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We are all selfish bastards

cyclist on bike lane by Axel Bueckert on

We are all selfish bastards when it comes to sharing road space and public space.

When we drive, we complain about pedestrians jumping out in front of us, crazy cyclists who get in our way, and under-utilized bike lanes that are taking away valuable driving space and creating traffic jams.

When we take surface transit (such as buses and streetcars), we want all the cars out of the way so that we can move more efficiently. And we complain about drivers who don’t stop to let us off and on when the streetcar doors open. (Toronto specific reference.)

When we cycle, we complain about cars parked in the bike lanes, people who don’t look before changing lanes or opening their car doors, and drivers who honk at you because they just want you off the road and onto the sidewalk.

And when we walk, we complain about cyclists who ride on the sidewalk (they should be on the road!), cars that don’t stop to let us go, and slow walking groups who linearly block the entire sidewalk so you can’t pass.

We are never happy. And we automatically assume that we could do it better. (I know I’m guilty of this.)

But here are a few things to consider the next time you’re flipping the bird to someone on the streets. Here are a few things that we do know about urban mobility.

There is an unprecedented number of condominiums in the development pipeline right now in Toronto. For argument’s sake, let’s assume 75,000 condominium suites – many of which will be built in central areas of the city.

At a parking ratio of 0.6 stalls per unit, which isn’t an unreasonable assumption today, that’s 45,000 new parking spots and potentially 45,000 new cars in the city. 

If you think that 45,000 new cars will be able to get fully absorbed into the core and somehow move around in an unfettered way, then I believe you are mistaken. 

If you think that there’s something that can be done to magically expand road capacity to handle all of these additional cars in the city, then I believe you are mistaken.

And if you think that adding a bike lane is the only reason you are currently stuck in traffic, then I believe you are missing the bigger picture.

Over a decade ago, we made a decision in this region to encourage building up, instead of building out. And along with that decision came a necessary rethink of how we get around. That transition is what we are living through right now.

The other thing we know is that the 4 modes of mobility that I started this post with are ordered from least sustainable to most sustainable. 

Electric self-driving vehicles will reduce the impacts of driving, but it will also transform it into something that feels more like transit and less like the driving we know today. That will be a very good thing.

But I’m not yet convinced that it will solve all of our problems. To do that I think we will need to adopt a much more balanced and unselfish view of what it takes to move around a city. That, of course, isn’t always easy.

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