A key step in getting Canadian urbanites out of high-emitting cars is to shed the notion that roads are natural habitat for cars alone and redesign city streets to give citizens more transportation choices, former Toronto chief planner and mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat argues in a Globe and Mail op ed.
“We’ve designed our streets for cars instead of people, and we are paying for it with our lives,” Keesmaat writes—both down the road via greenhouse gas emissions, and right up against the windshield via collisions. With 36% of Canadians’ commuting trips clocking in at “less than five kilometres—an easily bikeable distance,” she adds that “when it comes to streets, Canadian cities are going the wrong way.”
Recalling the climate marchers who took to the streets earlier in the fall in Canada and around the globe, Keesmaat says the streets themselves are a part of the crisis: “roadways that feed a transportation system that is a major contributor to our changing climate.” While popular wisdom points to industry as the main contributor to carbon pollution from transportation, she says 80% of Toronto’s tailpipe emissions come from private vehicles.
“There’s no near-term solution to the climate crisis that does not rely on getting people out of their cars for their daily commute,” she declares.
While many people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area live far enough from their places of work to need public transit, many others would prefer the freedom, good health, and just plain fun of riding two wheels—but don’t because it just “doesn’t seem safe or feasible”, she adds. And the dual struggle to reduce emissions and ease congestion is compounded by the “hot button” issue of e-scooters and e-bikes. Questions abound about the best and safest way to deploy the machines. But because they are so much smaller than cars, so much safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and produce lower emissions, Keesmaat says electric two-wheelers “might just be the hook on which we can hang the future of transportation”.
Declaring that “it makes no sense to wedge highly-efficient transportation choices (bikes and e-scooters) into the leftover spaces while continuing to plan for highly inefficient choices (cars) as the backbone of how we move from place to place,” she adds that “lost productivity because of time spent sitting in traffic, coupled with the burden carbon emissions impose on our health and our planet, make [standard cars] a very, very poor choice.”
With newly-available e-bikes to vanquish hills, cargo bikes to carry everything from kids to hockey equipment (or both), and adult-sized tricycles to lend stability to aging or disabled riders, “we are running out of excuses,” writes Keesmaat. But so far, “we’ve embraced and maintained a dysfunctional design for most of our streets—a design that is dangerous, exclusive, and environmentally ruinous. What is necessary given the state of our rapidly-changing climate and crippling congestion in our cities is that we find ways to give people more choices.”
While “there’s nothing inherently bad about owning a car,” she concludes, “real problems arise when we design our cities around them and thus impose choices on people.”