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Is a bad week of driving stories a sign?

This week's Market Squared looks at how a week of different news segments tells the same story about our four-wheeled Achilles' Heel of modern life
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Near the end of the Academy Award-winning Spotlight there’s a scene where the team of investigative reporters are on the brink of publishing their game-changing story about systemic abuse in the Boston Diocese. There’s a lot of discussion about how much they should have known and when, but then editor Marty Baron (played in the movie by the underrated Liev Schreiber) offered this pearl of wisdom.

“Sometimes it's easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there's a fair share of blame to go around.”

I was thinking about that while stumbling in the dark to find something to write about this week, but then I started looking at a week’s worth of Politico newsletters and a light turned on.

It started on Sunday with a car crash at the very busy intersection at Speedvale and Silvercreek, which was notable because a Waterloo Regional paramedic responded to the call after another offload delay at the Guelph General Hospital.

A couple of days later, there was a story on the TV news about residents on Speedvale East concerned about how their street lives up to the name. There’s a lot of speeding on Speedvale apparently, and that’s the beginning of their issues since that entire length of road will be under a constant state of redevelopment for the next several years.

On Thursday of course, there was a snowstorm that was also a freezing rain, regular rain and ice pellet storm depending on the time of day we’re talking about. These harsh winter road conditions can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous if the driver isn’t taking all that into account.

Also on Thursday, there was a story about how the Upper Grand District School Board is petitioning the Government of Ontario to fund red light cameras on school buses. Apparently, too many people see the arm that’s extended when the school bus is stopped as more of an obstacle than a requirement. To some people it seems like our roads are a real life MarioKart or Crazy Taxi.

Again, this all was in the last week, and along the way there were the usual social media posts from both the Guelph police and the Wellington OPP who shared photos of traffic stops where drivers were pulled over for doing around twice the legal speed limit. It’s almost like a bit now, “The Speeder of the Week”.

This goes to the line, “fair share of blame to go around” because as I always say, traffic is everyone’s problem. If you’re sitting in your car in a slow-moving procession eastbound on the 401, you are traffic too. You’re part of the problem. Same if you’re driving in circles downtown looking for a parking space. Yes, downtown has a parking problem, and you’re a part of it.

I know, you’re the exception. You need your car!

That’s kind of the problem. You *need* your car, you don’t *use* your car.

Can I ask you a personal question? How clean is your car? If you walked out to your driveway, car hole, or parking space right this minute, would your car be ready for you and several passengers to get in and drive away, or would you have to pick up those Tim’s cups, stray papers, flyers, shopping bags, and maybe an empty wiper fluid jug before your passengers are able to take their seats.

I remember appreciating for the first time just how obsessed we are as a culture with our automobiles, walking past a fast-food restaurant and seeing people go through the drive-thru and then pulling into the parking lot to eat their meal. If you’re going to go to the trouble of stopping at the restaurant, why don’t you just go inside where there’s a freakin’ table and chair!?

So many of us have made our cars an extension of ourselves that we fetishize them. I saw my neighbour wipe down his new cherry red compact with the same gentleness you use when caressing your lover just a couple of weeks after he bought it last fall.

This is a phenomenon we only see with cars. You may like your bike, or scooter, or skateboard and keep it in good repair, but nobody gently wipes down their bike seat. I don’t run my hand down by favourite Guelph Transit bus or have a favourite seat inside, and I certainly don’t leave my trash behind to pick it up later.

When you make your car an extension of self, a kind of suit of armour on wheels, it doesn’t seem so surprising that people would speed with impunity or think that the stop lights on the school bus don’t apply to them. I realize this might be over-generalization, but I’ve watched too much Parking Wars to ignore that nine-and-a-half times out of ten, no one thinks their bad parking is their own fault.

Saying this likely won’t go down well, but I’m going to quote a group from the Netherlands called Humankind: “We are addicted to cars. We suffer from traffic, hate sitting in endless traffic jams, and get anxious looking for parking. Nonetheless, we can’t quit the habit of driving. And worst of all, we refuse to cure ourselves of this addiction, despite a proven way to recovery.”

Until we acknowledge this, we’re fumbling around in the dark. This is the light switch because the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one, and all these things I mentioned from the news this week have one thing in common, and it’s the prominence of the private automobile at the centre of our culture despite all the problems that come with it.

We can decide to change that though. Will we?


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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