In Toronto, the phrase, “war on the car” has been passed around a fair bit recently. A couple months ago, the city decided to change the composition of Jarvis street, a five lane roadway downtown with a middle lane that alternated direction according to the time of day. The plan is to get rid of the fifth lane, insert two bike lanes and widen the sidewalk. Brewing for quite some time, this was one of the events that brought upon the so-called “war on the car”. What it seems to be is simply right-wing rhetoric aimed to demonize the city’s acts of ‘diminishing’ spaces for cars and expansion of bike lanes and other forms of transit. After all, it was Premier Mike Harris who mothballed the Eglinton subway launched by Bob Rae in the early 90’s. What had been burrowed out for the subway tunnel was even filled back in.
In the past few years we’ve seen a new wave of environmentalism that has brought us green bins, hybrid cars, decreace of plastic bags and bottles, and global warming awareness. It’s only natural that our focus would eventually lead to the automobile, and it has been the subject of criticism many times in the past. We, the privileged nations of the world, have grown up with the car and have had the upmost dependability on it ever since the suburbs were galvanized in the mid-century. It has lead to us defining our cities with the car. After all, our quaint houses in the suburbs sport the garage as an object of prominence, not the house. The car was the golden chariot that took you to school, to work, to the mall. However, downtown and dense urban centres has all of those amenities and more within arms reach. Streetcars, bikes, and subways are alternate forms of transportation and are often more efficient. Yet, cars have always been graciously accomodated. In this age of growing awareness for the environment, it only makes sense that we need to shift our priorities.
Toronto should follow examples from countless other cities who are taking progressive steps to reduce the reliance on cars. Montreal has recently introduced the city-wide bike-share program, Bixi, where anyone can rent a bike from kiosks found all over the city. Even New York city has made significant changes to the urban landscape to make the streets more pedestrian friendly. Surely it wouldn’t hurt Toronto to make their streets more accessible and friendly towards all forms of traffic (foot traffic including). What the city is doing surely isn’t a war. What these righteous, outspoken motorists are really griping about can be compared to silly schoolyard ‘territory’ fights. To make this city better, we need to share the road.
The above illustration is for the upcoming Spacing Magazine on this subject and the conditions and politics behind it. Look for it on news stands in the late summer.