So That Happened

June 21, 2013

With the rental car out back in the garage, waiting to whisk me away for weekend (a detail pertinent only as proof of, see, weekendgetawayI too on occasion drive an automobile and am not just some anti-car zealot), let me leave you with this passing thought.

In a book I am currently reading, Transport For Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age by Paul Mees, the author summarizes a consultant’s report written for the city of Los Angeles:

the region required an integrated, multi-modal public transport system comprised of high-speed rapid transit trains running on segregated rights of way, fed and linked by urban and interurban trams, with buses serving sparsely settled and recently developed areas. A single organization would need to control these services to ensure integration and eliminate wasteful duplication, and substantial public funding would be required for the capital works.

Oh right. I forgot to mention this report was written in 1925.

transportforsuburbia

Public transit planning has been with us long before the car, folks. Private automobile use is, in fact, the interloper here. Designing cities and communities around the mobility of drivers is the real radical experiment in social engineering. It’s just that for anyone under the age of, say, 75, we don’t realize it because we’ve been living it. It’s our normal but not society’s.

I don’t begrudge urban planners from 50, 60 or 70 years ago their dreams of autopia, to use Mees’s word. We were still largely a rural, small town people with a deep suspicion of big cities (although I will look askance at some likely racist sentiment behind that. urbansuburbiaCities were where wave after wave of immigrants settled.) Cities offered economic opportunity but were not places someone would choose to live given their druthers.

Cars delivered a promise of personal mobility, easy and inexpensive access to a place in the country. With wide open spaces to expand and now a means for everyone to get there, the suburbs became a way of life. Cities were transformed, designed for the convenience of personal vehicle use.

But I think it safe to say that it’s been a spectacular failure, a victim of its own success in many ways. The lure of the suburban lifestyle has drawn more and more people to it. We have grown increasingly urbanized as a society. As that has happened, it’s become apparent such a lifestyle, dependent as it is on the automobile, is not sustainable. Not economically. Not environmentally. And, most importantly, not socially.

failedexperimentSo it’s time to turn the page.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of, however, is that we’re not starting a new chapter. We don’t have to chart entirely new territory. This isn’t a blank slate.

We simply have to revert to a previous way of doing things. With a few new wrinkles for sure but we’re not re-inventing the wheel here. Remember, cars and the lifestyle they introduced are the new kids on the block. Party crashers we initially were excited about having shown up but who turned out to be drunken bores. When we asked them to leave, they trashed the place on the way out.

Car dependence was the bold new theory that looked great on paper but eventually worked out poorly in practice. Shit happens, right? As we set out to undo and repair the damage, don’t forget that. Our attempts now to deal with the fallout, like fixing traffic snarls by giving right of way access to public transit or keeping cars off streets during certain hours, shouldn’t be viewed as way out there, never been tried before plots to destroy capitalism as we know it or whatever other conspiracies the knuckleheads will try and come up with.

partycrashers

We’re simply regressing to the mean, baby. Reverting to the way things used to be before the crazy kids and their souped-up hot rods convinced us they knew better. Proponents of alternative methods of transportation, whether walking, biking or public transit, are the real conservatives in this discussion. They have nothing to be defensive about and need to start acting accordingly.

old schooly submitted by Cityslikr


The Calculus Of Crazy

June 20, 2013

So this morning TTC CEO Andy Byford lit the always short fuse of car-loving Ford Nation. uttermadnessIn an interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, he floated the idea of closing King Street to car traffic during the morning rush hour. Reaction from the auto-huggers was swift and sadly predictable.

“Where are the cars supposed to go?” tweets radio talk show guy, Jerry Agar.

WHERE ARE THE CARS SUPPOSED TO GO?!

WAR ON THE CAR!!

Nothing Mr. Byford suggested was new or novel or particularly bold. In fact, King Street has been a problem for the city’s transportation department for over 20 years now. I wrote about this very thing in February. Back in the early-90s, city staff tried banning cars along the route during peak times in the day, using overhead signs and markings on the road.

upyoursGuess what happened?

“… this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work,” according to a staff report, “motorists did, and continue to, ignore it.”

Motorists ignored the rules of the road. Just said, fuck it. I need to turn left here, I’m turning left here.

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city.

I attended a seminar last night given by Jarrett Walker, author of the book and blog site, Human Transit. He talked about ‘symbolic transit’ and symbolic decisions made about transit based on incomplete information.

For at least two generations now, the Car has been presented as a symbol of freedom. That which will get you wherever you want to go whenever you want to go there. There are car advertisements attesting to it. carcommercialSleek machines blowing down the open roads, never another car in sight.

I remember that happening with me behind the wheel once. Driving in Montana. When was the last time you experienced that commercial sensation making your way through Toronto or the GTA?

The fact is, the primary source of congestion on our streets now is the over-abundance of private vehicles, and the position where they sit at the top of our transit policy decision making. Streetcars aren’t the problem. Not even the St. Clair disaster. Not bike lanes. Not scrambled pedestrian intersections.

Cars, and our continued catering to those who drive them.

Of course, you can say this until you’re blue in the face, trot out studies to back up the case but those fixated with their cars will simply tighten their grip on the wheel and demand the removal of anything they perceive that impedes their forward motion. redqueen1The Deputy Mayor’s response to the TTC CEO’s thinking? Replace the King streetcars with buses. How would that be better? Who the fuck knows other than they can get out of the way of cars when they pull to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers.

But a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

Who else demands a space to stop their car right in front of the place they’re stopping? I live on a street that neither buses nor streetcars run down. I have to walk to where they are. And then, when I arrive where I’m going, I have to exit at the nearest stop to my destination and walk to it.

Why do drivers expect preferential treatment?

And why do people look around and see congestion on King Street, or Bathurst Street or Dufferin Street, Bloor Street and Finch Avenue, all roads with different modes of public transit, snarled in traffic, and come away saying, get rid of the streetcars/buses/build us a subway? When the one common element is cars and the excess of them on our roads?

60people

It’s car madness, frankly. A steadfast refusal to admit the obvious and be open to real solutions in alleviating the problem. Problem, what problem? I don’t have a problem.

The first step to dealing with it is to admit you have a problem.

Unfortunately, we still seem not to have hit bottom quite yet.

sanely submitted by Cityslikr


King Of The Road

February 28, 2013

A recent Twitter exchange got me a-thinking. (Yes, I am growing comfortable acknowledging the Twitter/thought equation.)

twitter

It started with Global News’ Jackson Proskow in conversation with the TTC’s CEO, Andy Byford. They were talking about the news streetcars slated to join the fleet sometime next year. You know the ones the mayor and his team swore were going to break the city’s bank? Or was that the new subway cars? Public transportation is so expensive.

I’ll edit the chat for intelligibility for the non-Twitter types in the audience although you really need to get with the program.godzillafordtorontosun

So tweets Mr. Proskow:

TTC CEO confirms you may have to wait longer for a streetcar once new fleet arrives, but says reliability & capacity will improve.

“There are fewer streetcars but let’s remember they are much bigger” said Andy Byford. “my challenge is to make sure they don’t bunch up”.

Byford on new streetcars “people may have to wait a little bit longer but the actual reliability of the service will be that much better”.

Sometime during this, our friend Matt Elliott chimes in.

How fun would a botched launch of the new streetcars be in 2014, right in the middle of a municipal election?

Oh-oh. People hate streetcars, remember? Gulp!

dedicatedstreetcarlaneCouncillor Gord Perks adds a little fuel to the fun fire.

So the TTC is saying I will be certain that my morning ride will be worse.

Then, all jokes aside, JP Boutros, advisor to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, floats a little something-something into the Twittersphere.

Downtown TO politicos, please debate amongst yourselves as to why Giambrone’s Mar2007 504 King [streetcar] idea went nowhere & why it might (not) now.

What’s that, JP? some of us asked. 504 King streetcar idea? Giambrone? Why are you interrupting our laugh fest here?

After a little research, and by research I mean Googling, I came across this report, from way back in 2001, during the Mel Lastman era. A certain David Miller was still a councillor and TTC commissioner. Rob Ford was a council newbie. If there really were robots able to go back in time in order to alter the future, it would be to roughly this period where it would travel to in an attempt to kill our current mayor’s political career in its infancy.

Meeting Date: April 11, 2001 Subject: Dedicated Streetcar Lanes On The 504 King Route

OK, while you finish your fits of laughter, allow me to quote some from the report.

illbeback

…two of the options under consideration at this time are: i) banning all traffic, except streetcars, taxis, and commercial vehicles, from King Street during the busiest traffic hours; and ii) a full-time, permanent solution, with physical modifications to the street, whereby through traffic would be banned at all times, but vehicles would still be able to access each block..

* * *

Staff tried to create a dedicated streetcar right-of-way on King Street in the past, but the concept failed. In the early 1990’s, general traffic was prohibited from driving on the streetcar tracks on King Street, through the downtown, during peak periods. This was to be effected through the use of overhead signs and pavement markings, some of which are still in place today.

However, this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work; motorists did, and continue to, ignore it. While this was disappointing, staff learned a valuable lesson from that experience: there is no “low-impact” way of establishing dedicated streetcar lanes on King Street. For dedicated lanes to be effective, there must be a dramatic change in the way in which King Street operates.

 

*  *  *kingstreetcar1

And in summary,

It is impractical to continue to operate the 504 King streetcar route, with service frequencies as great as every two minutes, in congested mixed traffic conditions. There are a number of initiatives being undertaken by staff to address the variety of problems contributing to the slow and, typically, unreliable service on this route. The most dramatic of these would be the creation of effective, dedicated lanes for the streetcars. TTC staff are working with Toronto ransportation Services and City Planning to identify a design for dedicated streetcar lanes which would fully respect the commercial activities in this corridor. To be effective, any solution will require trade-offs between substantial improvements in the quality of transit service on King Street and auto traffic and on-street parking.

Remember, this was twelve years ago. The King streetcar was already the most heavily used surface route in Toronto, carrying over 50,000 riders a day. (Now close to 57, 000 according to the 2011 stats). kingstreetcarAt peak morning rush hours, the streetcar was carrying almost double the number of people between Spadina and Yonge than were travelling along the route in other vehicles. While the numbers may’ve changed since then, there’s no reason to think the ratio has.

Flash forward six years to 2007. (Or flash back five years from the present.)

David Miller is now mayor. Adam Giambrone is the TTC chair. They’re still trying to do something about the congestion along King Street. Hey! How about a trial restricting vehicular traffic along a stretch of the corridor? See what happens.

Get the cars of King, TTC asks City Hall. TTC Streetcar Proposal for King ‘Madness’.

You can pretty much guess how that all went.

Local residents and businesses get all up in arms, claiming without any substantiation that the plan will kill the area. Without easy access for cars, the strip will shrivel up and die. Even so much as a pilot project will be a death knell.

It’s the exact same argument we’re hearing right now from the owners of Pusateri’s on Bay Street in defense of their ‘lay-by’ cut in to the sidewalk in front of their store that allows cars to temporarily throw out the anchors for easy pickups and drop offs. They’ll live and die by ‘walk in’ traffic (a curious use of wording) only from cars that are able to park right by their doors. kingstreetcar2AS IF NO ONE EVER GETS OFF A BUS OR STREETCAR TO GO TO A RESTAURANT OR GROCERY STORE!

It’s this lethal combination of a white-knuckled grip on the status quo and an overweening sense of entitlement that leaves us stuck in this congestion rut. A War on the Car? Really? As the 2001 TTC report shows, motorists just simply ignore “passive” deterrents to stay off streetcar tracks or make illegal left turns. As a matter of fact, yes, I do own the road.

Show me somewhere that a decrease in private vehicle traffic in densely populated downtown areas adversely affects business. Give me the numbers instead of just scare tactics and dire warnings. What is it that we’re so afraid of if it turns out that in some spots of the city car traffic is really an impediment to better business and quality of life? How could that be a bad thing?

Clearly traffic flow isn’t functioning properly along King Street and hasn’t been for a while now. As the TTC CEO pointed out, our new streetcars aren’t going to fully alleviate the problem. It’s long past time we stop sitting on our hands and try a new approach. Hard to imagine how it could make matters any worse.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr