December 2, 2023

To quote urban scientist James Howard Kunstler, Toronto City Council is sleepwalking to the present. Despite the fact that the shift of 21st century Toronto towards multi-modal transportation (public transport, automobiles, bicycles, foot motor cycles, and skateboards, as well as scooters and many more) is already underway but the city council is resisting its official implementation.

We witness the disastrous outcomes of council members’ inaction and lack of action every week. On November. 1st, 2018, it was reported that there had been 16 pedestrian/vehicle collisions. This was echoed by a terrible 24 hours in October of 2016 when a number of people were injured by motor vehicles. There was another incident in 2015 when there were the number of collisions reached 15 within a single day.

The number of deaths has increased from an average of 47 deaths per year (2005-12) to 64 deaths per year (2013-16) due to the rise in the number of people who use automobilized streets. As of the end of the year 2018, 38 cyclists as well as pedestrians have been killed in Toronto streets.

One reason is the fact that a lot of city councilors have consistently voted against bicycle lanes, bicyclists, and multi-modality overall. One famous and difficult (and recently thrown out) councilor said, ” I do not believe bicycles should be on roads at all.” What a bizarre statement. It’s not the way city councilors thought a century ago.

A first attempt at imagining multimodality, made by Toronto’s Toronto Civic Guild (Civic Guild Bulletin Vol. 1 (June 1912): 10). Toronto Civic Guild, Author of the article.

The Council that is ‘bike-friendly’

At the start of the twenty-first century, Toronto, the city’s Council was embracing bicycles and riders. City councilors collaborated with city engineers and bike clubs along with their counterparts from the Canadian Wheelman’s Association (CWA) to make streets more paved with asphalt, create cinder bike paths, and pave and maintain”devil strips ” (narrow road strips between streetcars that run opposite tracks) and to fix the endless potholes that plague the city’s well-worn road networks made of a cedar block. The council made this decision to promote cycling in a town where ” tides of cyclists” were spotted on the streets. City councilors, many of whom were themselves cyclists, passed bylaws regulating cycling in 1895.. They were enthused by the fact that ” the thousands of bicyclists of (the) city will hail with pleasure any move on the part of the Council” to allow access to the streets for cyclists.

What is the reason and why does the current city council not recognize the social and economic value of bicycles? It could be because it needs an education in transportation geography, and it’s not getting one fast enough. This is a straightforward idea: Create it, and people will follow.

Traffic generation

It was in 1900 that Scribner’s journal published a remarkably boring piece of civil engineering written by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York Rapid Transit Commission. In the article, Parsons shared this transport design gem:

“Whenever a new line has been built in New York, although the first effect may have been — but not always — to draw traffic from a parallel and near-by road, such withdrawal has been but temporary; and in a short time the natural growth of the city, stimulated by the new means of transportation offered, has been sufficient to provide requisite traffic for the new line and increased traffic for the old ones.”

In other words, every time Parsons constructed a new underground line, Parsons created an increase in traffic on all lines.

This statement was not confined to Parsons. In his well-humbly penned ” Street Pavements and Paving Materials: A Manual of City Pavements,” which was published in 1900, Canadian roadway engineer George Tillson made a similar assertion. He wrote about the methods and challenges that road pavers face; he argued that:

“It must be remembered that when any one road is selected to be made into a thoroughfare, traffic will be immediately diverted to it and the wear of the pavement abnormally increased.”

For Tillson, The principle for Tillson was to pave the way, and they will follow.

American roadbuilder Robert Moses learned these same lessons from his experiments with automobility in the middle of the 20th century in New York. He realized that the issue Parsons was actually discussing was the concept of traffic generation. The notion is that a public transportation line, or in his case, a highway, is built to increase the volume of traffic.

Each time Moses constructed bridges or roads, the traffic would always block them, and he would need to construct another. It was deliberate, and he acknowledged that it was the case. He said:

“We could not have any American business without auto business. This is absolutely real… it’s an excellent industry that is able to grow and keeps in producing automobiles, buses and trucks and buses, and there must be places to operate. There must be modern roads and modern arteries. Someone must build them. …”

That’s what Moses and his acolytes in road building did and created the car economy along the way.

The principle of transportation geography the Toronto Council must learn is that if you build public transit, you’ll boost the popularity of public transportation routes and also increase ridership. A culture of public transit and a thriving economy will be the result.

Instead, build roads. The idea is the same: you’ll increase the demand for roads and also increase the number of the number of drivers and the driving culture, which will result in an auto economy.

It’s even good for bicycles too…

A cyclist passes by as streetcar workers lay down tracks near the Toronto intersection of Broadview and Queen. June 12, 1918. Arthur Goss/FlickrCC BY

When Toronto embarked on the lengthy and tense process of paving its streets with asphalt during the early 1890s, the number of bicycles increased. The CWA estimates an astounding thirty-nine bicyclists in 1898, and the city’s total population was around 225,000. Within ten years, Toronto went from having no asphalt in 1890 to having over 25 miles as of 1898.

The city was battling to keep the asphalt in good shape, however, not because of the support of councilors or the city engineer’s examination. As the City engineer Edward Keating noted in his annual report to the Council in 1895:

“Having regard to the extensive use of the asphalt pavements by the numerous bicycle riders in this City, it is almost more important to keep the asphalt roadways in perfect order than any other class of pavement in order to avoid accidents, as it is almost impossible to notice holes in the surface after dark owing to the color of the material.”

Cyclists took advantage of those bike lanes that were designated Bloor Street bike lanes in Toronto in October of 2017. Nathan Denette/CP

Anyone who has any knowledge of the past of biking in Toronto will confirm that an official interest of the city in cycling was a major contributor to the overall growth of the city’s initial bike as well as street culture.

Therefore, we can include a third “bicycle geography” — component to our public transit as well as highway-building strategies. If you construct an e-bike road, you’ll increase the demand for bicycles as well as increase the amount of people who cycle. The results will be an economy and culture that is based on cycling as well as lower emissions of carbon dioxide, cleaner air, a decrease in motor vehicle traffic, a reduced danger for commuters in the city, and safe streets for everyone Torontonians.

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