Waging a war on knowing what a war actually is

A few weeks ago the Toronto city council voted to reduce Jarvis Street, a north-south corridor running from midtown Bloor to the downtown core, from five lanes to four. Despite the facts that the city is woefully behind on its plan to implement bike lanes around the city and that Jarvis was a nightmare for cyclists, residents of affluent neighbourhoods like Moore Park and Rosedale (which feed into Jarvis) complained about the estimated two minutes this would add to their trip downtown. This action, following on the heels of a decision to increase the number of intersections at which drivers cannot turn right on a red light from 98 to 108, spurred drivers and mock newspapers to accuse the city of waging a war on cars.

While “war on the car” is a laughable notion — shame on the NAACP for waging war on white people! — Toronto isn’t the only large city sparking talk of war by trying to introduce more pedestrian-friendly measures. Something similar is happening in New York, where the transportation commissioner has closed off the Times Square portion of Broadway to car traffic and made it pedestrian space. In NYC it’s more clearly cast as a culture war (“To her opponents, she’s the latest in an extensive line of effete, out-of-touch liberals: the hipster bureaucrat.” and so on), though it takes little imagination to see that’s the underlying sentiment in Toronto as well. Class wars doesn’t play well here, so it gets dressed up as inconveniencing the poor drivers — for heaven’s sake, the Tamil protests last month drew far more attention from furious drivers than from the politically curious — but a quick read through the comments in any Globe, Post or Sun article about these changes reveals the target of drivers’ ire: hippy tree-huggers and socialist city councillors.

This nonsense seems to have faded now, but it lingers just enough that the architects of recent plans (albeit starry-eyed ones) to unfuck the drab and puke-stained entertainment district have felt compelled to reassure drivers that John Street will still allow cars. But a side proposal in the plan may actually be what causes drivers the most consternation, and holds the most interest for me personally: councillor Adam Vaughan would make Richmond and Adelaide streets — currently one-way streets running west and east respectively — into regular old two way streets. Star columnist Christopher Hume writes:

Because both Adelaide and Richmond are four-lane roads, conversion from one-way to two would be possible.

Right now neither street sustains the kind of vitality as King, Queen or College Streets. The one-ways are largely back streets west of Yonge, and expressways to the east.

The Bay doesn’t bother to dress the Richmond St. windows of its Queen St. flagship store.

Those descriptions are accurate. The stretch of Richmond between Yonge and University feels shockingly like a back alley except that cars blast through it at highway speeds. And therein lies the difficult decision: leave the only (and I do mean only) quick crosstown driving options as they are, or turn them into real streets again. Since I live smack in the middle of Richmond and Adelaide I’d love to see them become more like real streets instead of lifeless trunk highways, but I also understand the practical applications of keeping them one-way. I’m pretty certain that a compromise can be found to appease drivers and pedestrians, locals and commuters, without resorting to pouting, posturing accusations like “the war on cars.”

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