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


Raging At Road Rage

May 15, 2012

News just broke that the police have charged a driver with manslaughter in the vehicular death of a skateboarder yesterday.

To use the rather indelicate language of my colleague, Cityslikr, have we lost our fucking minds?!

What situation could possibly arise, what confrontation so dramatic that anyone could justify, rationalize using their automobile as a weapon?

And this is not some isolated incident, some lone sociopath behind the wheel of a car, meting out a little frontier justice at some perceived slight.

Let me back up here. [Hopefully no one’s behind you. Did you check your rear view mirror first? – ed.]

I’ll try not to convict the alleged manslaughterer in my own court of public opinion. He’s simply been charged. Perhaps a judge and/or jury will look at all the evidence and decide that the situation was nothing more than an unfortunate accident. But it seems witness accounts of the incident along with some video footage that caught a portion of it [Unlike, say, the video catching a Toronto Star reporter red handed in the act of spying on Mayor Ford’s kids. – ed.] is compelling enough for the police to proceed with the charge.

But I don’t think it too wildly off the mark to suggest that road rage has become endemic. How many days do any of us experience, whether driving, cycling, walking, skateboarding, free of shouted profanities or flicking off of others either between drivers or across transportation modes? How many blocks do you go before experiencing the grating sound of an aggressive horn announcing that somebody’s pissed off with something somebody else is doing?

Hey, jag off! The light turned green a nanosecond ago! I’m very important and have very important places to go!!

All leading to the inevitable, unsurprising yet still totally shocking outcome that occurred yesterday.

Where does such anger come from?

I’d argue that, at least in part, it comes from a deep well of entitlement. What’s that bumper sticker read? As a matter of fact, I do own the road. Watch then councillor Rob Ford’s speech on bike lanes from a few years back. “What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten.” [Or have your head smashed open on a curb. – ed.] “Every year we have dozens of people hit by cars or trucks. Well, no wonder. Roads are built for buses, cars and trucks. Not for people on bikes. And my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

This is not to pin blame for the skateboarder’s death directly on the mayor. [Absolutely not. He didn’t specifically say skateboarders don’t belong on the roads. – ed.] But his laissez-faire attitude toward non-drivers’ fate if they dare hazard road travel more than reinforces the privileged sense of entitlement many behind the wheel carry with them. So no, it’s not a case of counselling murder [Although the odd dust-up or casual contact on your way to work can be a source of grins and chuckles to the mayor and his councillor brother. – ed.] so much as it is absolving motorists of any responsibility for their actions.

“And my hearts bleed for them when I hear someone gets killed but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

Tagging along with Cityslikr on his Scandanavian fact-finding mission last week, I was struck by how a civilized, non-car first society deals with, ummmm, living in the 21-st century. Pedestrians, cyclists and cars share the roads equally and, seemingly, in that order. Might doesn’t make right. In 1997, Sweden undertook a traffic safety initiative called Vision Zero. It’s goal? “No loss of life is acceptable.” The exact opposite sentiment to one that includes ‘well, at the end of the day…’ as we wipe our hands clean.

“In every situation, a person might fail. The road system should not.”

While lifting responsibility off of individuals as the primary cause of traffic accidents, Vision Zero looks to design traffic systems that minimize the damage done when accidents happen. Speed Kills, Safety First and all those other touchie-feelie, kooky, left wing European sensibilities. So along with promoting safer car design, for example, there’s much talk of ‘traffic calming’ and ‘pedestrian zones’ and the kind of thinking that doesn’t simply put ease of mobility before personal safety.

At the end of the day, really, the fault for injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic accidents lies at the feet of those who view transit through the single lens of speed first and the primacy of the private automobile above all other forms of personal transport. To shrug off the death of a cyclist under the wheels of a motorized vehicle or a pedestrian struck down in the middle of the road with a, well, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place or they should’ve looked both ways simply lays the groundwork for the more homicidal tendencies of a small percentage of drivers who become temporarily unhinged behind the wheel. The roads are built for cars, goddammit! Get the fuck out of my way!!

If a cyclist or pedestrian or skateboarder or rollerblader isn’t supposed to be on the road then they can be viewed as trespassers when the are. Indulged or tolerated at best, the situation can be made dicier if they don’t exhibit the proper amount of deference. And occasionally when they push back hard enough and exert their right to use the roads, they take their lives into their own hands, swimming with the sharks as they are. It’s an easy escalation.

An acceptance of accidents (fatal or not) as just a part of doing business normalizes death on our roads. Shit happens. What are you going to do? Don’t want to get hurt? Travel around in this biggest, meanest vehicle you can find. [Hey! That gives me a great promotional angle to sell cars. Note to self: target soccer moms. – ed.] The more of us who do that, the more traffic there is, the more confrontation. Road rage just comes with the territory. Don’t want to get hurt? Show some respect and let me have my way.

These aren’t rules of the road. It’s a guide to survival of the fittest. As a matter of fact, I do own the road. You’ve been warned. Use it at your own risk.

[And as we go to post, news of a cyclist struck by car earlier today. – ed.]

subduedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat