An argument for small towns

Seems I was not imagining things.  Vancouver is in the top ten worst congested cities in both the Americas.  Rio de Janeiro is the worst followed by Mexico City.  To be fair, that is according to one list, others rank them differently. Makes no difference – traffic is bad.

Vancouver is also going to float a referendum to increase the sales tax to help pay for more rapid transit.  This is on top of a levy that is added to all gasoline purchases.  Good luck!

Seems the planners have not noticed that mass transit has not relieved the traffic at all – in fact, it is worse since mass transit was introduced.  That should not come as a surprise to anyone. Virtually all cities with well-developed transit suffer grid-lock on the streets.  See London. See New York.  Even Hong Kong, with arguably the best transit system covering the smallest area with the most cooperative people, is jammed with traffic on the streets. Conclusion: mass transit makes travel worse.

“Dave!  That’s ridiculous.  If you manage to move more people by way of public transit, then that has to be an improvement for all.  Only makes sense.  That there is more traffic on the streets simply argues for more mass transit, not less.  Don’t be a fool!”  

Sorry.  My bad.  I’m an idiot. Mind you, London and New York do seem to indicate otherwise.  Still, I must be wrong.  I don’t have a degree in planning.  But I was thinking that way because I have just learned that clean hydro power causes much more pollution than even the already-in-place neighbourhood coal-fired plants in China.

In Burns’ words: “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ (planners) men gang aft a-gley”, [often go awry]

Seems the dams (there are 45,000 big dams in the world and half of them are in China) are somewhat seasonal or, for other reasons, their power generation fluctuates.  But the mere existence of a new dam attracts heavy industry and the heavy industry increases pollution in all their individual ways.  Plus, because the heavy industry can’t tolerate fluctuations in power, the utility company backs up the new power demands with even more coal-powered generators.  The once pristine area around a newly built dam quickly becomes a toxic industrial waste zone.

Anyway, I don’t care about logic and/or the narrow reasoning of planners. I am convinced that more public transit causes more traffic regardless of the arguments otherwise (hey, I am just exercising the non-logical, intuitive reasoning of my feminine side which is surprisingly correct most of the time).  It may be illogical, irrational and even counter intuitive but the results are indisputable.

Part of it is that the more the city accommodates people, the more people are attracted to the city and thus traffic increases.  Add to that the fact that most transit is one-trip-only (student from home to school, office worker to office…that kind of thing) and all those one-trip people need to invoke trades and deliveries – none of which can be done on transit – and right there, you have two people doing what in the old days was done by one.

And everyone who rides transit also has a car because, well, on the weekends they want to actually GO somewhere or because they have to shop and carry kids, do hobbies and get in a load of groceries.

Where there used to be one car, there is now a delivery truck, a bus and a sky-train PLUS the original car.

And don’t get me started on buses.  I see ’em all the time and, except for rush hours, they are usually mostly empty.  Great big, slow-moving, always-stopping behemoths paralyzing the streets mostly under-utilized and seemingly picking up a high percentage of crazies and drunks.  Unless you are on a long, straight-line, one-stop-only trip, no one wants to ride the buses.

The truth is we already have roads.  And they go everywhere we are.  Maybe we can use them more efficiently?  Maybe we subsidize the purchase of really small cars and penalize the big limo-sized ones?  Maybe we put some of that transit money into developing pollution-free engines?  Maybe we stagger office hours and shopping hours by four hours? Maybe we restrict big trucks to after-hours (like in Germany)?  Maybe we just encourage more ride-sharing?

Or maybe we just recognize that mega-cities are just plain ugly, expensive and damaging to the area around them and all who inhabit them?

Maybe it is simply time to get out of them?

4 thoughts on “An argument for small towns

  1. No arguement from me re:rapid transit.
    Expensive, taxpayer subsidized trains that were expected to get people out of their cars are a failure.
    The people that ride mass transit have always ridden mass transit because ….they cant afford a car!
    Those that drive occasionally ride transit to a hockey game or some such other event where they will drink. Other than that. Pffft.
    And try and put a bus route into neighborhoods that may actually use it… the NIMBY activists will foam at the mouth at the thought of the noise, pollution and potential crime( yep, lotsa B&E cat burglers leave the scene of the crime via …bus)
    Vancouver voters. Want their “green” status but dont wanna sort through the smelly garbage to extricate the organics from the chaff


  2. We agree again! ‘Cept I still want my Greenie status….I just don’t think public transit does that. I think it fails in every way. Had they invested half those billions on hydrogen powered infrastructure and the other half subsidizing the ‘switch’ for the vehicles, they would have done way way more.


  3. For us there is only one solution for the traffic problems of big cities: BIKES!
    Bikes need less space, they are emission free, you stay fit and healthy and the most important thing: It’s fun to ride your bike!
    It worked in some European cities, but we don’t know if it would work in North American cities, because they have a whole different structur and many Americans are to lazy to ride their bikes.


    • Bikes might work in a tight urban setting (in fact, they do) and N.Americans are not too lazy – it is just a habit they have not developed. I’d ride. So would Sal. But don’t forget, most bike rides (in Europe) are just a quick covering of a distance that is walkable. In N. America most distances that need covering are not walkable. Imagine living and working in LA. Your job is 45 minutes by freeway away. You have kids. Little ones. The bike won’t do the job no matter how young, fit and keen you are. But now imagine electric smart-cars, like golf-carts. No pollution, all levels of ability, capable of carrying loads and 4 of them fit in the same space as one pick-up truck.


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