Saturday, September 10, 2011

Scrambling for a Choice

I can't say it's a surprise. It wasn't that long ago, just after Rob Ford was made hizzoner da mayor of Toronto, that he announced the war on cars was over. The surprising thing is that it's taken this long for the Fordists to train their sights on the scramble intersection at Dundas and Yonge. Don't forget that back in 2009 the Toronto Sun, Ford Nation's newspaper of record, classified scramble intersections as part of the war on cars - just below Pedestrian Sundays and well below speed bumps - and now that His Fordness has dealt with the pernicious threats posed by transit expansion and bike lanes, the new administration is free to focus on lesser threats to the dominance of the automobile.

If you've never crossed or seen a scramble intersection, the concept is simple: once the two cross streets have had their turn to go through the lights, every light at the intersection goes red for twenty-five seconds and pedestrians can cross in whatever direction they like. Yonge and Dundas, which in addition to being one of the many claimed locations of the center of the universe is where you'll find the Eaton Centre, the structure formerly known as Toronto Life Square, and Dundas Square, has an understandably large pedestrian presence - the Toronto Star referenced a city study that found that daily users on foot outnumbered those surrounded by wheels to the tune of 17,000.

Not that it matters, apparently. Earlier this week Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chairman of the city's public works committee and one of Ford's staunch allies, called for a surprise review of the scramble before more can be built. The fact that he tried to justify it in vaguely environmental terms - asking whether scrambles were the best way "if it takes pedestrians thirty extra seconds to cross... yet vehicles are being lined up for four or five minutes spewing all that exhaust" - just makes it even more disingenuous. Suddenly the Ford administration cares about exhaust being spewed into the air? Transit City would've provided an alternative to exhaust-spewing cars and buses throughout huge stretches of the city, you know.

But we mustn't forget the war on cars, or the fact that the Fordists' power base is in the suburbs, where cars are free to zoom along and sidewalks are those lonely strips of pavement that see about as many footprints as Tranquility Base. It's not surprising that the champions of the suburbs would champion pro-suburban ideals; nor is it surprising that they'd attempt to impose those ideals on the downtown core that came out strongly against them in the last election.

Here's hoping they get a fight on their hands.

Pedestrians cross one side of the Yonge-Dundas scramble intersection in front of a streetcar... two enemies of the car working hand-in-glove!

You know what? I'm sick and tired of it all, of the notion that the car is something precious and fragile that has to be coddled and catered to at every possible opportunity to the greatest possible degree, like some spoiled sixteen-year-old wannabe princess. I grant that traffic congestion is an important issue to address, given that so many people have no other way to get around thanks to the monumental fuckwittery that has been enshrined in North American patterns of development for the last seventy years, but the answer to that is not to give cars more perks. It's not to make the roads wider. It's to enhance other choices.

From my point of view, I have a real hard time feeling sorry for the driver on Dundas that has to wait a couple of minutes longer now than before the scramble was put in place. That driver can still make a trip in ten minutes that would take me an hour on foot - even longer out in the sprawls that were built with the assumption that modern folk have wheels riveted to their hips. Aside from spots here and there where the more person-focused layouts of the past still hold sway, today's society is built around the automobile. Rob Ford and his ilk are like those Japanese soldiers that went guerilla on Pacific islands and stayed that way for decades - the war's been over for a long time and they don't even realize it. Except that their side was the one that won.

I think the primacy of the car was rooted deep enough in the modern cityscape that we can afford a few sops to pedestrians here and there.

No comments:

Post a Comment