The Strange Power Of Wishful Thinking

August 4, 2015

Apparently, our regular daily travel times haven’t changed all that much over the years. According to a recent article in Nature, Six research routes to steer transport policy, “On average, people around the world spend an hour a day travelling, a pattern that has held for centuries and across cultures.”lovemycar7

By that calculation, many of us here in the GTA are pitching in to bring up that average time, especially commuters in the outer areas of the region, places like Oshawa and up in Barrie, who clock in at 45 minutes, one-way. Kind of confounding, when you think about it. Living in an age of speedy trains and automobiles, yet here we are, some of us, lagging behind the horse-and-trolley era.

How can that possibly be?

Well, as it turns out, according to the article’s authors, Eric Bruun and Moshe Givoni, commuting and simply getting around are not simply all about the advanced technology. In fact, they warn that a simple reliance on new technologies like the all hailed driverless cars to untangle our congested mess of traffic woes could just as easily make matters worse.

Although the excitement associated with a new product, service or tool is often justified, the negative, unintended impacts must be anticipated.

Take the driverless cars. Depending on whom one asks, such cars will be in wide use in some countries by 2025 or 2050. They are framed as a technology that offers cheap mobility while saving time and energy. But it was exactly this thinking that brought us the ‘with-driver’ private car and its unsustainable consequences.

The driverless car promises to be even more successful. Getting people out of their driverless cars will be even harder.

By making driving easier and, more fun or, at least, tolerable, and better improving traffic flow, driverless cars will attract more drivers. futuristicAt which point of time, new technology runs smack dab into old rules of the road like induced demand. Better driving = more driving. No one’s yet figured out how to design or build around that one absolute constant in the congestion equation. Bruun and Givoni suggest that driverless vehicles may be a much more valuable technological advance in terms of public transit.

Even something like Uber, the self-vaunted, self-dubbed car-sharing disruptive technology may possibly entice more cars onto our roads. “Like any innovation they are a great opportunity but also carry risks.” Freed of expensive driving headaches like parking, more people may opt for the cheaper alternative, Uber, which is still a car. More people using Uber instead of their own cars merely mean swapping cars. In terms of congestion, a car’s a car. “Even with shared cars, it is physically impossible for large cities to meet everyone’s travel needs with what is essentially a variation of single-occupant vehicles.”shinyobject

We can’t simply cross our fingers, close our eyes and pray that some magical technological innovation will sweep our roads and highways free of congestion, improve our lives or clean our dishes for us. OK. That, we have. But changing how we get around the places we live and increase our quality of life in the process is a more complex problem.

This includes the touchy subject of built form. “Total expenditure (public and private) on passenger transport decrease as urban density increases,” the authors write. “Yet zoning and infrastructure investment decisions are not based on broader scientific analyses of the impacts.”

Y’think?

Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Toronto’s Scarborough subway debate where built form has zero connection to ‘passenger transport’ decisions and ‘broader scientific analyses’ consists of nothing more than wishful incantations. silverbulletSubways, subways, subways.

Given that experience here, it’s difficult not to see Bruun and Givoni’s call for more scientific and date-driven decision making as hopelessly naïve and ivory tower locked. “Researchers must come up with new evaluation methods that are robust and scientifically defensible,” they write. Uh huh. “The outputs must be comprehensible to elected officials and to the public.” Absolutely. “Such methods must include both quantitative and qualitative benefits and costs, and capture a much larger array of them.” Hear, hear!

And when all that work falls on deaf ears, ears plugged by political machinations and parochial resentment? What we really should be working on is some sort of gene therapy that creates leadership willing to be honest and forthright about the need to confront our prevailing transportation status quo. Leadership willing to argue it’ll take more than a few tweaks here and there, that there’s no one miracle innovation to turn this thing around. labworkDiscover a switch to turn on the political courage gene.

While we’re at it, maybe we can also try and rediscover that seemingly atavistic trait in all of us to see beyond our own self-interested short term point of view.

Echoing Jan Gehl, Eric Bruun and Moshe Giovani insist that “Our transport systems’, as well as our cities must be planned for people – not for a particular mode of transport or by a handful of companies with vast lobbying power.” The tools to do so are at our disposal. It’s our will that is lacking.

scientifically submitted by Cityslikr


Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


Life On The Streets

September 27, 2010

Off the top of my head, this weekend saw the following list of events in, on and around the streets of Toronto: the Waterfront Marathon, Word on the Street, PS Kensington, a grand opening at the Evergreen Brickworks, Harvest Day at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the last weekend home stand for the 2010 Blue Jays. And that’s just off the top of my head. Next weekend comes Nuit Blanche and Picnic at the Brickworks. That’s before I put any thought into it whatsoever.

City’s that are in the kind of dire, downward spiral shape as Toronto’s being depicted by four of its mayoral candidates seldom display the vibrancy on show this past weekend. They’re usually too busy dealing with matters of urban decay to put on a host of festivities. Or maybe Toronto’s simply whistling past the graveyard; playing and cavorting while the city burns. Rather than expend its energy and precious resources making whoopee, it should be concentrating on fixing the basics like streetlights and potholes. That whole Rudy Giuliani Broken Windows approach to city building.

False dichotomy aside, the question begs to be asked. When was the last time you came home from a place you’d never been before and that really caught your fancy, and the impression it made most on you was, the street surfaces were impeccable? That’s not to say infrastructure maintenance is unimportant. It’s just not the difference between merely a livable city and one that is exceptional.

In an interview last week, architect and author (Cities For People), Jan Gehl said, “The number one attraction in any city isn’t the buildings, the parks, the sculptures or the statues. It’s people.” What we witnessed and took part in here over the past weekend was gatherings of people. Thousands and thousands of people running, mingling with authors, drinking overpriced beer and eating overpriced pulled pork sandwiches. Together. We congregated at various locations throughout the city not only to enjoy the events but to be a part of them with others. That’s what happens in dynamic, lively cities.

So when Rob Ford pronounces that events like the Waterfront marathon should be moved from the streets and into parks for the sake of relieving traffic congestion, he displays a staggering, life-killing amount of ignorance about what makes cities actually work. Never mind that he seems preeningly boastful about not even knowing that the marathon was happening on Sunday – a suggestion to Councillor Ford? Maybe if you used some of your office expenses to keep your constituents updated with what’s going on around the city, you might learn a little something yourself – his knee-jerk pro-car stance reveals a mind utterly out of step with the trajectory of how 21st-century cities should be evolving. He is a 1950s man campaigning 60 years behind the times.

Ditto, all those candidates simply mimicking his regressive, throwback views. You’re floundering because you’re simply offering up a pale imitation of the real, Paleolithic deal. The city’s already outgrown your antiquated ideas of how to help it, build it. The people out on the streets, participating in all the things Toronto has to offer, are waiting for you to catch up.

chastizingly submitted by Cityslikr