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Law: There never was a “war on the car” in Toronto

Wheels contributor Ian Law maintains that you can only fit so many crackers into a box or cars into a city.

Published October 24, 2011
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Over the last two elections, both civic and provincial, the phrase “the war on the car” has been dreamed up. Politicians have been quoted as promising to “end the war on the car.”

To me it is quite disturbing, as I believe most people have been confused by the issue and our politicians are taking advantage of it.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy driving, except in rush hour stop-and-go traffic. I get my thrills from auto racing and teaching advanced driving and I am a certified “car nut.”

I obviously do not hate cars, so I believe I can discuss this from an unbiased view.

In the 1980s and ’90s, I worked in the road design section of the former Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, now part of the amalgamated City of Toronto. I was in on a lot of the new or rebuilt road designs as an Engineering Technologist. As such, I was privy to information that the engineers and planners discussed with regards to new roads and designs.

In the 1980s, there were rehashed discussions around the Scarborough Expressway, which was to have run from the 401 to the Gardiner along the Scarborough railway corridor. The other major road project discussed was the Spadina Expressway, which now ends at Eglinton Ave. W.

Both projects (which were cancelled in the early 1970s by then-premier William Davis) had the objective of making access to downtown Toronto by personal vehicle as fast and as easy as possible.

I recall the planners expressing a legitimate concern about where all those vehicles were going to park once they got downtown and what would happen to traffic congestion in the downtown area with all those extra vehicles trying to find their destination and parking.

You can only put so many crackers into a box. Using a bigger spoon may allow you to fill the box quicker but you still can’t put more in than the physical capacity allows. This also applies to vehicles on the city roads.

The consensus was to curb the mega road projects and to push for mass transit and bike lanes to try to coerce motorists out of their personal vehicles.

This, I believe, was the beginning of what some politicians and motorists deemed to be “the war on the car.”

None of the designers or planners declared war against the car. They simply realized early on that there just wasn’t going to be enough room needed to park all those cars, or even drive them around downtown, as the city population grew.

Where Toronto dropped the ball was not going through with planned mass transit when it was needed. Subway lines were promised and then never built. Our mass transit never realized its potential and now it is sorely lacking.

Every time a budget for mass-transit spending was cut, the system became less convenient and less comfortable and is now overcrowded and slow.

As a result, motorists have not been enticed out of their private commuting sanctuary and into comfortable, reliable and efficient mass transit.

The city is not car-friendly, but not because it “hates” cars but because it has outgrown cars. You just can’t have the mass of people we have now commuting into the city without hellish congestion unless we can rewrite the Laws of Physics and figure out how to cram more mass into a given volume without experiencing fusion.

Many years ago there was once a “rush hour,” and it actually lasted around an hour. Now, that “rush hour” runs for three to four hours each morning and afternoon. Some days, it just blends into one day-long rush.

Even the term “rush hour” is a misnomer, since when we are sitting in one we certainly are not rushing anywhere!

There never was a “war on the car.” We just have to understand that we can’t keep adding vehicles to a limited number of roads.

Our city is changing and we have to grow with the change. It’s not personal. It’s not us versus them. It is just fact.

ianlaw@carcontrolschool.com