Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The War on Cars Starts Here – My Municipal Election Slogan

You don't have to actually run for office to have an election slogan, do you. Although my wife did suggest I take on our car loving, parking worshipping incumbent whose biggest priority is widening roads through the Greenbelt, I am too happy in retirement to go after a thankless twenty-four hour a day job. But I can still have an election slogan and mine is The War on Cars Starts Here.

Conventional wisdom would say that is a guaranteed losing slogan for a suburban candidate. But is it really.

After all, ask your typical suburban car commuter what they think of their commute and they will almost unanimously say that they hate it. Then ask someone who bikes or walks to work and the answer you will get is that they love it. Those that use public transit may have some complaints but almost all will be happy they do not have to drive in rush hour traffic, especially in the winter.

For some strange reason, even though studies and history has shown that building more roads never eases congestion problems, car drivers think that is somehow the answer to making their commute more bearable.

We do not need any more roads or any wider roads. We are over-serviced as far as roads go, except for two hours a day during the morning and evening rush hour. We spend millions and millions of taxpayers dollars trying to solve an unsolvable problem building more roads that we do not need ninety percent of the time.

The only solution that will really solve the problem for those people that drive to work are solutions that reduce the number of cars on the road, not so-called solutions that encourage more people to drive to work. We need to spend our tax money on alternatives to the hated car commute, on infrastructure for commuting solutions that people enjoy.

As with the Three Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, Reducing commuting distances is the most important and effective solution to traffic congestion. We need to design and build our communities with more opportunities to work closer to home, and more opportunities to work from home.

That is where walking and cycling are the best alternatives, but they are not attractive if people feel unsafe. That is why we do not build sidewalks by drawing white lines to separate cars from pedestrians. Give people safe walking and cycling routes, preferably segregated, and they will use them.

Also improving the recreational pathway system will get more people onto their bikes and more people thinking about commuting on their bikes, especially if there is a comprehensive network that allows people to go from anywhere in the city to any destination without having to share major roadways with cars.

Winter is seen as a problem, but if you look at cities with similar climates to Ottawa that actually have good and extensive cleared winter cycling routes and infrastructure the number of winter cycling commuters is much higher than in Ottawa. If you build it they will ride it.

And of course making public transit a comfortable and enjoyable experience will increase ridership. It is already as fast and much less expensive than commuting by car. Indeed, I suspect for the majority of car drives, it is only stereotypes about public transit and psychological barriers that keep people off public transit.

Indeed if we provided secure and sheltered bike parking at the Park and Rides and an improved Bixi Bike system downtown and in major employment areas we could create a whole new commuter class of cycling public transit users, especially with the light rail system, where bike commuters would use the LRT for the long middle portion of their commute.

There is only one way to reduce traffic congestion on the roads and that is to reduce the number of cars on the roads. And there is only one way to do that and that is by improving infrastructure for the alternatives, public transit, cycling and walking.

The War on Cars Starts Here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The issue with these great ideas is that suburban housing by definition is not usually near employment and unfortunately suburban culture is about excessive "comfort" - big houses with more than necessary space, big cars, big laneways, big stores...trying to get these people to ride a bike which is hot/sweaty in summer and cold/messy in winter is a long shot. The issue is the creation of suburbs in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I on the other-hand like the idea of suburbs. It provides the opportunity to allow for natural space between communities such as what we have. Can you imagine an area full of condos where we all access nature only on the weekends. I call that Toronto where the 400 is gridlocked Fridays and Sunday for people having to leave the city to find what I have down the street. The issue is public transportation, if this was say, Japan, there would be at least 4 stops for a train that would go from Ottawa to say 401 and from there on a speed train to TO and Montreal. Staying local I would still not have to drive because there would be a subway or train station from walking distance to my house and another in the downtown core and plenty of locations to get on all through the city. The other issue is that it takes just as long by car as it does by bus. How do you convert drivers to riders if it takes just as long? When Ottawa gets off its ass and realizes we need a better answer to our public transit system then the buses we have or the Otrain band-aid then life should be better. But then that should be another twelve years from now… 10 for planning and 2 for building.

Anonymous said...

The suburbs only became possible because of the motor vehicle. These days the car is embedded in our culture and bikes are seen as recreational nuisances that don't have the 'right' to interfere with motorised transportation. The intolerance of drivers towards cyclists has reached new heights with two young women in the UK recently in the news for bragging about their collisions with cyclists on social media. Our lazy, distracted society is more concerned about convenience than anything else; make it fast, cheap and easy and you'll be on a winner...