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OPINION: Drive, Baby, Drive

Courtesy TheMarkNews.com

I know a lot has been written about the need to make Toronto a more bike-friendly city, but how about making Toronto more car friendly? Considering we have no effective, efficient, or cost-saving public transit system — and realistically won’t until the middle of the century, and even that is dubious at the rate the city is growing — why shouldn’t Toronto’s mayor and city council be thinking about ways to ease gridlock on city streets, and help the 71 per cent of Toronto’s commuters who drive reach their destinations with less frustration and more efficiency?

I’ve lived in cities big and small, from New York and London, to Oxford and Freiburg in Germany, without requiring or even so much as considering owning a car.

In smaller villages like Oxford and Freiburg, I walked and road my bicycle on separate, well-maintained bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths; and although my preferred mode of transportation in London and New York has always been by foot, travelling by subway could not have been any easier, affordable, or convenient, with trains and busses connecting you pretty much to your doorstep without the need to dig in your pockets for loose change or tokens. Even travelling from city-to-city in Europe, trains run every ten to twenty minutes, and without the need to book tickets in advance you can just hop on with the ease of riding the subway — not to mention high-speed rail from the airports to city centres.

While I am all for the greener option of an efficient public transit system, or better yet, more walking and cycling, the average Toronto commuter traverses a distance of nine kilometres to get to work and our climate makes the reality of walking or cycling year-round far from attractive. Travelling “between” neighborhoods in this city is often an insurmountable task for pedestrians because of distances, and mostly impossible to do via public transit in any timely way. Even local main and residential streets are often wide and spread out, without shops or charm to encourage or merit strolling.

As plans to expand the city’s transit system are costly, underfunded, and cannot be completed in any realistic, short-term timeframe, why not focus on helping car-driving commuters? There are many ways this could be accomplished. It could be as simple as coordinating traffic lights (I can only assume they are not coordinated, as they just might be the single-most cause of traffic delay); eliminating parking on major streets, which currently reduces them to single lanes; postponing garbage and recycling pickup on main roads until after rush hour; or giving advanced green left-turn lights for both north and south, and east and west-moving travellers. More involved solutions might include creating bike lanes on side streets, which are wider, rather than on main transit thoroughfares; permitting parking on residential streets during all hours and on both sides of the road; or something as implausible (perhaps impossible?) as converting to predominantly one-way streets like New York. Perhaps a more plausible solution for our city’s public transit woes, would be the creation of an L-train system like in Chicago, which would remove public transit vehicles from congested streets where they are held up by traffic, while avoiding the high cost and difficulty of digging new subway tunnels.

Toronto has already become an urban sprawl. It now resembles Los Angeles more than other financial centres around the globe. It has been noted that traffic congestion takes its toll on quality of life, economic competitiveness, fuel economy, driving safety, social justice, and air quality.

In the absence of real transit possibilities, helping drivers reach their destinations (and be able to park there) could go a long way towards making this city more livable for the car-driving majority who do not live in Toronto’s downtown core.

The Mark News is Canada’s online forum for opinion and analysis.