Gospel of the car ad: fight congestion by building roads

Hearts were a-twitter last week as the Ontaro government released exciting new plans. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail

The Ontario government said yesterday it would spend $3.4-billion over five years to build or repair nearly 1,730 kilometres of highway and 264 bridges to ease growing traffic congestion in southern Ontario.

The story, “Ontario plans major highway upgrades” by Karen Howlett, also described how the gov’t plans to paste new High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes alongside some of the existing highways.

Noteworthy for its absence from this list was highway 401.

Who or what is highway 401? Well, you may know it as the MacDonald-Cartier freeway, linking Windsor Ontario with Quebec City. To Toronto taxidrivers, it’s the “flyover.” According to our friends at Wikipedia,

The 401 is widely considered to be North America’s busiest highway, with an estimated Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) of over 425,000 in 2004, between the Weston Road and Highway 400 interchanges in Toronto. This surpasses the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, and several Interstate freeways in Houston, Texas. Due to its triple use as the main trade, commuting and recreational corridor in Ontario, 24-hour traffic volumes can exceed the 500,000 level on some days. The just-in-time inventory systems of the highly integrated auto industry in Michigan and Ontario have made the highway the busiest truck route in North America. Highway 401 also includes the continent’s busiest multi-structure bridge at Hogg’s Hollow in Toronto (four structures for the highway’s four roadway beds).

According to the Globe story, the 401 isn’t wide enough for HOV lanes. Not wide enough? Look again at the Wikipedia description:

Today the stretch of Highway 401 that passes through the Greater Toronto Area ranges from 6 to 18 lanes, and the stretch between Highway 403 and Brock Road in Pickering is thought to be the world’s longest continuous stretch of highway having 10 or more lanes.

(Hat tip to Martino).

As our fellow ARCista Rick put it: “What are they smoking?” (He says he was channeling Kunstler with that one).

Okay, Ontario’s on the bandwagon for building highways. Yawn. Guess what? We’re in North America. What are we supposed to build? Bikelanes? Car-free communities? Get real. Maybe it would be more appropriate to ask, what is Rick smoking?

Now we love cars as much as the next jacob. So we’re confused by the story that accompanied the exciting news of Ontario’s highway construction.

Same paper, same day, same author, same page: this story, which enthused: “Ontario releases plan to contain urban sprawl, save farmland.”

According to it,

The Ontario government’s vision for taming urban sprawl in the greater Golden Horseshoe is made up of “complete communities” where people could live, work and shop without ever having to get in their car.

Huh? Howzzat?

To protect farmland, 40 per cent of all new growth must be contained within existing built-up areas by 2015, and regions must transform themselves into “compact communities” where residents can walk or ride bicycles to work. These communities would be served by public transit

Garsh, we don’t know about you, but we’re confused. What’s on the table, Ontario? On the one hand you got roads and more roads, on the other hand you got a magnificent plan to curb what the roads doth bring: sprawl.

The viper-like pen of our resident urban designer, Jacob Allderdice, was fortunately at the ready. A “Letter to the Editor” sprang forth, with the usual fangs.

And was accepted for publication, much to our surprise. Complete with a photo (of a car-clogged highway, not us, silly).

An op-ed in the New York Times it aint, but it’s still a letter to the editor in “Canada’s newspaper of record” and for that we’re proud:

Roads and land


Toronto — Re Ontario Plans Major Highway Upgrades (June 17) and Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland (June 17): According to these stories, Ontario badly needs a psychiatrist.

On one hand, we have a government building or expanding highways, a proven recipe for increased automobile use and creating more urban sprawl. On the other hand, the government claims to be acting to contain urban sprawl and save farmland. Which one is it? Because it can’t be both.

A government that wanted to contain sprawl would be decreasing, not increasing, the amount of paved land. Money for transportation infrastructure would be directed to improved passenger rail service and getting more freight into trains. Road-building plans that try to reduce car dependency by adding high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to proposed new construction suffer a fundamental flaw in logic: the new road construction itself.

And when the authorities say that no HOV lanes can be added to the 401 because it’s not wide enough, how do they keep from blushing? Isn’t the idea of HOV lanes to reduce the number of automobiles and thereby the number of lanes required? You’d think an elementary calculation would tell you that the narrower the roadway, the more suited it is to HOV lanes.

Putting HOV lanes on the 401 would decrease congestion there as well as wherever its off ramps lead. Jane Jacobs was right about traffic engineers: Theirs is a pseudo-science. Their roads lead to darkness.

A second, even more brilliant letter on the subject of roads and sprawl followed ours that day, and we paste it below, for the record. Its subject is one dear to our hearts, the property tax theories of Henry George.

Take it away, Dave Wetzel:

Roads and land


vice-chair, Transport for London

England — If the Ontario government really wants to contain urban sprawl “by encouraging new growth within existing built-up areas” (Ontario Releases Plan To Contain Urban Sprawl, Save Farmland) then it should examine the example of Harrisburg, Pa., where an annual land-value tax, called the Two-Tier Tax, has been adopted.

The consequence has been an 85-per-cent reduction of empty sites and buildings, with whole areas of Harrisburg that were previously blighted now revitalized with the building and refurbishment of affordable business premises and homes.

The resultant inward investment has increased the number of firms paying taxes to the city from 1,900 to 9,000 and led to a dramatic drop in unemployment and crime.

The lesson is obvious. To contain urban sprawl and create prosperous communities, tax location value, which is created by all of us, and do not tax buildings, wages, trade and enterprise.

One Response to “Gospel of the car ad: fight congestion by building roads”


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