all just steady as she goes, no need to change course now. Sometimes we have to suck it up and live with acceptable losses. Vision Zero? Absolutely. All in good time.

So yeah, I’m fucking angry.

grrrrringly submitted by Cityslikr


Letting Go The Wheel

July 4, 2016

I spent the better part of 5 hours this holiday weekend behind the wheel of a Dodge Journey, apparently the auto aficionado’s choice of SUV or… dodgejourneyminivan or whatever thing this thing is called. How would I know the vehicle’s desirability? As soon as I returned it to the rental counter, it was summoned away to be washed and sent back out immediately upon request from another customer.

I did not sign up for a Dodge Journey, nor any other SUV or minivan. With just the 3 of us heading out of town for a couple days, figured a 4-door intermediate sized car would do the trick. But when I arrived at the rental place, there wasn’t a car on the lot. Just everything on steroids. My request for the smallest one they had delivered up the Journey. Yeah, the Journey. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to park it in our tiny garage. (Spoiler alert: Mission Accomplished, with room to spare.)

Once out on the highway, the Dodge Journey drove like in a car commercial. If you closed your eyes and pretended all those other cars weren’t there. dodgejourney1Only, not for too long. That’s kind of dangerous driving.

Seats as comfortable as any in my living room. Sound system better than mine at home. A/C keeping us cool on demand. Plenty of room for all the stuff we’ve packed in to make a summer long weekend complete.

Eventually, when traffic did thin out, after a couple hours, the Dodge Journey hit 140, 145 without me even really noticing. This, as the ad man’s copy reads, was a smooth ride. Enjoyable even, to a man who, at the best of times, hates being in a car.

It all got me to thinking about the not-too-distant future when we’d be handing over the task of driving fully to computers. Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars and the like.openroad1

The visuals we’re presented, Jetson’s style, are tiny pods, moving us around efficiently, not careening here and there, zipping back and forth, but almost assembly line like. Everyone travelling in orderly fashion at the same speed, a speed conducive, one would assume, to street life. So, not at crazy breakneck speeds.

Even out on the highways where the private automobile and trucking of goods rule, at what speed will our self-driving cars be allowed to haul it? Around these parts with a posted speed limit of 100 km/h but in practice, more like 120 before anyone really starts to notice, how fast will be deemed too fast? Eliminating driver error through computer control would, presumably, notch it up somewhat. What number will be practical, feasible or desirable?

A bigger question might be: will drivers who are used to determining their driving speed for themselves, within the constraints of using our streets with fellow travellers, of course, be willing to hand over the controls to the machine? Are we really going to be content to stick with the posted limits along with everyone else? selfdrivingcarsIsn’t the appeal (at least theoretically) of driving yourself the individualism to it? We’ve known almost since the private vehicle made its first appearance that speed kills yet we’ve proven ourselves unwilling to regulate their speed in any short of resolute way outside of road sign limits. Why are we still allowing cars on our streets and roads that are capable of going well over 300km/h, and building the infrastructure to accommodate such speeds?

Are we really to believe that with the advent of autonomous vehicles, we’re simply going to take our collective foot off the gas? Not to mention, give up the luxury something like the Dodge Journey offers up now for the confined space of the prototypical self-driving car that we’re seeing on the news reels. I have my doubts. Being in traffic is being in traffic whether you’re driving or not. selfdrivingcars1It’s hard to imagine giving up all the mod cons that we’ve become accustomed to if we’re still spending an inordinate amount of time in our cars in return for someonething else assuming control of the wheel.

Our relationship with our cars has never been that kind of rational. You could argue that car dependence and the building of our environment for the primacy of private automobile use is the very definition of irrational. Yet the assumption now seems to be technology will bring a sense of order, logic and reason to our road use. The machines will save us!

Only if they rewire our thinking about how we move around our cities and places, changing our priorities, will they. Because if the easiest, most reliable and comfortable way to get to where you want to go is still from inside a car, nothing much is going to change. selfdrivingcars2Fewer collisions and fatalities, which is not to be sniffed at, but cars first, cars foremost.

Unless, of course there are none remaining in the lot. Then we’ll all be moving around in Dodge Journeys. Riding in extreme comfort but still stuck in traffic despite the machine’s best efforts.

semi-autonomously submitted by Cityslikr


Blind Spot

June 16, 2016

Here’s how it starts.

On Monday’s edition of the CBC’s The Current, carsofthefuturethe show’s host Anna Maria Tremonti was talking to the president of General Motors Canada about technology, innovation and the future of transportation. It essentially went like this:

Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. E-bikes (manufactured by GM natch). Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Multi-modality. Cars, e-bikes, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

With self-driving cars, our future roads will look pretty much like our current roads. Filled with cars. In a 24 minute segment, public transportation wasn’t mentioned once. Unsurprisingly, at least from GM’s standpoint, as it looks to shore up its share of the electric and, ultimately, autonomous vehicle market. The nature of car ownership may change, with more of an emphasis on ‘sharing’ ownership. carsofthefuture1But car ownership there will be and General Motors wants to be a major part of that.

There continues to be very little talk, though, of autonomous vehicles and public transit which, one would think might be a relatively hot topic of conversation. Setting aside a discussion about the loss of yet another sector of well-paying jobs, since labour costs are the prime driver of public transit operating budgets, you’d think municipal governments all over the place would be salivating over the possibility of self-driving buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams. Just like the move toward automated subway systems. Not only cheaper to run but also better in terms of route management and increased frequency, owing to the absence of messy human imperfectness.

Yet, it’s still largely all about the new technology and cars. Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

Almost simultaneously with The Current interview on Monday, the city and Mayor Tory announced its road safety plan to… and I’ve been waiting pretty much my entire writing life to use this phrase in a sentence… carsofthefuture2universal opprobrium. “Very unambitious,” the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore called it. Where other cities around the world have adopted the Swedish concept of Vision Zero, essentially a target of no traffic deaths with aggressive time lines and money to pursue it, our mayor championed the idea of reducing traffic fatalities by 20% over the next decade. A target “smaller than many of the normal [traffic fatality] fluctuations from year to year,” Moore pointed out.

“Very unambitious,” is a nice way of putting it.

As for money budgeted to achieve this modest target? Equally modest. $40 million extra over the next 5 years. Cities like New York? “An additional $115 million this year alone.” San Francisco? $70 million in the next 2 years.

Mayor Tory made the appearance of scrambling backward on the road safety plan on Tuesday when he told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday that it was a ‘mistake’, a ‘communications mistake’ not to make it clear that he and the city had every intention of aiming for the Vision Zero standard of 0 road deaths. “The objective is to get to zero as quickly as possible without trying to put a time frame on this” Not really the “aggressive” approach to traffic safety Vision Zero calls for but very much the Mayor Tory way on policy issues he agrees with in theory. carsofthefuture3Why shoot for the moon when, really, the appearance of doing something is what’s called for?

As he was performing his radio mea culpa, the mayor’s traffic congestion enforcement blitz was underway and, wouldn’t you know it? It was the pedestrians’ fault all along! Not obeying the rules of road and following traffic lights that were set up to keep them in the proper place. Huddled together on the curb, waiting for their brief window of opportunity to scurry across the street and be one their way. Yep. If pedestrians would just follow the laws and traffic lights, cars would be free to do what they were designed and built to do, what cities have designed and built their infrastructure around. The domination by private automobiles of the public space that are our roads and streets. The terrorizing of other road and street users into submission.

The conclusion of this dynamic is perfectly logical.carsofthefuture4

Such pampered entitlement and obvious preferential treatment of car drivers leads to a contempt of anyone else not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. A fraternity of the self-righteous and self-important. A confederacy of disregard.

As a matter of fact, I do own the road. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers. Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.

And if somebody dies, we’ll call it an accident. Of course, it was an accident. No one would mean to jump a curb with their car and kill somebody. It’s more of a faulty assessment of the possible outcomes to bad, split-second decisions made to get just one car length further forward.

Damage done, death inflicted, it usually ends the only way it possibly could. A fine. Demerit points. Probably a bump in insurance rates. But no jail time. No talk of a life time ban for blatant indifference or lethal inattention to anyone else on the road. carsofthefuture5Fatalities merely chalked up to going about your daily business in the big city.

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, if certain carmakers are to be believed, technology will save us from our indifference to the death and killing in our streets. Fingers crossed. Nothing to be sneezed at, for sure. It’s just, by the sound of things, it won’t make a dent in how we prioritize our transportation hierarchy. Cars, first and foremost. Cars, now and forever.

carfully submitted by Cityslikr


Thanks For The Hat

June 10, 2016

I’m not going to bore any of us with the sad, ridiculous, anger-making madness that was yesterday’s city council debate over Toronto’s 10 year bike plan. killmenowRehashing tired arguments, already overwhelmingly dispelled and dust-binned pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world. Airing grievances from those who see Toronto as a special, unique snowflake, a delicate, hothouse, exotic flower, deathly susceptible to any sort of winds of change.

Bike lanes will decimate business. No, they won’t. They haven’t anywhere else where a biking network has been properly installed and maintained. But Toronto’s a winter city. Nobody rides a bicycle in the winter. Tell that to New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. But we’re not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Did you not hear me mention New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal? But it’s too expensive. We don’t have the money. Except for $400 million for the Gardiner East rebuild. And how many billions on a one-stop subway?

Thursday’s performance provided proof positive once again that too many of our elected local officials cannot imagine a future that isn’t just like the past. Or, in Councillor Norm Kelly’s case, one old man believing the future, the real future, is right around the corner. Why bother building terrestrial based transportation infrastructure when in 20 years we’ll all be hovering back and forth between destinations?! chickenlittleThe former deputy mayor of this city has obviously been talking to certain Russian scientists again.

That said, reason, albeit a battered and bruised version of reason, emerged from its mauling victorious. The staff recommended 10 year bike plan, slightly amended worse for wear, would go ahead. Huzzah! It’s a start, supporters claimed. A start from way back, almost so far back you couldn’t even see the pole position. Still, a start. Toronto would be spending — if my math is right here but it is in the neighbourhood – about 70% less in a decade than Oslo, Norway is spending on bike infrastructure in a year. A year, folks! Oslo, Norway! A city that once hosted the winter Olympics.

(Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It won! Toronto now has a 10 year bike plan with some money to actually back it up. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)

There are two thoughts I would like to further explore here, lines of attack trotted out by the most vehement of status quo supporters. Licensing and “psycho cyclists”. notthisagainYeah, I think Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thought he was the first one ever to come up with that variation of a play on words.

Licensing of bikes and/or cyclists has never worked where it’s been tried either as some sort of safety measure or as a way of paying for cycling infrastructure. It costs too much to implement and operate, becoming the kind of red tape politicians like Councillor Mammoliti deplore in other situations. Besides, cyclists pay for the infrastructure they use, and use in a much less onerous manner than drivers do with roads, through the property taxes they pay, and every cyclist, renting or owning a residence in Toronto pays property taxes. Many cyclists also drive on occasion, and will further contribute to transportation infrastructure costs when they pay gas taxes.

Licensing cyclists makes no sense.

As for the scourge of the “psycho cyclist”? Yeah, well. Given the daily, hourly carnage on our roads done by those behind the wheel of motorized vehicles, and the pathological disregard for the rules designed exclusively for their mobility, railing about wayward cyclists is… there’s not even a word in English robust enough to describe that kind of hypocrisy. The Germans, I’m sure have a word for it, and I imagine it isn’t very pretty. crazycyclistThe kill-rate and injuries inflicted on others by those on bicycle is so infinitesimally small as to be barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes, really. Remember that time when that person on the sidewalk…

From a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, the 6 Most Frequent Sources of Pedestrian Injury were: “Tripped on uneven/cracked sidewalk” 24%, “Tripped/fell” 17%, “Hit by a car” 12%, “Wildlife/pets involved” 6%, “Tripped on stone” 5%, “Stepped in a Hole” 5%.

Aside from the obvious need to repair pedestrian infrastructure and the general clumsiness and inability to safely walk their dogs of the pedestrian population, what jumps out at me from that list is the absence of cyclists. Apparently, they’re not quite the menace anti-cycling activists try to make them out to be. Oh, there was that time I was walking across the parking lot and that guy on the bike nearly clipped me. I saw that cyclist riding the wrong way down the street. He could’ve killed someone. (Are you sure it wasn’t a counter-flow lane?)

This is not to say there aren’t asshole people riding bikes in this city. They just ruffle feathers, get under peoples’ skin and, no doubt, at times inconvenience other street users. livestockonbikesThat’s a long way from the killing and injuring inflicted by asshole car drivers.

Here’s where I diverge from some of my cycling allies. While not condoning bad cycling behaviour, I most certainly understand it. Hell, I even engage in it from time to time. Because I’m a rebel and scofflaw? No. Because most of the streets I use have been built, designed and are operated almost exclusively for the movement of motorized vehicles, motorized private vehicles, no less. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders are all after-thoughts.

Here’s a personal example.

I’m out for a run yesterday, heading west, nearing the intersection of Ossington and Argyle, just that side of Trinity Bellwoods Park. You know it. It’s got that pho place on the south-east corner.

I see that the soutbound pedestrian signal on Ossington is counting down to zero, meaning the light will change in my favour and I can continue running without stopping. Sometimes runs just break like that. waitingataredlightThere’s, I don’t know, 5 or 6 pedestrian waiting to also cross the street, and that many people on bikes too.

Except that there are no cars on Argyle waiting to cross Ossington. So that southbound pedestrian signal hits zero and turns back white, meaning the north-south traffic signal didn’t change. Apparently none of the pedestrians or cyclists pushed the button to announce their presence at the intersection, so by all traffic control measures, none of them exist. Even when I do stop to press the button, I’m not immediately acknowledged. We’ll all have to wait until the full cycle is complete.

This, on a street that HAS A FUCKING PAINTED BIKE LANE ON IT! This, when there’s no north-south car traffic in sight along Ossington. So a bunch of pedestrians and cyclists wait for non-existent cars before they are expected to cross a road with the light.

I don’t wait. I continue my run through a red light. Other pedestrians and cyclist make their way across too.

Until we start to design and rebuild our streets and roads more equitably, stop forcing non-drivers to play only by driving rules, deathrace2000there’s going to be law-breaking, tension, and continued lethal competition between the various modes of mobility, with drivers almost always coming out on top and fending off any attempts to level the playing field. Yesterday’s approval of the 10 year bike plan is a start in the right direction. A grudging, tiny, tiny start. But it’s Friday. I will force myself to be content with that.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Driving Through The Future

May 10, 2016

“Humans are bad drivers,” Oliver Sachgau writes last weekend in the Toronto Star’s “Driverless cars will shape our lives – if we let them.jetpack

Mr. Sachgau will get no argument from me there. Humans are also quite bad predictors of the future too, says someone who grew up with 1960s picture books that promised us jetpacks by the year 2000. Jetpacks, jetting us off to our long weekends at Disneyuniverse Mars.

I have no doubt driverless technology will be a part of our future. It’s already here, in fact. There are cars driving automatedly among us currently.

It’s just… I have a couple issues with how Mr. Sachgau sees this all playing out.

It’s 7:20 a.m. on a Monday in the not-too-distant future. You wake up, and realize you’ve overslept. It’s a two-hour commute to work, so you call your boss and tell her you’ll start working on the way.

(Woah! Your boss is a her? It must be the future.)worldoftomorrow

In this scenario, Sachgau’s non-gender specific stand-in lives 2 hours from work. Who the fuck wants a future where you’re commuting — driverlessly or not — 4 hours a day? But I’ll be able to get so much done during that time with something else doing the driving. During Oscar season, I can watch all the nominated films from the comfort of my own back seat!

With driverless cars, in this version of the future everyone is driving everywhere.

For the next two hours, you’re immersed in work as your car takes you to the office. Once you arrive, you’ll order another car to pick up your kids — who’ve hopefully woken up by now — and drive them to school. Another car will pick them up and drive them home in time to have dinner with you.

Just as it was forecast in New York in 1939. The World of Tomorrow.

I don’t doubt driverless cars will make the act of driving better in many, many ways. Safer, smarter, a whole lot less ragey. Maybe. worldoftomorrow2By almost every measure, we are terrible at driving. Our judgement at higher speeds is suspect. We don’t share the roads in any what that doesn’t make congestion worse. We’re so easily distracted.

Yet, this is the one important fact the article steadfastly does not address, most conversations about the future of self-driving cars I’ve heard and read rarely bring up. By making driving easier, more appealing to more people, more people want to drive…more. Induced demand, in other, more succinct words.

If everybody oversleeps and summons a car to take them to work, and everybody is still heading toward the same general area of a region, say, the downtown core, for example, where is all that extra road space going to come from? Has anyone actually done that math? Self-driving cars improve congestion travel times by x%, therefore we will see an increase of car use by y%. Unless the new technology is so vastly superior that it is able to transcend the bounds of induced demand, people are still going to be stuck in traffic, driving or not.

The article dedicates exactly one paragraph to self-driving vehicles and public transit. “Buses and subways might continue to exist,” Sachgau writes, “while people continue to own cars, only now…” wait for it, wait for, “…all of those won’t require drivers.” What does that sentence even mean? worldoftomorrow3Everything is going to be exactly the same except the cars will drive themselves.

Cities would be better off preparing for driverless technology and public transit rather than making way for driverless cars, the real key word there remains cars, private vehicles, not the driverless part. Sachgau suggests that car ownership might decline, with people realizing the benefits of just hiring them when necessary, like getting to work, getting the kids to school, going shopping, going out to a restaurant, a movie, although that possibility is questioned by an innovation expert at the University of Toronto.

There’s no second amendment for vehicle ownership. But a lot of people probably think vehicle ownership as a basic human right.

So, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future, when a self-driving car isn’t prohibitively expensive, and the same, if not more, people own one, using it exactly like they use it today, the only difference being, they’re not driving it, but still demanding that cities make the room for them to operate smoothly. Sure, the amount of space dedicated solely to the private automobile will shrink, owing to things like increased safety and less need for parking, making room for other modes of transportation. worldoftomorrow1But if travelling by car gets easier, cheaper and even more convenient than it is now, cities are still going to be dominated by them. What kind of improvement will that be exactly?

“The tech sector…establishes a reality on the ground before governments and even ordinary citizens even have an opportunity to understand these issues, let alone figure out how they want to deal with them,” according to the innovation expert, David Ticoll, of the Munk School of Global Affairs, who has submitted a report to the city of Toronto addressing the driverless car future.

Ticoll said the city can’t afford to take the same pace when dealing with driverless cars that it has taken with other issues such as the Uber-taxi debate.

We all know how that turned out. Big business played chicken and our local government blinked, essentially rolling over on the red carpet that it had set out for Uber. That was one company. Now imagine a whole bunch of them, all with their own shiny version of a driverless car, wanting to flood our streets with them. Are we really aiming to have everyone spend more time in their cars even if they aren’t driving?

skeptically submitted by Cityslikr


The Politics Of Driving

May 9, 2016

Last week, I wrote about my self-diagnosed case of SUV-induced driving madness. The act of transforming into another, more horrible person while operating a motorized vehicle. gentlemenjekyllTurns out, that actually might be a thing, an ailment.

In response to the post, @trapdinawrpool sent me a 1950 National Film Board short film, Gentlemen Jekyll and Driver Hyde. Seems this has been a nasty condition afflicting drivers pretty much from the get-go of the auto age. Road rage.

We also received in our comments section a couple very interesting and pertinent links. A Wikipedia page to ‘Traffic psychology’, most of it not good or healthy. Also, a Guardian article from August 2013, Bad driving: what are we thinking?

Aside from pointing out that I’m not very original or breaking new ground here, it did feed into something that’s been percolating in my noggin for a bit now, accelerated significantly during my time spent down in Los Angeles earlier this year. Is there a link between our driving and our politics? Not necessarily big P politics but the way one approaches (or doesn’t) the political process, the expectations we hold of our elected officials and the demands we make of them.

Decades of research in traffic psychology suggests that poor driving is shaped by far more than carelessness or a subset of “problem drivers”. Even the most skilled road users are subject to loss of social awareness, intuitive biases, contradictory beliefs, and limits in cognitive capacity.

Decades of research in voting psychology suggests that political beliefs are shaped by far more than carelessness or a subset of “problem voters”. drivefreeEven the most skilled voters are subject to loss of social awareness, intuitive biases, contradictory beliefs and limits in cognitive capacity.

Strategically replace a couple words and phrases, and that paragraph still makes some sense.

In Fighting Traffic, Peter D. Norton’s book on the rise of the private automobile to the top of our transportation system heap, he points out how, in the early days when car makers were fighting for legitimacy and pushing back on the public perception of drivers as a dangerous menace on city streets, personal freedom and individual rights were evoked. Driving as a noble act, the logical outcome of the scientific age of reason, everything the Founding Fathers envisioned. I drive, therefore I am.

The automotive city arose in part from an attack on the old customs of street use and an effort to let individual liberty and free markets rule there too. From American ideals of political and economic freedom, motordom fashioned the rhetorical lever it needed.

Nearly a century later and this appeal to the spirit of individualism remains strong in the selling of cars. TV ads full of open roads, running through empty country, trekking deep into the wild frontier. getofmylawn“Long live the pioneers!”

The ascendancy of car travel and commuting contributed, not in a minor way, to the spread of the suburban design of cities that we contend with today. Detached, single-family homes on large lots, single-use building codes strictly maintained, industry here, commercial there, residential over that way, fed by and dependent upon car travel. The accentuation of private space enabled, ironically, by massive public spending in road and freeway infrastructure.

Can the leap be made, though, connecting the triumph of the car, and its emphasis on individual convenience and “freedom” (I just had to put that into quotes), to the rise in political conservatism, especially of the modern conservative type? Certainly not by me, not in this post. roadrageAnd certainly not as the sole culprit, the…a-hem, a-hem…driving force behind a political movement.

It is a concept worth contemplating further, I believe. Look, at the political dynamics here in Toronto, amalgamated Toronto. Consider those areas of the city where the residents are more car dependent and underserved by public transit. Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, for example. What wards do some of the most conservative city councillors represent, your Fords, Holydays, Minnan-Wongs, Norm Kellys? Where there is access to public transit and driving isn’t a necessity? Downtown, the old legacy city, essentially. That’s where you’ll find your most ardent left wingers, your Perks, Laytons and McConnells.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Correlation versus causation? That’s a tougher nut to crack, for sure. But I do think the overlap between how we get around our city and how we view the city is an important angle to explore. asamatteroffact(It probably has been already, extensively, and I’m just behind in my reading.) When the most significant public space to you during the course of an average day is that spot where you can park your car cheaply, your politics may be vastly different than those of somebody looking for a nice quiet spot in the sunshine to have a bite to eat during their lunch hour.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

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Thoughts From A One Time SUV Driver

May 2, 2016

For reasons I cannot divulge, I found myself behind the wheel of a mini-SUV this weekend. Mini-SUV. Jumbo shrimp.actnatural Rolling stop. Act naturally.

So, a couple observations from the driver’s seat. Which could warm your ass with the push of a button. Why would you ever not drive everywhere when it’s even the slightest bit chilly outside?

Early on in the trip, I was surprised by a pothole in the road ahead of me. I could’ve avoided it with a fairly safe swerve but not knowing the vehicle very well yet and how it might handle a swerve, I chose to take on the pothole directly. I mean, it wasn’t my truck mini-SUV. Any damage wouldn’t be on me or my credit card.

I didn’t feel a thing.

Are you kidding me? I hadn’t navigated a sinkhole but, holy shit, it was like a tank traversing a World War I era trench except smoother. So, in fact, nothing like that at all, a terrible analogy especially since I’ve never driven a tank over or around or into a World War I era trench. tankAn awful comparison. I should absolutely edit it but… That ride! So smooth and effortless. Who cares really?

I wondered exactly how big an object a mini-SUV could run over before a driver noticed. A squirrel? A cat? A dog? A toddler in a wagon? A cyclist? How about an actual, full on SUV? Would it crush a Smartcar under its wheels, drag it along for kilometres without so much a smattering of recognition by anyone pleasantly ensconced in the truck’s comfy, oblivious confines?

It’s not distracted driving, exactly. It’s driving unawares. Unaware of anything outside the bubble.

OK. Yeah, that’s distracted driving. But a designed distracted driving, encouraged by the ease of the vehicle you’re driving, designed so you don’t notice any of the unpleasantness of driving.dashboardgadgets

Compare that with sitting on the bus, if you manage to get a seat, feeling every bump and divet in the road under you. Or on your bike where avoiding that street crater means avoiding serious injury. Or just on your feet, walking, where danger lurks around every corner or up any alley. Stay vigilant to stay alive.

Drivers, on the other hand, all efforts are made to disconnect them with all other road users.

Bringing me to my second point.

Enabling such a sense of entitlement in drivers to disregard fellow travellers, also emboldens them, encourages aggressiveness. As a matter of fact, I do own the road. Just watch me.

I truly surprised myself with a couple of the manoeuvres I attempted while driving this mini-SUV. Sitting high up in my seat, looking down on much of the traffic, I nosed out pushily into lanes, seizing space that opened up for me – For Me! – while, probably, inconveniencing other drivers who had to slow down to allow me to ‘sneak’ in ahead of them. I say, ‘probably’ because I didn’t hear any squealing of brakes or angry honking of horns. luxuriousrideOf course, my windows were rolled up, the radio on, my buns warm, a toasty complacency upon me, so I might’ve missed any sort of negative feedback that was flashed my way. I know I would’ve been pissed if non-mini-SUV driving me had encountered mini-SUV driving me acting like such an asshole. Especially after having aggressively inserted myself into the left lane and immediately throwing on the left turn signal, blocking traffic even further. Hey! I signalled, didn’t I?

That’s the thing, right? By endeavouring to make driving easier, more pleasant, a veritable ass-heated stroll in the park, if you will, we’ve tapped into and egged on our inner asshole. “Why would he do that?” non-drivers often find themselves asking when subject to yet another asshole move by some asshole driver. Because they can. Because there are very few repercussions to their actions, aside from increased insurance premiums and occasional temper tantrums they engender.

Sure. Some motorists die but fewer than used to die. There’s the collateral damage, as well, the pedestrians and cyclists, yet rarely do drivers pay the true cost for their fault in causing the fatalities, for actually killing or injuring anybody. deathrace2000Unfortunate and unavoidable “accidents”, when all is said and done. They didn’t see that guy riding the bicycle there. The pedestrian unexpectedly stepped into the intersection as I was attempting to get through that stale yellow light. The kid was riding on the sidewalk.

The more we put drivers at ease, the more we put everyone else out on the street at risk. In a car, at the wheel, you don’t have to be looking at your phone to be distracted. As long as you feel insulated from everybody else around you on the road, that’s already more than enough lethal level of distraction.

driving-the-point-homely submitted by Cityslikr


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