A curious priority guides urban transport: the less efficient a mode of transport is at moving people, the more space cities devote to it. Cars rank lowest in terms of efficiency and therefore take up the most public space.
Municipal policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving equity and increasing road safety would all benefit from fewer cars. But community groups fighting for an extra slice of the road – for sidewalks, bike lanes and wider bus lanes – face a number of hurdles, starting with an apparent requirement to justify their claims against potential negative impacts on motorists.
The conversion of a traffic lane to other purposes usually provokes howls of indignation among motorists. For example, think about when Toronto finally installed a bike lane last year in downtown Yonge Street between Bloor and Davisville Avenue. Some motorists in adjacent tony neighborhoods demanded its immediate removal. Opponents actually described themselves as “landlocked,” despite having two (more rotating) driving lanes on Yonge, the pilot bike path, pleasant sidewalks, a TTC subway line, and the city’s best amenities within walking distance. walking.
The best way for motorists to extend, or at least preserve, their disproportionate share of the road usually involves little more than driving more. The traffic jam, easily created, is itself a call for attention, conscientiously answered by the town hall. Buying a bigger vehicle, including absurdly sized SUVs and pickup trucks, is a good way to expand your own slice of the public road.
The Council’s car champions still operate under the illusion that cars are essential to urban mobility, rather than primarily standing in the way of better options. When the Bloor cycle route was extended in 2020, these councilors argued that it would prevent westerners from getting to the town centre. The city’s own numbers told a different story: Of the 267,000 people traveling through the corridor, there were fewer than 23,000 cars, most with only one occupant. The vast majority of people took the metro.
Massive amounts of valuable public space are also needed to park cars, far more so than other modes of transportation. Public transport users get off a bus that continues on its way; cyclists lock their vehicle to a post or rack; and pedestrians leave their shoes on a carpet.
A long time ago, the anguish caused by the question “Where am I going to park?” created political pressure to deface cities to store idle cars. In today’s city, for every car there are at least four — and possibly as many as eight — parking spaces, many of them along our roads. Ironically, while the City cheerfully distributes (cheaper) parking spaces on residential and arterial roads, it protects, with vigilant parsimony, any intrusion into public space by homeless people.
We can no longer afford to give so much public space to such an inefficient (and destructive) mode of transport for moving people. It’s time to give more space to modes that need less to do more.