The Wrong Way Down A One Way Street

There’s enforced reading here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke or as Cityslikr likes to call it, Book Club. He gives out titles to be read and demands reports be written. No national bestsellers are these, no Oprah Picks. Usually the readings consist of dry takes on policy issues of the day like urban studies, our banking system, the nature of democratic dissent.

It is of my humble opinion that he doesn’t read any of the books himself but farms them out to his colleagues for 800-1000 word abstracts. Why would you comply, you may ask. At least, without proper recompense or accreditation. Well, the fun comes when you completely misrepresent the book you’ve just read and watch him pontificate wildly off the mark on it. Remember that the next time he starts on about credit default swaps or the high cost of free parking. That’s some of my finest work.

Sometimes, however, you will get steered in the right direction and so it was with Chris Turner’s The Leap. So good, in fact, I think Cityslikr actually read it. High praise indeed.

The Leap is both exhilarating and depressing, often times simultaneously which is no small feat. Exhilarating because positive change is so tantalizingly close. You can see it happening, in different places throughout the world, at various levels whether it’s making the move to alternative renewable energy sources in Germany or reviving once moribund cities like Melbourne, Australia. The depressing aspect comes from the fact that so many of us simply don’t get it, opting instead for an unsustainable, unpleasant status quo. Stay the course as they now say in Toronto 2011.

Given the events here with the death of another cyclist on Monday, one passage from The Leap sprang immediately to mind. It’s as follows and I beg the indulgence of those who have read the book already. It and/or Tom Vanberbilt’s Traffic.

“When journalist Tom Vanderbilt embarked on a comprehensive tour of the world of traffic, he peeled back the coherent veneer to uncover a place that was not just arbitrary in its logic but literally insane. His findings, compiled in his 2008 book Traffic, reveal the operation of a motor vehicle as ‘the most complex everyday thing we do.’ The act itself requires the use of a vast subset of 1,500 distinct skills, many of them so far away from our basic instincts and inborn, time-tested survival skills that, as Vanderbilt puts it, ‘In traffic, we struggle to stay human.’ Because we’re mostly moving too fast and at too great a distance from each other to permit eye contact, all of our adaptive social cues are stripped away. It’s easily the most dangerous thing any of us does with any regularity. And on average, Americans spend more time in this state – overwhelmed, dehumanized, engaged in a bewildering and potentially deadly ritual – than they do having sex or eating meals with their families.”

Not to indulge in enflamed, over-the-top hyperbole but I think if we’re looking around for a culprit for the serious democratic deficit currently facing us, the toxic public discourse that now passes for political debate, the unbridgeable left-right schism, we can stop searching right now. It’s all about car ownership.

How can it not be? According to Vanderbilt, drivers spend an inordinate amount of their time ‘overwhelmed, dehumanized, engaged in a bewildering and potentially deadly ritual’, struggling ‘to stay human’. What does that sound like to you? Being at war. For an hour or so every day, over 70% of Torontonians are in their cars, getting back and forth to work, struggling to stay human. And we expect them to simply slough it off, change into their civilian duds and demilitarize into rational, reasonable, engaged members of society?

We’re not talking post traumatic stress disorder here. This is ongoing, day-to-day traumatic stress disorder. Angry, wounded souls driving killing machines through city streets at 60 km/h.

How else to explain the barrage of defensive comments in the newspapers’ comments section to the story of the death of cyclist Jenna Morrison?

I feel very sorry for this woman and her family. But we have to admit that cycling is not a way of transportation in a big city like Toronto. We are not in Saigon for Christ sake. Want to cycle? Go to park. Cars and bicycles on busy streets are deadly mixture and cyclists are victims. Road for cars! Pavement for pedestrians! Bicycles for suburbs and parks! And the sooner we understand this the less tragedies we’ll have.
P.S. Especially when most of cyclists don’t give a damn about road rules, traffic lights, stop signs, etc.

That’s sociopathic in its lack of compassion or empathy. What kind of person would fire that sentiment off into the public realm? One devoid of much humanity, I’m afraid. A soldier in the misnamed War on the Car.

It also reveals an unwavering belief in the primacy of cars on our streets. ‘Road for cars’! Sound familiar? So obvious and set in stone that it absolves them of any blame for the carnage they inflect while going about their business.

If my nautical knowledge is sound, out on the high seas it is the responsibility of the vessel operating under the most power that must cede the right of way to one that is less able to change course or speed. Thus, motor boats give way to sail boats, sail boats to kayaks. On our roads, the opposite is true. Vehicles most able to inflict damage bear none of that burden. If a cyclist or pedestrian gets mowed down, the reaction tends toward, well, they shouldn’tve been out there, they should’ve been more aware.

To our detriment, we continue to design and build cities around this anti-social mode of transport and somehow expect a public spirited, collective outcome. Cars and community are antithetical modes of thinking. They can only exist in opposition to one another. We’ve tried the car way for a couple generations now. It doesn’t work. It isn’t healthy. We are all the worse for the attempt. It’s time to head in a new direction.

backseat drivingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Drive, He Said. And By ‘He’ I Mean God.

If you’re asking would I pay five dollars to get downtown quicker and not knock off 14 bicycle riders on the way down Queen Street, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

 — Councillor Doug Ford

There’s a term for the above quote. It’s called a false dichotomy. Either we build toll roads to increase car traffic or we accept knocking off cyclists as just part of doing business in Toronto. Our only two alternatives with nothing in between.

It is the Ford Era and reveals a deadly paucity of critical thinking. Immanis Cogitatio to those of us just slapping together some Latin phrasing to give the appearance of gravitas. No middle ground. No rational discourse. If we don’t do this, then the worst possible outcome will naturally follow.

How do you get through a single day with that mindset and not end up setting fire to something or digging yourself some kind of bunker to sit out the coming apocalypse? Never mind how you ever hope to build a city. A city, that is, not revolving exclusively around you and your needs.

It’s nice to know Doug Ford is willing to pay 5 bucks in order not to run over 14 cyclists. Even those on bicycles are worth $2.80 to the councillor, it would seem. So he’s not totally lacking in empathy although it would be interesting to know just how much he’d be willing to fork over before the cost-benefit ratio tips him toward wantonly running down anyone on a bicycle who gets in his way to and from work. Sorry about that, Lance Armstrong, but I ain’t paying $10 to use the toll road. Opting for vehicular manslaughter over highway robbery.

That the councillor even has some sort of equation for such a scenario, however, reveals his stunted, backward thinking. An immutable belief in the primacy of motorized vehicles, free from any and all evidence to the contrary. So it was, as it is, thus will it ever be. A static future that can never change. My daddy drove his car to work. His daddy drove his car to work. I will drive my car to work. My children will drive their car to work.

I wonder if Great Grandpappy Ford, happily ensconced as he was in his horse-and-buggy, thought similar thoughts when the horseless carriage appeared on the scene. Get them noisy contraptions off my corduroy roads, ya young scamps ya! Those ruts were made for my team and buggy!

But the possible damage wrought by the wider implications of such a narrow-minded, rigid perspective is truly dispiriting (not that the pile of dead and injured cyclists lying in the wake of Councillor Ford’s Escalade rampage is anything to sneeze at). No scenario aside from the one he believes to be true or valid can be imagined without every and all negative connotation attached. This is right because I think it is. You’re wrong because I don’t agree with it. The World According To Doug Ford.

Where everybody lives in a big house in the suburbs. And has a second house in Chicago. And a condo in Florida.

Where everybody drives a big car everywhere they go. And public transit is for the poor. And cycling is what children and left wing, health nut, pinko kooks do.

Where answers are as plain as the nose on your face. And if they’re not, well, you just haven’t asked the right question. And if you don’t know what the right question is maybe you’re just trying to make things complicated.

And making things complicated is what’s got this city in the mess Doug Ford thinks it’s in. Complicated questions cater to special interests. Special interests see things Doug Ford doesn’t see, and if Doug Ford doesn’t see them, they don’t exist. If they don’t exist, why bother catering to them? It only encourages them, encourages different ways of viewing the world. A world Doug Ford doesn’t understand or comprehend.

That is a scary, scary world.

contrarily submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Truly A Ford Nation

As a non-car guy, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, talking and writing about cars. I’m bored to death with it, frankly. Perhaps you too are bored with my constant car chatter.

And here I go again writing about cars.

The most recent cause for my car thoughts comes from an article written earlier this week by David Akin. In it he cited a paper given by Zach Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate, at the Canadian Political Science Association Conference last month that suggested car ownership and use may have been a key factor for those who cast their ballots for Rob Ford in last October’s municipal election. “The propensity to commute by automobile is a strong predictor of Ford support,” writes Mr. Taylor, “while property-oriented variables (the home ownership rate and percentage of housing in detached form) are shown to have a negligible influence on candidate support.”

Ah yes, the War on Cars. Great bumper sticker sloganeering that, not coincidentally, fits perfectly on the back of cars that Ford voters drive. Simple, very effective three word politics.

I will stop myself on theorizing about what I believe to be sociopathy in people’s attachment to their automobiles since it would be a gross generalization. Many folks, having either bought into the lure of a nice house in the suburbs or simply living where they can afford to live, depend on their cars. To get to work and home again, shop, take the kids to school or extracurricular activities, to simply get to where they need to go.

Even if they wanted to rid themselves of their auto reliance, many people couldn’t at this point. There’s no other reliable way to move around their parts of the city in a timely fashion. Ironically, by voting for their auto-centric way of life, they helped elect a mayor who seems determined to make it even less likely they could live car-free if they wanted with his orchestrated attack on Transit City.

No, I think the problem is much more fundamental than that. A continued attachment to cars as our primary mode of transport is a refusal to accept that the world has changed. Automobiles are the kings of the 20th-century. We designed our cities around them. They represented freedom and status. Dodge. Grab Life by the Horns. Buick: Dream Up. SAAB:Welcome to the State of Independence. Jaguar: Don’t dream it. Drive it! Honda: The Power of Dreams. Subaru. Think. Feel. Drive. Ford: Built for life in Canada.

Inundated like that, how could you not want a car? How could you not need a car?

Problem is, it’s 2011, a decade plus into the the 21st-century. The true cost of our car culture has fully manifested itself in our blighted streetscapes, loss of productive time stuck in traffic, environmental degradation and a dependence on dwindling energy resources. For many, driving is the worst way to get from point A to point B anymore.

So we split into two camps: those wanting to make driving easier and those wanting to reduce the primacy of cars in our transport system. Although there would be significant overlap between these seemingly opposing views, this is where the battle lines are drawn. Don’t touch my car versus Get out of your car. Status quo versus embracing the future.

The War on Cars should actually be referred to as the War on Modernity. Having held sway for, let’s call it 60 or 70 years, car ownership is the entrenched interest, a fact of life that was simply a given, the norm, but is now under siege. A perceived assault on the ability to drive anywhere anytime is seen as an assault on a way of life. First, they came for my car, and I said nothing. Then they came for my parking pad. You will have to pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel.So it’s not really about cars. It’s about change. Change will always be resisted until it becomes inevitable but the transition seldom is smooth or without – ahem, ahem – the occasional bump in the road. History, though, can only be delayed not indefinitely deferred. We, us car unenthusiasts and embracers of the future, are in a temporary holding pattern, waiting for the last dying gasp of an era.

autodidactically submitted by Urban Sophisticat