Road Rage

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

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

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