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


How’d We Become The Enemy?

September 7, 2010

Lying in bed on Labour Day morning, with the CBC’s The Current on the radio — welcome back from your summer vacation, Anna Maria Tremonti! Looking forward to ignoring you once again for most of the 2010/11 season. – listening to former Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP, Janet Ecker, talk about the new wave of Canadian conservative populism. When she referred to the typical adherent of this movement as ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’, I thought to myself, “Wow! Could she be any more patronizing?” How exactly is it that we’ve become the enemy?

We, of course, being the so-called downtown, intellectual, liberal elite. Or, to put it in Ms. Ecker’s vernacular, ‘Mr. & Dr. 3rd Floor-Deckers’. So far in this municipal election campaign, we have become the target for the ire coming from Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch due to the unflagging support we show to “our” mayor down at “our” City Hall. Apparently, “our” taxes haven’t risen while “our” services have. “Our” free spending councillors have lavished all their attention and money on “our” downtown wards especially for things like “our” bike lanes which squeeze out the cars coming in from the city’s inner suburban ring when everyone there steps off their front porches to drive downtown to work.

None of which is true, of course. It is only pronounced loudly and often. Downtown taxes have increased along with everyone else’s and, from my own, very anecdotal evidence, while services might not have declined over the past few years, I’m certainly paying more for many of them than I did in the pre-amalgamated Toronto.

But here’s the thing. I’m not blaming those who live in the former cities of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scarborough for this turn of events. We’re all in the same boat here on this one, now paying the unexpected costs we were not told about by those who enforced amalgamation on us. Despite some urban experts saying that the economies of scale not always applying to bigger cities, we were sold a bill of goods about lower costs, lower spending, lower taxes in the megacity by the Harris government, consisting of members like Janet Ecker and Rob Ford’s father, Doug Sr., who defied the wishes of his own Etobicoke constituents to not be absorbed into a bigger Toronto and sat on his hands except to vote ‘yes’ on amalgamation.

And now Ecker’s invited onto the radio to explain grassroots anger, using a clearly test marketed term like ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’?! Or Rob Ford is championed as looking out for these little guys as he campaigns vigorously to be the hatchet man who will carry out the cuts that were inevitable in light of amalgamation and the downloading that accompanied it? (Or, to put it more poetically, doing the dirty work of his beloved late father.) If there’s any resentment I bear towards Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch, it’s the misdirected rage and anger. Do they have reasons to be angry about the way the city’s working? Sure. Just rage against the ones that actually were really responsible for bringing about this turn of events and not the easiest scapegoats being handed over to you on a platter.

I’m not one to ascribe much to conspiracy theories especially on the part of our elected officials. While a proponent of the power of government to do good, I just don’t think they are capable of pulling off grand schemes to hoodwink the population at large. So there was no alien crash landing near Roswell, N.M. or a 2nd gunman on the grassy knoll. Both are too big a secrets to go unsolved for decades.

But I am beginning to think that maybe the Mike Harris government did come close with the amalgamation of Toronto. It was said at the time (and many times since) that along with helping the provincial ledger sheets with a non-neutral revenue neutral swap of services with the city, the biggest boon for the province with their amalgamation sleight of hand was to water down the progressive core with the more Tory friendly inner suburbs. At worst, the city would become ungovernable due to the constant squabbling between the two factions.

Well, kudos to you, Mr. Harris and Ms. Ecker and Mr. Ford Sr.’s son. We have swung from the right to the left and are now threatening to lurch heavily right once more with fingers being pointed in every direction and accusations of mismanagement and corrupt governance thrown around for good measure. Dysfunctional is the label Toronto’s getting and no one benefits more from it than our overlords smiling smugly at Queen’s Park. Yes, it is no longer the Conservatives but as Dalton McGuinty can most definitely attest to, amalgamation is the gift that just keeps giving. At least, to him and all those who rule from that particular roost if not the citizens of the city.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr