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Market Squared: Would a 'war on cars' really be so bad?

For some people, pedestrians aren't moving fast enough, but what you don't know is that a lot of people out there are scared of those of you behind the wheel . . .
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burning car stock
Wouldn't it be nice for pedestrians if there were fewer cars on the road?

Since I talked about transit last week, you had to know I was going to talk about cars this week. 

I heard something profoundly ignorant at the Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday afternoon. As unusual as that sounds, hear me out. 

It came during the discussion on new pedestrian crossings. Five new crossings are coming to various streets in the city in 2018, complete with painted lines, flashing lights, and new rules that will hopefully allow for a safer crossing for pedestrians in the eternal game of chicken that sometimes crossing a road in this town feels like. 

Now what about that comment? Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein asked if there was a possibility that along with flashing signals telling drivers to slow down and stop, if there could be accompanying signals to tell pedestrians to hurry up and wait. If looks could kill, mine would have made the finale of IT look like tea time with Strawberry Shortcake. 

I’m note sure if Wettstein was joking, but I wasn’t laughing. 

Almost on cue, the next day’s news release from the police featured a top story about a pedestrian being struck by a minivan at the intersection at Janefield and College who was taken to the hospital for minor injuries. It should be noted that this intersection is fully signalized with red lights and walk signals, so I’m forced to ask: Was that pedestrian moving fast enough? 

Now, devil’s advocate, no details were offered about who was at fault, or whether that person struck was crossing against the lights, but since the minivan fled, and police didn’t charge the pedestrian, I think we know the answer. 

At the heart of Wettstein’s comments was an ignorance known only to car drivers, and I admittedly sometimes feel this when I’m on the bus and it's delayed by a busy crosswalk. Pedestrians are moving at their best possible pace, but for some people that’s never fast enough. 

One might think that Wettstein would have sympathy, or at least understanding. No offence to Wettstein, but he doesn’t look like a millennial, and surely he knows people who are getting on in years and, to put this gently, are not as fast as they used to be. Shall we start heckling our seniors at the crosswalk if they’re not pushing their walkers at top speed? Should they burn rubber, meaning the rubber stopper on the end of their canes?

It’s not all about seniors through. School-aged kids, parents with strollers, people with a physical disability, or even people just out enjoying the pleasant fall weather with no particular place to go . . . On behalf of all those people, shall we collectively apologize for not moving fast enough for *some* people. 

When Doug Ford entered the Toronto mayoral race a full nine months early last month, he announced his intention to end the “War on Cars”. It’s something his brother also promised. So did former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and in the last provincial election. 

Here’s the thing about that: I *wish* there was a “War on Cars”. I wish we could have a conversation about making it harder to drive, reducing road space, making it harder for people to get or keep their driver’s license. 

I’m not sure how much of this is urban legend, but I’ve heard it said that people come to Guelph from the GTA to pass their driver’s test because there’s less traffic to deal with. If true, not only do we have our regular traffic, but we’re importing traffic on a day-to-day basis because even with our traffic problems, it’s not as bad as it is in some places. 

The thing of it is, we’ve got plenty of traffic problems here. Especially downtown where in the middle of the day you have to navigate around big trucks making deliveries, people holding up traffic to parallel park on a busy street, and people moving from one parking spot to another to avoid a ticket while parking for free. 

On top of that, the city paradoxically proceeded with the construction of an “island” in the middle of MacDonell last week right next to where road crews are digging up Wilson in preparation for the construction of the parkade. Have you ever seen a bottleneck be bottlenecked? 

Meanwhile, back at committee, the most controversial item on the agenda had to do with the staff decision to not move forward with a trail underneath the bridge on Speedvale Ave, or at least not move forward with a trail plan as originally envisioned. 

Several delegates came out, or submitted letters, urging council to rethink the abandonment of that trail, and it wasn’t because they’re a bunch of bird watchers and tree huggers. They might be, but that wasn’t the point they were trying to make on Monday. 

The one thing that every delegate had in common was that they wanted that trail so that they didn’t have to cross Speedvale Ave anymore. One delegate quoted a police report, and my own Guelph Politico, that crunched those numbers in 2016, and showed that four of the most dangerous intersections in Guelph intersected with Speedvale Ave. For it is better to go under Speedvale Ave, than over it. 

Why? Because they’re scared of the traffic. They’re scared of the aggressiveness of drivers, and frankly, the recklessness of the people behind the wheel. People are so desperate to get where they’re going as quickly and possible, that they disregard, or barely think of, the people around them walking through the intersection.

Here’s the thing, if people are moving fast through the crosswalk it’s because they’re scared, and if they’re moving slow it’s because they’re cautious. For many people on their own two feet, the road is a dangerous place, and it would be nice if more people behind a couple of tons of metal, rubber and plastic appreciated that. 

Here endeth my monthly anti-car screed. 

To follow-up my column last week, a reader, who just so happened to be a retired employee of Guelph Transit, reached out to me to lend insight into the missing bus phenomenon. He said that the issue might me that the night inspector made a mistake, or was confused in the placement of a particular employee on the floater, sick, vacation or trade boards. 

In other words, it could be a simple mistake, but as you no doubt read on GuelphToday.com yesterday, there may be no problem depending on who you talk to. The cosmic ballet goes on. 




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