Traffic calm, readers not

March 21st, 2007
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As mentioned by Mr.K. in a previous entry, our lapse into the Byzantine world of traffic and urban planning has sparked a great interest among readers. It’s our pleasure to excerpt and e-mail sent by Bob Hooper, with his observations of traffic in two Canadian cities:

Every intersection (in a 50-year-old residential neighbourhood) we went through was a four-way stop. This because the neighbourhood was off a major Toronto road obviously meant to cut down traffic. Of course there were so many stop signs people didn’t stop they sort of slowed down to yield and look before going to the next intersection. It was irritating and lead to unsafe driving habits, sound familiar?

In Calgary, you go by some of the older areas that have backyard garages and laneways and virtually every house has a car parked in front. If you ever park in one of these areas to visit someone or shop you get the look as if you’re parking in “someone’s” space, on a public street. Apparently, whatever is in their garages, it most likely isn’t their car. Or how about in inner-city neighbourhoods – parking by-permit-only zones for local residents only? No parking is understandable, but why do local residents get precedence on what is a public piece of land? In Ottawa you can pay $120/year to park anywhere in a particular zone on the street, but in Calgary I think these are all free and you can even get guest passes.

This is a process which I will call the private control of public assets. Roads by their nature are paid for by all taxpayers, unless they are on private land. But everywhere people seem to deem the stretch of road that runs in front of their house as their property. Because their house is there, they feel the parking spot in front of the house belongs to them. We seem to be offended if the cars that pass our houses aren’t doing so because the people driving them are coming to see us or our neighbours.

How many other instances can you think of individual people or local community groups of people “asserting” local ownership over public goods?

What is it about ourselves that we think that public property adjacent to our own property, or property that we use more often than someone else some how gives us a bigger ownership stake then other people in the same community who helped pay and maintain it? Why are our municipal governments set-up to pander to this selfish, self-indulgent, parochial attitude instead of the greater public interest? Until these matters our solved, the reason for traffic calming measures will continue.

As a last point, my favorite traffic calming measure the city introduced a couple of year ago was on 4th St. N.W. between 20th Ave. and Queen’s Park Cemetery. A beautiful four-lane road. Then in that 4 or 5 km stretch the city put about a half-dozen concrete barriers to change the traffic to two lanes every 500 metres or so. About six months after the experiment they removed all but four or five, but it still bottlenecks the traffic. Why? Traffic calming on what is a four-lane street, not just a wide two-lane street that could be potentially expanded to a four-lane?

Well said, Bob. We will continue on the topic of interrupting traffic flow and asserting private ownership on public land.

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