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Pragmatism Eludes Politicians 17


Photo courtesy of Dylan Passmore 

Toronto Star urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume writes yesterday:

“the fact remains we don’t have a choice; if we want Toronto and environs to prosper, there’s no alternative but transit”.

Sorry Mr. Hume, but there is another alternative. A very viable alternative that most in the media and government choose to ignore – it’s called cycling.

Mr. Hume ends that same paragraph with a statement that illustrates how foolish it is to rely on transit as the only alternative to driving:

“you can be sure that the cost of bringing us into the 21st century will exceed $50 billion over the next few decades”.

To suggest that a city needs to spend $50 billion dollars to solve its transportation problems when that same city can’t even afford the operating costs of the existing transit system is even more foolish.

Don’t get me wrong, transit is important – but Toronto needs a more sustainable solution to funding its current transit system before it would be prudent to spend billions and billions of more dollars to build more transit that it can hardly afford to operate.

With the Mayoral race coming up in October, Toronto needs a leader who can look beyond expensive transit and the impractical automobile to solve big-city issues. Pragmatism should be the new “progress” of the 21st century.


Photo courtesy of Commodore Gandalf Cunningham 

The bicycle is a great tool to commute in the city and can compliment those who ride transit. But city planners need to make cycling convenient and safe.

Building an inter-connected network of cycling infrastructure in the city and getting more people on their bicycles will help offset the operating costs of transit and address the issue of congestion and wear-and-tear that result from automobile use.

In the city’s current state of operations, the more people who take transit, the more indebted the city becomes.

The $3 fare you pay to ride the subway only covers about 70% of the operating costs and doesn’t even begin to cover the billions of dollars of capital funding to build new transit lines or purchase new buses, streetcars, or subway cars.

The city spends about $15-20 million dollars on cycling infrastructure each year compared to about $1.2 billion on transit.

If a million people decided to start cycling to work tomorrow, cycling infrastructure annual costs wouldn’t necessarily need to increase. This is the beautiful thing about cycling – it helps reduce a city’s operating costs, and results in healthier citizens.

If a million more people decided to take transit tomorrow, the existing system wouldn’t be able to handle the volume. The same goes for automobiles – there simply isn’t enough space for another million automobiles.

Outgoing mayor David Miller was primarily focused on transit – advocating for massive investment of billions of dollars – as are many of the contenders vying for the mayor seat.

Copenhagen cycling advocate Mikael Collville-Andersen explains the political phenomenon in this video by Mike Rubbo:

Cycling is too cheap for its own good. You know, a lot of politicians – they want to build a tunnel. You know, I want to build a motorway! It’s just like sort of this large penis complex, right. This is how they think that they’ve done something. See I’ve built a motorway. I’ve built a tunnel through that mountain for cars.

There’s much easier ways to do that, and much more clever ways to impress future generations, and that’s by implementing bicycles on the urban landscape.

Unfortunately politics is not very often about pragmatism. Political leaders are often elected on ambitious platforms of massive spending. There’s nothing glamorous about building bicycle ways and most high-profile politicians are out-of-touch with the needs of the average urban dweller.

The current list of mayoral candidates is far from inspiring.

One candidate is advocating for banning bicycles from main city streets, another is pushing for selling off all city-owned assets.

The closest I have seen to a cycling-friendly candidate is hardly cyclist-friendly as he is the head of the Toronto Transit Commission – and he has since resigned from the mayoral race after living up to his Toronto Sun-given nickname “GIAM-BONER”.

Between now and October I hope to see a candidate who can look beyond the motorways and transit lines to see a glamorous future of urban cycling in our city.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at

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17 thoughts on “Pragmatism Eludes Politicians

  1. Todd Feb 13,2010 8:03 pm

    I agree – everyone seems to be missing the simple solution: Cycling. And really, I think, what is missing from many peoples’ vision is that the real solution is likely some form of “All of the above.”

    Cars are likely to be necessary for many but definitely not as many as are currently using them.

    I think Hume mentions transit because that’s the most viable option for the greatest number of people. Or at least it appears to be. There are still many folks who think cycling 10 km is really difficult (but haven’t even been on a bike in years). Others are physically unable. And sometimes weather conspires against even the most diehard of us. So a robust transit system is a must to get the most people out of their cars.

    However, with good cycling infrastructure, there’s no reason why a sizeable percentage of people wouldn’t use their bikes. Heck, in my neighbourhood, about 10% commute by bike already and though it’s one of the more bike-friendly areas in the city it still needs lots of work.

    The problem I see is that of politicians trying to please everyone. To not annoy voters in cars they put sharrows and door-zone bike lanes in then let UPS park in them. Then when ridership doesn’t skyrocket the CFRB crowd points and says “See! We gave them what they wanted and they didn’t use it!”

    But what if we really went all out – bring in a congestion charge and parking taxes but then turn around and significantly improve transit and make TTC parking free again. Take a portion of that and put in the bike infrastructure we need. Hell, if you want a big public works project, give me elevated bike expressways on Yonge, Bathurst, Dufferin, Bayview, Bloor, and Queen.

    OK, I got off track in my enthusiasm but what I’m trying to say is the politician *I* want to see values all modes of travel and realizes that by supporting active transportation and transit they are doing drivers a HUGE favour by reducing traffic for those who still need to drive on the roads.

  2. James D. Schwartz Feb 13,2010 8:23 pm

    Agreed Todd. Cycling will never be a viable option for everyone – transit and cars have their place in our society. I just hope to see the automobile being less prominent in North American cities and I would like to see more people use transit and bikes (Bixi should help facilitate this later this year).

    Hume is actually one of my favourite pundits in the city. I know his goal is to create more livable cities, but he focuses more on transit and pedestrians and I don’t hear him often advocating for cycling unfortunately.

    He has a powerful voice, so he could do wonders for cycling advocacy.

  3. Anonymous Feb 18,2010 12:24 am

    An ironic photo! That cyclist is certainly happy to have his picture taken, and the ttc streetcar knows a bit about his personality!

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