Why car-centric urban planning sucks

Serena Anagbe / Photo Editor
Cars on a highway.

During the 20th century, the transportation system completely changed life as we knew it. Gone were the days of horse-drawn carriages, streetcars or walking. Instead, there was a new darling entering the scene. By 1953, almost 80 per cent of travel was done by automobile.  

The rise of the automobile age ushered in better economic standards, more job opportunities and increased productivity. Cars became the glue that held together the modern capitalist society even to this very day.  

I have never owned a car. I don’t want the responsibility of maintaining one and as a student, my funds are limited when it comes to paying for insurance or winter tires. This means I rely on public transit or walking to get to where I need to be.   

I don’t mind walking around the city or riding the bus. Oftentimes, it is a welcome reprieve where I can catch up on an audiobook or people-watch as a daily source of entertainment.  

I can’t say that my walks through the city or the bus rides to campus are completely idyllic journeys. Based on a 2016 census, data suggests that those taking public transport take 53 per cent longer on their commute than those who drive. This does not even account for the time it takes to get to the public transportation in the first place. If you live in larger metropolitan areas such as Toronto, there are TTC stops or stations in nearly every neighborhood. Data from Statistics Canada suggests that on average, 56 per cent of the population in towns with under 500,000 people live within 500 meters of a publica transport stop.

Isn’t that supposed to be the point at the end of the day? Cities should be designed with their inhabitants in mind, not their Honda Civics. The roaring success of the automobile industry has left little room for anything else in urban planning. If there is one thing you need for certain in Canada, it’s a car. Canada’s cities are the furthest thing away from walkable, with amenities such as grocery stores or schools being kilometers apart. 

Canada’s urban planning is designed with the car in mind. The infrastructure and the roads almost entirely cater towards the use of private vehicles. This is evidenced through the sprawling highway systems and parking lots the size of football fields commonplace in any major Canadian city.  

This prioritization of cars has led to a range of complex health, social and environmental impacts. Car-centric cities has caused poorer health outcomes with the rise of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, increased use of fossil fuels, social isolation, pollution and exacerbate wealth inequalities by limiting opportunities for those without cars. 

A shift away from car-centric city design is the necessary next step that all cities across Canada should take. There is an obvious need for the use of cars. They are convenient and make getting around far easier than being without them. However, there is an opportunity to allow people to dictate the building of cities. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to be able to get to where I need to go without a car. 

Similar sentiments have even been shared by the City of Brantford. The city developed the Transportation Master Plan which aims to address “transit service improvement/enhancements to promote increased transit use and the provision of active mode infrastructure to promote increased cycling and walking.”  While the 20th century marked the dawn of the automobile, the 21st century can be marked with the rise of sustainable, equitable and community-focused urban design.

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 7 on Thursday, March 7.

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