- May 18, 2007 4:46 PM |
- By Quirks
A trip home from the Quirks office by public transit, which should have taken 25 minutes, took more than an hour this week - thanks to an errant piece of marble falling from a downtown office building. The crumbling office tower is a story in itself, but the closure of a few city streets within a two-square-block area produced such traffic chaos that even walking was difficult. It was a clear reminder of how close to gridlock our cities are becoming and underlines the need for more sensible ways of getting around urban areas.
The craziest part of this chaotic story is that I was riding a streetcar, an electric vehicle that runs on rails. In most cities, rail traffic has its own right of way, but in Toronto, the streetcars share the road with cars, trucks, taxies, bicycles, hot dog carts and any other form of transport people use to clog the streets. So if there’s a traffic jam, the rapid transit system is not so rapid.
Recently, during one of the first smog alerts of the year, I began counting the number of vehicles, especially trucks pretending to be cars, driving on top of the streetcar tracks with only one person inside. There was lots of time to do the count because my streetcar was buried behind that long line of vehicles that crept along at a walking pace. I lost count, but figured it was about every 3rd or 4th vehicle fit that category. Now, that’s not a very scientific study, but it illustrates the conflict between rubber and rail. They don’t belong together.
Considering this country was founded on a ribbon of steel running coast to coast, we haven’t done a very good job of continuing that tradition in our largest cities. Railways are one of the most efficient methods of moving mass, seconded only by ships. Because of the small contact area between a hard steel wheel and a hard steel rail, the rolling resistance is extremely low. So thousands of tonnes of wheat can be pulled by one or two locomotives. If you make the train electric and build it with lightweight materials, then you have a clean, efficient, people mover. (I know, you have to think of where the electricity comes from, but at least the pollution is in the generating station and not in the vehicles.)
So here we have a situation in Toronto where a clean, efficient vehicle on rails, carrying 100 people, is stuck sitting behind long lines of single person cars, each with engines capable of producing hundreds of horsepower, idling in traffic, spewing smog- causing gasses out their tail pipes. This is nuts.
Especially when you consider that Canada’s Bombardier is a top producer of light rail transit vehicles used in cities around the world. What’s wrong with this picture?
- Bob Mcdonald
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