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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

OP-ED: Motor mania and the mayoral hopefuls

Albert Koehl takes a sardonic look at the arguments for more space for cars


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Toronto’s mayoral hopefuls are wise to give all due respect to the demands of the city’s most dogged optimist: the motor enthusiast.

For over a century, and with manic devotion since WWII, governments have spent spectacular sums to extend, expand, and enlarge roads and highways with the result that today’s urban motorist moves at about the speed of the bicyclist, sometimes the pedestrian. The motor enthusiast nonetheless believes that one more motor lane — or one less bike lane — will now finally solve the problem of traffic congestion.

The motor enthusiast acknowledges that, in theory, there are one or two minor issues with cars: climate change, air pollution, heavy costs, noise, unhealthy lifestyles, space consumption, and the casualty toll — for which minor adjustments may be needed.

The motor enthusiast’s faith is not shaken by careful research that refutes long held assumptions about the value of cars. The enthusiast has anecdotes. Studies say bikes are good for business, but where the enthusiast shops, business is always down, even at the hint of adding to the 4% of city roads with bike lanes. Experts say that new bike lanes do not delay emergency vehicles, but the enthusiast, perhaps peering down from the commanding heights of a monster pickup, has seen the truth. And although cars are regularly used in Toronto for trips under 5 km that could easily be cycled, or walked at the lower end, the enthusiast lives in a very big (extremely cold) country called Oh Canada!

Polls show that a majority of Toronto residents, including regular motorists, want safe roads, but the enthusiast relies on other numbers, other facts, and a gut feeling. The enthusiast repeats, with undiminished conviction, the statement by Mr. Wheeler, played by Goofy in Walt Disney’s 1950 Motor Mania that: “Of course I own the roads; my taxes pay for them ….” Never mind that every car-less homeowner and renter also pays taxes that fund those roads.

The motor enthusiast, like Mr. Wheeler, is above all civic-minded, selfless, and sympathetic to the plight of the less fortunate. The enthusiast supports mass transit, for people who can’t afford cars, provided it’s underground, out of the way of “traffic.” The enthusiast loves cycling, cyclists, and even cycle lanes, which should be located where they make sense: along mythical roads that serve mythical workplaces, shops, and schools. The enthusiast lives on a quiet side-street so that other residents may enjoy the din, danger, and smell of busy arterials.

As a safe driver, the enthusiast routinely exceeds the speed limit, except to slow for one of Toronto’s 70,000 annual road crashes. The enthusiast believes, as do many of the additional 0.5 occupants of the average car, that the thousands of people moving into the city will also be able to drive, provided the keys to the city are entrusted to a reliable leader.

The enthusiast lives life to the fullest, and no part of that life is more important than the seconds that might be lost from improving the safety of our roads.

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, road safety advocate, and founder of Community Bikeways.

photo by Dylan Passmore


One comment

  1. The motor enthusiast has also adopted the latest techniques from the tobacco enthusiast in ignoring what Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has to say about their cancer-causing fine particles. Specifically, that:

    1. Motor vehicle operators poison and kill between 712 and 997 people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) every year.

    2. Motor vehicle operators poison and injure between 2,812 and 3,939 people so seriously that they have to be hospitalized in the GTHA every year.

    3. The cost of all this death and injury is $4.6 billion every year. Yes, that is $4,600,000,000! That is plenty of money to convert to a non-lethal transportation system.

    Source for this is page 20 of the Medical Officer of Health report here: