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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Congestion Inflation

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The Toronto Star reports that congestion is costing us $2.3B-$3.7B a year and that the new provincial budget is planning to spend $1.2B to invest in public transit, roads, highways and bridges next year. This is an unsustainable situation; we are going broke because of congestion and we don’t have enough money to buy our way out.

What is left unmentioned is that the province is allowing car-dependent urban form to propogate on our urban edges. Car dependent places don’t offer a choice of mobility to their inhabitants. The streets are dicontinuous and not connected to the main arteries. There are no bicycle paths and little transit service. Many of these road networks can never be served by transit due to their discontinuous pattern. Car-dependent urban form is the real cause of congestion.

The new federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon thinks that:

“We all contribute to this problem. We drive to the video store when we could walk. We drive to work when we could take public transit. We even drive to the gym when we know we should bike. So we all need to be part of the solution.”

He is right for people living in real urban neighbourhoods with connected streets. In those downtown areas congestion is self-regulating: when the roads are too busy people change modes to cycling, transit or walking because they have the choice and the infrastructure is available. In fact, in urban environments congestion is good. Congestion means the area is popular and economically healthy. Congestion is only bad on the highways or arterials where there is nothing to do but sit in your car.

In car-dependent places people drive because they have no other choice. The province could stop this practice through planning legislation immediately without spending any money. The province should be investing in proximity solutions rather than mobility solutions. When things are close together we don’t need to move around as much. Then we really could walk to the video store (or maybe even a cinema).



  1. Do you really think people become car-dependent because they have no other choice? I don’t know, I think much of the time it’s because they are succumbing to suburban norms. It’s entirely possible to live in Vaughan or whatever and take the bus around. I actually know one 60-something woman who does. But many people up there wouldn’t even consider walking for 10 minutes to get to the stop. Being a transit user involves being a pedestrian, and you just don’t see many pedestrians once you cross over the 401. (“Why is that person just walking down the street like that? Did their car break down?? Have they escaped from a mental hospital??”) I know that the suburban environment is sensorially hostile, but if a person wanted to do it, often times, they could.

    To me, as a transit user and pedestrian, there’s nothing troubling about taking 30 or 45 minutes to get somewhere. I just factor that reality into my life. There seems to be a false perception among car-owners that driving is faster. Admittedly there is there is a certain appeal to driving — being on your own terms and in your own space. I’ve sacrificed it and constructed a life that doesn’t revolve around it. I think many more people could, but just won’t.

  2. Indeed, people can do it in the burbs too. In fact, our 905-systems run busses at rates that would make most Americans jealous. However, there’s still planning issues that can’t be ignored that would allow for more 905’ers to at least consider transit as a prefered mode.