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Two Danish visitors in car-centric Canada
August 7, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Two tourists from Denmark spent five weeks travelling around Canada and, disappointed by the car-centric lifestyle, urban sprawl, lack of human-scale infrastructure and related obesity and unfulfilment, wrote an open letter to the powers that be, lamenting this and urging them to take radical steps to make Canada healthy, happy and sustainable.

Holly Chabowski and her girlfriend Nanna Sorensen sent the letter to the Ottawa Citizen; in it they set out their concerns, as well as statements they collected from Canadians they asked about the state of affairs.
Before arriving in Canada we had a genuine impression of a clean, healthy and sustainable first world country. Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where. A greater shock came when we discovered that this kind of infrastructure is not reserved just for the sprawl surrounding towns and cities but that highways actually run through city centres too. As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.
‘It’s only 10km to my work place. I would love to cycle, it would only take 30 minutes but it is simply not possible. I don’t feel safe. Instead I park and sweat, meaning after 25 minutes stuck in traffic I drive my car to the gym and waste another 25 minutes of time I could spend with my family.’ Quebec City
The letter caused a flurry of reactions, from the usual tribal outrage when an outsider criticises one's way of life, to explanations that Canada is too cold and/or too sparse to be anything but car-centric; this post in the Hazlitt Magazine blog does a good job of debunking the latter.

Meanwhile, Toronto mayor Rob Ford (previously), the champion of the car-dependent suburbs who started his career with photo opportunities tearing up bike paths before going spectacularly off the rails, stands a chance of reelection in October.
posted by acb (237 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're probably right, but that's a terrible way to be a tourist.
posted by notyou at 11:07 AM on August 7 [44 favorites]


Canada: not exactly walkable
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:09 AM on August 7 [18 favorites]


Fair play, but if you're using a car in Toronto or Montreal, you're doing it wrong.
posted by Kitteh at 11:15 AM on August 7 [9 favorites]


The walk from my flat in Birmingham, England to either of the two nearest grocery stores (one of which was actually in a neighbouring 'village') was shorter than the walk across the parking lot at the Loblaws grocery store near my school when I lived in Ottawa.
posted by srboisvert at 11:17 AM on August 7 [26 favorites]


Not that I really disagree, but why is this news? Can two random tourists really prompt a national dialogue? Can I make anything news in Canada just by sending it to a newspaper and trust that, out of politeness, they'll feel obligated to print it?
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:19 AM on August 7 [30 favorites]


Now get them to send a letter to the editor deploring the muzzling of Canadian scientists.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 11:22 AM on August 7 [30 favorites]


Uhhh, my eyes are rolling so far into the back of my head, I can see my brain.

Major Canadian cities? No car required. Well except Taxi/Uber. JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER CITY ON EARTH.

And the thing I don't get, with the exception of centre of town metropolis dwelling Europeans, they drive every bit as much as we in North America do. Asia too.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:23 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Now get them to send a letter to the editor deploring the muzzling of Canadian scientists.

I read that as the "nuzzling of Canadian scientists" and was having a really hard time figuring out how that problem was manifesting itself.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on August 7 [9 favorites]


The good news, if you live in Toronto, is...oh, wait. There is no good news.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:24 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Not that I really disagree, but why is this news? Can two random tourists really prompt a national dialogue? Can I make anything news in Canada just by sending it to a newspaper and trust that, out of politeness, they'll feel obligated to print it?
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:19 AM


This has been in the feed of every news source I've looked at for the past couple days. Someones agenda got it pushed to the front page. Or it's an example of a meme spreading though the news media.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:26 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Canada is car-centric for the same reasons that the bulk of the United States is car-centric. It's a combination of large amounts of relatively undeveloped space being available, the timing of city growth occurring along with the invention of cars, the abundance of cheap oil and the general desire of humans to have more space to themselves. There's no shortage of dirty, car-centric European cities either. It's an accident of history that European cities are so much more dense, and so much easier to provide public transport to.

European cities are lucky (and I say this as a European) in that when attitudes started changing in the last 30 years we already had densely populated urban centres (dense because there was historically dense developments in the centre and in many cases nowhere for North-American like sprawl to expand to). Providing transit to a densely populated city is orders of magnitude easier than a sparsely populated one.
posted by leo_r at 11:26 AM on August 7 [33 favorites]


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places? I honestly don't have a clue. I think there are a lot of steps that could improve things at the margins, but short of some sort of cataclysmic natural or man-made disaster, I can't see how you're going to convert metropolitan areas designed for cars into areas that aren't designed for cars.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:27 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


with the exception of centre of town metropolis dwelling Europeans, they drive every bit as much as we in North America do. Asia too.

Good point. Except for the fact that, well, the facts don't back you up.
posted by yoink at 11:27 AM on August 7 [23 favorites]


Jeez - two tourists from Denmark set off this kind of navel staring from one of Canada's larger newspapers!? Either it's a reeeallly slow news day or the Canadian Need To Please has reached new lows.
posted by helmutdog at 11:27 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


It's not a country wide problem. Vancouver has invested heavily in bike infrastructure.

Of course, only talking to people Ontario, I could see why they get the impression that this part of the country doesn't exist.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:29 AM on August 7 [10 favorites]


There's a vicious circle around cycling here in Toronto: You have to be kind of nuts to ride your bike in traffic, so car drivers are mostly exposed to the craziest, least-safety-conscious cyclists. The result is that the majority of voters are led to the conclusion that cycling is crazy and cyclists are assholes. As in most North American cities, it's an angry, angry cultural conflict.

I would love to see a way out of the deadlock, but I have no idea how. Perhaps we need to borrow Calgary's mayor.
posted by clawsoon at 11:30 AM on August 7 [8 favorites]


but why is this news

I would guess that it's because this hits right at a cultural sore spot for Canadians. I think the elephant in the room of this kerfuffle is America. Canadians like to define themselves as the non-America--everything America does wrong, they do right (healthcare, crime, guns etc). The upsetting thing about this letter to the Canadian psyche is that it criticizes them on precisely the grounds they expect to get praised on--strip malls, car culture etc., that's all canonically "American." What Canadians expect to hear from tourists--especially European tourists--is "gosh, how nice and not-at-all-American you are. You are so much more clean and green and generally Europeanish than America is." To be told, instead, "OMG you're like a Wim Wenders film about American anomie" is profoundly unsettling.
posted by yoink at 11:34 AM on August 7 [100 favorites]


Canada has 35 million people in roughly 3.8 million square miles. Denmark has 5.6 million people in 16 k square miles. Ottawa has almost 1 million people in 200 square miles. Aarhus has 300k people in 35 square miles. The winter temp in Aarhus is around 0 centigrade, in Ottawa it's more like -15.

I hate to defend urban sprawl, but critics should not make it this easy to defang the comparisons.
posted by dness2 at 11:37 AM on August 7 [24 favorites]


I call for a global wave of lecture-y Borgen-inspired reality TV travel shows.
posted by Bwithh at 11:38 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


> short of some sort of cataclysmic natural or man-made disaster, I can't see how you're going to convert metropolitan areas designed for cars into areas that aren't designed for cars.

Like leo_r points out, the first step is to have a dense urban core. If you don't already have one, it's tough.

I live in Austin, and Capital Metro (our local transit provider) always talks about how, according to their research, the main thing preventing people from taking the bus is the fact that they have to look at a timetable and plan their trip around the bus. But if there's a 15-minute frequency, if they know that they can just walk out to a stop and get on a bus within 15 minutes, then they no longer feel the need to plan around the bus. 15 minutes is the magic interval.

Yet on most bus routes in Austin, and at most times of day, if the buses ran every 15 minutes then they'd all be 90% empty. There simply isn't enough existing density to justify such a frequent schedule. In theory, you could save money by running smaller buses more often, except that each bus needs a driver so you'd end up spending on labor what you saved on fuel.

So there's the catch-22. To have a dense urban core, you need to make carlessness an option. To do that, you need robust public transit. To have robust public transit, you need a dense urban core for it to service.

(One way out of it could be a system that doesn't require drivers, so that frequency and capacity can be uncoupled. But that's not going to be a road-based system any time soon, so building the track for that system would be a massive initial investment. The main reason why buses are so prevalent is that they're the only form of transit that can be half-assed.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:40 AM on August 7 [20 favorites]


Arbitrary...you might want to Google "transit oriented development" to get started :)

There are a number of TOD plans starting to emerge in Calgary, usually around train stations.
posted by Calzephyr at 11:42 AM on August 7


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places? I honestly don't have a clue. I think there are a lot of steps that could improve things at the margins, but short of some sort of cataclysmic natural or man-made disaster, I can't see how you're going to convert metropolitan areas designed for cars into areas that aren't designed for cars.


Didn't a city in the Netherlands gradually do this over time by narrowing the streets? I can't remember where that was ATM.

A less "radical" solution: You could tax cars, or gasoline, or driving in the city center (a la London) or use tolls to basically make driving more expensive, and use the resulting revenue to subsidize public transit or the construction of bike paths/lanes etc.
posted by dismas at 11:43 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Uh, no, the main thing keeping people from taking the bus in Austin is that it's 310 degrees Kelvin in the shade and their routes don't work for anyone, going anywhere, ever.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:45 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


> There's a vicious circle around cycling here in Toronto: You have to be kind of nuts to ride your bike in traffic, so car drivers are mostly exposed to the craziest, least-safety-conscious cyclists.

QFT. In the last week I have personally witnessed:

1. A young guy bike the wrong way down a one-way street, cut across Queen St. (one of the busiest in the city), bomb onto a semi-crowded sidewalk and continue along his merry way, all without a) slowing down for even a second or b) his hands touching the handlebar.

2. Another young guy wearing sunglasses at dusk, with headphones on and texting with both hands as he passed me - and I was moving along at a fair clip - on College St. (another of the city's busiest).

3. A couple of teenagers on BMXs doing wheelies on a very crowded Queen St. sidewalk.

4. A middle-aged woman blissfully gliding through a red light at College and Spadina (a very busy intersection), as cars slammed on their brakes and honked at her.

Add a couple of orders of magnitude and sometimes it's pretty easy to understand why so many drivers hate cyclists so much. And I say this as someone who bikes to work.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:45 AM on August 7 [10 favorites]


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places? I honestly don't have a clue.

It's not a mystery - there's plenty of stuff that can be done, but it usually takes a concerted, multi-pronged effort rather than a bunch of disassociated small initiatives.

In no particular order: posted by entropone at 11:46 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

We forget that many of the dense neighbourhoods that North American cities did once have were treated as "blight" and forcibly (i.e. via eminent domain) replaced with freeways. The one thing that might work to reverse this is to find locations with "suburban blight" that have low political leverage and consciously rebuild them like the St. Lawrence Market housing project.
posted by clawsoon at 11:47 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


European cities are lucky (and I say this as a European) in that when attitudes started changing in the last 30 years we already had densely populated urban centres (dense because there was historically dense developments in the centre and in many cases nowhere for North-American like sprawl to expand to).

I've found it fascinating that in the US the suburbs are generally considered the place to be, while in, say, France the opposite is the rule.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:47 AM on August 7


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

1. Be in a country that isn't 233 times the size of Denmark.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:48 AM on August 7 [18 favorites]


Keep going guys, I almost have bingo.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:49 AM on August 7 [40 favorites]


> Uh, no, the main thing keeping people from taking the bus in Austin is that it's 310 degrees Kelvin in the shade outside and their routes don't work for anyone, going anywhere, ever.

I don't disagree. I think Cap Metro is talking about a systemic transit problem that is faced by most sprawl-y cities, but I also think that many of their wounds are self-inflicted.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:49 AM on August 7


An issue for the benevolent urban planner here is that you want to probably get individuals to drive less (i.e., give them reasons to not drive to work), but you need to have streets passable for commerical traffic (i.e., trucks) so that they can deliver stuff to the grocery store in the city center that makes it possible for people to live there (and the buses, etc...). So you really probably have to do something with congestion pricing and tolls. I don't know off the top of my head what the elasticity of driving with respect to tolls or congestion pricing actually is (urban econ is not really my field) but it's an interesting question.
posted by dismas at 11:49 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


> Canadians like to define themselves as the non-America--everything America does wrong, they do right

This myth should have died the day Rob Ford was sworn in.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:50 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


The good news, if you live in Toronto, is...oh, wait. There is no good news.


Well, they just finished re-paving that stretch of Davenport, so...yaaaay...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:50 AM on August 7


I've found it fascinating that in the US the suburbs are generally considered the place to be...

partly because living there is subsidized.

I live & work in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota), and it's disgusting how many highways we have for what winds up being a pretty non-dense, smallish population. Not only that, but there's a disgusting amount of surface parking in the downtowns. And it's cheap - one of the lots near my office is something like $1 to start out with and then $.50/hour.

This leads to two problems: one is that living far away and car-commuting is subsidized, and two, that our urban spaces are god-awful because instead of things like lively streets with shops and cafes and things for people, well, we just have block after block of parking garages and lots.
posted by entropone at 11:51 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Oh look, another preachy European tourist. How surprising. I'll file this away with rant from that nice German fellow who couldn't stop arguing it was "madness" that there weren't regular passenger trains running from Edmonton to Yellowknife.

Yellowknife.

Yeah.
posted by aramaic at 11:53 AM on August 7 [20 favorites]


1. Be in a country that isn't 233 times the size of Denmark.

This is totally a red herring, or a strawman, or SOMETHING, I'm not sure what, because the Danish writers of the letter were talking about CITIES, and the size of the country that they're in is sort of beside the point.
posted by entropone at 11:53 AM on August 7 [27 favorites]


It's an accident of history that European cities are so much more dense, and so much easier to provide public transport to.

European cities and American cities definitely exist in their own contexts of course, but I'm not sure architecture is quite that inevitable. We do plan, design, and build this stuff - we didn't happen into it by accident.
posted by bradbane at 11:54 AM on August 7 [16 favorites]


> I've found it fascinating that in the US the suburbs are generally considered the place to be, while in, say, France the opposite is the rule.

This is rapidly changing. A generation of suburban kids grew up bored out of their minds and resolved to move into the city, and as a result many American inner cities are on the upswing, though that raises complicated issues like gentrification and mass transit that have no simple solutions.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:55 AM on August 7 [8 favorites]


I've always thought it a bit silly to hear Europeans criticize the US as a whole on similar grounds. The US (and Canada) are both really, really big countries. Yes, there are regions in both that have poor urban planning and lackluster public transit. But there are also plenty of places that have excellent public transit and thoughtful urban planners.

By way of example: I grew up in southern New Hampshire, went to college in Rhode Island, and I've lived in the District of Columbia for 8 years. I've also lived in San Francisco, and frequently visited Boston, NYC, and plenty of other places in the Northeastern United States.

I'm thirty years old, and I've never owned or rented a car. Growing up in New Hampshire, I relied upon the use of a parent's car - but as an adult, I've always relied upon biking, busses, light/commuter rail, Amtrak, subways, and (very rarely) hitching a ride with friends. I bike to work in decent weather, and I take a bus when the weather is ghastly. I shop from farmers' markets that sell food produced locally, and (again) I bike or take public transit to get there. I could buy a car if I wanted one - but I hate to drive, and I've no interest in owning a car.

In short, I probably live a lot more like the stereotypical European than most Europeans do. Could I live like this in most of the Midwest, or the South? Probably not; it would certainly be very difficult. But along America's East Coast, between Washington and Boston, there are loads and loads of places where it's easy to live this way, and fifty million people live in the Boston-DC corridor. There are plenty of car-dependent suburbs in that corridor as well, of course, but that's also true even in European countries that are generally well-served by public transit. And if you plunked the Boston-Washington corridor down in Europe, it would be the sixth-largest country by population, and second only to Russia in size.

Big countries, like the US and Canada, have a tremendous diversity of experience and culture within their borders. I sometimes suspect that it's easy for some Europeans to forget that (though, of course, many understand it perfectly well).
posted by Mr. Excellent at 11:56 AM on August 7 [8 favorites]


1. Be in a country that isn't 233 times the size of Denmark.
I actually don't see any reason that the size of the country should matter. Most people don't commute across the country. I think what matters more is the size of the area that people expect to transverse on a daily basis.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:57 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


entropone: This is totally a red herring, or a strawman, or SOMETHING, I'm not sure what, because the Danish writers of the letter were talking about CITIES, and the size of the country that they're in is sort of beside the point.

Not entirely, it isn't. People don't stay in one part of the country all of the time, they move around. It's problematic for rural people in cities if they can't drive in or use their cars there, and it's problematic for city dwellers to go into rural areas if they don't have cars.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:58 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Fair play, but if you're using a car in Toronto or Montreal, you're doing it wrong.

Honestly. I've never driven around in a car in either City, except the occasional taxi to or from the airport or bus terminal. They are both very walkable with decent public transit. I understand there is a lot of traffic, and yeah that's lamentable. This is the downside of suburbs no question. But if you're a tourist, just walk or take the bus or train, seriously.

The walk from my flat in Birmingham, England to either of the two nearest grocery stores (one of which was actually in a neighbouring 'village') was shorter than the walk across the parking lot at the Loblaws grocery store near my school when I lived in Ottawa.

If we're talking downtown, are you referring to the Loblaws on Rideau? The parking lot is underground and you don't have to walk across it at all. It's also right next to a bunch of high rises and row houses. It happens to be about the size of an airplane hangar in there, too, but regardless there's another supermarket about 2 blocks away just slightly smaller. Downtown Ottawa is ridiculously easy to navigate on foot, and you can get apartments right next door to the supermarket quite easily if that's what you are looking for. I had further walks in Japan to get groceries and the city I was in was so bike-and-pedestrian friendly that a lot of buildings don't even have parking spots.
posted by Hoopo at 12:00 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Mitrovarr, how does the size of Canada affect the urban planning of Toronto and its suburbs?and how does the size of Europe affect the urban planning of Copenhagen and its suburbs?
posted by entropone at 12:01 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

Localized economic collapse, a la Detroit, that basically decimates the city's population would probably allow the remaining population to move downtown, if that was considered desirable, and leave you with empty suburbs that you could plow under and greenbelt-ize, if you wanted to. That would leave you with the desired end result, but the getting-there part isn't pretty. And it leaves open the question of where all the economically displaced people move to: probably the suburbs of other cities.

What I think is more likely, and is ongoing in a lot of major US cities, is that a walkable core is being created as the downtowns re-gentrify, with huge amounts of sprawl still outside it. And the sprawl slowly spawns little micro-downtowns here and there, typically coalescing around the swallowed remnants of annexed or suburbanized towns. You can see this going on very clearly in the DC area, and I'm sure in other places as well.

What you end up with is a weird agglomeration of micro-cities, each with its own little 'downtown' area that's walkable, but getting from one area to another typically requires a car. As long as you live where you work, it's quite awesome. God's mercy on you if you have to get to the other side of a giant metroplex area every day, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:01 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


I actually don't see any reason that the size of the country should matter

Because of our republican system, rural areas are disproportionately represented at the federal (and often the state) level.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:02 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


If you consider the cities themselves, Toronto actually has a greater population density than Copenhagen (850/km2 vs 644/km2), so the cities ought to be able to do a far better job than they have. In Copenhagen, something like 50% of the daytime commute traffic is by bicycle, and they have physically separate bike lanes and special traffic lights for bikes.

You can also take your bike on the train so getting around nearby cities isn't a big problem either.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:02 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I come from the US, as car-centric a nation as exists on earth, and even I think Toronto's highway system is deplorable.
posted by maryr at 12:04 PM on August 7


entropone, you may have just crystallized something in my thoughts. I've been annoyed, like a lot of people in Portland, at the current trend of building apartment buildings without parking. I think I've changed my mind, because I realize that all the world cities I love share the common trait of making only grudging concessions for cars and rarely having surface parking lots at all. Fuck cars. The 20th Century is over, it was fun but it was stupid fun, and it stopped being fun before the century even finished.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:04 PM on August 7 [25 favorites]


1. Be in a country that isn't 233 times the size of Denmark.

This is totally a red herring, or a strawman, or SOMETHING, I'm not sure what, because the Danish writers of the letter were talking about CITIES, and the size of the country that they're in is sort of beside the point.


No, not really. Have you ever seen a Danish city? They are tiny, TINY little places!
posted by Naberius at 12:06 PM on August 7 [17 favorites]


Clearly they didn't visit Vancouver.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:06 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Downtown Ottawa is ridiculously easy to navigate on foot,

Adult bus fare is $3.45.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:07 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I say we raise Jane Jacobs from the dead and vote for her. Who's with me? Zombie Jane Jacobs for Mayor!
posted by clawsoon at 12:08 PM on August 7 [12 favorites]


We just moved to Kingston about a month ago and as far as WalkScores go, it's laughable. But it's only laughable if you live outside the central core of Kingston. Once you move downtown and a few miles out, the Walk Score shoots up pretty high. We have used our car considerably less than we ever did when we were living in Sherbrooke, QC, and we're about to sell it. Everything we need--groceries, vet, clothes, books, entertainment (with the exception of huge Hollywood movies)--is all within a 20 minute walk radius. If we don't want to walk, we bike (again, I'm using my bike more than I have in years). But in general, we just happen to be lucky that we can afford those luxuries. I'm looking into bus passes for the colder months when my bike needs to be put away and I might want to go out to the mall or a movie megaplex.

You shouldn't have to use a car in Toronto or Montreal, or any other major Canadian city. To be fair, the people I know who live in those places don't own vehicles. They take advantage of their public transport, their own feet, their bicycle. But Canadian cities are not much different than American cities in their adulation of the car.
posted by Kitteh at 12:08 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


This is about Hans Island, isn't it.
posted by Kabanos at 12:08 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I suspect the major difference is the Europe is actually larger than Canada, but has about 20 times the population with about 24x the population density, no wonder everyone lives so close together. It isn't by benevolent design. It's necessity.

Sheesh.
posted by NiteMayr at 12:09 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


This is totally a red herring, or a strawman, or SOMETHING, I'm not sure what, because the Danish writers of the letter were talking about CITIES, and the size of the country that they're in is sort of beside the point.
Before arriving in Canada we had a genuine impression of a clean, healthy and sustainable first world country. Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where. A greater shock came when we discovered that this kind of infrastructure is not reserved just for the sprawl surrounding towns and cities but that highways actually run through city centres too. As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.
Let's just unpack that, point by point.

"great oceans of car parks" = People drive from the suburbs and park their cars.
"12 lane high ways" = There's one. It's the 401. It goes to and from the suburbs.
"through the city centres" = Yes, some people drive from one side of the city to the other. (Also, for a lot of its length, the highway was there first, and communities branched out along it, like a river.)
"As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars." = Bull. Shit. Halifax? It's easily the most walkable city in North America. Toronto and Montreal have very capable transit systems and are eminently walkable even without them.

Incidentally, it's pretty rich for someone from the UK to be calling out Canada on its obesity. All the stats I can find have the UK obesity rate almost twice that of Canada.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:10 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


I think it was someone on Metafilter who made a comment about Disneyland's Main Street USA, and seeing all the blissed-out older Americans standing there sighing going "why can't things be like this anymore?" And at the end of the day they walk to find their Cadillac Escalades in the million-acre parking lot, having completely failed to notice, as they do every day, that they have answered their own question.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:11 PM on August 7 [31 favorites]


The population density of Denmark is six times that of Canada's most densely populated province (which, if you didn't know, is the one famous for potatoes and Anne of Green Gables).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:13 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


(Also, their initial impression of Canada was sustainable? Are they not aware our main exports are oil and wood?)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:13 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Because of our republican system, rural areas are disproportionately represented at the federal (and often the state) level.

I think the key reason is that so much state and local power has been ceded to the Federal government when it comes to infrastructure, mostly because of taxation ability and funding, that it's nearly impossible to do any significant transit or urban-development project (except perhaps in the very largest cities) while retaining local control. You get what the Feds are willing to fund, whether wholly or in part, or you don't get it at all.

Things that are done at the state and local levels generally reflect the priorities and tax base that states and localities have. (E.g. schools vary substantially from locality to locality, because that's the level they're managed and funded at.) Heavy infrastructure, being nearly always Federally funded, reflects the priorities of the Federal government.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:16 PM on August 7


how does the size of Canada affect the urban planning of Toronto and its suburbs?and how does the size of Europe affect the urban planning of Copenhagen and its suburbs?

Whaaat? Can you really expect to ignore the effect of the surrounding hundreds and thousands of miles and population in the planning of a major metropolitan city? You have to account for national and international highways, railways going every which way, both of which take up major space and should at least graze the city center. You have to consider the effect of the inevitable airport and transportation corridors to and from the commercial and residential areas of the city, since in a major city like Toronto or the like they can't be combined like in a tiny town. If your city is supposed to be a hub for industry and tourism you need mass transportation far and above what your native population would require. There are TONS of considerations you have to make when you are building a city in the context of a huge populous area!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:16 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


1. Be in a country that isn't 233 times the size of Denmark.

Heh.

Size of Denmark: ~43,000 sq. km.
Size of Canada: ~10,000,000 sq. km.

Heaven help them if they ever visit the US.
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


But BlackLeotardFront, what city in the world isn't surrounded by the rest of the world?
posted by entropone at 12:19 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


how does the size of Canada affect the urban planning of Toronto and its suburbs?

More space means cheap land means more sprawl. The end.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:21 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


More space means cheap land means more sprawl

But that's entirely within the control of city planning departments. It's not some sort of force of nature.
posted by yoink at 12:24 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I've been car free since I failed my driving test as a teenager since I had no one in my family who would let me practice with them. The European-Not European dichotomy is interesting to me. I'd certainly rather live in Chicago or New York (as I have most of my adult life) as a car-free person than Prague or Glasgow. Between the drivers and sidewalks that ended in highways, I was downright terrified half the time I was a pedestrian in Glasgow.

Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

Get involved with local politics! Join your local active transportation group. VOTE! In Chicago we have managed to pass transit-oriented development policy this way.
posted by melissam at 12:24 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


But that's entirely within the control of city planning departments. It's not some sort of force of nature.

The sprawl happens outside of city limits.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:27 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


ize of Denmark: ~43,000 sq. km.
Size of Canada: ~10,000,000 sq. km.


This is the most misleading thing people keep repeating and it's totally irrelevant. Look, I know you believe Canada is so huge because you keep seeing a big area called Canada on your maps, totally understandable. But what Canada really is is a thin strep of area spread along the top of the US like icing on a cake. This is where all the people are. North of that is basically empty and has no real effect on urban planning except as a way to distort our beliefs about our surroundings.

In addition to that, Copenhagen itself was developing in exactly the same car-centric pattern after World War II as Canadian and U.S. cities, but they actually managed to reverse this trend to build what they have today.
When I visited Copenhagen last July, I was wowed by the seamless bicycle infrastructure and the many car-free streets and plazas. But the Danish capital wasn’t always a pedaler’s paradise. In the postwar era the city pursued American-style, auto-centric urban planning, but the 1973 oil crisis caused Copenhagen residents to rethink their transportation priorities. Over the course of several decades they rebuilt their city into the sustainable transportation Mecca it is today. As efforts to reallocate public space from cars to greener modes gain momentum in Chicago, Copenhagen’s story is an encouraging one.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:28 PM on August 7 [32 favorites]


But that's entirely within the control of city planning departments.

I see you haven't heard of the Ontario Municipal Board.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:28 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


It really is the automobile and not the size of the country. The US and Canada are the same size now that they were in 1915 (shut up about AK and Hawaii you know what I mean) but back then we were absolutely blanketed in what we'd now call light rail. If you had lots of time and plenty of spare change you could have ridden from Boston to Milwaukee on trams and streetcars without once getting on a through train. Even in the lightly populated PNW you could have ridden from, say, Gresham to McMinnville that way at least, changing several times between lines operated by different companies. Anywhere people liked to go, there was a narrow gauge railway of some kind, even places that are practically desolate now, like the Long Beach Peninsula in WA. No, it's to do with the fact that North American cities mostly saw their biggest growth spurts during the heyday of the automotive era.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:29 PM on August 7 [14 favorites]


Size of Denmark: ~43,000 sq. km.
Size of Canada: ~10,000,000 sq. km.


So?

If you look at this population heat map of Canada, you'll see we're al huddled against the southern border where it is warmer.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:29 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


The sprawl happens outside of city limits.

Canadian cities typically stretch far out into the surrounding area, much different from typical American cities. And when they don't, the province controls things like highway infrastructure which is a massive subsidy to suburban dwellers from the city.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:30 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I live in the Vancouver area and have no problem with their stated complaints, even if they may be somewhat exaggerated from an outsiders' point of view.

In particular, population density is not a valid counterargument, for two reasons, and so I wish people should stop relying on that as a rationalization.

The technical reason is that urban sprawl is self-reinforcing and continues to enable low-population settlement: provide an advanced transportation infrastructure and it is possible that that this vicious cycle can be significantly reduced in the long-run. The second more basic reason is that even with low-density inhabitation, there's no logical reason to suppose that some system of transportation that is less dependent on the use of private cars isn't feasible—sure, it would look different from the way things are done in Europe, but that's kind of the whole point of the exercise. There may be obstacles, such as political or technological ones, but those are things to be approached and solved using creativity and hard work, not deflected into a claim about population density. In short, it is wrong to suggest that just because our situation is not like the Europeans', we can't have a system that produces benefits similar to theirs.
posted by polymodus at 12:31 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


What I think is more likely, and is ongoing in a lot of major US cities, is that a walkable core is being created as the downtowns re-gentrify, with huge amounts of sprawl still outside it.
Yeah, that's sort of what's happening where I live. I just moved from a fairly sprawly working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of town to a really nice new apartment building right downtown. I'm across the street from a grocery store, and I can easily ride my bike pretty much anywhere I want to go. But my new apartment is half the size of my old one, and my rent is 40% more. Also, groceries at the grocery store are at least twice as much as groceries at the big, car-dependent supermarket. Living where I do is a luxury, and most of my old neighbors couldn't afford it. It's another way in which virtue is becoming the preserve of the elite in the US.
Get involved with local politics!
I got so pissed off by my experiences living in sprawlsville without a car that I tried, and I was thwarted by the fact that you couldn't get to local political meetings unless you had a car. But my point was actually that I don't even really know what kind of measures would fix this problem. I live in a pretty small, rapidly-expanding town/ city, and I think we still have time to develop the way we want to develop. But I don't know how you convert a city like Toronto, which something like quintupled in population between 1940 and 2010 and which really is a product of a car culture.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:31 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


how the hell do you shine deer on a bicycle AND hold on to your shotgun?

case closed
posted by pyramid termite at 12:31 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


If you look at this population heat map of Canada, you'll see we're al huddled against the southern border where it is warmer.

It's true, but that map is projected misleadingly to make the north seem much larger than it actually is; also a lot of that "empty" is farm land.

(And FWIW, Denmark is smaller than that triangly bit at the bottom of Ontario.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on August 7


I see you haven't heard of the Ontario Municipal Board.


THIS.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:33 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

Increase gas prices to CDN$2.54/ litre like they are in Denmark. Of course there may be side-effects.
posted by rocket88 at 12:33 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


This whole development is calling for my favourite James Howard Kunstler quote: "Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world".
posted by Space Coyote at 12:34 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


The letter caused a flurry of reactions, from the usual tribal outrage when an outsider criticises one's way of life, to explanations that Canada is too cold and/or too sparse to be anything but car-centric; this post in the Hazlitt Magazine blog does a good job of debunking the latter.

It is not tribal outrage. It is a logical reaction to ignorance mixed in with arrogance of someone trying to use a little DIY propaganda to force others to live the same existence as they do.

I understand that cars are becoming a luxury item -- between gas, insurance, and the price of a car, it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle, even after getting a truckload of graduate degrees, but cars are liberating and no one could talk me out of not owning one.

I live in Hamilton and have to travel to both Niagara Falls and Toronto for business. Public transit constricts me and forces me to become dependent on others for survival.

I also the caregiver of a completely immobile relative -- the cost for special transport is exorbitant (using patient transport, for instance, for a two way trip would cost $300 alone). Other methods of public transportation for the disabled requires more money and booking ahead and there is no guarantee the relative in question will not be seriously injured as a result.

People in Europe live very differently -- they live in smaller spaces with more people under the same roof and that retreatist lifestyle is not one that I would ever wish for myself; so I am not surprised by yet another condescending temper tantrum aimed at Canada because someone does not have the sensitivity to understand not everyone wants or needs the lifestyle they have resigned themselves to live. If the authors want to walk or be dependent on others to move them, that is their right -- but it is not for everyone nor should it be...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:35 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


It's true, but that map is projected misleadingly to make the north seem much larger than it actually is.

The Eurozone is about the same size as Ontario and Quebec put together, but with fifteen times the population.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:36 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Well, I just traveled around Denmark and was robbed in my hotel room while I was sleeping, so to each his own, I guess.
posted by eugenen at 12:37 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


I understand that cars are becoming a luxury item -- between gas, insurance, and the price of a car, it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle

Wait, I thought urban dwellers were latté-sipping elitists who look down on the hoi poloi in the suburbs where all the real people live? I need to make a chart to keep track of Ford Nations' various cognitive dissonances.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:39 PM on August 7 [22 favorites]


We live in Ottawa, and while we have two vehicles we don't really need them. Both my wife and I walk to work, everything we would need shopping-wise is within a 15-minute walk of our home -- multiple grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, clothing stores, a mall, etc. Even though we are in a 1950's first ring suburb, we can walk to a downtown main street in about 15 minutes. There is a bus stop 15 feet from our house, a bus transitway station a 10 minute walk away, and an o-train station a 15 minute walk away.

But still I agree with the general sentiment of the letter -- in Canada, the car/SUV/truck/minivan is king. Sidewalks and bike paths are poorly maintained, especially in the winter. Our little neighbourhood is surrounded by a ring of multiple-lane, high traffic roads and expressways for the commuters to stream into town (when they aren't using our roads as a shortcut). And for what we paid for our tiny "handyman special" 2-bedroom bungalow in a not-quite-nice neighbourhood, we could have got a massive brand-new house in the commuter exurbs.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:39 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


This is the most misleading thing people keep repeating and it's totally irrelevant.

The size of the country and specifically the need to build housing sideways and not up in population centers because one has space to spread out certainly matters, though. Canadian cities are massive compared to Danish ones because they have room to spread out. The less space you have, the easier it is to get from one end to another without a motorized vehicle. Or to rely on public transportation without that system becoming overloaded. Commutes are shorter. Cars aren't needed, per se. Copenhagen is the most populated city in Denmark. Half a million people. 34 square miles. In Canada, Montreal is the most populated: 1.6 million. 141 square miles. That's not to mention the outer suburbs. I don't think the size difference can scale the way they think it can.

Yes, you're all huddled in the south. But Canadian metropolitan centers are probably no longer small enough to support a thriving economy with the entire population walking or on bicycles. The Montreal metro is fantastic (especially compared to the NYC subway, where I live) but could it easily accomodate 10x passenger volume if all cars suddenly disappeared? Would it be able to serve the entire city without a massive infrastructure upgrade that extended its reach?
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Sidewalks and bike paths are poorly maintained, especially in the winter.

I hear that. This is my bus stop, for five or six months of the year.
posted by entropone at 12:44 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle

That's not sour grapes you smell—it's the maply goodness of the extra money in my wallet.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:46 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


No, it's to do with the fact that North American cities mostly saw their biggest growth spurts during the heyday of the automotive era.

No, it's due to the fact that car companies literally paid to have the light rail and street cars destroyed. I'm serious.
posted by emptythought at 12:50 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


I need to make a chart to keep track of Ford Nations' various cognitive dissonances.


It would look like a Jackson Pollock painting.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:51 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Adult bus fare is $3.45.

A monthly pass is apparently $100, a day pass is $8 for unlimited rides, and if you get the "pay as you go" card thingy it's $2.77. #3.45 is undoubtedly a lot but I'm not sure why you would even be paying that price if you actually rely on using the bus.
posted by Hoopo at 12:51 PM on August 7


A lot of it is also the attitude of Canadians . . . . even though you can see my neighbourhood from my office window, people at my office are still -- after 11 years here -- astounded that I walk year-round. Of course, the astonishment is usually followed by something like "I wish I didn't have to drive." Anyways, it would take me longer to take a bus than walk, and any benefit of speed from driving is negated by the long walk from the parking lot to my building.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:52 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


But that's entirely within the control of city planning departments. It's not some sort of force of nature.


A city's planning dept can only control the city's land. The suburbs do what they want without consulting the cities.
posted by octothorpe at 12:53 PM on August 7


A lot of it is also the attitude of Canadians . . . . even though you can see my neighbourhood from my office window, people at my office are still -- after 11 years here -- astounded that I walk year-round. Of course, the astonishment is usually followed by something like "I wish I didn't have to drive." Anyways, it would take me longer to take a bus than walk, and any benefit of speed from driving is negated by the long walk from the parking lot to my building.

^ That. ^

Shepherd never owned a car in his adult life before we married. He used to bike in the summer and walk/cross country ski in the winter to work back in Quebec and was constantly told, "Wow, I can't believe you do that!" Of course, once you get out of the big cities, the smaller ones are stupid hard to get around in if you don't have a car. There were people who would commute 45 minutes in from outlying quaint towns in order to their jobs in Sherbrooke.

Oh, and the price of a single bus fare there was much higher than a single bus fare in Montreal. It blew my mind.
posted by Kitteh at 12:56 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


In Canada, Montreal is the most populated: 1.6 million. 141 square miles.

Toronto has 5.5 million people in 630 sq km (243 sq mi) compared to Montreal's 3.8 million (according to Statistics Canada). Toronto has been bigger in population than Montreal for something like 50 years. It also has the highest population density of Canadian cities, 945 people per sq km.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:57 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


“We just had this impression of Canada being quite different, a bit more European,” said Chabowski, who has also visited the United States.

That made me laugh.

“We just chatted to people. We didn’t have a pitchfork or anything like that,” said Chabowski. “Most people agreed. Granted, you tend to speak to like-minded people.”

Not if you want to learn anything in life you don't.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:01 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


If we're talking downtown, are you referring to the Loblaws on Rideau?

Baseline and Woodroffe and to point out that the comparison is fair I lived in the suburbs of Birmingham (Kings Heath) so well outside the city core there as well. The thing about England is that even most of the 'suburbs' are entirely walkable instead of just a small core.

It's a quirk of history but it is also something they actively choose to maintain by supporting smaller sized grocery stores and retailer and the consumer and political levels.
posted by srboisvert at 1:02 PM on August 7


No, it's due to the fact that car companies literally paid to have the light rail and street cars destroyed.

I'd love to blame it all on that conspiracy and there's no question that that it occurred, but they were only able to do it because those who could afford to had bought automobiles in droves -- where do you think they got the money and clout to do it, and why the apparent lack of effective and forceful opposition? Much of economic backbone of the light rail systems had been voluntarily abandoning them for years, and Washington wanted to "develop" America and saw automobile adoption as the way to do it.

Manipulation of the government by Big Car and Big Oil was not the only reason for that, either; it went both ways: there were global economic and military interests at work as well. We used to have a fuckload of oil and ores in this country, and recent wars had taught us that lots of rapidly exploitable natural resources and a robust infrastructure for producing and delivering them were key to a nation's might and security. Cars and roads everywhere guaranteed all of that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:05 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Not what you expected? Did they ask for a plane ticket refund? Sheeshe. I didn't like London or Marseille but you don't see me writing the paper about it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:07 PM on August 7


A generation of suburban kids grew up bored out of their minds and resolved to move into the city

And then we all moved out of the city back into the suburbs because you simply can't be middle class and raise a family in an American city anymore.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:10 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, it's pretty rich for someone from the UK to be calling out Canada on its obesity. All the stats I can find have the UK obesity rate almost twice that of Canada.

Latest WHO statistics for % of population obese (having a BMI =>30):
Canada: 23.1%
United Kingdom: 22.7%
posted by Thing at 1:11 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The one thing a city government in the US is concerned with above all else is raising property values, so they can maintain property tax revenue and keep the city going. If building a big box store increases property values, they'll do it. If building a new park will increases property values, they'll do that too. No one wants to be the next Detroit.

Let's say I want a new bike trail. Arguing in front of the city council that the bike trail would help out 1000 people a day will get me nowhere. That would be a well-used bike trail for the US, but it's small compared to the number of residents overall, and the city can't justify spending hundreds of dollars on each individual cyclist.

But I can argue that the bike trail will increase the value of the adjacent property by 10%, easily netting enough in property tax to pay for the trail itself. Or, if a new developer offers to build an apartment building if the bike trail is constructed, that will get the city's attention. (We have one newer trail with 5 or 6 buildings alongside that market themselves to cyclists, so it does happen.)

This system has perverse effects. For one thing, people who don't live in immediate proximity to the bike trail have no voice, even if the trail would help them a lot. One homeowner whose property is adversely affected could easily gum up the works. And it's very fickle in that it's dependent on how opinions of bike trails affect home buyers and developers.

But in the meantime, we have to work within the system and advocate for pedestrian-friendly amenities that help the city's bottom line. That applies for bike trails, parks, transit, multi-family zoning, building new local schools, and everything else the city has control over.
posted by miyabo at 1:11 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


> And then we all moved out of the city back into the suburbs because you simply can't be middle class and raise a family in an American city anymore.

Why not?
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:12 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


A city's planning dept can only control the city's land. The suburbs do what they want without consulting the cities.

A: that depends on which city we're talking about and
B: my point was not "hey, what about this specific political organ!" but "patterns of development are subject to political control--they don't just 'happen.'"

If the citizenry want denser, less car-oriented patterns of development they can vote for representatives at whatever levels of government are relevant to their particular local circumstances to make that happen. Thus "Canada is a big country" is not, by itself, a sufficient explanation of the way Canadian cities developed.
posted by yoink at 1:14 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Why not?

Where are we going to send our kids to school? Are you familiar with, say, the public school system in Philadelphia?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:15 PM on August 7


I'm not, but my point was to get you to enumerate the reasons why. It might be true that it's hard to raise a family in inner-city Philadelphia these days, but I don't agree that it's impossible in all American cities.

The school thing is a tricky first-mover problem, since the schools in a neighborhood would obviously get better if a bunch of middle-class people moved into the neighborhood at once. But I don't think it's an insurmountable one.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:18 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Another example from here on my home turf: The Red Electric served the entire Willamette Valley, and closed in 1929 due to diminishing prospects thanks in large part to voluntary adoption of the automobile, seven years before the automotive consortium began buying up and trashing systems like it. They were able to do it in part because such systems were no longer on a sound economic footing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:19 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Baseline and Woodroffe

ooo, Nepean. That was my old neighbourhood in my childhood, and yes, most of it is less than ideal for someone with no car. And it is very much a "sea of parked cars". It is also the Park and Ride station where suburbanites drop off their cars for the day and take the bus to work, and a major bus hub along the bus-only Transitway into downtown. Not a bad system if you're going to have suburban sprawl.

I do think Ottawa is not climatically suited for a lot of bike infrastructure along the lines of what these 2 want to see. At least half the year, only very, very committed cyclists are even going to bother trying. The winter conditions in Ottawa make even driving a car difficult, and then you're actually warm and a machine is doing the work for you. I would ask them to come to town in February and see if they still wish they could ride their bikes around town. Similar for Montreal, with its hills and long dark winters of snow and slush and ice. It's just never going to work out like Denmark in terms of the ability to walk and bike around town when even just being outside for more than 30 minutes at a time can be dangerous.
posted by Hoopo at 1:21 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


People in Europe live very differently -- they live in smaller spaces with more people under the same roof and that retreatist lifestyle is not one that I would ever wish for myself; so I am not surprised by yet another condescending temper tantrum aimed at Canada because someone does not have the sensitivity to understand not everyone wants or needs the lifestyle they have resigned themselves to live. If the authors want to walk or be dependent on others to move them, that is their right -- but it is not for everyone nor should it be...

I agree that different people find different things fulfilling, but I find the emotional and rhetorical content of your comment startling. You don't have the kind of psychological insight into the minds of Europeans to make the claims that you do. I can only assure you that living in a dense town is fulfilling and a very positive choice.
posted by Thing at 1:21 PM on August 7 [22 favorites]


Well basically on a middle class salary you either have no space or live in a bad area, and the public schools in american cities absolutely suck.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:22 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Where are we going to send our kids to school? Are you familiar with, say, the public school system in Philadelphia?

I feel you. I live in D.C. My husband and I were talking about how we don't like the idea of charter schools but at the same time, they make it possible right now for us to consider having a family and staying in the District. Personally, I'm hoping that everyone who is 5-10 years older than me and has children will fix the school situation and I can just coast on their coattails. A girl can dream.

As for the topic at hand, driver-less cars will someday render a lot of this moot. Cheap parking in an urban environment should be limited to discourage driving. Planners should strive to build underground parking garages instead of lots. Police should aggressively ticket drivers who block the box because it causes gridlock.
posted by kat518 at 1:23 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


One of the books that helped me think about sprawl and the auto was Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. He goes into sprawl, how you counter-intuitively can make cities safer by reducing the distance between people and cars, and better ways to behave in traffic.

I'm not sure what it's going to take to return to designing cities for people instead of cars. But that's all infrastructure, so we'll probably push it a couple of decades down the road like we always do.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:24 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Houston has undertaken a data-driven revamp of its public transit (Google cache link - sorry), and there's a burgeoning call for a similar effort in my city. Hopefully, making these systems more useful and efficient can snowball into further urban living efforts.
posted by Corinth at 1:25 PM on August 7


Similar for Montreal, with its hills and long dark winters of snow and slush and ice.

"Hills"? You mean "hill." I lived in Montreal for seven years. I never owned a car and never once felt the need of one, except for getting out of the city altogether (e.g., driving to Vermont). For three seasons I biked everywhere, and always got to wherever I was going faster than I would have in a car. In winter I took the Metro and buses (and walked).
posted by yoink at 1:26 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Alexandra Kitty: People in Europe live very differently -- they live in smaller spaces with more people under the same roof and that retreatist lifestyle is not one that I would ever wish for myself; so I am not surprised by yet another condescending temper tantrum aimed at Canada because someone does not have the sensitivity to understand not everyone wants or needs the lifestyle they have resigned themselves to live.

So I think this is the route of the political gridlock around urbanism in Canada. The market's return to urbanist living flies right up the nose of those who still want their cul-de-sac and two car garage. Unfortunately it's not just a matter of "you choose your way, I'll choose mine": Our cities have been rebuilt in 70 years of suburban planning. Returning to urban planning means actively undoing much of the road-widening, one-waying, parking-lotting, school-closing and expressway building we've done to accomodate the old mode. It's a debate about who's lifestyle gets the money, and it quickly gets personal (retreatist, really?). It's so personal, that I don't think case studies or comparisons to other cities are going to convince anyone. Instead we choose the "do nothing" option for the most part because it ends the shouting quickest. I wish it were otherwise.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:28 PM on August 7 [12 favorites]


I understand that cars are becoming a luxury item -- between gas, insurance, and the price of a car, it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle

Oh ffs.

Hi. I live in the Bay Area. There's decent-ish transit in parts of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, but outside of that? Good luck.

I've never owned a car. I, in fact, do not know how to drive. Not because I can't afford the luxury or whatever, but because car dependence seems debilitating and because car ownership seems like an unethical, destructive, stupid waste of resources.

Nevertheless, for the first time in my life, I am very seriously considering buying a car and learning to drive. This isn't because I've leveled up in my salary and can now join you in your world of luxury. It's because car ownership is so heavily subsidized, and housing in places where car dependency can be avoided is so insanely expensive/undersubsidized, that every choice other than buying a car and moving to the middle of nowhere has become a luxury that's hard to afford.

Do you honestly think what you've posted above, or are you trolling, or have you just not given it much thought at all, or what?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:33 PM on August 7 [21 favorites]


Police should aggressively ticket drivers who block the box because it causes gridlock.


Actually, this is a good point. The two biggest things that slow traffic in Toronto are (surprisingly not streetcars or bikes) the perpetual road works, and people standing in no-stopping zones during rush hour. If the cops were to start actually enforcing these rules (including for delivery vehicles), traffic would move a whole lot quicker. After these come actual crashes (usually caused by careless driving), and taxis making insane u-turns.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:33 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Toronto has 5.5 million people in 630 sq km (243 sq mi) compared to Montreal's 3.8 million (according to Statistics Canada). Toronto has been bigger in population than Montreal for something like 50 years. It also has the highest population density of Canadian cities, 945 people per sq km.

*shakes fist at Google*

Thanks for the correction! :)
posted by zarq at 1:34 PM on August 7


I saw a documentary about city planning a few years ago which showed Denmark putting its bike lanes on streets between the curb and the passenger side of parking spaces.
posted by brujita at 1:35 PM on August 7


Latest WHO statistics for % of population obese (having a BMI =>30):
Canada: 23.1%
United Kingdom: 22.7%


They likely choose the wrong word. Overweight is probably what they meant. The last time I saw a table the UK was third behind the US and Mexico but I am sure that has changed by now.
posted by srboisvert at 1:35 PM on August 7


I live in Hamilton

Well, you see, there's your first mistake. (I kid, I kid.)
posted by Hutch at 1:42 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


and, look, I've found myself becoming sort of Kantian in my old age; I don't like to act in ways that can't become universal maxims. If everyone made the rational choice to move to the middle of nowhere and drive, everything would be terrible — the roads would be crowded no matter how wide they were, the built form would tend toward ugly single-story buildings behind endless parking lots, anyone without a car would be just totally boned for life, etc. etc.

You know, the current situation. The untenable one.

We absolutely have to de-subsidize car-dependent suburban living and subsidize living arrangements where the lack of a car isn't an inconvenience. Because otherwise, we're all fucked. And I say this as someone who likely have to buy a car within the year, due to the economic pressures forcing me toward car ownership. Because, well, I'm just not rich enough to be carfree in the Bay Area.

Because you are car dependent — and you are car dependent because of this nasty vicious cycle where even Marxist environmentalists have to obey the market's stupid command to buy a car and move to the middle of nowhere — it is likely that you can't even imagine a place where it's easier to go without a car than to have one. Though you don't have to imagine them! They exist! These tourists came from some of them! They wrote you a letter!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:49 PM on August 7 [23 favorites]


Yes we are car dependent, but on the positive side, you can't tip a Buick.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:55 PM on August 7


You also can't tip a BART train. Unfortunately, you can't live near any of the stations, either, not unless you've got Google money.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:57 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


They likely choose the wrong word. Overweight is probably what they meant. The last time I saw a table the UK was third behind the US and Mexico but I am sure that has changed by now.

According to WHO the % overweight statistics are:

Canada: 59.1%
United Kingdom: 61%

Either way you cut it, Canada is just as fat as the United Kingdom. I have no idea why Sys Rq thinks that the UK is twice as obese (or fat) as Canada. Maybe the tourists shouldn't have been shocked by Canadian obesity, but given that they may have been living in Denmark (which has something like 11% obesity and 42% overweight), they could have been comparing with that.
posted by Thing at 2:02 PM on August 7


You know what's a real luxury? an electric assist cargo bike. I've had one for nearly a year, we bought one for my wife at the beginning of summer. Today was an unusual day that we carpooled to work in our car, we bought gas for the first time since sometime in June.

That's all, I'm just bragging.

Oh, ok, this article resonated with me because years ago we realized that we only have fun on vacation if we don't have to drive a lot - we can drive to get there, but then the car has to be parked and ignored.... slowly since then we've managed to bring that same car-less-ness into our daily lives, and it's awesome.

Ok, still just bragging. Sorry.
posted by kevin is... at 2:02 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


god I'm dying of jealousy. That's the life that I wanted to have here, but in the past few years the rents have gotten so out of hand that anywhere that a cargo bike would be useful is far too expensive for the likes of me.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:07 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I'm a pedestrian and bus rider, I've lived in the same inner city neighbourhood for my entire life, and I can say with certainty that it is getting harder to live without a car. The process of carification has proceeded steadily for the whole forty-some years I've been around to observe it, but I've no idea what can be done.

About thirty years ago everything we needed was within a 15-30 minute walk, but then the theatres closed and the grocery stores moved further away. Ten years ago the grocery stores were a half hour bus ride away, but they moved again, and now the task of shopping is a multi-day adventure requiring hour long bus rides in two or three different directions, depending upon which store has the best sales. The school board fights to keep inner city schools open, in the face of declining demand and serious overcrowding in the 'burbs. The city spends cash to build new lights and sidewalks on our local high street, but it's still populated mainly by vacant lots and pawn shops.

Around here the city government has tried to fight carification, but it seems like every other private force in the local universe is enthusiastically trying to hollow out the inner city. Businesses buy each other out, growing into huge warehouses instead of local shops, then those warehouses move farther and farther away, into "power centres" located on major roads, and young families still flock to the suburbs.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:07 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Speaking of the subsidization of car ownership, another fun fact (in the U.S. anyway) is that car loans are pretty easy to get because it's assumed you need one in order to get to work.

If you were like me, and lived for years with no car (and no debt) and then, say, wanted to buy property, the banks would laugh at you for not having any lending history. If you were like me and asked what you could do, they would say "Well, have you considered buying a car to build your credit?"

Just... amazing.
posted by annekate at 2:07 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


When I moved to where I live now, which is rural, so a car is necessity I was all excited when I got a job within biking distance (7k) because yay now I can ride. Plus it's flat and after growing up on the side of a mountain in Vancouver where any biking anywhere involved an end of the trip brutal return up kms of friggin hill which just isn't great fun at the end of the day, even if you are in great shape, yay flat! Oh and also no real traffic, just nice beautiful fields and rural quaintness.

So I'm all, yup lets get the bike gear dusted off and go go go go! All was well until the first windy day. Well this is a bit of trouble and oh wow that gust just about blew me over. The came the first rainy and windy day. I grew up in Vancouver so rain? Whatever. Vancouver however did not prepare me for sideways rain. Here from about October to sometimes well into April, it's very windy, like huge gusts blowing off the lake with no barriers to break it up windy so when anything else comes out of the sky it moves sideways.

I found out that it is very, very difficult to ride a bike on flat ground with this wind and one the most miserable transportation experiences when sideways rain was added to the mix. Rain of course turns to snow for part of this time and ha, no surprise that sideways snow and the usual accompanying wind wasn't pleasant either. In my area if the snow isn't going sideways it's notable. "Well would you look at that. The snow is coming straight down. How strange."

So needless to say, my most of the time bike commuter dreams were largely squashed, even though it seems on many days the most perfect scenario.

Canada: Where weather quashes dreams.
posted by Jalliah at 2:10 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


If you consider the cities themselves, Toronto actually has a greater population density than Copenhagen (850/km2 vs 644/km2), so the cities ought to be able to do a far better job than they have.

There is also another difference.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:11 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


They're gonna be a hell of a lot of fun when they go to Africa.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:12 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


In spite of it all, I've got to say, Canada is doing *something* right, because Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver have fantastic rates of walking compared to nearly every US city, although even they can't compete with New York. I wish I knew how they do it.
posted by enf at 2:13 PM on August 7


another fun fact (in the U.S. anyway) is that car loans are pretty easy to get because it's assumed you need one in order to get to work.

I don't think this is a "fact." Car loans are easy to get because it's a secured loan; if you don't pay it's easy to find the car, repossess it, and sell it someone else.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:13 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


This letter is essentially right on the money about our cities but it's just funny that this is news. Many Canadians say this stuff all the time. We know we have a problem, and it's kind of annoying that the author thinks this is any kind of revelation. I don't think it's as easy to fix as the author might believe (and ug don't I have to be living in Toronto where there is a supposed "war on the car" double ug).

The funniest thing (and the reason they wrote the letter) is that they expected to find some kind of progressive European paradise in North America. Where do they get that idea?

Just a little last point- There certainly are a lot of cars and parking in Halifax, but drivers defer to pedestrians there to the point of absurdity. Pedestrians are boss in that city.
posted by beau jackson at 2:14 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle

It's probably the circles I move in due to my profession, but you really couldn't be more wrong about most of the people I know who scorn car culture. Most of them could write a check for damn near any car they wanted and wouldn't sweat balancing their checkbook first.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:14 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


leo_r: It's an accident of history that European cities are so much more dense, and so much easier to provide public transport to.

bradbane: European cities and American cities definitely exist in their own contexts of course, but I'm not sure architecture is quite that inevitable. We do plan, design, and build this stuff - we didn't happen into it by accident.

Traditional cities, the compact cities of Europe, probably weren't designed so much as they were built with the primary mode of transportation in mind: walking. If everyone gets around by walking, then things for daily needs are within walking distance.

But now we have the ability to "design" cities, except there are (in the most basic form) two parts to the process: the planner who says what can be built and where, and the developer who gets things built. Planners can plan the ideal city, but if developers won't build it, nothing happens. Limit options enough, and you might get what you want, or developers will say "there is no market demand for that," and look to build elsewhere.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:15 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I do think Ottawa is not climatically suited for a lot of bike infrastructure along the lines of what these 2 want to see. At least half the year, only very, very committed cyclists are even going to bother trying

I actually winter cycled in Ottawa in January. Once.

The plastic portion of my shifter shattered after the second shift leaving me stuck in a nice low hill climbing gear for the rest of my 8 mile ride. Plus my seat was a hard frozen solid hunk of butt numbing plastic that radiated a chill right through all my layers.

It turns out if you want to do a winter bike commute you need heated bike storage at both ends of your trip or you need a very specially constructed and designed bike. Also you need to figure out your layering so that you can handle the potential of having to walk rather than your anticipated cycling which at -10C is a tricky balancing act.
posted by srboisvert at 2:16 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I think about how car ownership is subsidized, mostly I think about how much tax money is put into building, maintaining, and expanding roads, and secondarily the various ways that parking is subsidized — municipalities failing to monetize street parking, establishing minimums on number of parking spaces per unit in apartment buildings and condos, zoning that allows for gigantic surface parking lots, etc.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:17 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


From the debunking link:
You expect people to walk? In winter? In this country?

Of course, this theory fails any number of tests. If there were truly a correlation between sprawl and cold climates, Houston and Atlanta would be hotbeds of dense, walkable urbanism. It fails thermodynamically, as densely built settlements are easier to heat (which is why district heating works so much better in Europe). It also fails historically: this country was capable of building cities that weren’t solely designed for the car until well after the age of mass automobile ownership had dawned.

Then there’s the argument that Canada’s sparse population explains our mediocre city-building. There might be a shred of an argument here if the average daily commuter drove from Sudbury to Ottawa every day. In reality, the average Canadian commute was less than 10 kilometres in 2006. Most confounding about this theory, the longest commutes are in the most urbanized province (Ontario), not the most rural. Widely separated communities are an argument for decent highways, but can’t defend bad city-building. These remain stubbornly separate issues.

Canada’s urban planning wasn’t shaped by the constraints of its winters or its population density. It was shaped by its abundance of land and capital, and the absence of our concern over turning that land into subdivisions and malls. That’s what distinguishes countries like us and the United States from densely packed countries like Denmark or Japan.
Also: is it always snowing in Canada? Are days never above -15? People's modes for transportation can (and do) change with the weather.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:19 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Add a couple of orders of magnitude and sometimes it's pretty easy to understand why so many drivers hate cyclists so much. And I say this as someone who bikes to work.

The orders of magnitude above that of running red lights and stop signs, texting, fiddling with the radio, looking in the mirror, stuffing drive-thru breakfast in their maw -- basically doing every fucking thing *but* paying attention to their surroundings and all while whipping a few thousand pounds of death around the road -- makes for a pretty tiny violin playing for the poor, suffering drivers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:21 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


is it always snowing in Canada? Are days never above -15? People's modes for transportation can (and do) change with the weather.

There is that week in spring and that week in fall that are pleasant and comfortable.
posted by srboisvert at 2:23 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Oh, Toronto drivers suck, too, and lethally so, as you noted. Basically, riding your bike in Toronto is like a real-life game of Paperboy.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:26 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


It's roasting right now, but winter lasts so long you start to forget the summer.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:26 PM on August 7


Can we all agree to hate e-bikers who ride on the sidewalk? I was walking along a St. Clair underpass -- yes, on the sidewalk -- at 9 PM last night when I was passed by an e-bike going about 10-15 km/hr. The weight of the bike, passenger and driver combined topped out at about 500 pounds, but you'll be glad to know that both people were wearing full motocycle helmets in order to protect them against any short women they might be terrified to encounter on a city sidewalk at dusk.

Biking in winter in Canada on a regular bike can be brutal on the coldest days and nights -- ask me about the February meetup on the edge of Scarborough a couple of years back! -- but by my count, there are about six months of great biking weather from May to October, November and April have pretty clear streets but are cold and windy (I really hate the wind), and only December through March are hit and miss riding weather depending on wind, surfaces and how much caffeine the snowplow driver ingested that morning.
posted by maudlin at 2:29 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


People's modes for transportation can (and do) change with the weather.

But the existing infrastructure doesn't (aside from thawing, I suppose).
posted by wats at 2:30 PM on August 7


About thirty years ago everything we needed was within a 15-30 minute walk, but then the theatres closed and the grocery stores moved further away. Ten years ago the grocery stores were a half hour bus ride away, but they moved again, and now the task of shopping is a multi-day adventure requiring hour long bus rides in two or three different directions, depending upon which store has the best sales. The school board fights to keep inner city schools open, in the face of declining demand and serious overcrowding in the 'burbs. The city spends cash to build new lights and sidewalks on our local high street, but it's still populated mainly by vacant lots and pawn shops.

I understand those feels, Kevin Street. Right now we've got it good that we're two blocks away from a Food Basics (not my preferred grocery chain of choice, but it's RIGHT THERE) and three from a Metro. There is also a really good if a little pricey large natural foods store right there on the main downtown drag. But I worry about any practical store closing up and leaving a void for people like me who live nearby. It already happened with a major chain movie theatre, a Blockbuster, and frankly, I am a little worried about the big old Staples two blocks over. I mean, admittedly those three examples are hardly necessities like grocery stores, but they're really big pieces of land downtown. I don't want them to stay empty, but what's the alternative? The rents surely must be too high for the casual retailer.
posted by Kitteh at 2:32 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Anywhere people liked to go, there was a narrow gauge railway of some kind, even places that are practically desolate now

In the bay are there used to be a gravity car railroad that went to a remote, off the grid hotel on Mount Tamalpais. I mean if you want to go there today it's still quite a hike into the woods (I bike up the Old Railroad Grade trail to get there) so yes.

I was out in the middle of the bay on a sailboat with my friend and asked him "why does that pier from Berkeley come so extremely far out into the water?" Answer: before they dredged for boat access, the only way the ferries could get close enough to pick up commuters was to run the University Avenue streetcar way the fuck out on this pier to meet the boats.

There used to be rail everywhere.
posted by bradbane at 2:32 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


savetheclocktower: Yet on most bus routes in Austin, and at most times of day, if the buses ran every 15 minutes then they'd all be 90% empty. There simply isn't enough existing density to justify such a frequent schedule.

There's more to transit ridership than frequency and development density. Austin's density is 2,758.43/sq mi (1,065.04/km2), which is 16% as dense as Copenhagen, at 17,000/sq mi (6,600/km2), but that's still not a sparse desert of land.

Beyond density, you need reliability, flexibility in your schedule (allowing you to get to work or your appointments when the bus gets close enough and you can walk the rest of the way), and the time it takes to ride the bus.

Cars are generally faster, more direct and easier for scheduling. But if you add significant congestion (removing the speed and reliability of scheduling via car, possibly impacting the directness), provide less parking availability (removing the directness of cars), and/or increase the cost to drive (increase gas prices, place tolls on roads), car ridership becomes much less appealing. Add Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with dedicated (not congested) routes, lower cost than driving (alone), and a reliable network to connect the high speed BRT routes to more destinations, and transit becomes a viable option. Heck, by not building more lanes of freeway, BRT could be free for a while, just to entice people onto the network, and it would still cost less than building new lanes.

But more people drive their cars, by themselves, to and from work, so more voters support improved infrastructure for cars. In my eyes, that is the catch-22, but at some point, you can't build your way out of congestion, and additional lanes just make more mess (and cost a LOT more, too). Remove a freeway lane for BRT, make sure the rest of the network is reliable, and sell the heck out of it, and transit can work.

College students were major users of the bus in my little, suburban college town. Why? Because it was free (parking fees on the college campus paid for students to be able to flash or slide their IDs and get on free), and it was timed to get onto campus in time for classes. Ridership dropped significantly the farther you got from school, but it would be packed within a mile of campus, which was great for the campus and the surrounding community. But then again, it's a very structured, dense user base.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:33 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


maudlin --

My current gripe is that Kingston put in all these new bike lanes--though a lot of them are in places where I don't usually see bikes--and not only are they being used by e-bikes, but also by scooters. Yes, scooters. It makes me so mad. I'm like, THAT IS NOT WHAT THESE LANES FOR.
posted by Kitteh at 2:34 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Oh, Toronto drivers suck, too, and lethally so, as you noted. Basically, riding your bike in Toronto is like a real-life game of Paperboy yt .

|I drive into Toronto rarely and when I'm going there I now try to park further out and take transit in. One of the funniest things I've ever done with my sister when she was visiting from Vancouver was driving in Toronto. I didn't have a choice, if I wanted to get anywhere I had to up the aggressive driving. It was both scary and hilarious. Just getting out a parking space took steely nerves in some places. My sister, who regularly drives in Vancouver was in disbelief at the differences. This happened years ago and it still comes up in conversation as a "Oh you remember when?" story.
posted by Jalliah at 2:34 PM on August 7


is it always snowing in Canada? Are days never above -15?

At the time of morning commutes, in a huge part of the country -15 or lower can be found at any given point over 4-5 months of the year. It's a regular thing only over a couple of months, but -10 to -15 is not uncommon anytime between say December and March. Snow and ice can potentially be found on the ground in many cities for up to 6 months of the year, so whether or not it's snowing "all the time" you are still dealing with snow. I can assure you that snow removal efforts are not great for pedestrians or cars, let alone bicycles in at least 2 of these cities, and snowbanks tend to cut off the edge of the road where bike lanes would often be situated.

If there were truly a correlation between sprawl and cold climates, Houston and Atlanta would be hotbeds of dense, walkable urbanism.

Uh, not necessarily? This seems like a pretty big failure of logic.
posted by Hoopo at 2:35 PM on August 7


Also the temperature change and thaw leads to terrible road conditions in terms of cracks and potholes, which leads to near constant road works for the months when the ground is not too frozen to dig.
posted by Hoopo at 2:37 PM on August 7


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places?

Government has to do it. You need to pay your taxes.

1. Convert two-lane two-way streets to one-lane one-way streets with safe bicycle paths taking over the unused lanes, or, where it makes more sense, leave some streets entirely for cars and convert other streets entirely to bike paths. Where car routes intersect bicycle routes, make the cars stop for the bicycles, so bicyclists can maintain momentum across town.

2. Make downtown parking (more) fucking expensive, such that only an idiot or a billionaire would park downtown. Or charge by weight and size, so downtown parking might be affordable for very small, light vehicles.

3. Phase out noisy, stinky vehicles. A downtown full of quiet vehicles with no tailpipe emissions (mainly electric) is a much more pleasant place to sit, talk, walk, and bike.

4. Assume driverless vehicles will be here soon. City driving will no longer be a battle between the assholes in the other cars and the asshole you perhaps become when you drive. A city taxi will be an electric car that comes when you call, takes you where you need to go, and then goes to the next caller. A private city car will be the same, except that it comes only to your call and it goes and hides itself when you aren't using it. Parking won't have to be adjacent to your destination; you'll be picked up and dropped off at the door, so no more giant parking lots out front of everything in the suburbs.

5. Let all homeowners rent rooms, divide their homes into multiple independent apartments, and rent space to neighbor-friendly businesses. You don't have to drive as much when your neighbors are opening up little groceries and restaurants and the like. Let suburbs turn into semi-independent villages.

6. For each school with x students, there must be well-maintained child-friendly sidewalks and bike paths connecting that school to the nearest 2x housing units. If that results in big apartment buildings going up next to suburban schools, that's cool. Discourage parents from driving their darlings to and from school. Encourage parents to live near schools.

7. Force stores to be equally accessible by sidewalk and bicycle. If you want to build a store in the middle of nowhere, you need to build sidewalks and bike paths to a week's worth of your future customers first.

8. Let people grow fruits and vegetables (or just flowers) where they used to keep lawns. Plant fruit-bearing trees in public green areas. Discourage or ban herbicides. The land you live and play on ought to be safe and literally fruitful.

9. Make telecommuting happen, maybe on the current model of people occupying coffee shop space all day. Every neighborhood needs places within walking or biking distance where workers can get away from home and family with a laptop (and maybe full desks, cubicles, and extra monitors) without having to drive all the way to headquarters just to do the same desk job.

10. Free all-day neighborhood preschool from the earliest ages. If you want good students in safe schools, you need to have kids properly cared for from the beginning.
posted by pracowity at 2:38 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Why not?

Because no interesting, walkable city is affordable anymore unless you're pulling down two six figure incomes or something?
posted by emptythought at 2:39 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


If the citizenry want denser, less car-oriented patterns of development they can vote for representatives at whatever levels of government are relevant to their particular local circumstances to make that happen.


That just doesn't work in practice due to concentrated interests and diffuse benefits.

To give an example, huge numbers of people would benefit in small ways if the wealthy West Side of Vancouver was upzoned. UBC students would have more places to live, more people would get to live in a temperate city with good transit, and development pressure on poorer neighbourhoods would be reduced. Note that these benefits are spread across a large number of people, and there is relatively little incentive for any individual person to lobby for the upzoning. Some of the beneficiaries don't even live in Vancouver right now, so they simply couldn't vote for these changes.

On the other side, you have a small handful of wealthy homeowners whose $2M properties may be affected by any zoning changes. They have a huge incentive to lobby against denser zoning, and they do so in droves.
posted by ripley_ at 2:42 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Because no interesting, walkable city is affordable anymore unless you're pulling down two six figure incomes or something?

True for Toronto and Vancouver, but I'd argue against it for any other pleasant Canadian city. We're currently SINK and we get by fine in our current city, but it would definitely not be the case if we had moved to Toronto like we had originally planned.
posted by Kitteh at 2:46 PM on August 7


In Chicago there a people pulling out their hair and tearing their shirts at the prospect of new apartment building/condos because it might affect their ability to drive and park. Even the people in the dense areas are idiots about cars and traffic. Look at any article about a proposed development and I guarantee you the key concern will be increase parking demand and traffic. Not how ugly it is or whether it fits into the community or even if there is demand. Just parking and traffic. If it is a really nice area they might be agitated about the impact on their local school but that really only applies to pretty much one school in the city.
posted by srboisvert at 2:51 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


It's really sad how little zoning laws have been mentioned in this thread. In nearly every Canadian city, huge chunks of land are expressly prohibited from being redeveloped into dense, walkable areas.

I'm not exaggerating - even in (relatively) progressive Vancouver, it's straight-up illegal to build apartments on about 3/4 of the residentially zoned land. A good start would be to change that.
posted by ripley_ at 2:54 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


kitteh: not only are they being used by e-bikes, but also by scooters. Yes, scooters. It makes me so mad. I'm like, THAT IS NOT WHAT THESE LANES FOR.

If it creates demand for more bike lanes, and gives another constituency a safe travel option that won't risk collision with pedestrians or cars, then I say bring out the scooters!
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:55 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I still think we're approaching this problem the wrong way, we're trying to convince everybody to become virtuous, that has never worked. To me the future is electric self driving buses with dynamic computer controlled routing...

-Runs on existing infrastructure
-Reduces CO2 emissions (assuming your electricity is not from coal/gas, but we're talking about Canada)
-Allows smaller buses to serve less dense areas and bring people to hubs with fixed routes bigger capacity vehicules
-Can run 24h a day, 7 days a week
-No driver to go on strike

Imagine if you could summon your bus with your phone whenever/whereever you are, it would take into account the position/capacity of buses currently in transit, tell you where to go to wait for it and in how much time it's arriving.

Instead of asking people to lose time/freedom in inefficient public transit you provide them with something better, they'll use it.
posted by coust at 2:55 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


If we could just give them great music, great coffee, people will park and ride.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:59 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I recall Atrios noting, back in the day, that thanks to minimum parking requirements, among other zoning problems, it would be illegal in New York City to build New York City there; like, nearly every building that's actually there would have too little parking or be zoned wrong if you were to try to build those buildings on those parcels today.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:00 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


The thing about Toronto and parking lots is that the letter specifically describes "arriving" in Toronto, presumably on the 401. I guess they mean the suburbs? However, you'd be hard-pressed to find any surface parking lots anywhere near downtown, with the exception of a few east of Yonge that probably won't be there for much longer. It's now all condos, in some cases built without any parking. The RCMI condo on university, for example, has 9 car share spots and 315 bicycle spots.
posted by maledictory at 3:01 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


The fact that this provoked such defensive, insecure outrage is a sign that it hit on a pretty widely-shared anxiety.

Car culture is institutionalized throughout canadian city engineering departments. For example, Toronto has an insubordinate General Manager who is actively campaigning to allow cars and delivery trucks to drive through its new "separated" bike lanes downtown.
posted by anthill at 3:03 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


Maledictory, there are plenty of surface parking lots in downtown Toronto, and RCMI condo is the only one in the city built without parking. Most condo buildings are forced to build more parking than there is demand for.
posted by anthill at 3:08 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I agree with their preferences, and I agree with the values related to those preferences, but being right is only one part of it. You always have a responsibility to be right for the right reasons, and to be right in the right way, and these two women fail badly on those two counts.

The letter gave me the strong impression that those preferences and values are not deeply examined within a wider context, nor that they are essential to why the pair reacted as they did or why they choose to publicize those reactions. They had a visceral and parochial negative reaction to a visit to another culture and so, with a big dose of entitlement and the deep satisfaction in knowing that one's values are fundamentally and indisputably correct, they thought this was a good opportunity to be helpful to the natives.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:25 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Instead of asking people to lose time/freedom in inefficient public transit

I'm not asking for that. I want governments to do the following:

1) Stop letting people (often drivers) pollute without compensating the people they harm
2) Allow (not require) dense multifamily housing to be built nearly anywhere that single-family homes can be built
3) Allow people to build new housing without parking spots, if they so desire

This would allow for more choice, not less. Self-driving buses would be nice, but they're small band-aids on the giant gaping wound that is North American urban policy.
posted by ripley_ at 3:41 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


The fact that this provoked such defensive, insecure outrage is a sign that it hit on a pretty widely-shared anxiety.

I dunno. People anywhere get pretty defensive if you criticize them in broad strokes like these 2 have. "My memory of Canada is of obese people and no sense of community cuz all yalls drive all the time." It doesn't seem to be coming from a place of knowledge or understanding and doesn't ring true top people like myself who have been to these cities, lived in them, and been abroad and have something to compare them to. There are places where what they say is true, but I suspect suburbs all over the world have similar issues. I guess the biggest issue is our sprawl is bigger because we can just keep sprawling.
posted by Hoopo at 3:50 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Alternately, homeowners could consistently vote to ban multifamily housing. With supply properly restricted, the value of their houses will rise and rise and rise. As a side benefit, they won't have to look at any of those dirty apartment-dwellers apartment-dwellering up their neighborhoods.

The only downside is contributing to the immiseration of your fellow people and maybe speeding up the oncoming environmental apocalypse. but, wevs.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:52 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Relevant, although a blatant self-link: cycling in the Toronto core.


Part of a project I'm working on- feel free to delete if it violates community policy. Note that while the construction is not typical (of that particular route) most other aspects are.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:00 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


It's funny, the letter comes off to me like it was authored by two people who just traveled to some awful disease-ridden impoverished hellhole for humanitarian purposes.

To borrow a turn of phrase from recent threads here, when people with the consistently, empirically best mental, physical, and social welfare in the world are talking, maybe we should just shut up and listen.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 4:03 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I guess the biggest issue is our sprawl is bigger because we can just keep sprawling.

Look at a satellite image - there are absolute shitloads of land surrounding the urbanized areas of Copenhagen, for instance. You could easily build sprawl and exurbs all the way past Roskilde for instance. Yes, Canada is larger than Denmark, but it's not like Toronto is sprawling all the way to James Bay; if the ten kilometre band at the edge of your city is mostly farmland or forest, then you absolutely have the same ability to keep sprawling. Whether you do comes down to policy choices.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:06 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Here in Ottawa we're actually trying to put in a subway/LRT and segregated bike lanes. They're coming along. Despite some 10,000,000 sq. km. of surrounding land, which apparently make such projects unreasonable.

We used to have 300 miles of electric streetcar service, but one of the mayors regarded them as old-fashioned.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:07 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a Canadian, we would rather burn down the planet than get out of our cars. Fuck you and fuck your children.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:25 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


To borrow a turn of phrase from recent threads here, when people with the consistently, empirically best mental, physical, and social welfare in the world are talking, maybe we should just shut up and listen.

I don't know, it doesn't strike me as anything really insightful being said here. More that it's just a "sikk burn" complete with digs at fat people and shit.

This is less "i noticed something disturbing and here's how i think you could fix it" and more "Wow, you guys sure are shit" in a really contemptuous and stuck up way.

I'm not saying they're wrong that this is fucked, but as has already been railed on well in this thread, they have no understanding of why. And "The why doesn't matter, it's still fucked" isn't an answer.

This pisses me off for the same reasons the article in the "what huge fridges say about america" fpp did. And it's not because they're scratching some embarrassing open wound, it's because it's smug slagging from a position of perceived(regardless of if it's actual) superiority.
posted by emptythought at 4:36 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


The two biggest things that slow traffic in Toronto are (surprisingly not streetcars or bikes) the perpetual road works, and people standing in no-stopping zones during rush hour
It makes me crazy that it's often the drivers who complain most about congestion who will then turn around and argue that they should be able to park on major thoroughfares. And if you can't park legally? Hey, turn on your hazard flashers and you can do whatever you want.

I totally get that some people need cars. Hey, my sister has three kids -- I really get it. But lots of people seem to get the car first, then use it to make choices that justify ownership.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:38 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I've had this theory for a while that North American cities (and US states) evolved kind of like this. In order to get shit done, your biggest city was going to be one that took you less than an hour to cross. Your biggest region was going to be a place that took you a half day to a day to cross. Anything bigger than that was impractical for getting shit done.

Now if your city developed in the era of people mostly walking around and riding horses to get shit done, you were going to have dense cities with small regions. If you developed in the era of people using cars to get shit done you were going to have wider cities and larger regions.

Look at a map of the USA and just by the size of things alone you can tell when the car was invented.

/folksy urban planning theories
posted by salishsea at 4:50 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


there are absolute shitloads of land surrounding the urbanized areas of Copenhagen, for instance. You could easily build sprawl and exurbs all the way past Roskilde for instance

And they very well might have if they were going to fit the GTA's 5.5-6 million people in there, or roughly the entire country's population. But it would be kind of silly to build sprawl and exurbs to house no one.

Incidentally, from the sky Roskilde looks like a suburb with a lot of parking lots.
posted by Hoopo at 4:50 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


> And they very well might have if they were going to fit the GTA's 5.5-6 million people in there

Are you asserting that the only way a city can grow to that size is to adopt sprawl and car-centric design?
posted by Space Coyote at 4:57 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


In theory, you could save money by running smaller buses more often, except that each bus needs a driver so you'd end up spending on labor what you saved on fuel.

God forbid we create more jobs. Nothing could be more harmful to the economy.
posted by notreally at 4:59 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I actually feel slightly optimistic about North American cities becoming more bike friendly, but that's because I live in Boston, where I'm seeing encouraging trends.

First, Boston and Cambridge have been slowly but surely adding bike lanes to streets. It seems like every time a street gets repaved, a row of parking spots gets taken out and replaced with a bike lane. If a city does that for long enough, it starts to be possible to bike from one arbitrary point to another and link together enough streets with bike lanes that you're only dealing with dangerous roads a small percentage of the time. Even better, I'm starting to see streets where they've put the bike lane between a row of parked cars and the sidewalk. Amazingly, it looks like they're doing this for Western Avenue in Cambridge (the road that goes from Central Square to the river in the direction of Allston), which I've always avoided biking because of fast sketchy drivers.

Second, Hubway keeps opening up new stations. This summer I personally experienced a tipping point when they opened one three blocks from my apartment. Because of that, I bought a year's membership for $85. Now, instead of having to drag my bike out of the basement after having pumped up the tires, I can just walk over to the station, get a bike, be on my way, and drop it off at a station near where I'm going. I rode it to the dentist yesterday, which was two miles away, mostly on bike lanes and paths, and took half on hour. By comparison, it would take me 40 minutes by public transit of any sort. I also rode a hubway home from work, passing many many cars backed up on the Harvard (Mass Ave.) bridge. Hubways are pretty slow bikes, but they are fast enough for commuting and just getting around.

I get that people with families need cars, and I'm not going to be doing much bike riding in the winter, but I think the Boston area is getting closer to the kind of liveability that one sees in European cities. It makes me happy to see it.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:38 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm wondering if the letter writers saw Montreal's Underground City, which I think has some of the liveability that they are looking for.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:50 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I actually feel slightly optimistic about North American cities becoming more bike friendly, but that's because I live in Boston, where I'm seeing encouraging trends.

Things were looking up for Toronto, too. Then angry suburbanites gave us Rob Ford because they wanted to stick it to all those queers on bikes and public transit.

When I quit my last job I said I would never spend 3 hours a day commuting again. Now I have an interview on Monday that will likely see me bump that up to 4. And that's if the TTC is actually running as scheduled.

Most of the GTA really is an endless parking lot hell where walking is impossible most of the time, and usually impractical if you want to visit two different big-box stores without driving across the parking lot. I'm sure it was worth all the farmland sacrificed.

Also, I'm wondering if the letter writers saw Montreal's Underground City, which I think has some of the liveability that they are looking for.

Well, it's small and easy to miss compared to say, Laval, which is essentially a giant strip-mall controlled by the mafia.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:05 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Anthill, I don't know how often you get downtown but that image is woefully out of date. The parking lot at Chesnut still exists, although it's presumed to be the site of the new provincial courthouse proposed in the recent provincial budget. Many of the other sites have since been developed. The SW corner of Bay and Dundas is Motion Apartments; NW corner of Bay and Elm is a large SickKids research centre; NW corner of Yonge & Gerrard is home to the 78-storey Aura condos; The parkade at Michael Sweet Avenue is now a condo. For some I may have been a bit too hasty. For instance, the SE corner of Bay & Gerrard is AFAIK still parking, although a few years after being proposed the city this June accepted the proposal for a condo--now reduced to 43 storeys.

The story from 2009 you linked indicates the RCMI building is the first to go car free. I guess I got carried away because I thought there were others already, but it seems that with the failure of 2 Queen West there aren't any others. INDX, Massey and King Charlotte would be examples of buildings/projects with low ratios (maybe 1 spot per 6 units?) but you may be right that there aren't any other towers with no parking. In any case, I'm not sure about the forced bit. The planners may have some ideas, but they're also the same people who brought us Eglinton Connects, and when they are pro-car then Council (re RCMI) is quite capable of overruling their recommendation (which was, IIRC, 2 spots per 3 units).
posted by maledictory at 6:14 PM on August 7


A monthly pass is apparently $100, a day pass is $8 for unlimited rides, and if you get the "pay as you go" card thingy it's $2.77

The problem with this is that it incentivises people who already own cars to continue to use them. If a round trip is $5/person, it's probably not cheaper than the marginal cost of driving that trip also if you are alone, and almost certainly not in a group. And that's if you only want to go one place, if you don't want to carry something huge, excluding the cost of the extra time. It's great if you want to go to and from school or work, but if you just want to take it once in a while and you already own a car (and lots of people do), the math often comes down on the side of driving. Which is not the way we get people out of their cars.
posted by jeather at 6:28 PM on August 7


Yes, but try to get all those car drivers to pay for public transit out of their state tax dollars and they just bitch about how it doesn't benefit them. So there's no way to fund the public transit without it costing $5 a trip - and even that is operating at a deficit.
posted by maryr at 6:41 PM on August 7


God forbid we create more jobs. Nothing could be more harmful to the economy.

I don't know about your area, but everywhere i ever heard of lately the news story is "blablatown metro is out of money and cutting back hours/routes, how will it effect you? more at 6!"

Every transit authority seems to be trying to figure out how to do more with less money. I think we'd kind of have to fix that problem before we could move on to this. "It creates good union jobs!" is a sledgehammer somebody should be wielding though, it has a nice ring to it.
posted by emptythought at 6:45 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The problem with this is that it incentivises people who already own cars to continue to use them.

I completely agree with this - and yet I'm not so sure that the incentive is all that significant compared to other factors.

Japanese cities have very high transit fares (by North American standards), and I don't need to tell you how well-used their transit systems are.
posted by ripley_ at 6:48 PM on August 7


Yes, but try to get all those car drivers to pay for public transit out of their state tax dollars and they just bitch about how it doesn't benefit them

Yeah, the solution (much cheaper transit paid for out of gas taxes and car registration) is hard to get functioning, politically.

Japanese cities have very high transit fares (by North American standards), and I don't need to tell you how well-used their transit systems are.

I don't know the history of Japan, though, or the relevant comparative price of gas and parking versus public transit. But I am sure there are other factors there.

Still, I don't think public transit is going to do well while it is still much more expensive than a car if you already own one, given how many people do own cars here.
posted by jeather at 6:53 PM on August 7


That depends how much you have to pay to park your car.
posted by maryr at 6:56 PM on August 7


A monthly pass is apparently $100, a day pass is $8 for unlimited rides, and if you get the "pay as you go" card thingy it's $2.77. #3.45 is undoubtedly a lot but I'm not sure why you would even be paying that price if you actually rely on using the bus.

Eh. A lot of regular users are paying $2.90, using the paper ticket system, despite the existence of the electronic fare card. Ottawa/Gatineau have the highest cash bus fares in North America, and that discourages non-essential and casual ridership.

I keep hoping the Scottish Socialist Party takes over the place and makes public transport free.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:06 PM on August 7


it is not surprising to see much sour grapes from those who cannot afford to own a vehicle


Oh, I can afford it. In fact, I own one. I just can't afford to USE it extensively. here's why:

1. Sciatica. A long car commute would cause me serious physical pain. The kind that would have me taking Limbaugh sized doses of opiates.

2. Time: When I'm on the bike, I'm getting exercise. When I'm on transit, I'm checking email, and reading the publications of my field. When I'm in the car, all I'm doing is slowly poisoning myself, ruining my back, and praying that the soothing voice of Diane Rehm on the radio will keep me from raging at this cruel world.

This is no idle concern. Apart from the 40 hours of work I owe my employer, I have to keep myself up on the latest buzzwords. This is the 21st Century, where no matter how much you laugh at Reagan's nonsense about rugged individualists, you still have to be one. When (if) I reach 50, I will have a daughter to support through college. I cannot afford to get laid off and become unemployable because I'm still coding in Perl.

The risk of losing everything in middle age is severe enough, so far as I can see, that it's worth it to ask my wife to stay at home until the kid can go to nursery school,, to stay in our inner ring Boston suburb (actually one of the densest cities in America) and homeschool the kid well enough to cover the gaps the school system will surely leave for us to cover, just so I remain in easy commuting distance to a sufficiently large number of prospective employers.
posted by ocschwar at 7:08 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Denmark: Sometimes living here is like following your Republican friends on Facebook.
posted by jpe at 7:20 PM on August 7


Is it really necessary to take Denmark down a few notches?

I don't care too much one way or the other about car ownership (I don't currently own one, because I live in a dense city and it's unnecessary, but I have in the past), but acting like not having a car renders you somehow passive and abject is idiotic. Public transit and driving both have their pros and cons.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:26 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Are you asserting that the only way a city can grow to that size is to adopt sprawl and car-centric design?

Nope! But it's something that happens often when there's room to do it because it's a relatively easy, incremental, piecemeal solution to not having enough housing in a city. Anyways, Looking at the map Denmark's cities still appear to be very "car-centric", but it's also friendlier to bikes and more people use them.
posted by Hoopo at 7:30 PM on August 7


Is it really necessary to take Denmark down a few notches?


I've been fortunate enough to see a good bit of France, Germany, Austria, Holland and Belgium, and I would love, love the chance to get employment stints in two of those nations, precisely because their infrastructure is everything America and Canada need.

But live there permanently?

That's where it pays to remind yourself that these places are still infested with bald apes and reeking with the same literal and figurative bald ape dander you see on this side of the Atlantic.

BTW, for European Mefites, here's a trump card: books are cheap in the USA. Ergo, we're a better place to live. QED. HAND
posted by ocschwar at 7:33 PM on August 7


books are cheap in the USA

Another way in which Canada is not the U.S.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:40 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The incremental cost of car trips once you have absorbed the fixed costs of car ownership is one of the big problems with getting people out of their cars when coupled with the climate in many Canadians cities. I mean contrast this climate chart for Kamloops, Canada where I live and Aalborg, Denmark (the closest city population wise in Denmark that had a climate chart in Wikipedia). In the last month the average high was 32C, we hit 35 a dozen times and we recorded daily maximums of 39.2, 39.3 and 40.7C (warmer really as official temperatures are taken at the airport which sits next to temperature moderating lake). Six months from now -20C with a -30C windchill isn't going to be unusual. Expecting people to walk/bike a few miles from work in the summer or to work in the winter for weeks at a time is a very hard sell.

Canada is so often inhospitable that big cities tend to incorporate ways for residents to walk around without actually going outside (+15,PATH, RÉSO, Edmonton PedWay, Winnipeg Walkway.

So people have cars for those truly miserable months. And now you need to park your car so you need densities that support that. And once you've made that investment it is really easy to use the car for optional travel. And for recreational travel too: lots of hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, skiing, etc. around here but practically none is situated in the downtown core (plus traveling out means traveling up and things get cooler in summer the farther from town you get).

yoink: "But that's entirely within the control of city planning departments. It's not some sort of force of nature."

Other people have addressed this but I want to reiterate that it really isn't. Kamloops is sprawly as hell. Some of that is geography induced (easy building land it stretched along the rivers bisecting town). Some is historical as Kamloops is the result of amalgamation of almost a dozen smaller municipalities. And some of it is perverse tax incentives as people living in the surrounding unincorporated areas have significantly lower taxes (and in most cases are leeching services off the city they don't contribute funding to). Nothing we can do about that because the city doesn't control the planning in those areas. The only way to take control is annexation which is even worse than the problem.

But the city _is_ taking baby steps to combat that with city planning emphasizing densification and just as importantly discouraging or out right banning extremely low density housing (bullshit like housing developments with 2 acre minimum lots sizes).

The flip side is the city is losing development money to neighboring communties that are more sprawl friendly. Long term this will be better for us as our infrastructure will be better suited to 2,3, or $5 gas but short term it is fustrating and disadvantageous.

filthy light thief: "It also fails historically: this country was capable of building cities that weren’t solely designed for the car until well after the age of mass automobile ownership had dawned."

A lot of places we live now weren't actually livable pre-automobile and other technology (A/C). Think Las Vegas as a poster child. Sure a few people ecked out a living in these places but they were unlivable for most.

filthy light thief: "is it always snowing in Canada? Are days never above -15? People's modes for transportation can (and do) change with the weather."

True but once you have a car and have made sacrifices to get that car you tend to maximize the use of that cost driving down your incremental cost.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Maledictory, there are plenty of surface parking lots in downtown Toronto,

Anthill, I don't know how often you get downtown but that image is woefully out of date.


I mean look at it all in 1973.

Here is an aerial view of the same area more recently.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:54 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]



books are cheap in the USA

Another way in which Canada is not the U.S.


I am so sorry. I mean, of all the possible ways to assert the Distinct Canadian Identity (TM), y'all that checkbox to tick?
posted by ocschwar at 7:57 PM on August 7


The incremental cost of car trips once you have absorbed the fixed costs of car ownership is one of the big problems with getting people out of their cars when coupled with the climate in many Canadians cities.

Really? Maybe I have a skewed sense of the costs of driving. Every time I've rented a car recently, gas has worked out to about $10/hr for highway driving. For most commutes, I don't see how that works out to be cheaper than transit, unless you're carpooling -- and the evidence of my eyes tells me 80% of the cars I see are single-occupant vehicles. I think if people had a meter on their dashboard that linked gas consumption to the price at the pump and showed how much each trip actually cost, people would be shocked.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:10 PM on August 7


ricochet biscuit: That Google overhead also doesn't have the two towers at Yonge & The Esplanade, or the Market Wharf condo which has replaced the large parking lot on Lower Jarvis. This map is a bit out of date, but it shows buildings in various stages of progress (proposed through completion) that may not show up on Google.
posted by maledictory at 8:32 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The point is $10 an hour isn't much compared to the several hundred dollars a month already spent and that you will spend regardless of how much driving you do (within reason). IE: I could own a car exclusively for the six months a year that biking to work is unrealistic to varying degrees and spend $6000 in fixed costs + $2000 in operating costs or I could drive to work every day for only an additional $2000. In exchange I spend less time commuting; have a more consistent schedule; can zip out to the bank/dentist/doctor/home improvement borg on my lunch hour and I can run more errands after work.
posted by Mitheral at 8:55 PM on August 7


The one thing I wish we did is to take transit out of the hands of politicians. Maybe they should be involved for the initial deciding what to do part, but once a plan is in place that is it. The only people who can make changes are the people doing the implementation (ie the planners and engineers).

Using Toronto as an example. (former mayor David) Miller had a plan. It wasn't perfect but it would have brought reliable transit to a lot of underserved areas. His plan got scrapped by (current mayor Rob) Ford who had his own, less thought out plan. Now his plans looked to get scrapped by whoever wins the next election. After a few years of fighting between city councilors we will probably have a new plan. And so on. At least this time around both (mayoral front runner #1 John) Tory and (mayoral front runner #2 Olivia) Chow aren't looking to make big changes to the existing plans, so there is some hope.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:19 PM on August 7


Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of radical measures could turn sprawl-based cities into more walkable/ bikeable/ transit-able places? I honestly don't have a clue. I think there are a lot of steps that could improve things at the margins, but short of some sort of cataclysmic natural or man-made disaster, I can't see how you're going to convert metropolitan areas designed for cars into areas that aren't designed for cars.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:27 AM on August 7

Easy as pie. Gasoline for autos and trucks is now at seven bucks a gallon. Problem solved. People would still use their cars, and their trucks, when they absolutely needed to use them. Otherwise, bicycles and buses and walking is what people will do.

We saw it when gasoline hit it's highs in the mid 2000s -- was it in 2007? I don't know what year. But gasoline was expensive. People no longer just hopped into their cars for a jaunt to the grocery store for pasta; they made a different meal. Trips were planned, and efficient. I was on my bike a lot and the streets were empty. Especially at night. It was something. It was the best.

I live in Austin. And Capital Metro is a mess, pretty much. But if people -- like, everyone -- had to ride it, it would improve dramatically. There would be more routes added, more buses on current routes.

I've spent the past two years with my truck off the road, everywhere I went was on my bicycle and Capital Metro. And you absolutely do have to plan your life around their schedule, not the other way 'round. And what if for some reason your bus didn't run that day at that time? Sorry, pal. Cap Metro has an app for your smart phone, but they won't put the location of where the bus currently is, in real time -- if they'd do that, you could see that your bus wasn't coming, make adjustments.

And then too I've had a series of pretty good bicycle wrecks, and it's got me rethinking riding in the streets -- when I go down on the trails, yeah, it's gruesome and stuff, and it sucks it. But concrete is totally unforgiving, and I've got the x-rays to prove that. Riding on the streets you have to be hyper-alert; Austin is trying to pass itself off as a bicycle town but that's a big fat joke -- cars absolutely take precedence in city planning. Bike lanes? Yes -- strips of paint on the road -- I sure feel safe now!

Just put gasoline at a price high enough that people have to consider every time they turn the key in their car. They'll find a job closer to home. They'll plan every trip that they do make. They'll buy a nice bicycle and have some fun, and they'll get into better shape, and eat better, to boot -- every bit of food that came into my house rode home from the store in a pack on my back, you do that for a while and you'll absolutely change your diet.

My $0.02.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:18 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I keep hoping the Scottish Socialist Party takes over the place and makes public transport free.

I hope they make it cheaper (and make driving dearer), but free transport just invites people to sleep on public transport. You can't kick anyone off if everyone has the right to a free ride.

People going nowhere need sleeping alternatives that will not encourage them to use up seats needed by people going somewhere.
posted by pracowity at 12:28 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


free transport just invites people to sleep on public transport

$2 for a bus ride to get out of the rain is obtainable through exactly 5 minutes of panhandling. Literally every other possible expense is higher. No one who would consider sleeping on a bus is being prevented from doing so because of the price of a bus fare.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:32 AM on August 8


But then you can kick him off after the ticket expires. Or don't your bus/train/tram tickets expire? Ours do. You punch your ticket and now it's good for a half hour or hour or whatever price level you bought. A regular ticket doesn't get you an all-day pass to snooze. If people need somewhere to sleep, they need to go somewhere else.

(Of course, you can also get kicked off for things like lying down, carrying too much stuff with you, and probably just for smelling so bad you're driving other people away, but the expiring ticket makes it easier.)
posted by pracowity at 12:51 AM on August 8


Has free public transport ever been provided anywhere, and what was the experience? Common sense suggests it'd turn into a very inefficient homeless shelter, and those who have a choice to avoid it will do so (often staying in the luxury of their cars). Has this been the experience?
posted by acb at 3:56 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I'd be fascinated to see some universally free public transport systems - in London any resident over 60 gets free travel and every person I've spoken to about it is really appreciative. It doesn't seem to cause problems, but then in that demographic there aren't many it could cause.
posted by forgetful snow at 4:32 AM on August 8


Wikipedia has a fairly extensive article on free public transit systems. They cite a US report from 2002 that says that it creates more problems than it solves, but I'd be curious to know whether that had been the experience outside the US and whether that would be true if free public transit were offered in conjunction with other measures to encourage transit usage.

A fair number of universities in the US offer free transit systems that are open to the general public. I work at a university that has a system like that. It's not very useful to most people who aren't affiliated with the university, because it mostly goes between dorms and classroom buildings and between satellite parking lots and offices, but in theory homeless people could camp out on it. We have a fairly substantial homeless population, and I haven't witnessed or heard complaints about people sleeping on the bus. The buses are pretty packed at peak times, though, and I could see it being more of a problem on systems that got less use.
Easy as pie. Gasoline for autos and trucks is now at seven bucks a gallon. Problem solved. People would still use their cars, and their trucks, when they absolutely needed to use them. Otherwise, bicycles and buses and walking is what people will do.
Ok, but this would cause pretty significant hardship for a lot of people, and they would disproportionately be disadvantaged people. People tend to talk about exurbs as being full of McMansions, but in my town, that's where the trailer parks are. A lot of exurban people are lower-middle-class to working poor, I think, and they can't easily move closer in to town or take public transit to work. If you raised gas prices to $7 an hour, a lot of people would still have to drive to get to work, and the gas money would come out of their food budgets, or they wouldn't be able to find the money and would have to quit their jobs. I think it would be really tough to find the political will to raise gas prices, especially among the people who would be most significantly affected, and it's also easy to paint efforts to raise gas taxes as a yuppie/ hipster class war against working people. That seems to be at the heart of the Rob Ford dynamic, right?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:02 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


The funny thing about the folks who are generally grouped into the whole "You'll get my ass out of my driver's seat when you pry it off of my cold, dead arse" [a pretty general group that also includes the "nothing really needs to change, that's too unrealistic" folks] is that - when all these changes are made and when our cities improve - when they're denser, filled with clusters of commercial districts in mixed-use areas well served by public transportation, filled with safe, multi-use streets...

when all these improvements happen, it will be better for those drivers, too. nobody's going to force you out of your car. you can still drive all the way across town to go to your preferred grocery store. it will take you less time. there will be less traffic. it'll be much more pleasant.
but you just might not choose to do that since there will be a grocery store around the corner from your home.

but whatever. dig your heels into the sand.
posted by entropone at 7:24 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Or don't your bus/train/tram tickets expire? Ours do. You punch your ticket and now it's good for a half hour or hour or whatever price level you bought.

Genuine curiousity: Does that mean you can't buy tickets in advance? You have to buy them immediately before the ride? Do I misunderstand? That sounds terrible for lines...
posted by maryr at 7:37 AM on August 8


The thing with transit systems is they usually have a maximum upper ridership limit and beyond that capacity you're subject to overcrowding and breakdowns, which can make traveling unsafe. NYC subways carry 1.7 billion people annually. Cost to ride is $2.50 one way with free bus transfers. Bus ridership is around 800 million. The subways stations aren't air conditioned. Considering how many millions of people it carries every day, the system is incredibly efficient. But how many more people can they conceivably take? Most train lines are already SRO and packed during rush hour. Tempers fray and patience dips during the summer months.

Comparatively speaking, New York's a much greener city (with regard to commuting) than Los Angeles or Chicago. Only 24% of New Yorkers who commute do so in their cars alone. And the number of New Yorkers who commute by car at all is less than 30%.
New Yorkers own fewer than a third as many cars per capita as the average U.S. urban resident (pdf) (about 23 per 100 residents compared to about 77 per 100 in most urban areas). If New Yorkers drove as much as the average American, the city would have 4.5 million more cars. Just storing the additional vehicles would require a parking lot the size of Manhattan—about 25 square miles.
Imagine if the mass transit fare dropped to zero, and just 10% of those car-driving commuters decided to suddenly start commuting by bus and subway. The results could be disastrous: further delays, more overcrowding and more system problems. Mass transit would require an infrastructure upgrade. Which is no doubt do-able. But another expense.

A complex problem.
posted by zarq at 7:40 AM on August 8


Has free public transport ever been provided anywhere, and what was the experience?

While I was working in Baltimore, managing two arts facilities and reporting to a central office, I mainly bicycled to get around. It sucked, because downtown Baltimore is hell for bicycling, but I worked out routes between my facilities that were on bikeways and through alleys that managed to sidestep the worst coexistence with the city's miserable drivers.

Then, the Charm City Circulator service started, and boy, it was so great on rainy, snowy, grumpy, carrying-toolboxes days to be able to catch a nice quiet free hybrid-electric bus to get around. After a while, I started enjoying lunches in far-flung parts of the city (well, in the far-flung parts of the downtownish core) and just getting out and about.

It had a stretch of being a smelly mobile asylum until the drivers got the hang of kicking off people who were clearly just sheltering in place on the bus, and would be unusable when Digital Harbor High School let out and floods of blue-shirted kids would stuff each bus like sausage, but overall, it's a very good way to get around Baltimore.
posted by sonascope at 7:45 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Fortunately many of those e-bikers and scooters are only fair-weather riders, and they'll be off the bike paths within a month or two, or on rainy days. Biking in the winter in Canada is generally doable with a balaclava to combat the wind and sometimes, goggles, if the snow and wind direction is in your face. The balaclava made it all more than bearable for me. Something like bar mitts would be especially useful for long commutes, though I was lucky enough to not have to bike more than 20-25 minutes in -30 C. Of course, if you're using a regular bike (I used a junky road bike with regular road tires) rather than a bike equipped with spiked tires, all of this depends on how well and how early your roads are clear. Avoiding paths covered in snow or too much slush also helps to minimize the slip factor.
posted by mayurasana at 7:46 AM on August 8


Corvallis, Oregon has had free citywide public transit since 2011 and I never saw any problems with its implementation when I lived there and used the buses. The transit system is funded by a citywide sustainability levy and some form of contribution from Oregon State University student fees. According to the city, ridership increased nearly 38% in the first year of fareless operation.

My only issue was the buses didn't run nearly often enough so anything that required a transfer took forever and was usually easier to walk/bike. It's a fairly small town though so I'm not sure how this would scale up to a larger city; Corvallis has about 55,000 residents not including students, which brings it closer to 70,000. We did have a small homeless population but I never saw anyone abusing the buses.
posted by dialetheia at 9:00 AM on August 8


dancestoblue: "Gasoline for autos and trucks is now at seven bucks a gallon. Problem solved. People would still use their cars, and their trucks, when they absolutely needed to use them. Otherwise, bicycles and buses and walking is what people will do."

Gas is already ~$6 a gallon in Canada. Expensive gas seems more to cut down on occasional long trips than significantly change people's driving patterns. Long term really expensive gas (say 2-2.50 a litre) will probably start making a difference but in the short term people are locked in to their driving decisions because of where they live and work. It's not cost effective to swap your 1/4 acre suburban SFH for a smaller SFH set on smaller lots closer in because even if you can trade straight across (which usually you can't) the cost of moving overwhelms the gas savings.

Long term high gas prices discourage people from moving to the suburbs in the first place.

Besides going forward electric cars are going to go main stream. It'll be a lot harder to shape policy via punitive energy pricing when the same fungible good is powering your car and your computer.

pracowity: "I hope they make it cheaper (and make driving dearer), but free transport just invites people to sleep on public transport. You can't kick anyone off if everyone has the right to a free ride."

Public assistance recipients here already get free transit and yet we don't have rolling homeless shelters. Besides what the heck is the difference between a businessman sleeping on the train on his way home and a homeless person making the same trip? I advocate for free transit all the time; it is far and away the best approach to encourage transit use and it is crazy that we subsidize roads to a much greater extent than we subsidize transit. The problem patron problem can be handled by making people register for a bus pass so you can still deny banned passengers.
posted by Mitheral at 9:01 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Well, I just traveled around Denmark and was robbed in my hotel room while I was sleeping, so to each his own, I guess.

Yes, but the thief was able to escape by BICYCLE!
posted by kate blank at 9:30 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


As recently as the early 1990s, Toronto was seen as a city that worked, was transit-friendly, etc., etc. What's happened since (IMHO): posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:50 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


That sounds depressingly like the politics-as-usual of your typical Australian city (also a car-dependent sprawl).
posted by acb at 9:54 AM on August 8


This was overdue. Canada has been coasting on a reputation earned in the 1970s, back when the country really was a leader in environmental policy. Having lived much of life in Canada but also many years abroad, I've come to the conclusion that we are as good at lying to ourselves as most everybody else. Yes, it's a wonderful country that has much going for it, but that's not because Canadians are anything special.

There are some standard arguments I hear from Canadians to excuse the less wonderful aspects of the modern Canadian existence. The biggest one, which has been used by everybody from airlines to telecoms executives to Canada Post, is that Canada is simply too big and too sparsely populated for things to work any other way than they do. The climate is another. Neither really has anything to do with the structure of our cities, which is the result of choices made by decision-makers. We chose the mess we're in. Yes, it is a mess, and it's a mess we made. It's time we faced that and started doing something about it.

If it takes a couple of tourists from Denmark to point it out, then that's fine by me, even if it might hurt some people's feelings. I think the message was well-intentioned and sent out of real love for the place. Real friends have the guts to point out the stuff to which we ourselves are sometimes blind. And if it got people's attention, I think it's because it's something many of us had already suspected for quite some time.

To those who claim our winters are so brutal that every man, woman and child needs a car, I respectfully suggest visiting Sweden in winter sometime.
posted by rhombus at 10:56 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Of course, if you're using a regular bike (I used a junky road bike with regular road tires) rather than a bike equipped with spiked tires, all of this depends on how well and how early your roads are clear.

I wa a bike messenger for a few years. I used a cheapish mountain bike with hybrid tires (flat in the center, knobbed at the edges.) The most surreal thing I saw was during a blizzard and a city plow was sliding backwards next to me while I was cruising uphill.

Ice, you gotta be careful of. Snow might as well be dirt.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:56 AM on August 8


New 721 foot long bike path opens in Copenhagen! There is also the cycling superhighway that links Albertslund and Farum with Copenhagen which is a bit longer. It is twice the length of the average commute in Canada in 2006.
At an average speed of 20km/h, cyclists will be able to surf a wave of green lights through the city during rush hour, without putting a foot down.
It would be nice if cities could be (re)designed to accommodate people rather than cars and corporations.
posted by asok at 10:57 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I feel like my life story fits the Toronto public transportation story. Daughter of an urban planner. Walked everywhere until high school; took the subway every day. Got married, took subway to work.

Bought first house not too far into Scarborough because my husband is anti-condo and our budget was pretty small, still took subway or sometimes the GO train into work. Finally ended up buying first car 7 yrs later.. Still used public transportation mostly in the city but started to do shopping via car, etc.

Had kids, moved further out into Scarborough, got new job in cheaper office tower in North York nowhere near a GO (commuter rail) line, tried to take public transit to work...kept missing daycare pickup because of transit delays. Got a second car. Now live horrific commuter nightmare lifestyle part of the year. Part of the year my husband bikes the kids to work part of the time, when he works from home.

Why? Real estate. Housing prices are still affordable in our area (we live in a 3 bdrm 1960s modest bungalow) because it's underserved, and we have beautiful bike trails and a lake view on a middle-class income. Do we suck for not staying in a small semi or condo? Quite possibly but our critical mistake pretty much was thinking that we would be able to handle public transportation after having kids. Since it cannot get me from work to daycare before daycare starts fining me $20 per 5 min late, that's it. Had we built a subway stop a year in Toronto I would be on it every day.

But I also think it's the expectations about work in Toronto & North American culture, too. I need a car because my employer expects me to be flexible about when I leave and not having to adhere to a train schedule or build in time for subway and bus delays (traffic delays notwithstanding) gives me the extra, I am serious, 20 minutes a day that makes the difference between being perceived as being committed to my job and being laid off.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:13 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I know I am very late to the discussion, but as a recent transplant to Canada in general and the GTA in particular I'd just like to offer my perspective on transit. I will skirt around the matter of who originally raised the issue because I believe it is irrelevant to the discussion; talking about the guys' native country or whether they are being "good visitors" is frankly kinda "adhominemy" IMO.

We are a family with young children, and we moved here about 5 years ago. At first we tried to get by without a car. We held out for over a year, but in the end there were many factors that pushed us to get one. Even though we work in Toronto we cannot afford to live there, so that means we can't even rely on the TTC (for those viewers at home, that's Toronto transit. Our local buses run very infrequently, and no-shows are not uncommon. So for example, depending on where you're going you might need to wait half an hour in the freezing cold for your transfer bus.

Finally, we ended up getting a car when we realized it was less expensive to own and maintain a modest vehicle than to have to rely on spotty local transit. I gotta say, it made a huge impact in our lives. It meant taking a sick kid to the doctor wasn't this huge hassle that required a fair bit of planning, fare money, and luck for the buses to show up on time. And that my wife could get to that first job in 10 minutes instead of 50. And that we could afford more frequent visits to our only friends in the whole country, who we rarely saw although they lived in the same small city.

These days my wife does most of the driving because I take the commuter train into the city. It is much more expensive than the TTC -- it is roughly half of my disposable income (after housing, food and taxes) -- but I have no option. There have been some very rough winter days in which I've made the mistake of deciding to drive into the city: you spend 2 hours in traffic each way, brutal. At least as it is right now I spend ~2.5 hours commuting daily, still far from ideal though.

As for biking: I've always loved bicycles, and one of my dreams is to be able to bike to work. But the train has a rule that you can't bring your bike with you during rush hour, which in effect prevents me from doing so since I work in an office with regular hours. So, not an actual option.

I want to add that for a few days last year, as an experiment, I took the early train in (and then the late train out) to try and ride my bike from the station to the office, but I felt very unsafe on the streets of downtown Toronto. Drivers didn't give a shit about driving uncomfortably fast and close to me. It seemed to me I was almost the only "office type" commuter cyclist out there, as opposed to the handful of grizzled, badass-looking messengers I saw. Props to those guys for having what it takes to do it, it is way too stressful.

I am getting some use out of that bike these days, though: I am riding it from home to the station, and then back home at night. It's a short distance and I would prefer to ride it downtown to avoid that long walk, but at least it feels safer. I have to confess I ride it on the (practically empty) suburban sidewalks: cars simply zoom by too close for comfort and, based on some close calls I've witnessed, I don't trust the typical driver to be paying enough attention.

In the end there are many real issues that prevent a regular bike-loving Joe like me from being able to bike everywhere, or most places for that matter. In addition to the mainstream car culture, distances are simply too great -- especially when taking into consideration the all-too-common phenomenon of bedroom communities. I tried, I honestly did, but in the end my dream of biking to work won't come true until I somehow find work in my small city, or move away from the big city.
posted by papafrita at 12:39 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Easy as pie. Gasoline for autos and trucks is now at seven bucks a gallon. Problem solved. People would still use their cars, and their trucks, when they absolutely needed to use them. Otherwise, bicycles and buses and walking is what people will do.

This, like sales tax, is regressive and fucked. It would only really cut deep for poor people. The kind of people who drive luxury cars and don't even check what mileage they're getting would completely ignore this, and that's quite a few people, not just the 1%

Whereas everyone living paycheck to paycheck, especially in places where you _need_ to drive to get anywhere(or where it's utterly tiresome not to, ie it's a 1.75 hour bus trip plus waiting, but a 15 minute drive) would just get completely boned over and have to avoid driving as much as possible. Whereas people who were middle class+ would just drive like nothing changed. Maybe a bit less, but it wouldn't cut too deep.

I hate this as much as I hate my states high sales tax.
posted by emptythought at 12:59 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: a hard frozen solid hunk of butt numbing plastic

Had to, sorry.

So. I'm one of the fat Canadians they speak of (5'7, 175).

But. I live right downtown. I mean, I am seriously downfuckingtown. Ambulances and police cars and fire trucks roar past my apartment at all times of day and night.

And you know what? I walk pretty much everywhere. The St Lawrence Market is maybe ten minutes away. The grocery store where I (and my neighbours) do most shopping is about fifteen minutes away (No Frills). There are two LCBOs within that area, a Wine Rack, and more little owner-operated restaurants and pubs than you can shake a stick at. Within twenty minutes of my front door I can buy a bottle of vodka, have a great coffee, see a play, or sit and stare at the lake. My doctor is about eight minutes away, same for my dentist. Anything more than an hours' walk, and I'll take decent (but as noted above, horribly crippled) public transit to get where I'm going.

It's no different for my neighbours in the building, except one bikes to work.

I get that these travelers expected Canada to be Something, and in a large sense were disappointed. But reality? Yeah. Most of us take the (criminally underfunded and crippled) TTC if we're not walking. Neighbourhoods downtown are liveable with everything in walking distance.

They skimmed the surface of our cities and found them wanting. That is not, I think, the fault of our cities but rather that of their perception and failure to engage.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:07 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


No Frills

More like BEST FRILLS
posted by Hoopo at 10:41 PM on August 8


This, like sales tax, is regressive and fucked.

Only if the revenues from the tax aren't used to redistribute wealth downward - which they are in multiple jurisdictions.
posted by ripley_ at 1:34 AM on August 9


Papafrita, sorry to hear it. Downtown Toronto has a good institutionalized walking culture (thanks Jane Jacobs) but cycling is not treated as a first class form of transportation. They are redesigning Union train station without any accommodation for safe, effective cycling connections. In 20-fricking-14. Crazy.
posted by anthill at 5:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I think their comments are valid. Canada has a reputation as being a very clean, green country, basically the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver, with Quebec in there someplace.

If you don't go to Vancouver or the Rockies or Montreal, the real experience of Canada can be quite different.

There is also a smug sense of superiority in some Canadian cities about a lot of things, but the fact of the matter is we're a car culture. I don't think it has as much to do with the "wide open spaces" of Canada (although to be fair we're a giant country with a population the size of California, and economic output smaller than California), as is has to do with the North American sensibility of "me first" and self-actualization above all else.

The cities we live in today were designed in the sixties when the automobile was the perfect machine, and there was massive population growth thanks to the baby boom and an expanding economy.

My parents (around 70) have never been on a public transit bus in my home town of Victoria. To suggest to them that they should drive less would be like suggesting to someone in my age group that there should be no WiFi access in coffee shops.

We Canadian love cars, especially SUV's and giant pickup trucks. Despite the pristine, green, branding, Canada is a car culture, and it's reasonable to expect some Danish tourist would be pissed off about that.
posted by Nevin at 11:47 AM on August 9


Canada has a reputation as being a very clean, green country, basically the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver, with Quebec in there someplace

Very true; I had forgotten how Canada markets itself abroad. In Japan everyone always asked me about the "Aurora", as if it was expected we all saw the Northern Lights regularly even though it is rarely and barely visible in most major cities. Our international marketing seems to stress the Rockies, Yellowknife (no seriously), and the more rustic parts of the Maritimes. I happen to love Toronto and Montreal but they are very much great big North American cities with all that entails and I could see how that could come as a surprise to someone expecting "green" all around.
posted by Hoopo at 11:39 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Despite the pristine, green, branding, Canada is a car culture, and it's reasonable to expect some Danish tourist would be pissed off about that.

This is reminding me of a recent camping trip, where I had several WTF moments watching people drive across the campground instead of taking a 5-10 minute walk to get where they needed to go.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:42 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I try to remember when I see stuff like that, or people taking the elevator up one floor, that many people have disabilities that are hard to see.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:40 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Yes, I'm aware of that, thanks very much.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:33 PM on August 12


By the way, dancestoblue, gas is about 6$ a gallon around the Vancouver area here, and I still have no trouble getting a seat on the bus. Not $7 yet, but I'm pretty surprised that prices are that high and it doesn't seem to be tipping us out of our autos.
posted by salishsea at 7:26 PM on August 13


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