Mayor Ford ends the 'war on the car' and starts one against motorists

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Don Cherry has a lesson to teach Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Cherry has spent a career promoting the hockey fighter, sometimes known as the enforcer or goon. The problem is that the science of brain injuries has caught up with (and passed) his assertion that the violence of these bare-knuckle encounters doesn't really hurt anyone, and helps the game. Indeed, the very fighters whose role Cherry has championed are increasingly turning out to be the game's victims.

The cause that Ford championed most loudly during the election was that of motorists. On taking office he declared that the war on the car was over. He eliminated a small vehicle registration tax, then moved forward on his congestion relief plan by getting transit out of the way of motorists. Two of three streetcar lines approved by the previous administration were shelved and a third line would go underground at significantly higher cost. He even promised to build a new subway line. Cyclists, too, were targeted. The council he leads voted to eliminate three bike lanes at a projected cost of $400,000.

Science, and experience, makes it clear that Ford's solutions won't work -- and the main victim will be the motorist.

First, our roads are not congested because of too much transit and cycling; they are congested because of too little of it. Putting 20-50 people in a streetcar or bus takes up far less road space than the same people in single-occupant cars. Cyclists take up only an invisible part of the street, or, on the two per cent of Toronto roads that have bike lanes, a fraction of a car lane. Blaming cyclists for congestion and expanding roads by gobbling up the slivers of roadway dedicated to them confirms that the car-based transport model is out of gas.

Ford's cancellation of the vehicle tax deluded motorists into thinking that they were being unfairly targeted. The truth is that motorists underpay for local roads, while people who travel by foot and bike overpay. As a homeowner paying property tax, I understand the math. My bike puts less strain on our roads, but I pay as much tax as my two car-owning neighbours.

Second, the cost of operating a car will continue to rise. The average motorist already pays over $9,000 per year in vehicle costs (capital, repairs, insurance, parking, gas, etc.). Gasoline prices will continue to rise -- the millions of people in China and India aspiring to car ownership will make sure of this. Without improved transit and safer cycling, motorists will be stuck in their cars.

Finally, motorists pay other significant costs. The lack of exercise makes them more prone to long-term health issues like diabetes. More importantly they remain, despite improved vehicle safety features, the most common victims of fatal road collisions.

Motorists, like hockey fighters, will come to learn that advocates like Ford who champion their cause aren't always doing them a favour. Ford may have ended the war on the car, but his war on the motorist is just beginning.

It's not too late Mayor Ford. By embracing citywide transit improvements including those in the previous administration's Transit City Plan and making roads safer for cyclists you can become a real champion of motorists.

Albert Koehl is a hockey fan and an environmental lawyer focusing on efficient transport.

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