Centre of the Continent

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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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