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Korfmann: Why We Cannot Pedal Our Way Through The Economy

July 1, 2011

Halifax

Living in a downtown core such as Halifax and going to school in another in Toronto, I have come across my fair share of cyclists and pedestrians. This does not bother me one bit. Most of the time I am that pedestrian. The only problems I may see arising are the growing number of cyclists and pedestrians using the same roads as vehicles. This may seem like a wonderful thing, better for our health and environment, and less vehicle traffic. But just like anything, it’s not quite that simple. In 2005, Statistics Canada released a study examining the amount of cars on the roads, and how far the average person traveled to both jobs in big city centres and the suburbs- the results were rather surprising.

While all areas showed a job increase, they also revealed that more and more people were driving farther to their jobs, or were moving their areas of work to the suburbs. Well what does this mean for pedestrians and cyclists? I’ll tell you; lots. Incentives to drive have gone up, despite higher gas prices; because, well we have to get food on the table. It’s just a fact of life. If it means having to buy a car and drive the extra 15km’s every day in order to get that job that pays an extra $12,000 a year- I’d do it. In a heartbeat. And chances are so would you.

The reason I bring up road congestion and cyclists however, is more because I see a need to deal with this problem. I drive, and I am not saying that the people riding bikes or their reasons for doing so are a problem; I am saying that the fact that they are riding tiny little metal machines next to big, heavy and more powerful ones is not ideal. Aside from the inherent risks cyclists take doing so, riding bikes next to cars also means that they will be slower, and in big cities where space is limited, this definitely slows down traffic. On top of all this, I have recently been seeing an increase in cyclists ignoring traffic rules; on more than several occasions I have spotted them running red lights, weaving in and out of traffic, riding the shoulders, and not stopping at stop-signs. I think there should certainly be a crack-down on traffic enforcement- for everybody. That aside, I believe that-as a driver- I pay into the funds going towards maintaining sidewalks and improving transit (I’ll get into the details shortly) and don’t see much improvement in terms of separating drivers from cyclists.

Most recently, in Moncton, city council decided to take two major streets and reduce them from 2 lanes each way, down to one each way; leaving the extra lanes for cyclists. Now this would appear to be fine, if the people of Moncton actually wanted them. But they don’t. Back in 2006, city council had introduced the very same plans on the very same roads, however an angry majority of residents (all living near the roads) signed a petition to stop the project, and won. Fast forward to 2011, a different city council is proposing the same plans, but “regardless” of public opinion. They are arguing that it is better for the people there, so they will be following through this time. I don’t know about you, but I elect representatives to work on my behalf and represent my needs and interests based on what I believe and want. This does not work the other way around. So the next assumption I’m sure all of us are thinking is “well, maybe the amount of cyclists have increased since then, and they represent them too” this is completely valid; if there were more cyclists, then this project would be democratically fair. This is not the case though, only about 2% of users on these roads are currently bikes; council is running under the ideology of “if you build it, they will come”. It may work in the movies, but rarely does it work in city planning- unless we’re talking about a stadium so large that it is able to host free NHL games… but for this case, it’s highly unlikely to make any sense.

In this letter from an upset resident, C. Babineau indicates that “They (council) would be better advised to look at some of the more important items, such as repaving streets all over this city that are literally crumbling.” This is completely true for most major cities now; the problems of propping up one underrepresented, and not as important method of transportation over a more popular, and important one are becoming larger concerns- or rather they should be.

Now several a times I have been led into disagreement when comparing the two; some say cyclists and drivers shouldn’t be compared because they are totally different, and some say it is because we are the same- I say that’s not the issue. The issue is that vehicles and roads are extremely important in fueling our economy and our lifestyles, and that the practice of driving cars and/or trucks is very valuable to our society; and it’s not looked upon as such. Instead we see both local councillors, provincial politicians, businesses and citizens declare a “war on cars”- a very recent and extremely childish phenomenon.

Before I go further with identifying the causes of this “war”, I’d like to look at how cars, roads and most importantly trucks are crucial to our economic prosperity. To do this, we need not look far; exhibit a: the grocery store- how does the food you eat get transported to the stores? Trucks. All products going to and from almost every single store, restaurant, and mall you’ve ever been too was most likely brought there via truck. More than 90% of all shipping done in North America is done so using roads and vehicles of some sort. We cannot directly ship goods via a train- only partially, this goes for air transportation and boats as well- there is just not way. I would also like to point out that Canada has the second largest land mass in the world, and with such a small population (only about 10% that of the U.S.), we wouldn’t be able to function the way we do without automobiles and trucks. To be honest, I’ve even worked for Penske Truck Leasing and I must say there is a reason why this industry is booming- because we are always going to need it! There were even shortages of trucks, and this is one of the only market shortages in Canada that aren’t caused by government interference, these are legitimate examples of how industry provides so much for us- we just fail to see it sometimes.

Not only do vehicles serve as a means of receiving our goods, they also fuel our economy in a way just as important; they transport people to their jobs. And jobs are good, right? Of course they are! Jobs are a hot-topic in America as they are approaching the 2012 presidential elections with record-unemployment and a possible re-lapse recession, and here in Canada, they are just as important. Jobs fuel the economy, they provide as a means for us to survive- and increase our standards of living. Let’s look at it this way; with the technology behind the automobile, it has become possible for us to accept jobs that would never have been possible without them. Try commuting from Brampton to Toronto, or Truro to Halifax without a car- you can’t! Enter arguments saying “well then don’t work so far”, well to that wonderful school of ignorance I say; easier said than done. The truth is, people will always look for their best interest, and in doing so will go to the jobs they want- this is a free country you know. Statistics Canada even recorded a 26% increase in the amount of people accepting jobs more than 20kms away from their place of residence, and numbers just don’t lie. It would also be helpful to note that back in the days of even more affordable access to cars, labour productivity was at all-time highs. Economies keep growing, and this means the demand for better road-networks so too.

“Solutions” to this “problem” have come in the form of increasing public transportation funding, and creating bike lanes- but these are not viable solutions to anything. It has to be said- cars are far more important to society than bikes and busses. It may not sound to appealing to some, but it’s true. I know, I’ve had to use both- and all times on a frequent-basis. We have to come to some sort of truce here and stop this “war on cars”, even if it means having to build more rapid transit in the larger city cores and widening roads in smaller ones. Until we can come up with a way to transport massive amounts of goods and people without relying on cars, we need to focus more on making it easier to drive in Canada.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2011 12:51 am

    Tyranny of the majority.

  2. July 2, 2011 4:36 pm

    As a city cyclist, I’m not allowed to use the sidewalk. You have to ride on the side of the road a lot of the time when there isn’t a bike path. Because of your speed, which often rivals that of cars in congested urban areas, you must circulate with the flow of automobile traffic. And about “If you build it, they will come”; That may apply to cycling more than you think. My major obstacles to taking to urban cycling were my safety concerns. If there were an actual lane designated to cyclist transit, I’d certainly feel safer than constantly facing the danger of being caught by the door of someone exiting their vehicle.

  3. July 2, 2011 5:25 pm

    I wouldn’t be so quick to paint all cyclists and pedestrians with such a broad brush. I spent almost a full day of walking (see: no transit, no biking, no cars, nothing) downtown (Toronto) a day or two ago, and all I saw was courteous cyclists. They stopped at stop signs, stopped for other cyclists, avoided pedestrians and only ever went on the sidewalk if a car was too far over and they couldn’t safely pass. There are bad cyclists just as there are bad drivers, but I’d take a bad cyclist over a bad driver any day of the week.

    Living in the suburbs, driving is by far the most convenient way to get around. Transit is horrid, mostly due to urban sprawl, and biking takes far too long. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not want to live up, they want to live spread out, and that means strip malls and sub-divisions, which is a nightmare not only from an urban planning standpoint, but also from an environmental standpoint. Driving a car anywhere in Toronto south of Bloor seems completely absurd, and will likely cost more money, take more time and be far more of a hassle than if you were to walk, bike or take transit.

    Jesse made a good point as well: tyranny of the majority. Governments function the way they to do protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. We don’t live in a utilitarian society where the most people always get what they want. Sometimes we have to put practice ahead of politics and realize that the downsides toward adding cycling lanes in heavily congested areas, building upward instead of outward and improving transit are not as bad as people say they are.

  4. July 2, 2011 6:32 pm

    It’s been proven that “complete streets” projects compared to car-driven projects actually produce more jobs and by increasing bicycle lanes, road capacity remains unaffected.

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  1. Why We Cannot Pedal Our Way Through The Economy « Andreas Korfmann.com

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