Car Free Day

So yesterday, Sunday, was Car Free Day. London Ontario marked this world-wide event by closing its high street, Dundas Street in the downtown core, for 3 hours from 1 to 4pm. That’s great. If this were 1999. In 2010, 3-hours is a woefully inadequate place to be. And for a largely suburban community it simply fails to impress me nor do I see it as some larger educational event – those who ‘get it’ participate while those who don’t continue on their merry way. And they did – I walked around my ‘hood yesterday and will be blogging more about it here shortly – and saw the normal flow of traffic. There were no suburban parts of the event. There was hardly any communication about the event. There certainly weren’t coordinated community events to reduce trips in any other part of the City. Yesterday was, in essence, an extension of the Covent Garden Market appealing to the already converted choir.

Some have seen this as an attack on their participation – they shouldn’t. Nor do I necessarily believe its a bad thing to start somewhere. But I think it’s also terribly misguided to believe a 3-hour street closure comes anywhere close to achieving much of anything. In fact from an environmental point of view, the local impacts of a temporary street closure can create unintended consequences. When a street is permanently closed, drivers get a deeper message and change their routes. San Francisco’s experience around the collapse of The Embarcadero freeway taught us that the removal of roads ‘disappears’ traffic – the trips just aren’t made. A temporary closure, like construction, causes confusion and frustration, delays and resulting emissions increases.

I’ve spoken publicly and written articles about our need to introduce Road User Charging on Canada’s roads asap. Until we match price with cost, we’ll never get anywhere. That’s what aggravates me about arguments like the one I’ve apparently had to engage in to protect my ‘doubting Thomas’ position. It’s like worrying about putting out a fire on a sinking ship. I’m not sure my views on this issue are any different than people like James Howard Kunstler, Jane Jacobs and a host of other Transportation economists, urban planners and those who’ve thought about transportation systems and human behaviour.

So now you can go and join the group I started on Facebook to advocate permanently closing Dundas Street to traffic from Wellington to Ridout Street. Let’s see if we can’t build on the momentum of yesterday’s Street Party.


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