May 26, 2024

To quote urbanist James Howard Kunstler, Toronto City Council is sleepwalking towards the next century. While the transition of Toronto in the 21st century to multi-modal transport (public transportation, automobiles, foot bikes, motorcycles, skateboards, scooters, and bikes, and many more) is in the process of being implemented, but the city council has a hard time approving the formalization of its implementation.

We witness the devastating consequences of the city council’s inaction and lack of action every week. On November. 1st, 2018, the city experienced 16 collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. The same thing happened during 24 hours in October of 2016 when 18 victims were hit in motorized vehicles. There was another incident in 2015 where the number of collisions reached 15 within the same day.

The number of deaths has increased by 47 deaths per year (2005-12) and to 64 deaths per year (2013-16) because of 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 accidents on Toronto streets.

The issue is that a lot of city councilors have consistently voted against bike lanes, bicyclists, and multimodality generally. One famous and unresolved (and later ejected) councilor stated, ” I do not believe bicycles should be on roads at all.” What a bizarre statement. This isn’t the opinion of city councilors in the past century.

An early attempt to imagine multimodality was made by Toronto’s Toronto Civic Guild (Civic Guild Bulletin Vol. 1 (June 1912): 10). Toronto Civic Guild, Author of the article.

The Council of ‘bike-friendly’

In the early twenty-first century, the Toronto municipal council chose to embrace bikes and their riders. City council members worked alongside city engineers and bike club as well as their counterparts from the Canadian Wheelman’s Association (CWA) to pave roads with asphalt, design the cinder bike paths, and pave and maintain”devil strips ” (narrow streets between the streetcar tracks that are opposite to the ways) and to fix the endless potholes that plague the city’s infamous road networks made of cedar blocks. The council acted to promote cycling in a town that saw ” tides of cyclists” were spotted on the streets. City councilors, a majority 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 fail to see the social and economic benefits of bicycles? This is likely because it requires some instruction in transportation geography, and it’s not able to get one quickly enough. Here’s a basic idea: Create it, and people will follow.

Traffic generation

The year 1900 was the time that Scribner’s publication published a rather boring piece of civil engineering written by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York Rapid Transit Commission. In the article, Parsons gave this information about transportation plans: a precious piece of information:

“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.”

That is, every time Parsons constructed a new metro line, he created circulation on all lines.

This statement was not confined to Parsons. In his well-loved ” Street Pavements and Paving Materials: A Manual of City Pavements,” which was published in 1900, Canadian highway engineer George Tillson made a similar claim. He wrote about the methods and issues that road pavers face; Tillson 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 the people would come.

American roadbuilder Robert Moses learned these same lessons from his automobility research in the middle of the 20th century in New York. He realized that the issue Parsons was actually talking about was the concept of traffic generation. The notion is that a public transportation line, or in his instance, a highway, is designed to boost the amount of traffic.

Each time Moses constructed bridges or roads, the traffic would always block them, and he was forced to build a new one. He was aware of this and acknowledged that he did it. According to him:

“We could not have an American economic growth without the auto business. This is absolutely the truth… it’s an amazing industry that needs to grow and keeps producing cars, buses and trucks and buses, and there must be a location for them to operate. There must be modern roads and modern arteries. Someone has to construct them. …”

That’s what Moses and his acolytes in road building did in the process, establishing the automotive economy.

The transportation geography concept that the Toronto Council must learn is that you build public transit, and you’ll boost traffic on public transportation routes and also increase the number of passengers. A culture of public transportation and economy will soon follow.

You can 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 driving habits and a car economy.

It’s also applicable to bicycles too…

A cyclist plows by as streetcar workers lay down tracks in 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 was soaring. The CWA estimated an astounding 30,000 cyclists at the time of 1898, a time when the city’s population was around 225,000. Within one decade, Toronto went from having no asphalt at all in 1890 to having greater than 25 miles as of 1898.

The city fought hard to keep this early asphalt in good condition. However, this was not due to a lack of the support of councilors or city engineers’ attention. The city engineer Edward Keating noted in his annual report to 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 take advantage of those identified Bloor Street bike lanes in Toronto in October 2017. Nathan Denette/CP

Anyone who has any knowledge of the background of biking in Toronto can confirm that the formal public interest in bicycling was an important factor in the overall growth of the city’s initial bike — and street culture.

We can also add a third “bicycle geography” — aspect to our public transportation as well as highway-building strategies. If you construct an e-bike track, you will boost the demand for bicycles as well as increase the number of people who use them. The results will be an economy and culture that is based on cycling, lower carbon emissions, healthier air, a decrease in motor vehicle traffic, reduced danger for commuters, and safer roads for everyone Torontonians.

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