Special Report: Bus Lane

Double Standard at Play in Transportation Outrage

The convenience of middle-class car commuters on King is being prioritized above the mobility of an equal number of bus commuters.

By Matthew Sweet
Published January 12, 2015

A column by Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star last week called into question some of the inconsistencies on display by decision makers in Toronto when it comes to dealing with transportation issues. Here is a slightly edited excerpt, with emphasis added:

Toronto Mayor John Tory has declared his willingness to pay a premium to speed road work that creates gridlock. Whether that means overtime, extended hours or more people, he says it's worth the cost...

[He is] absolutely right. In the long run, getting work done quickly and efficiently saves money.

But that's always true, whether we're talking about renovating Nathan Phillips Square, remaking Queens Quay, construction that visibly slows drivers on the westbound Gardiner Expressway, or expanding transit across the city.

Indeed, many would argue that the wisdom and sense of urgency civic leaders have brought to road construction would be more appropriately focused on issues such as ... transit. That argument about the "millions lost daily to traffic congestion" takes on new meaning when it comes to moving the masses.

Yet the same regime that gets bent out of shape when other city projects go over budget is content to blow billions on a three-stop Scarborough subway and deal with much more serious congestion on the King streetcar by allowing passengers to board through the back doors.

Wild inconsistencies such as these are acceptable only because the real political agenda is more about keeping middle-class commuters happy than improving mobility and providing all Torontonians with the means of success. It's easier to spend money on things that irritate us than to spend it on things that must be done.

Besides, improving mobility would necessitate a wholesale re-examination of how we use roads and who has priority, let alone how we spend scarce public dollars. But most Torontonians are less interested in that than getting home sooner.

This description probably sounds vaguely familiar to Hamiltonians keen on improving our city's active transportation and public transportation options.

Outrage Double Standard

As has been highlighted on RTH regularly over the years, the decision-makers here tend to unflinchingly approve huge expenditures on road infrastructure in support of sprawl while, to borrow a phrase, boiling the ocean over modest improvements to active and public transportation.

It would be less blatant if decision-makers displayed consistent levels of outrage over expenditure of public funds regardless of the mode of transportation being invested in.

Particularly galling is the fact that there is a huge and growing infrastructure maintenance deficit in Hamilton, as reported in the Hamilton Spectator and discussed at Council last week.

The latest bout of hand-wringing involves the fate of the bus-only lane in downtown, which moves at least as many people in one lane as do all of the other lanes of King Street combined.

The push to eliminate the lane at all costs has nothing at all to do with the issue of mobility. If it did, it would be hard if not impossible to argue against the bus-only lane. However, little if no mention is being made of the improved commute of an equal number of transit riders in that corridor.

Rather, much like in Toronto as elucidated by Mr Hume, the decisions being made are based on catering to the shallow interests of middle-class car commuters who can't handle their commutes being lengthened by five minutes.

Matthew Sweet is a graduate of Mohawk's Transportation Engineering Technology program and is also a McMaster alumnus. He currently works in Cambridge and lives in Hamilton. If you run into him in public at various transportation related events, please don't bring up his ramblings on RTH comment threads, everyone knows such things don't count in real life.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 12, 2015 at 20:20:15

This is a really interesting article. Toronto definitely has the same issues as Hamilton - Drivers vs. all other transport-users. And for the same reason: Amalgamation. We need a way to allow downtown to manage itself, with its own budget.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2015 at 23:21:10 in reply to Comment 107785

de-amalgamation

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By Bob bratina (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 20:23:11 in reply to Comment 107787

Vote for me

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