McGran’s Highway’s from Hell, but not ours

The Toronto Star’s main headline reads today: “Your highways from hell.”

Good, we’re thinking, at last the Star gets it. Highways from hell, highways to hell, highways are hell. Time to rip them all out and start again with something saner: railways for the long distances, folding bikes for the critical linkages, jitneys and taxis for the absolutely unavoidable drive that befalls us.

After all, the story’s by Kevin McGran. McGran gets it, right? He heralded the news that cars kill four times more people in Toronto than guns do, back in January when the fashionable talk was of the city’s rash of gun homicides.

We read on, eager to see how McGran will phrase our call.

Improvements of Greater Toronto roads move at snail’s pace
For the cottage-bound, this summer brings more of the same

So goes the subhead.

Good, good, we’re thinking. Tell it like it is, brother. Let them hear the difficulties and dangers facing cyclists who try to cross the girdle of car-dependent sprawl that marks the middle distance on any trip out of town.

It begins in four days. The season’s first long weekend, the slow journey to escape the GTA. And motorists will find the highways are in no better shape to handle the traffic than they were a year ago, or two years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Ready, set, slow.

Only now Queen’s Park is waking up to the notion that maybe Greater Toronto needs better links to the rest of the province.

Yeah, we’re thinking. You nailed it. Better links. Now get to the good stuff. The solutions. The new railway links and reopening of depots in towns north of Toronto. The critical call for “complete streets” throughout Ontario. The government-funded free bicycle program for all towns in the cottage country region. Get to it, man, don’t hold back!

But then something goes sour. McGran starts listing the highway rebuilding projects of the provincial government, and bemoans–BEMOANS– their “inability to keep up with traffic demands.”

And when we turn to page A6 to continue the story, and see our old friend Faye Lyons being sought for “expertise,” the wind falls dead in our sails.

Faye Lyons? You know her. Well, you know the organization she lobbies for [the one Gord Perks helps fund –ed]: the Canadian Automobile Association. The ones who’ve never seen a road proposal they didn’t like [as long as motorists don’t have to pay for using it –ed.]. The ones with plans for an elevated highway in Lake Ontario to bypass the “congestion” of Toronto. The heroes of Jacob Richler’s wettest dreams. The ones for whom we coined the term “ROT,” or “Roads Out of Town,” because their vision for a successful city is Detroit, Michigan. The ones for whom the “hell” of McGran’s headline (“Highways from hell) is the city itself, with all its diversity, freedom of movement, and delightful congestion that says “wait a minute, slow down, get out and really enjoy this place.”


“Whether people are heading out of the city or staying in the city, congestion on long weekends is a problem,” says Faye Lyons, the CAA’s government relations specialist. “The existing road network is not sustainable and is not capable of supporting projected growth.

“We need investment and improvement to Ontario’s road network.”

And so it goes. Downhill from there. And we don’t mean that in a good way.

Turns out McGran is a blank-eyed convert to the Gospel of the Car Ad after all, the one that says “More roads will fix existing congestion.”

It’s as if he’s never heard Blobby’s Law: “Cars rush in to fill the space available to them.” He doesn’t know the saw that says “building roads to fix congestion is like getting a bigger belt to fix obesity.” Can it be possible?

And it gets worse. It turns out it’s McGran himself who McGran is looking out for in this story. In the accompanying piece, he describes his weekend trip to his cottage, and how miserable he is on the existing highways. How is it an editor would let such a self-serving screed into print?

Oh yeah. It’s the Toronto Star, after all, and don’t forget whose porn graces the centrefold.

McGran thinks building highways will make his weekend trip north easier and faster. But he’s been duped.

If McGran wants to lighten his cottage country commute in fact, he’d do better to take a leaf from the books of New York City, San Francisco or Portland: cities where the removal of a highway, whether by design or accident, improved travel times and lowered blood pressure for motorists and local residents alike.

In fact, he doesn’t have to look that far afield. He has an example right here in Toronto, where the “Gardiner stump,” the eastern terminus of the city’s hated elevated highway, was torn down in 2000. Replaced with a landscaped boulevard at grade, improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and normalized intersections with local streets, the road today performs better than ever.

It takes vision and courage to look beyond one’s own petty needs of the moment. McGran, whose purview at the Star is for all “transportation,” needs reprogramming. He needs the Gospel of the Car Ad drummed out of him. He needs to review Blobby’s Law.

McGran ends with a telling quote:

Cottager Gibson says people will find ways to cope [with “brutal” cottage-bound traffic].

“Everyone kind of works it out. They find that zone,” she says. “But as soon as you have your beer at the end of the dock on a Friday evening, you forget about the all the time you just spent in the car.”

“Beer on the dock” sounds good. We understand what it is that drives people to the cottage: similar to what drives them to drink, perhaps. It’s a form of solace for the penance of everyday life. We understand that people are addicted to cars, and it’s a sick dependency, not a pleasurable one. McGran nails it with this quote. In a choice between two lethal dependencies, “alcohol” equals freedom, “car” equals defeat.

See, what we want is to have a beer on the train, as we pull out of town. Maybe two. Why not? We’re not driving. We might have another one on the dock, but it won’t be because we need it, thanks.

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