We need to recognize that we have pushed automobiles into roles for which they are ill-suited, simply because we have lost sight of what transportation is all about.
By Alasdair Rathbone
Published June 11, 2010
Transportation may be the hottest topic in Hamilton lately. Certainly the majority of recent articles on this website have been directly or tangentially related to the issue.
Yet it feels as if we've never stopped and asked ourselves: what are the core issues this is all about?
Transportation is the movement of goods and people.
Sounds simple, right? But consider this: how often do you hear that roads are built for cars? Roads existed thousands of years before anyone even dreamed of a horseless carriage. Why, then, do our professional transportation engineers seem stuck on personal automobiles and transport trucks as the solutions for moving us and our things respectively?
Just like a computer program, it's garbage in, garbage out. Our transportation engineers see smooth, quick auto traffic as their goal because that is what we've instructed them to do.
Similarly, we find truck routes cutting through residential neighbourhoods on narrow streets with narrow sidewalks, simply because we are stuck on an overly simplistic definition of a truck, as Daniel Rodrigues pointed out in his RTH article.
Perhaps it's time we change what goes in.
You'll have a hard time finding a will for that in Hamilton, of course. Bill Kelly, for example, seems to be on a mission to prove that people of all political stripes can be auto centric to the point of absurdity.
The screams of outrage from the peanut gallery will be immense: "Two minutes added to my commute? That's a lifetime! And who doesn't drive, anyway? If you don't own a car, you're a loser and a degenerate."
It's hard to answer that last question, isn't it? It seems like that the only people in Hamilton who don't own a car can't afford one, or are unable to drive due to reasons beyond their control.
Perhaps a fairer and more accurate question would ask, "Who doesn't want to have to drive everywhere?" The response might be a lot different.
Our local political culture is stuck on a treadmill, the pavement over which it travels repeating over and over to the point where someone who tried to watch it would get nauseated. "We're too dependent on cars. We should improve alternate transportation. But that would inconvenience car use and we're too dependent on cars," and so forth and so forth.
It would be interesting to live in a city where the natural form of transportation to which humans are well adapted was not referred to as "alternate transportation".
I was not entirely arbitrary in choosing a treadmill to represent the cycle we're stuck in, hoping that it might remind us of the crazy quest we're on to replace the exercise we've eliminated by extensive use of motorized transportation.
I'm not out to tell anyone that cars and trucks are bad. Indeed, they add valuable links in our transportation network. But we need to recognize that we have pushed them into roles for which they are ill-suited, simply because we have lost sight of what transportation is all about.
Until we focus on building our city to accommodate cycling, pedestrian and transit usage where it would naturally hold an advantage over cars, we will not have an end to the transportation debates.
The only question left is who has the courage to address the core issue and to run for office. Ultimately this will determine whether or not we are mired in these debates for yet another four years.