Why transit sucks

File under “heresies, urban”: in today’s Report on Business section in the Globe, columnist Neil Reynolds explains why transit—especially the light-rail kind that Toronto is about to spend millions developing—is the wrong solution for urban traffic congestion. The best way to end gridlock, says Reynolds, is to make the roadways more accommodating to cars. “Buying bulk people-movers is an old paradigm,” he says, words that will surely drive TTC-heads bananas. But Reynolds may have a point.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a sort of theoretical limit to transit, a ridership beyond which it cannot reach. I have no idea if anyone’s studied the concept, and I may be as full of hot air as Reynolds. But the truth is that mass transit involves compromises that are simply untenable for some segments of the population: people whose workdays involve travel between many locations, those who have to pick up the groceries and the kids on the way home, and so on. The greatest appeal of cars is that they are individualized transportation pods (let’s call them ITPs): they take you everywhere you need to go, door to door, with lots of room for passengers and freight. And we will never be rid of our dependence upon ITPs. They are too useful and too much fun to give up.

But there is another type of ITP: the bicycle. Properly outfitted, it can do almost everything a car can do. Outside my son’s daycare is a storage shed where parents can leave their strollers for the day while at work; one parent stores his bike’s kiddie trailer there every morning before riding off to work, then hitches it back up at pickup time. Granted, for some of those transit-impossible segments of the population, bikes will always be inadequate as well. But for many others they are a more workable solution than transit.

Which leads me to the following three public service announcements:

1.This week saw the launch of the Toronto Cyclists Union, a membership-driven organization that hopes to gather up all the city’s bicycle users—commuters, recreational riders, whomever—under a single umbrella. If you own a bike, you should join. 2.This Sunday will feature the second annual Bells on Bloor, a happy-go-lucky demonstration-cum-parade of cyclists along Bloor West, from High Park to Queen’s Park. Bikes, trikes, unicycles—anything on wheels that isn’t powered by an internal combustion engine—welcome. 3.My column about cycling in the June edition of Toronto Life is now available for free on the Web site. Happy reading.


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