Terry Fowler


Transportation Policy in Canadian Cities

Edmund P. Fowler and Jack Layton

INTRODUCTION

“Sometimes, when I am out in the city very early in the morning or very late at night, I wonder about the others who are up at that time as well. ‘Where are you all going at this ungodly hour?’ I ask them rhetorically and somewhat indignantly, since I expected to have the streets to myself. One could ask the same question at rush hour, I suppose, but then the answer would be more predictable. But just as meaningful.”

These musings of one of the authors suggest that at the core of any analysis of urban transportation policy must be an understanding of why people are travelling in the first place. Travel patterns spring from decisions that people have already made about their work, their residence, their recreation — their lives. The corollary is that any proposals for change in a transportation system are in effect proposals for change in how people lead their lives.

True, individual choices about work and housing are severely constrained and shaped in numerous ways by powerful institutions, economic realities, social inequities and cultural values. Nevertheless, no matter how scientific or technical transportation policy pretends to be, it cannot be separated from our preferences for housing, employment, and recreation, which makes it highlycharged politically and at the same time connects it to other policies discussed in this book.

Urban transportation policy can be defined on several levels. First, it consists of a philosophy or approach towards travel within the city. This philosophy might take the form of a general value preference, such as for the car vs. other means of transport (the modal split), or for integration of transportation policy with land use policy. Second, policy can also be thought of as the relative amount of money spent by a municipality on transit, roads, bicycle lanes, pedestrian access — including both capital and operating expenses. Third, policy also involves where and how these funds are spent. Cities are places, after all, and funds are often directed more to one part of the city than to others; money spent on roads could be used to widen them or to modify their design to slow down traffic (traffic calming). Fourth, many public decisions affect a city’s transportation system without being explicitly acknowledged as transportation policy: housing and land use policies, infrastructure investment, and environmental regulations, for example.

Now, if you were to look up material on urban transportation policy on the web or in the library, you would find documents written mostly by theoreticians, planners, and academics who count the numbers of trips made by citydwellers; analyze their times and duration; and relate all this to the mode of transport (car, transit, other) and to the destinations and reasons for those trips. The purpose of these studies is usually to find more efficient ways of moving people and goods within cities; much attention is given to how much is paid by whom for different forms of transportation. Recently, much policy research has revolved around discouraging car use, since the automobile, as we shall see, is destructive both to our health and to the environment.

On the front lines of urban transportation policy are public works departments and the local council committees who are dealing every day with problems of congestion, transit service, and, especially, parking. Ask any local councillor what the most pressing transportation issue is in her ward and the answer will invariably be “Parking!” The term parking is something of an anomaly: many hours of work on transportation policy are devoted to dealing with thousands of cars that aren’t moving.

We feel that both the theoreticians and frontline decision makers, to say nothing of powerful agencies at other levels of government, are working within a narrow definition of the urban transport problem. We propose to broaden that definition in this chapter.

For example, transportation policy analysis too often takes for granted the form of the city we carry ourselves around. Cities have grown so large geographically that we have serious problems getting from one part of them to another. In fact, urban transportation — ranging from travel on foot or with beasts of burden, to wheeled carriages, streetcars and automobiles — has significantly redefined and reshaped the city. In so doing, it has significantly redefined us.  To put it another way, how we transport ourselves and our goods, and why we do it (trip purpose) is embedded in our culture. As a culture, we value single-family houses on large lots. This form of housing created urban sprawl, which makes widespread use of cars and trucks almost essential. Significantly, if we decide that we should reduce our reliance on cars we have to confront our preference for single-family houses. (See chapter by Barbara Carroll).  In parts 4 and 5 below we explore the symbiosis between urban travel and the nature of the city and its inhabitants, as well as the implications of this symbiosis for transportation policy.

A second way to broaden the scope of urban transportation policy is to question the assumption that movement per se is good.  “Let’s Move” was the label for one recent Ontario provincial transportation program. The Greater Vancouver Regional District’s name for similar proposals made by their transportation task force in 1989 was “Freedom to move.” Transportation policy in Canada tends to be predicated on encouraging more travel by more

people, to more places, more quickly. Not surprisingly, Canadians are spending ever greater amounts of their time, their energy, and their money getting around their cities.

This trend may provide more jobs for automobile and truck manufacturers, for roadbuilders and oil drillers, and for transportation analysts; but for a number of years people have been asking, Why assume that moving farther and faster is a desirable goal? Why not start with the assumption, the less travel the better? We suggest this because, as we demonstrate below, less travel is ecologically and economically more sensible, reduces inequalities in the community, and contributes to the wellbeing, safety and quality of life of everyone living in cities, now and in the future.

Thus, our view of transportation policy is a broad one. After a brief overview of transportation policies and systems of different Canadian cities, we examine,  in part 3, different sets of actors  both obvious and less obvious  who make decisions about urban transportation. Using this analysis as a base, we illustrate how the quality of the environment and the social wellbeing of the residents of our cities are affected by their transportation systems. Our conclusion gives some examples of promising moves towards intelligent transportation policies for Canadian cities.

 

PRESENT CANADIAN URBAN TRANSPORTATION POLICY

About half of our urban land is devoted to cars a (City of Toronto, ETF, 1999.) Awareness of the negative impacts of auto use is growing. At the same time, pressures for expanded road systems are also on the rise, as trucking continues to replace rail haul, as offices and factories move to greenfield sites with lower taxes on the urban fringe, and as subdivision after subdivision replaces farmers’ fields. More complications are added by changing price structures: gas prices rise and fall, transit fares almost always rise, and now tolls are being introduced (see section 5).

The most basic point to stress about urban transportation policy is that it cannot be separated from land use policy. Transportation and land use policies do vary across Canadian cities, whose built forms reflect their age and other historical factors. For example, most cities have a relatively small downtown built before the car became dominant in the 1920s. Although older cities’ downtowns  such as those of Montreal and Toronto  are somewhat larger than those of Edmonton and Vancouver, their size relative to the rest of their metropolitan areas has dwindled dramatically in every case. The density of land use surrounding these older urban cores cannot support transit. Like a selffulfilling prophecy, dozens of provincial and municipal government policies encouraging suburban sprawl have effectively written their policies on urban travel: greater reliance on the car and less on transit, cycling, and walking. Canadian urban transport policy, very briefly, is that 90% of our trips around the city are made by car. All this has happened, of course, in the context of the forces described in section 3 — the movement industries, the media, and the development industry.

The best illustration of the centrality of the automobile to Canadian urban transport is the Ontario government’s decision, taken amidst unprecedentedly brutal cutbacks to social services and transit, to give $100 million to HamiltonWentworth’s regional government to help build an expressway through a large and beautiful park bordering Red Hill Creek and close to downtown Hamilton. It will be the most expensive fourlane highway ever built in Canada: $227 million for 8 kilometres! (Friends of Red Hill Valley, 1999)

Since the 1980s, transit expansion in Canadian cities has been talked about more than acted upon. In Toronto, after a long political seesaw between provincial and municipal politicians, one out of four proposed new subway lines is being built along a suburban arterial road. In British Columbia, TransLink (the regional transportation authority), the province, and the City of Vancouver are planning to extend rapid transit westward in the southcentral part of the city, along Broadway to the University of British Columbia.

However, a glance at current official planning documents reveals an unwillingness to challenge directly our dependence on cars but rather a tendency to restrict recommendations to indirect measures such as increasing development densities (in fact not an insignificant initiative if vigorously implemented), tinkering with street alignments, and promoting telecommuting.

Saskatchewan provides no funding for urban transit. Ontario used to fund 75% of transit’s capital costs, sometimes more, and used to advance as much as 50% of operating cost for some municipalities. Now, Ontario has gone the way of Saskatchewan. Quebec has the best record: in the nine cities, it subsidizes the operating costs of municipal transit with dedicated gas taxes and/or vehicle registration fees and contributes almost half of the low-priced monthly pass on the Montreal Urban Community’s transit system.  Smaller transit systems in Quebec are subsidized directly by the province. (Canzi, 2000; James, 2000).  However, hundreds of miles of arterial roads continue to be built to support development on the fringes of Canadian cities. In fact, many transit systems have tried to service lower density development and in the process seriously threatened their solvency. For many years, Canadian transit has been caught in a downward spiral of decreasing ridership, greater deficits, decreasing service, and increasing fares.  In the closing years of the twentieth century does seem to be increasing somewhat (See Figure 1).

The existing road infrastructure is in itself a powerful disincentive to change. This infrastructure represents billions of dollars invested in one form of transport, a policy not easily reversed. Roads themselves beget more cars. The phenomenon is common: build more lanes, or more highways, and cars appear out of nowhere to clog them; take away that road space, and the cars mysteriously disappear (Fowler, 1991; Jacobs, 1961; Friends of Red Hill Valley, 1999).

Canadian cities’ current transportation policies are put in perspective in Table 1, which compares transit and car use in Canada with three other cities, Phoenix, Vienna, and Tokyo. Land use patterns are also given. The figures suggest that there are much broader options for urban travel than those found within Canada. For example, Vienna has much more ridership on transit vehicles that travel slightly less far, with double the residential density of Toronto. Before we consider some of these options, in section 5, we turn to who is responsible for current policies in Canada, and those policies’ implications for our health and wellbeing.

 

HOW IS TRANSPORTATION POLICY MADE?

There are many players in the transportation policy game. The issues are becoming more complex. As an aid to understanding what moves our policies about movement in cities, we present an outline of the forces behind and the components of the urban transportation policy process.

Transport policy in urban Canada has not always been about highways. What is timeless, though, is the link between transportation policy, politics, and money. After the era of ships and canals, transportation policy was synonymous with railroad building. The technology was rail and the big business was moving raw materials from sea to sea. Several fortunes and a nation were built on these transportation policies. In those days, the policy process was fairly easy to understand. Historian Gustavus Myers tells us that over half the Canadian federal cabinet in the 1880s consisted of presidents and chairmen of railroad companies. Little wonder that the national dream and the National Policy were built with the spike, the rail, and the locomotive (Myers, 1972).

Half a century later, new sets of rails reached from central cities out to the new “streetcar suburbs” (Warner, 1962). Streetcar builders and turnofthecentury suburban housing developers were often one and the same firm. In this heyday of the tram, homes were built close together on steets running perpendicular to the streetcar routes, a delightful 20 minute ride out of the city. City politics had a lot to do with where the next streetcar line would be permitted to go. Today, it’s the location of the new highway (and the sewer line) that are the focal points of development debates at city and suburban councils.

Fortunes are still being built on transportation policy. Canada’s third highest paid executive is the CEO of an auto parts manufacturer, Frank Stronach, of Magna Corp. whose 1998 annual salary and benefits exceeded  $26 million (Report on Business Magazine, July 1999). Car makers are among the largest economic entities on the planet, larger than most national governments, and certainly trans-national in their operations; but it would be rare to find an auto executive in a federal cabinet or on a city council (for a couple of exceptions, see below).

So, if there is no longer a cabal of transportation profiteers and politicians meeting in the back rooms to decide how we are going to get around our cities, how does policy get made?

One simplistic explanation of the process is that policy is made in accordance with the wishes of the public who “vote” with their feet on the accelerators every time they clamber behind their wheels. No doubt consumer power could be a real force in shaping policy if consumers had free choices, and full information on which to decide. It is not accurate to say that city dwellers are actually choosing their own transportation policy by using cars at every opportunity. Planning, advertising, and development processes are major factors in shaping transportation plans and systems as well as individuals’ choices.

We can identify almost a dozen different sets of players in the transportation decision making game. To put those players in context and to understand their relationships with each other, it helps to see their links with two key forces at work in the contemporary city. These forces often work in tandem; they are deeplyrooted common interests which influence urban transportation policy like background gravitational fields:

  • the corporate impetus to market expansion based on profitability, and
  • the community impetus to create, protect, and enhance the quality and health of neighbourhood and city life.

Each “force” has many components and there can even be conflict or competition between different sectors, actors, or elements within these main driving forces. This conflict is often expressed clearly in the political sphere. Still, keeping the two thrusts in mind as we review the dramatis personae can be helpful in understanding Canadian urban transport policy outcomes.

 

The Movement Industries

A key element of the contemporary capitalist economy revolves around an inexorable pressure to move: farther, faster, in a wider variety of situations. Movement makes money. Here is a short list of activities and participants in the movement business:

  • gasoline and oil sales (the carbon industry, perhaps the world’s largest)
  • car manufacturing and sales
  • tire and other auto parts sales
  • road building industries and suppliers (asphalt, gravel, concrete, machinery)
  • workers who build cars and roads
  • repair shops, car washes
  • auto insurance companies
  • doctors treating accident injuries, mortuaries
  • moving services: taxis, transportation companies, haulers, truckers

Many of the players listed above shape transportation policy, either directly or through their lobbying associations, such as the Canadian Automobile Association or the Canadian Oil Producers’ Association.

The automobile manufacturers and their associated businesses are motivated by the corporate impetus and are central to the economies of several Canadian regions, especially southern Ontario. Their formidable political power has often been apparent at the national and provincial levels.  Huge government loans and grants for factories flow regularly to the auto industry. International trade agreements affecting car and auto parts manufacturing preoccupy whole departments of government.  Some individuals in the industry become openly involved in politics: Frank Stronach, CEO of Magna, was a Liberal candidate for the House of Commons; Jimmy Pattison, a one-time car dealer and now multimillionaire businessman, is an active Tory fundraiser and shaped key parts of Vancouver’s downtown as head of the World’s Fair organizing committee in the 1980s; Al Palladini, an icon in the world of car salesmanship in the suburbs of Toronto (Canada’s “Auto Marketeer of the Year”, 1994), became the Minister of Transportation in Ontario’s Conservative government in 1995. He initiated his term of office with the comment, “Of course we need public transportation. Not everyone can afford a car.” (The Toronto Star, June 29, 1995).  Palladini clearly cannot comprehend the fact that some people who can afford a car choose not to buy one.

Land Developers and the Property Industry 

Land development companies are also grounded in the corporate impetus, and are another important influence on transportation decisions. So are their associate industries — construction companies, building materials suppliers, architects, and engineers. The postwar process of suburban development created many fortunes, such as Bramalea Developments (chaired by former Ontario premier Bill Davis); but none of it could have happened without a transportation policy to build roads that gave cornfields and pastures their development potential.

James Lorimer puts the issue succinctly:

Transportation programmes amount to decisions about which vacant land is going to be developed, which built-up areas are going to be redeveloped, and who is going to be making money from the growth and development of the city. The property industry greatly benefits from new transportation facilities. (Lorimer, 1972: 177)

North York’s “Yorkdale Development” was built by the Trizec Corporation, under the control of the Reichmann financial empire. Trizec was able to convince government in the late 1960s to design the Spadina Expressway (now called the Allen Road) with an elaborate interchange leading directly into its development. Later, the same developer argued that the shopping centre could be expanded only if a new subway was routed past its doors with a special entrance. This required the subway to be built under a precious ravine system rather than under a major artery, which would have brought many more riders to the line. It has been plagued with low ridership ever since.

Such decisions are made because, in part, the property industry has always been a heavy supporter of political candidates willing to vote for roads and subways which provide better access to developers’ land holdings. These campaign donations are often not public, and can increase substantially the chances of electing a council adopting a pro-development transportation policy. An analysis of contributions to June Rowlands’ successful campaign for Toronto’s mayoralty in 1988 showed that out of the total of $200,000 almost $100,000 came from corporations that included “some of the biggest developers in the city.”  Also, “out of a sample group of 250 of the mayor’s 322 personal donors 70% are linked with Toronto’s big-business community” (Carder and Norwich, 1992).

 

The Media

Another set of influential actors is in the media. Studies of the role of the media in local politics in Canada are few (Black, 1982). Those which have been conducted note a distinct pro-growth bias (the corporate impetus) in editorials, headline patterns, and photographs (Lorimer, 1972: ch. 10). The real estate section of most daily papers is a mainstay of the advertising department. As well, the “auto” section of the daily paper and its associated promotions are another source of media profits, so the temptation to bias is inherent. Often, the media are controlled by firms which themselves have major strategic land holdings that are in turn dependent on transportation infrastructure. In Toronto, all four major dailies are associated with firms which are significant landholders in the core and could be negatively affected if local councils opposed growth plans. This fact is never mentioned in editorials, so that the reader might be informed of a conflict of interest. The Toronto Star, in particular, has regularly railed against efforts to block the expansion of the Toronto Island airport, and has attacked community groups wanting to prevent widening of the Gardiner Expressway or of roads through ravine lands. The Star rarely mentions its land holdings and those of its partners, which lie in the centre of these policy controversies. With no alternative source of information, citizens are often left with a distorted view of the real issues.

Most Canadians watch three or four hours of TV a day. In the process they are exposed to literally dozens of car ads. The omnipresence of the new car image is surrounded by sensuality: forests and natural landscapes, carefully orchestrated music and other auditory stimuli, colour, and feelings — sexuality, freedom, and even love for Nature. Of course, everyone knows that reality is precisely the opposite in each case — smelly smog, intrusive noises, blackened asphalt, and bumper-to-bumper traffic — but fantasy is the most effective marketing ploy.

It is clear that the public’s fantasies about the car help drive transportation policy and that advertisers working for car manufacturers must be part of our understanding of that policy’s context.

Sometimes the media reflect the community impetus, when small neighbourhood or alternative papers provide contrasting perspectives, or when big papers print feel-good stories about local neighbourhoods in the city. The small publications rarely have the real estate or automaker ads sufficient to achieve significant circulation. And if they did, could they carry the same critical message? In all, the media have a pivotal role in manufacturing our consent to problematic transportation policies.

Planners and Experts

In the past, road engineers held sway. Now the field of expertise is broader and urban planners and transportation experts are becoming influential. Urban planning is still a young profession, but it has brought new perspectives to transportation policy, especially the notion that transportation be considered integral to all urban system planning. This is a remarkably sensible objective in principle, but the land on which the planners place their zoning designations and recommend services is usually privately owned. Thus, planners and their political masters, the councillors, end up reacting to initiatives by developers (see Leo’s article in this volume), and transportation policy is subordinated to those initiatives. Planners put the development proposals into the professional language for their employers. This doesn’t mean that planners are neutral servants of rapacious developers, but it does mean they are usually (not always) responding to these political forces like other government officials.  Planners are a heterogeneous group, most of whom are committed to remaining in the public service.  However, some  municipal planners and transportation experts end up leaving the civic service and working — at much higher salaries or consultants’ fees — for land developers.  Some of them, psychologically, seem to have a foot in both camps.

Many communities who have raised concerns about transportation issues, and who have been able to convince their local council to delay, modify, or cancel these projects, find that the promoters take their case to a provincial appeal board. These hearings are structured in a way that gives inordinate weight to the testimony of “experts.” Community residents are deemed not to be experts at all, even though they often know more than anyone else about their own neighbourhood and have often gone to extraordinary lengths to inform themselves on the technical issues. In these hearings, the community’s views are too often discounted.

 

The Public Transit Sector

In contrast to the private sector orientation of automobilecentred transport, most mass transit systems are run by provincial and local governments. Usually, they are administered by a special board or agency. Sometimes a municipal council keeps tighter control of the operations by insisting that the transit system be handled by a civic department reporting directly to city council. In either case, a team of transit planners, maintenance workers, fare collectors and executives spend their working days full time developing and implementing transit policy.

Multidisciplinary planning teams and comprehensive official plan processes are gradually bringing transit into the development decisions of councils. In the 1960s and 1970s, community impetus against urban freeways strengthened the image of transit as an antidote to the ravages of the car on neighbourhoods, especially in Canada’s downtowns.  However, in a study of urban public transport in Canada,  “transit staff interviewed in every city complained about urban sprawl as the biggest obstacle to providing good transit service. Yet, in most places, transit planners and operators have little formal power to influence the land use planning and development process” (Vanderwagen, 1995:9).

One group of players that is bringing pro-transit pressure to bear is the bus and subway car manufacturers. Heavily subsidized by government and bolstered by government contracts to supply equipment, these firms have become increasingly concentrated, with a small number now dominating the industry. Canadian companies such as Quebec’s Bombardier have become thriving businesses, serving worldwide markers. Naturally, governments are keen to see jobs created as equipment rolls off the assembly lines.

Another pro-transit force is the Canadian Urban Transit Association, funded by transit systems across Canada.  It collects statistics on these systems and acts as an advocate for public transit.  CUTA has been actively lobbying the federal government to make transit passes tax-exempt.  Also sprinkled here and there are flashes of involvement by groups of transit riders; recently workplace programs stimulated by employers and unions, and “school-based sustainable transportation initiatives” have been developed in a number of cities (City of Toronto, Environmental Task Force, 1999: 25-6).

 

Environmentalists and Community Groups

The community impetus in transport politics rises in the localities where people live and thus where the cars’ impact is creating unsafe conditions, especially for children, or is causing a significant problem such as noise. Driving home from work is common and considered a necessity, but once there, drivers want to minimize the impact of the car on their neighbourhood. This is not entirely hypocritical. The contradiction simply illustrates what happens when we try to separate one part of our life (work, and the trip to work) from another (home life). In fact, local neighbourhoods in large cities, especially rich neighbourhoods, have been able to put in mazes and speed bumps to protect themselves from rush-hour traffic.

There are transit riders and pro-transit groups who can cause councillors to squirm in their seats as they face a fare hike vote — sometimes so much so that it will be delayed or reduced. However, the going for the rider is tough. It took ten years of lobbying and protesting to establish a monthly pass system with major transit systems in Quebec. A decade was also required for high school students in Toronto to wrestle a reduced rate metropass from a succession of reluctant councils (“How many of these students vote, anyway?” was the all-too-common aside). Two years after the victory, when the students were not looking, Council jacked the fare back up to pennies shy of the adult fare.

In general, transit users are left out of decision-making processes. So-called “public participation programmes” tend to exclude those who would be most likely to use a service if it were provided: low-income families, or children, who are almost always dependent on public transport.

 

Municipal, Provincial, and Federal Governments 

“Most municipal councillors tend to be drawn from middle class professional backgrounds and have little experience with or understanding of the lives of those constituents who use public transit” (Frisken and Bell, 1994: 103). The result: politicians who are predisposed to respond more favourably, even enthusiastically, to pro-road arguments than to pro-transit plans.

On the other hand, local politicians have much less influence on transportation planning than one might expect.  In the Vancouver area all transit planning and funding is coordinated by a regional organisation called TransLink.  In the past, local politicians’ preferences about transportation policy have been routinely ignored (Oberlander and Smith, 1993). In Ontario, after the former Metro Toronto Council agonized over how many new subway lines it could afford (because of provincial government cutbacks), it was ordered by Premier Bob Rae to build four lines instead of the two chosen by Council. Then, the newly elected Tories told Metro in 1995 that it could only build one. Not much autonomy here. The real merits of subway lines become submerged in provincial election politics.

Thus, provincial governments have an overwhelming influence on transportation policy in cities and towns across the country (Frisken, 1994a).  Much of this influence is invisible because it is indirect. Road building is heavily subsidized by provincial governments. While some provinces also subsidize transit, a close examination of most provincial budgets will show that investments in road construction and reconstruction, even at a lower rate of subsidy, are greater in dollar value than they are for transit.

Federal intervention seems to move through cycles. When the asphalt version of the national railway policy — the Trans-Canada Highway — was proposed, it was used as a way to introduce significant highway construction within major cities as well as between them: Montreal’s Highway 40 and Decarie expressway, Toronto’s Highway 401, Vancouver’s Highway 1 through Burnaby and North Vancouver, and dozens of others. This allowed the federal government to intervene in shaping urban transportation infrastructure more dramatically than it had since the height of the railway age. After considerable and lengthy pressure by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals introduced a national urban infrastructure programme which offered federal dollars for local projects, many of them transportation-related. Federal forays into these policy areas are usually aimed at enhancing the popularity of incumbent governments; in addition, there is a reluctance to interfere in what are essentially provincial matters (see chapters by Carroll, and by Andrew and Morrison).

In the past, both federal and provincial governments have had a significant impact on transportation policy by subsidizing urban sprawl indirectly. For example, the federal agency Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, by underwriting mortgages only for single family suburban homes in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, spread-out development and its attendant problems of car-centred transportation (Fowler, 1992).

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

This brief sketch of the forces and players that drive urban transportation policy produces a complex but disturbing picture. The car seems to have become central to our culture,

shaping urban planning as much as planning shapes car use. With a new car manufactured every second of every day world-wide, a rate which is rising, the impulse to pave and sprawl is more powerful than ever. So too are the forces that drive this process, which is accompanied by the downward spiral of many cities’ transit systems.

The negative impacts of this transportation infrastructure are outlined in the next section. In the final section we explore imaginative alternatives, some just on the drawing board, others already in place.

 

THE IMPACTS OF TRANSPORTATION POLICY

Our purpose in this section is to sketch links between urban transportation in Canada and our personal experiences of city life. Since close to 90% of all urban travel (excluding elevators!) is presently made by cars, it is not surprising that most of our examples dwell on that mode of travel. It is worth noting, however, that the total amount of travel in a city, by any mode, is directly related to its dependence on the automobile (Newman and Kenworthy, 1989: 36). The more cars there are, the farther everyone has to travel. The central theme of this section is to demonstrate that reliance on the car for urban travel is harming the environment, our personal health, the vitality of our local economies, our sense of community, our political intelligence, our children, and whatever attempts we make to create a just and equitable society.

The widespread use of the car for urban transport has transformed totally both our natural and built environments. This transformation is so familiar to us by now (most of us have grown up in an automobile-centred city or suburb), that its visible as well as invisible dimensions are not noticed. Yet sensible thinking about transportation policy requires us to be aware not only of the transformation but also of its penetration into our personal lives (Vanderwagen, 1995:138).

 

Pollution

Most of us have learned that the air we breathe — the air we have to breathe — is filled with poisonous particulates and gases from the internal combustion engine. Canadian cities’ air pollution, which is considerable (City of Toronto, Department of Public Health, 1993:9), can be largely traced to cars and trucks, with trucks accounting for a larger proportion than their numbers would imply, partly because of their diesel engines (City of Toronto, Department of Public Health, 1993:51; Zuckerman, 1991:29). “Between 400 and 1200 people die annually in Toronto from … problems aggravated  by smog” (McAndrew, 1999). The amount of research on this topic has exploded over recent years, and one can infer from US studies that 10-15,000 deaths probably occur every year in Canadian cities from vehicular pollution (Freund and Martin, 1993:29; Stieb et al., 1995:1; Ostro, 1993:336). This figure does not include many other sicknesses and deaths with pollution from cars as the significant contributing factor (Burnet et al, 1995:15; City of Toronto, DPH, 1993:113). Our personal health is worse, in other words, because of auto-centred transport. On the other hand, because of auto emission legislation, the contribution of some pollutants from car exhaust to urban air has decreased significantly in the last 15 years (Furmanczyk, 1994) particularly because of enlightened policy. This shows that we are capable of turning things around if we put our heads together.

Cars kill us directly, too, of course. Over 3000 drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists are victims every year (Transport Canada, 1998), and these victims tend to be children, older people, and the poor (see below). By contrast, between 1988 and 1997 only three people were killed while riding Canadian urban transit buses (Transport Canada, 2000).

Chronic sickness and death from air pollution are insidious, since it is hard to place blame. It makes the relationship easy to ignore (Freund and Martin, 1993:102). It is even easier, however, to ignore other effects of the car that are just as dangerous. An excellent example is the emission of carbon dioxide by cars, trucks, and buses in cities. This emission, which accounts for one quarter of CO2 output by the human species, is changing the composition of the earth’s atmosphere so that our weather is growing hotter every year (Zuckerman, 1991:29; City of Toronto, ETF, 1999:30). The socalled greenhouse effect  directly related to our urban transport systems — is creating a vast array of economic problems, from crop damage to catastrophically severe weather, not to mention species dislocation and even extinction. Global warming is creating a rise in the level of the oceans and threatening to inundate not only many of the cities producing the C02 but many island nations and coastal communities around the world (Fowler, 1992: 49). This logic, understandably, is not persuasive to Calgary commuters getting into their cars at 8:00 AM when it’s minus 30°C. They may never have heard of those islands; the effects of commuting by car spread to places too remote from the daily experience of the commuters. This phenomenon is a real barrier to framing a constructive transportation policy that depends on tangible political support from the local citizenry.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are many examples of the car’s impact on the natural environment closer to home, among them the pollution and safety considerations just mentioned. Another example is soil. The vast majority of living organisms of the planet, probably over 90%, are in the first foot of soil (Tompkins and Bird, 1989: 3740; Suzuki and Dressel, 1999: 23). Once we pave over this mass of microbes, the soil can no longer serve natural functions on which we as a species have relied for millennia — food production, hydrological cycles, and water absorption during rainstorms (Hough, 1984; Spirn, 1984). Land close to — and under — Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, and Montreal, not surprisingly, has the most fertile soil in Canada; and we have buried vast portions of it under shopping malls, suburbs, golf courses, and twelve lane expressways and interchanges (some large interchanges take up several hundred hectares). Legislation in B.C. has moved towards stricter controls – see below — on “developing” this prime agricultural land (Kluckner, 1991: 15463), but thousands of hectares have already been lost, and the effectiveness of any controls will depend on the political will of incumbent governments. Through their transportation and land use policies, provinces and cities have already seriously compromised Canadians’ ability to be selfsufficient in their food supply.

 

Urban Infrastructure

Outside their front doors, inhabitants of Canadian cities are faced daily with an enormous infrastructure devoted to servicing automobiles and trucks: anywhere from 35% to 65% of urban land is either streets or parking facilities (Fowler, 1992: 42); there are repair shops, gas stations, and dealers; auto graveyards are often not far from factories; and one can find an unbelievable variety of retail outlets designed specifically to serve the consumerdriver, such as shopping malls and drivethrough (“drive thru”) windows. The automobile is not just “the defining technology of our built environment,” as architect Peter Calthorpe says (1991: 45), but “the principal material for the built environment” of the Canadian city (Freund and Martin, 1993: 111). Because all these car-related land uses reflect an awesome capital investment, they present a huge barrier to alternative systems of transport.

Still, the infrastructure of other transportation modes is also evident. In the 19th century, cities across the continent were competing to attract railroads, since these were considered, not unrealistically, central to economic growth, if not survival (Magnusson, 1983; Gutstein, 1983). Municipalities literally gave away land to attract the rail companies to lay tracks through their cities. As a result, most Canadian cities’ downtowns contain huge tracts of immensely valuable land acquired in this manner by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. As railroading became less profitable, CNCP’s development arm, Marathon Realty, transformed this land into office highrises and other mega-projects (Nader, 1975:354).

With more than half of all our urban land used by the transportation system, the true functions of city life  — authentic, face-to-face contact with people on our street or around the corner, for a myriad of commercial, intellectual, cultural, and social purposes — are relegated to the other half.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this massive infrastructure is that we don’t notice it. We consider it completely normal. Before we can develop sensible policies, we need to ask ourselves just how normal it is.

 

Financial Waste

Car-centred urban transport is expensive, in fact wasteful. If thousands of people get sick from automobile-induced air pollution and have to be treated by the health system (Bates and Sizto, 1987; Burnet et al., 1995); if our food has to be imported from California because we have paved over our good local land (Kluckner, 1991: 15462; Lowe, 1994); if millions of cubic metres of topsoil are polluted by metal and mineral particulates from tires, brake linings, car battery production and diesel fumes (Freund and Martin, 1993: 27); and if crops we do grow are stunted and diseaseprone because of cars’ and trucks’ air pollution (Renner, 1988: 36), then we are wasting billions of dollars by choosing cars to move us around our spreadout cities. Sadly, this is precisely what is happening (Fowler, 1992: 47-9; Laird, 1995: 68-70).

The actual data respecting these effects have been computed by a broad range of analysts (Fowler, 1992: 2949; Lowe, 1994; Vojnovic, 1995: 3-10), so that automobile-centred transport emerges as collective economic foolishness for everyone except car manufacturers, the oil industry, and some land developers. Personally, we are spending 15% to 30% of our incomes on our cars, and the proportions keep rising (Litman, 1999; Stillich, 1995: 199). The total costs are subsidized by our taxes — in Ontario by as much as 59% (Komanoff, 1995: 95101; Laird, 1995: 69; Macmillan, 1993: 48; Zuckerman, 1991: 2149). The total costs of the car have been computed by Charles Komanoff for the United States as $725 billion a year (1995: 98).

 

 

Social and Political Costs

The astonishing economic and environmental impact of our transport system on Canadian cities needs to be put into a social and political context. In other words, this system has worked its way into other parts of our lives, a fact which students of public policy must take into account.

Consider that highways, multi-level parking lots, streets, and bridges need to be constructed by large institutions — municipal corporations and private contractors — who hire teams of experts to design and build this transportation infrastructure. Most city dwellers have grown up believing that we are incapable of understanding the technical requirements of our system and the complex modelling behind what gets built, and where. This is a false belief, of course: we ourselves are paying for the infrastructure and since it pervades every aspect of our lives, we are superbly qualified to give an opinion on what gets built.

The technology of transportation infrastructure, transit as well as roads, is authoritarian. Its political message is, “The experts know what is needed; please do not interfere.” Numerous disastrous public works projects based on questionable reasoning and analyses by experts indicate that this is a deceptive and at times duplicitous message (Fowler, 1992: 667; Franklin, 1990: 6876; Lupo, Colcord, and Fowler, 1971) but it continues to be broadcast. It bespeaks of an authoritarianism that, in fact, constitutes the decision making pattern for much of our urban built environment. Alternative transportation systems, such as walking and bicycling, have a far more democratic face.

There is another, more homely link between the quality of our politics and urban transportation. The many expressway controversies of the 1960s and 1970s illustrate the incompatibility between highways and local, wellknit communities that fought against them (Leo, 1977:19n; Lupo et al., 1971).

In fact, there is a direct relationship between traffic and neighbourhood vitality. One classic study by Donald Appleyard in San Francisco showed that, other things being equal, the more traffic on a city street, the less vibrant its social life, and the more confined residents felt in their living quarters (1981: 204, 70-1) See Figure I. Jane Jacobs observed a similar relationship: road widenings and sidewalk narrowings cut down or eliminate casual but essential encounters among street users (1960: 338). These encounters are essential because, though they “may not be significant in themselves, they provide a context for solutions when problems do arise, such as increases in vandalism or burglaries, proposals for a development in the neighbourhood, or a misfortune suffered by a local resident” (Fowler, 1994; 2).

We believe that the present distrust of government and the erosion of the public sector can be traced to an erosion of healthy street-level contact which underlies any sense of basic competence in collective public action.  An authentic politics must be based on face-to-face local relationships on our street. Such relationships are being systematically erased by reliance on the car, which demands the use of streets solely as thoroughfares (or parking lots), not as public meeting places. This kind of street use is a powerful incentive to turn our backs on rea1civic management and to rely instead on the vicarious politics of electronic media and of symbolism.

A healthy social and political life by definition includes everyone. Yet the car has isolated many kinds of people in our society. Particularly vulnerable to automobile dominance are children. “Cars are the single largest killers of Canadian school children (cancer is second)” (Columbo, 1992). In Britain, which has fewer cars per person than Canada, 80% of children aged 7 and 8 were allowed to walk to school on their own in 1971. By 1990, the same figure was 9% (Barber, 1995). A similar trend has been noted in Canada (City of Toronto, Environmental Task Force, 1999: 32). The outcome of this trend is that “the victim is being removed from the street” (Barber, 1995; Appleyard, 1981: 12533). This means that children do not grow up having a knowledge of, or a sense of responsibility for their neighbourhood. They have no opportunity to feel the self-confidence of making their own way through the city.

It is worth stressing that children are a permanent and central part of a community. They may grow up, but there will always be children. Because their experiences of street life and mobility inform their choices about public involvement and transportation as adults, we are perpetuating an anaemic commitment to civic responsibility as well as dependence on the car. It will seem normal, not a collective dysfunction.

Automobilecentred transport harms other population groups. It is not too much to say that to spend money on cars is to hurt the poor and to help the rich, in very real ways. Research has shown that a cardominated city makes it harder for the poor to find jobs: not only do fewer poor own cars, but public transit in such cities is typically so bad that jobs in distant suburbs are geographically out of reach, even though most jobs are being created there. The exaggerated physical mobility required by sprawl becomes a prerequisite for economic and social mobility (Freund and Martin, 1993: 467; Klodawsky and Spencer, 1988: 149).

Inequalities are made worse because owning a car is so expensive, the personal vehicle has been made almost a necessity by land use, but it takes two to three times as much of the poor’s income as the rich’s (Litman, 1999).

Car exhaust kills a much larger proportion of the poor, who tend to live in areas more polluted by automobile emissions.  Cars also kill more pedestrians, especially children, by a factor of three (Freund and Martin, 1993: 49; Lerner, 1997: 283).  Similar figures have been compiled for women and for the disabled.

Where public transit is provided, it is most frequently designed radially — like the spokes of a wheel — to maximize high-speed access from suburbs to a downtown core of offices and white collar employment (Frisken, 1994b: 5). This pattern accentuates transportation problems not only for the poor but for many women, who have different travel needs from men. Gerda Wekerle has made this clear:

The journey to work for women … is often more time consuming, more costly and more complicated than men’s. Women frequently use public transportation for shopping and household errands, and women workers combine these trips with the journey to work to save precious time. (Wekerle, 1980: 205)

The crisis of the welfare state can be traced, in part, to billions of dollars spent on public goods like transportation that are accessible to all only in theory. The net effect of such expenditures more than offsets the programs that “give” money directly to the poor.

One further note: we have been unabashedly critical of car-centred transport.  Can a case be made for the car?  Not in cities, we feel.  Besides, it is meaningless to talk about “the car” separate from its supporting infrastructure of roads and other facilities that take up half of the urban land in Canada.  As we have suggested, individuals who insist on their right to drive may not be aware of how this urban form has influenced our definitions of alternative ways of living as well as getting around the city.

 

BRIGHT LIGHTS AND NEW DIRECTIONS

We have described a tangled web of causes and effects, yet the message has been clear that urban travel is dominated by the car, and that the situation is dangerous to our wellbeing.  We have also stressed that our mode of transport is intimately related to our habits of life and our cultural values.

In particular, we have underlined the symbiosis between land use and urban travel. This symbiosis has important implications not only for substantive policy, but also for policy formation and policy change. Urban development since World War II has been large scale: office towers, expressways and stadiums, shopping malls, suburban subdivisions, and highrise condominiums. This form of building has produced not so much cities as urban smears with segregated uses that require an individual to make substantial trips just to shop, work, and sleep. It is clear as well that these smears have been planned and built for us by big institutions such as developers and “local” governments whose jurisdictions include millions of people. These institutions, in turn, are following the logic of an economic system comprised of a placeless capital and technology that have become international in scope. In a sense, we are justified in feeling that this transportintensive development has been forced on us by these institutions and their economic logic – that they are real policy makers. Yet we have played our own part in welcoming the development into our towns and cities. It is important to be aware that both global and local choices created the contemporary city’s transportation problems.

The complex interconnectedness between land use and transportation, between local and global decisions, between culture and modes of travel could engender a sense of hopelessness. In fact, though, some of the most significant transportation initiatives have come from community groups, advocacy organizations, and individuals’ choices about how they live, where they work, how much they consume, and what role neighbours play in their lives. In a few cases, professionals and politicians have picked up the ball from creative grassroots thinking and worked in partnership with local groups to achieve remarkable results.

In this section we highlight what governments and individuals have been doing to rethink and reform urban transportation.

 

Sprawl

The Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has made a concerted effort to control sprawl.  All of the municipalities in the GVRD were asked to identify the lands in their communities which they wanted to preserve as some sort of open space.  Anything left over became the only land where development could occur.   Green Zones included ecologically important lands, renewable resource lands, such as agricultural areas, outdoor recreational lands and community health lands, especially watersheds important to drinking water quality.  The Green Zone covers 2/3 of the GVRD land base.  Then, communities were asked to define the density and type of development they wanted in the remaining lands, but it was made clear that any low density development areas would not receive high intensity public transit investment.  Some communities still opted for low density (see Fowler and Hartmann), but most chose medium and higher density development in order to secure some transit investment.

Key to the Vancouver solution is its new sustainable transportation governance structure.  Its new regional transportation authority, TransLink, was created to realize the vision with the power to introduce tolls, charges for car licenses, and other techniques to raise funds for the transit investments.  Most important, the provincial government turned over a percentage of the gasoline tax which it was collecting from gas pumps in the GVRD.  With this planning base and funding foundation, a new vision of transportation and a livable region seem possible.

The momentum of the past is considerable, and politics often intervenes; suburbanites tend to be adamantly opposed to intensification, for example, no matter how environmentally correct it is (Fowler, 1996a).  Nevertheless, policy initiatives such as those in the GVRD give reason for hope (see also Leo’s chapter).

 

Regulating the Car and its Movement

Outright banning of automobiles is one of the least imaginative  policy alternatives.  There are many other possibilities. For instance, to counter the growing tendency of parents to drive their children to school (see above), creative communities have formed walking school buses, whereby organized volunteer parents follow a route to school picking up children en route.  Each walking bus eliminates hundreds of auto trips per year, and  brings people and kids together, creating safer neighbourhoods.  Car travel does exactly the opposite.

Another initiative is traffic calming. Thirty years ago, angry because three of their children had been killed by cars within a year, a neighbourhood in Delft, Holland, organized an impromptu, latenight street reconstruction, taking away curbs and replacing pavement with trees. Cars could still get through, but only at walking speed (Egan, 1995). Many older city neighbourhoods across Canada today have oneway mazes, speed bumps (or speed platforms), planter boxes in the middle of intersections, fourway stop signs and very low speed limits.

As often happens with innovations, the traffic calming phenomenon is in danger of becoming a cliche, as minor adjustments to traffic flow, or isolated steps to slow a lane or two are wrapped in the “calming” cloak. In fact, the concept was founded on a vision of city life that challenged the conventional view of cities, which sees them primarily as moneymaking machines. Phil Day, a senior planner in Brisbane, elaborates:

Traffic calming involves a fundamental rethinking of metropolitan planning and organization, and a revived emphasis upon quality rather than the quantity of life. Some may even see the ultimate goal as the calming of society itself – abandoning the frenetic pursuit of ever more development and its generation of increasing inequalities, and breaking the habit of the ever increasing consumption of the finite resources of a fragile planet (Engwicht, 1992:118).

 

European ideas such as closing sections of the central city, once anathema, are now receiving serious consideration.  Montreal’s “Tour de l’Isle” mass bicycle ride sees huge sections of the city taken over by throngs of cyclists who literally tour the whole island.  It’s possible to stand in one place for three hours and watch a continuous river of cyclists, twelve riders wide, of all ages, sizes and abilities.  A charitable “Ride for the Heart” in Toronto gives freedom of the expressway to cyclists and roller bladers for a Sunday as the infamous Don Valley Parkway is closed in both directions much to the delight of both bike riders and the breathing population.  Still, the concept of complete closures of streets run into the brick wall of commercial opposition, with retailers fearing economic strangulation, a groundless worry, to judge by the experiences of European cities.  In the Brazilian city of Curitiba (see below), after initially opposing a downtown pedestrian mall, merchants starting clamoring for its extension because business had improved so significantly (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 1999: 289).  In the spring of 2000, the publication of a report by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, which indicated there were 1,000 preventable premature deaths annually as a  result of smog,  brought serious consideration by City Council and the media of the heretical idea of banning cars from the city, or downtown parts of it, and free transit on smog days.

Arterial roads are a more difficult problem, since they are more likely to serve through traffic than local streets are. There have been some successes. Toronto’s Bay Street “urban clearway”, which limited one of the two lanes in each direction to buses, taxis, and bikes, was so successful that the Commissioner of Works now boasts that the road handles just as many cars as it did when all four lanes were devoted to car. The predicted traffic chaos never materialized. Elsewhere, Sherbrooke, Québec has carved out twoway bicycle lanes from their road system in strategic locations without widening the road at all. Ottawa has established lanes for buses only on Rideau Street.

In Toronto, High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes have been introduced on some of the inner suburbs’ arterial roads — a lane is reserved for transit vehicles, taxis and private cars with three or more occupants. While violations are high, HOVs are moving more people in cars more efficiently, and transit vehicles cover the distance in less time (Metro Transportation, 1995).

At least some of these street restructurings are not merely regulating the car; they are, in effect, redefining the street, from a movement corridor to an urban place. The idea of roads as the exclusive preserve of the car is being challenged. Stopping is allowed. Interacting is encouraged, as sidewalks become places. If we are going to honour the city as a place, then we have to pay attention to how each place can be a part of its users, and vice versa. Movement within and through the area needs to harmonize with the intricate blend of activities that characterize vibrant city life. This implies a very different approach to transportation policy, one that goes far beyond regulating car use as Phil Day noted above.

Another way of discouraging cars is to make the price of parking reflect its true costs.  Since most North American workers’ free  parking takes more space than their work area , policies are being enacted in places like California to charge employees fair market value for their parking space, “and pay every[one] a commuting allowance of equal after-tax value. Workers – a third of whose household driving miles are for commuting – could then use that sum to pay for parking, or find access to work by any cheaper method – living nearby, walking, biking, ridesharing, vanpooling, public transit, or telecommuting” (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 1999:41-2). As mentioned, drivers in Quebec’s largest cities are now “paying a new tax on either gasoline, parking, or their driver’s license in 1996 in order to better finance the transit system” (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 1995).

One other method of car regulation should be mentioned: toll roads and other ways of charging motorists for their use of streets and highways are under consideration in Alberta and British Columbia. In Ontario, the toll expressway Highway 407 is already open across the northern edge of Metro Toronto. Charging for road use is a complex issue, since everything depends on the pricing mechanism, which can interfere with accountability and democratic government. In New York and Chicago, quasipublic corporations with expropriation powers have used tolls not just to maintain highways and bridges, but to build massive new ones that destroyed thousands of houses in stable and healthy neighbourhoods (Thompson, 1996; Fowler, 1992: 456). These agencies are impervious to community input; they represent the kind of “flexible” organs of metropolitan governance we can do without (Fairlie, 1994).  Thus, Canadians could choose to work with private consortiums, subsidized by taxpayers, that build new highways with tolls  (this is the case in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and California). Another option would be publicly controlled congestion taxes on all roads, using electronic devices in each car, and sending revenues to alternative modes of transport.

 

Public Transit

A car owner might feel that it is unfair to subsidize transit out of their pockets, as some of the proposals in the last section suggest. This puts the spotlight on what is normally considered to be the basic problem of transit, its expanding costs and requirements for subsidy, a problem being addressed in the United Kingdom at this moment (Solomon, 1995:40-2). This fixation only on the economics of transit ignores not only land use (see above), but also the subsidization of cars, which is indirect and mostly invisible, unlike transit subsidies. Furthermore, transit riders pay up front for their rides. Fares cover as little as a third of the cost of the ride in the United States, 53% in Montreal, and 84% in Toronto. The shortfall is publicly and clearly covered by sources other than transit authorities.

The costs of cars are difficult to pin down, but estimates of government subsidies for car users (over and above what they already pay in gas taxes. etc.) vary from $300 billion a year in the United States, or 35% of total costs of the car (Komanoff, 1995:96), to over 85% (Zuckerman, 1991:216). These estimates do not include items such as income tax lost through deduction of car expenses for business purposes, or the cost of defense establishments in the Middle East to protect western sources of oil.

Isolating transit costs from motor vehicle costs is not as silly as isolating both forms of transportation from land use policy. Transit systems’ financial woes stem mostly from their desperate attempts to service spreadout development spawned by the auto. Transit needs a certain population density to make money – about 3000 persons/km2 for surface routes and 6000 persons /km2 for subways.  Thus, an immediate moratorium on low density development on the outskirts of cities, whose densities average 2000  2500 persons /km2, and a requirement that all new development involve intensification of existing builtup areas would be the best transit policy a city could adopt, without spending a single dollar. This has been the GVRD’s strategy. Until the physical context – the shape of the city – is changed, public transit may never lure drivers from their cars, no matter how cheap and accessible the service. Here  is an area of real choice for decision makers, however, one that transcends the narrow focus on finances. By redefining the problem, a different set of forces and actors are implicated  and perhaps a different power structure (see our discussion in part 3) (Rochefort and Cobb, 1994).

Sea changes are at work in even the most car addicted communities.  Surrounding Toronto’s core are the so-called ‘905’ communities, known by their telephone exchange and decidedly suburban.  Still, at meetings of the regional round table known as the Greater Toronto Services Board, Mayors, Councillors and Regional Chairs of communities with miles of sprawling subdivisions have increasingly commented that “more roads will not solve our problems.”  Mississauga’s mayor, worried about how the city’s “planning policies may be contributing to sprawl,” is suggesting light rapid transit as a solution (Funston, 2000).

One should be cautious about making comparisons with Europe, whose urban areas already are more compact than ours; but several nations there have improved transit ridership by coordinating fares, routes, and timetables. In an era when affluent West Germany’s car ownership of 503 per thousand inhabitants has surpassed Toronto’s (463) and Vancouver’s (444), making transit cheaper and seamless produced a remarkable ridership increase of 13% between 1988 and 1993. Other countries  the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and France  have achieved similar increases. At the same time, lowering subsidies and privatizing public transport in Norway and Great Britain has produced dramatic decreases in ridership (Pucher and Kurth, 1995).

Canadian cities are undertaking a few initiatives. For example, Montreal’s “Transit Revival” program in 1992 started servicing areas which up to then had had very little service – and ridership began to rise.  Calgary and Edmonton achieved a coup when they secured an agreement from their provincial government in late 1999 to receive a share of the gasoline taxes raised in their cities for use in financing public transit.  New facilities can now be planned knowing that a secure funding base is in place.

In the context of many other articles in this book that document the financial straits of Canadian municipalities, it is worth noting that these initiatives supporting transit (and regulating the car) are economically beneficial, since as we’ve noted, the car culture is ruining our local economies. Consider that 85 cents on every dollar spent by local residents on gasoline leaves the regional economy, much of it leaving the country as well. In contrast, out of every dollar that buys a fare on public transport, an estimated 80 cents goes towards transit workers’ wages; those 80 cents then circulate in the local economy, generating more than $3.80 in goods and services in the region (Zielinski, 1995:18).

Canadian cities have much to learn from elsewhere.  Probably the finest public transportation system in the world can be found, not in Canada, not in Europe, but in Curitiba, Brazil, where 28% of bus users have cars, yet prefer the bus, which – in its articulated version – carries up to 270 passengers and comes by once a minute during rush hours.  This means that express bus lanes have a capacity of 20,000 travelers per hour, half that of a full-fledged subway, for a tiny fraction of the cost.  Other features of the system include a highly efficient bus stop infrastructure; service provision by ten private bus companies paid, not per passenger, but per route kilometre; and operating costs financed entirely by fares – unheard of in the world of public transit. (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 1999:291-5)

 

Bicycles

One of the most sensible ways of getting around the city is not a new idea at all, but it is certainly an idea whose time has come.

Bicycles were treated for years as the vehicles of the eccentric .  Recently, however, there has been a huge growth in cycling, especially utilitarian bike riding just to get to work, school, shopping or visiting.   The Toronto Cycling Committee recently released a comprehensive survey showing that up to 3,000,000 bicycle trips are taken every week, not only in summer but in spring and fall as well.  This compares to 7,000,000 transit rides. In all Canadian cities, cycling is growing and facilities are beginning to be built with a vengeance.  Whole master plans are unfolding for interconnected bike paths and routes. Ottawa and Edmonton are particularly notable for their cycling facilities, so much so that tourists now rely on bikes to see the sights.The famous post-and-ring bike rack is sprouting up more quickly than weeds despite its meager origins, designed on the back of a napkin in a pub by a small group of velo-lutionaries.

Only a few years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a network of towns and cities joining with a provincial government to create an 800kilometre bicycle trail for eco-tourism, commuting, and fitness.  Yet the first phases of such a trail have been opened in Quebec, and its immediate popularity is accelerating the project’s completion.

Some Canadian towns have initiated ‘free bike’ programmes, using unreturned reconditioned stolen bikes in cooperation with local police and community groups. In Jasper, Alberta, for instance, the White Bike Programme “works on the honour system.  Bikes are initially put in bike stands around town and the users are asked to return them to a bike stand when they are finished.” (Environment Network News, 1998:21)  Even the bike theft capital of North America, Toronto, with its annual criminal harvest of 11,000 stolen bikes, is contemplating a free bike programme.  European thinking suggests that when bikes are free, fewer are stolen.

 

Access Through Proximity

Some have argued that exploding telecommunications and computer technologies will allow more people to work at home and decrease the need for urban travel (Irwin, 1994). Frisken contends, however, that only a relatively small and privileged group of highly skilled workers will fit that scenario; most of us – especially women, or the unskilled – will probably need to make yet more trips “to adapt to economic and technological change” (Frisken, 1994b: 4). There is general agreement  that we shall have to travel further because computerbased business technology is a central force in the decentralization of enterprises and in continuing sprawl.

Nevertheless, access through proximity is an important principle.  At the start of this chapter we invited you to consider why people are traveling around the city so much in the first place. At the risk of being obvious, we might say that it is to get to work, to shop for food, to visit friends, or to go to a show. Rather than taking urban sprawl – and its living habits – for granted, and looking for more efficient ways to travel across that sprawl, we could plan to have access to work, food, and friends by gathering them around us: working at home, buying groceries at the corner or even growing vegetables, and making friends in the neighborhood (Freund and Martin, 1993:14).

Many have made such choices, consciously, in where they choose to live, or in how they live where they are (Elgin, 1981; Elgin and LeDrew, 1997). We thus disagree with David Foot in this volume, who argues that travel behavior is not susceptible to change; however, that change cannot be imposed from above – it must come from below. Obviously, new living patterns could be supported, rather than frustrated, by urban development that combines higher densities and smallscale mixed  landuse. (See Leo’s discussion of the new urbanism in this volume.) Solving many of our transportation problems involves land use and lifestyle changes that already are undeniably attractive to many Canadians.

It bears mentioning that these changes will have other policy benefits as well: more efficient use of infrastructure (See Caroline Andrew, this volume), stronger communities (Fowler, 1987), and a cleaner environment (Trevor Price, this volume).

 

Conclusions

Next time you take a trip through a city (we realize some of our readers live in rural areas), think about the reasons for your trip and mode of transport. These reasons reflect your own personal preferences, your gender and socio-economic status, and a transportation infrastructure built by government officials probably without your input. Urban transportation policies are part of the whole equation, but, like your personal choices, are embedded in cultural conditioning of which it is difficult to be aware. We have expressed our own strong opinions about urban travel and urban life, with which you may well disagree. We stress, however, that whatever you believe there will always be an interplay between your individual choices and collective policy.

In fact, any unilateral blanket transportation policy for a city is by definition unintelligent. It is instructive here to recall Jane Jacobs’ mistrust of broad planning policies (1961). Her position is that urban vitality sprouts of its own accord if unhindered by zoning, by concessions to and subsidies for moneyed  interests, and by  megaprojects. Thus, a decision made from above to “ban cars” or to “intensify” is relatively meaningless. In her mind, “attrition of the automobile” needs to be placespecific: when an area’s diversity and vitality is threatened by cars, that’s when they must be discouraged. A fitting conclusion: sensible transportation policy comes from coordinating the specific – places and individuals – with the general principles of access and sustainability.  This change must come from individuals, but from individuals who are working together in local communities to create the livable city of our dreams.

*We have benefited from advice, information, knowledge, and wisdom given freely to us as we prepared this chapter by Don Ogner, Richard Gilbert, Brendon Hemily and Michael Canzi of  the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Franca Ursitti, Tom Samuels, Perry Gladstone, David Yap, Tom Furmanczyk, and Paul Morton. We take full responsibility for any errors of fact or interpretation.

 

1 A complete overview of political forces in cities can be found in Jack Layton’s chapter entitled “City Politics in Canada”, Canadian Politics in the 1990s, 3rd Edition (Williams and Whittington, 1990).

 

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Jack Layton is a City Councilor in Toronto.  He teaches at the University of Toronto’s Innis College, in the Environmental Studies Program.

Annual Transit Passenger Rides

Source: Canadian Urban Transit Association

Table Prepared with the help of Alix Cook and Don Ogner

Table 1

Urban Travel and Sustainable Development:
The Canadian Experience
Summary of Major Canadian Cities and Selected International Comparisons – 1991

Canadian Cities and Population

Courtesy of Richard Gilbert; IBI Group

Source: Statistics Canada and data provided by local planning staff/reports. Blanks indicate that comparable data were not available.

 

† Note: These are 1980 figures, drawn from Newman and Kenworthy, Cities and Automobile Dependence, An International Sourcebook. Aldershot: Gower Publishing, 1989.

 

* GTA = Greater Toronto Area; MUC = Montreal Urban Community; GMA = Greater Montreal Area; GVRD = Greater Vancouver Regional District; RMOC = Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carlton

 

 

 


“Transportation Policy in Canadian Cities,” in Edmund P. Fowler and David Siegel (eds.) Urban Policy Issues (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001) (with Jack Layton)