Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

Archive for Cars

Drivers & Cyclists & Pedestrians! Oh My!

This is a post that has been brewing for a long time. I live in the downtown area of Winnipeg and have since I moved here from Kenora in 2005. Living that vacation hotspot, I had to deal with the influx of tourists from Manitoba every summer. Their driving was atrocious but we had the tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt. “They’re from out of town and lost or just not sure of things …”, we’d say. Then I moved here.

To my surprise, these same ‘Toban drivers aren’t any better on home turf. In fact they are as bad or worse. Why is this so, Winnipeg? Nothing got me more upset then seeing Tom Broadbeck’s stories of the “unfair” ticketing of drivers that he would call a “tax grab”. Seriously, Tom? I don’t care what you call it – if any driver is breaking the law then fine them. I don’t care if they were caught in person by an officer, by a traffic camera or by psychic link to a palm-reader in Osbourne Villiage – if they broke the law then they should pay.

Do as many blitzes as you want. Stop every speeder, every diamond-lane sneaker and every amber-means-go-faster driver on the road. Grab all the dollars you can. Ezra Levant calls this the “Nanny State”. He believes specifically that drivers should be able to do whatever they want while driving whether it be texting, doing their make-up, or watching porn and that they should only be penalized when this quantifiably endangers a life. The problem with this thinking is that it means waiting for the accident to happen. At that point the lives may be already ruined or lost. For him this is an issue of freedom. Somehow in North America, we have created in our car-centric society the belief that it is an innate right to drive a car. If you travel in Europe you actually find that in some countries some laws are not as strict as in North America — Germany and it’s Autobahn for example. It’s the attitude that is different. Driving is considered a privilege and treated as such. When such an attitude is prevalent, laws can actually be more lax. People respect their own place and more to the point, the place of others around them.

Respect. That’s what it really comes down to. Creating the right to drive mentality has made the drivers a unique upper-class in their own minds. Those that do not drive by choice or otherwise are looked down upon and so this feeds into the question of ultimate road ownership. Persons that ride the bus or walk to work are of a lesser social standing. This begins as early as age 16 when the young and well to do own or have access to vehicles. You can’t blame the individual drivers for this because they know that the streets and highways were designed around them and in most cases any other forms of traffic are afterthoughts or outright an nuisance. Go to Kenaston without a car — there are few sidewalks and it is clearly designed to get around by car – even within itself. So why wouldn’t a driver think that a system designed for him is owned by him? The cries ring out loud when any attempt to remedy this imbalance is suggested or, God forbid, gets approval.

I have my issues with cyclists and clueless pedestrians too. They need to follow the rules and behave safely as well. I’m sure Tom and Ezra cheered as news of the Winnipeg crack down on cyclists hit the wire a bit ago. As did I. Strange however, I did not see either of them speak about an over-bearing nanny-state or socialist tax grab when it came to those ticketed on bicycles. Guess it didn’t fit their agenda.

Everyone needs to just get along. The rules of the road are important as much as stand-alone protection of the public as they are a guideline for others’ expectations. For example, the law on amber lights is that the driver is expected to stop if it is safe to do so, not if he or she feels like it. Likewise, when you cannot safely get through an intersection because of congestion you are to stop before entering it. If you were to enter the downtown core any given morning, you would believe the opposite on both of these. And then there’s the speeding. Have we not learned by now that especially in an urban setting, it rarely pays to drive faster and weave in and out of traffic like some crazed Indy driver? I particularly remember one day because the car in question was exactly the same as ours. It weaved in and out and passed us a number of times and very nearly caused an accident at one point. Nevertheless, without fail, we would catch up to it every few intersections. Get it picture people? None of these things really get you to your destination faster. Again I say; as far as I’m concerned put a camera at every corner. Blitz drivers every morning and evening rush. Make it truly unprofitable to break the law and fill the coffers at the same time.

Pedestrian, cycle and transit corridors are met with the “but more people drive” argument time and time again. Well yes, more people do drive but that’s the issue. More people need not to drive. There is no solution that favours more cars – no matter what a city does it cannot ultimately keep up with the demand for parking and traffic volume. There is a finite amount of space and dollars. Pedestrian paths and bikeways cost infinitely less to build and maintain and a well designed transit system is infinitely more efficient.

Don’t hate me, Winnipeg drivers. More importantly – please don’t hit me with your car.

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Gas Addiction & The NDP Intervention

Jack Layton Winnipeg A27 2011

So here we are in the final few days of the 2011 federal election campaign and the Conservatives are on the attack.  According to them the Jack Layton Cap and Trade plan will raise gas prices. Let’s do a logical fact check. Gas prices are going to rise. Whether it’s Prime Minister Jack Layton, Iggy, Harper or even Elizabeth May.

The question then becomes where you want that money to go. Right now all increases mean bigger profits for the oil companies. Do you really think they are suffering? No – they are not. Do you believe that they will pull out of Canada? No – they’re here because the oil is here and not because of what any particular government is doing. At very least, the new tax dollars can fund the search for and development of alternatives and not just to pad corporate pockets.

Welcome to the realities of addiction. This is a process that should have started years ago but no parliament had the will or the courage to do it. There are many aspects to curbing fossil fuel dependency and as with any addiction the longer you wait, the worse it gets. I will be the first one to admit that green energy sources aren’t ready for prime time but who’s fault is that? It’s our leader’s and ours. We need to demand that green energy and transportation alternatives be made a priority and we need to elect a parliament that is willing to take the initiative on making it happen.

Addiction. A frightening word I am using deliberately. It is so easy for me to point out the similarities between our dependency on oil and an addict’s dependency on a given drug. It started with big business and the industrial revolution but let’s fast forward to the mid 20th century. In 1947 Canadians bought 159,2051 new passenger cars. By 1956 that number had exploded to 407,7102.  While that extreme rate of growth did not continue, in 2009 it was 863,1613. What does this mean? We all were happy about it really. New cars represented the freedom and prosperity that was the hallmark of the post war baby boom. We didn’t know what we were doing was bad. I mean we all could see in our cities where the most cars were concentrated smog starting to visualize but we had no grasp of the long tern effects.  There were a few forward thinkers for sure but for the most part, cars were good – more cars were better.  This is the experimentation phase for us addicts. We had the means and we all wanted what the “cool kids” had. The cool kids were the well off and the well off had cars.

Somewhere in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s people saw what was happening. Air pollution was visible and affecting health but cars weren’t yet seen as the problem so much as industry. Even hippies happily drove their lovebugs. To their credit, they were smaller more efficient cars and the economically-challenged youth were likely to carpool. But at this same time the car had been marketed into a right and not a privilege. Owning a car had become not a luxury but a perceived necessity.

Addiction had taken hold. We could not let go. Our lives were now designed around keeping that addiction alive. Cities, highways and indeed a massive chunk of our economy was built around feeding and supporting that addiction. The combined might of the “dealers” – oil companies and car manufacturers – had made them major players in our politics.  And there were limitless resources to keep our dependency alive.  (I invite everyone to research what happened to electric streetcars in most cities.  Safe to say that auto and oil had a hand in the demise. That will be a whole other post some day.)

And so it grew. In 2009 there were 20,706,6164 registered vehicles in Canada.  That’s a ratio 1 for every 1.645 persons in the country. And most of us would say we “need” that vehicle. Some are right for the infrastructure has been built around just that. And don’t get me wrong, some people absolutely do. I’ll use the recent developments in Winnipeg as an example. In the suburbs, public transit service is poor and even I would not argue that.  Winnipeg Transit would argue that there is less demand. All of this is true. An addict might well feel that there are no options.

Here’s the reality.

There are options but they must be requested and in most cases demanded. Ultimately, we as the addicts must take the first steps. Gas prices, for no matter what the reason, will continue to rise. The cost both in terms of our health as individuals, and as a nation will depend on the choices we start to make now.  This will apply to our economic wellbeing and our environmental survival. It will be difficult. It will be painful. It should have been earlier, it will be worse if we wait longer – the intervention must happen now.

We know the way out – deep down most addicts do. Green fuels and technology and public transit. Simply put, the only way to lessen the amount of money we have to spend on gas in the long run is to buy less gas.

We can do this.

Sources:

1,2 – Statistics Canada, Canada Year Book, 1957/1958, Retail sales of new motor vehicles, 1947 to 1956 –http://www65.statcan.gc.ca/acyb02/1957/acyb02_19570941009-eng.htm

3 – Statistics Canada, New Motor Vehicle Sales: 2006 in Review – http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-621-m/11-621-m2007054-eng.pdf

4 – Statistics Canada, Canadian Vehicle Survey: Annual – 2009 – Catalogue no. 53-223-X –http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/53-223-x/53-223-x2009000-eng.pdf

5 – Wikipedia, Population of Canada by Year  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_population_of_Canada_by_years