I was walking my kid to school the other day – YES THAT BABY I HAD FOUR YEARS AGO THAT TOOK UP ALL MY BLOGGING TIME IS IN SCHOOL NOW, NO I’M NOT CRYING, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT – thinking about how humans get from one place to another. On one hand we’re pretty awesome at creating complicated machines to transport our weak little human bodies around. On the other hand we stink at it.
I mean, take a city. A city is the human equivalent of an ant hill – it’s where we live together in close proximity because life is easier that way. The entire *point* of a city is to keep the necessities of human life within a manageable distance. Yet few North American cities are really walkable, and even in the few that are the majority of people drive the majority of the time.
As a way of life and an allocation of resources this is really inefficient. Driving is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. That something like 80% of trips within Toronto are done by car bothers me not just because it’s bad for the environment and destructive to public space, but because it’s so colossally wasteful. It offends my frugal soul. Don’t you know that gas costs money? I want to yell at the guy around the corner who drives his kids to school (it’s about a 10 minute walk). Don’t you know that car is going to cost you like 8 grand a year? I refrain from posting as a comment on a friend’s Facebook picture of their new wheels.
But of course people drive. Because it’s easier that way, because it’s normal, because they want to maintain status with their peers, because no other option seems viable, because they’ve structured their lives so that they have no other choice. So be it, when gas gets up to $10/L that’ll change. But if you had to design an urban transport system from scratch, what would it be?
I’m starting from the basic principles that good transportation: a) is good for the user; b) is good for the environment; c) doesn’t unduly harm other people or animals; d) inexpensive; e) is accessible to the greatest number of people, and f) is easy. Bearing that in mind…
1. WALKING AND MOBILITY DEVICES – Walking with or without a mobility device should be the default mode of transport. Walking is good for you, safe, almost impact-free on the environment, free to the user (though mobility devices are not), and very easy.
2. CYCLING – Riding a bike is also very good for you, relatively safe for the user – though not as safe as walking, of course – generally safe for pedestrians, and relatively easy. Most of us learn to ride bikes in childhood and, as they say, you never forget. You have to pay for your bike and any parts and maintenance, but that’s it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need specialized clothing to ride a bike around town, other than a helmet and maybe a reflective vest. You can ride a bike safely in almost anything.
3. PUBLIC TRANSIT – Public transit is mostly safe for the user and the non-user alike, though women often experience sexual harassement and attacks on public transit – ask me about the time a guy tried to lick my face on the subway! Buses which run on petroleum products do harm to the environment, though not as much as private cars. Ease of use and cost vary between regions. The TTC is easy enough to use but expensive.
4. DRIVING – If this were the food pyramid “Driving” would be about as big as “Fats and oils”. Use sparingly. Driving is bad for the user, destructive to the community, dangerous both to the user and to non-users, very difficult, and really really expensive. Not to mention, in spite of a rigorous testing programme, most people can’t drive for shit. Just stand at any reasonably busy intersection at rush hour and see how many Ontario Highway Traffic Act infractions you can count if you don’t believe me. I once counted 7 waiting for a light to change, including someone doing a U -Turn against the light IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION. No wonder it feels like you’re taking your life into your hands every time you leave the house.
Of course, if you live outside of the human anthill (I suppose there are solitary ant species?) your pyramid is going to look different, but then I’m not talking about you, am I? You go on with your…solitary ant life, whatever that is.