Friday, November 30, 2007

Subsidizing Auto Dependency

If you drive, you pay charges like the gas tax, registration and license fees, and parking meters, that are supposed to cover the auto-related costs to the public of providing the transportation system. But driving is a subsidized activity because, in spite of these payments, the car does not even come close to paying its own way. To tally up the real bill, analysts must calculate the many car-related costs, including: road building and maintenance; police and emergency services; pollution of air and water; congestion; the effect on the trade deficit of massive petroleum imports; and more.

The Sierra Club's John Holtzclaw, one of the foremost transportation analysts in the environmental community, compiled five major efforts to calculate the total subsidies that support automobile usage. Auto subsidies in the U.S. are almost certainly greater than the entire defense budget; the five estimates ranged from $378 billion to $730 billion per year. The average subsidy ranged from $1,040 to $4,630 per vehicle beyond charges paid by drivers, amounting to $2.20 to $10.70 per gallon of gas consumed. (From Moving Lightly, Living Lightly, December 1993; newsletter of the Sierra Club Urban Environment Committee and Transportation Subcommittee, 730 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, 415-776-2211. Note: This issue is a great resource with a compendium of book reviews and a list of over 100 grassroots Sierra Club activists from 34 states and the issues they work on.)

The costs of suburban sprawl constitute a subsidy borne by the public that encourages developers to buy cheap land on the fringes of town. The Urban Land Institute estimates that it costs $48,000 per housing unit to provide roads, water, utilities, sewer, and schools to sprawling subdivisions 10 miles from town, twice as much as more compact neighborhoods adjacent to town. (The Costs of Alternative Development Patterns. James E. Frank, The Urban Land Institute, 1989.)

The more you look, the more auto subsidies you find. While citizens cannot deduct legal costs when accused of misdeeds, corporations can, even when they admit they are guilty. For example, after Exxon agreed to pay $1 billion in compensation for the Valdez oil spill, they saved half that much on their taxes. Dawn Erlandson, green tax reform specialist at Friends of the Earth, reports that, "under the current tax code, civil damages, clean-up costs, legal fees, and even the value of the (spilled) oil that devastated Prince Williams Sound are tax-deductible."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Development in Vaughan

Look at this 1984 Map of Vaughan. The area around Canada's Wonderland was all farmland. Maple was a small community. So much has changed in the last 15 years. Now most of the land is low-density housing. Development brings a great deal of money to Vaughan, but at what cost? This car dependency has major implications on public health and well-being, permeating into the fabric of everyday life. -S

In 1993, housing development began in the area of what was Maple Airport and to the northwest. In 1995, it expanded to the western part of Maple. Between 1997 and 1999, urban developments reached the northwestern part of Maple and Melville and the Don to the train tracks. Developments also reached the northeastern part and the southeastern part. Megalot houses began developing northeast of Maple near Dufferin in the late-1990s. The housing developments began up to the Highway 400 in the northwest. Housing developments have begun near Vellore.

As of 2001, developments reached the northwestern part as far as Highway 400, Teston Road, the CN line and the southwest. Most of the housing developments in the early-2000s reached Pine Valley Drive in the southwest in Vellore Village and Vellore Woods. The housing and urban developments is currently in the west between Highway 400 and Weston and Major Mackenzie and will reach to Teston.

Most recently there is a new subdivision being developed in the eastern part of Maple between bounded by Dufferin, Major Mackenzie and Rutherford Road. The name of the area is Thornberry Woods/Eagle Hills/Mackenzie Chase. Some of the builders include Greenpark Homes, Treasure Hill Homes, Tiffany Park Homes, Royal Pine Homes, Century Grove Homes, Primont Homes, Edenbrook Homes and Fernbrook Homes and Remington Homes (Thornhill Valley). Some of the street names like "Peter Rupert Avenue" reflect the history of Maple. This new area is directly south of Eagle's Nest Golf Course. This area known as Block 18 has just started development. Its proximity to Richmond Hill, Thornhill (also part of Vaughan) and the Golf Course are making the area very high demand and it is showing in the prices. "Upper Thornhill" (a misnomer name, given to the area by developers for marketing purposes) bounded by Dufferin to the west, Bathurst to the east, Major Mac to the south and Teston to the north is popularly considered a part of Maple.

The Vaughan planning area that includes Block 18 (East Maple), Block 11 (Thornhill/Maple), Block 12 (Upper Thornhill/Maple) and Block 10 (Thornhill Woods) is expected to grow substantially over the next few years. This area is known as the "Carville District"
New areas at the Maple/Thornhill Carville urban village include Thornhill Woods, Coronation, Roxborough, Upper Thornhill Estates, Thornberry Woods, Eagle Hills, Mackenzie Chase, Laureate Walk.

Valleys of Thornhill, also popularly considered part of Maple is also in the early stages of it's development with homes ranging from $400k - $1.2 million

Maple's proximity to Toronto and its major transportation corridors, and Vaughan's own political support for development, have led to the heavy development and heavy population growth. This development brings a great deal of money to the City of Vaughan, as well as the local economy, but at the same time Vaughan is frequently accused of allowing uncontrolled sprawl; Maple is arguably the most prominent example of this. In particular, those that travel up the 400 infrequently notice how much further north the development has moved even in short timeframes. Visitors to Canada's wonderland often remember that ten years ago the amusement park was surrounded by fields; and particularly in the early-mid 2000s has become surrounded by thousands of new houses. Critics suggest that denser, more central development would conserve land and allow the provision of more efficient urban services such as public transit, services traditionally thwarted by the spread-out subdivisions and lack of a dense and central downtown typical of most cities of Maple's size.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tragedy of the Commons

A “tragedy of the commons” is a type of social trap that involves a conflict over resources between an individual’s interests and that of the common good. In this situation, a group of people work toward short-term individual gains, which, in the end, leads to a loss for the group as a whole.

Tragedy of the commons originated from a parable published in 1833 by William Forster Lloyd. The theory itself, however, dates back to
Aristotle who said:

“That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.”

One example of this tragedy of the commons is driving. More people driving more to satisfy their individual needs is actually a tragedy in two ways. Firstly, road capacity gets used up causing traffic congestion for everyone. But more importantly, and tragic, is the global warming, environmental degradation, and the destruction of cities caused by cars, and yet, people drive on.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Mobility Justice

"Governments have subsidised the car so heavily at the expense of everything else that they have caused car addiction. Mobility justice is connected to transportation balance. At present, in North America, there is no such balance. Car transport is almost 95%, public transport is 4.5%, and walking and cycling accounts for the rest. There is no justice in this situation for people who cannot afford cars, and that includes new immigrants, seniors, and lower income families. And now that gas prices have skyrocketed, it has become a problem for the middle class." -Lela Gary, Canada's Air Pollution Coalition

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Call For Better Transportation in Vaughan

The City of Vaughan is a great place to live, work, and play. However, it seems to me that city planners and politicians continue to indirectly encourage people to drive their cars more. If you drive on Major Mackenzie between Keele Street and Bathurst Street, there are sprawling, low-density subdivisions under construction as far as the eye can see. How will public transit effectively serve these communities? Buses will continue to be too slow, infrequent, and inconvenient to attract people away from their cars.

Vaughan is an unfriendly place for those who manoeuvre its streets with a bike or two feet. When cycling in downtown Maple, one has to either risk their life on Major MacKenzie Drive or break the law by riding on the sidewalk. Canadian motorists make an average of 2,000 trips each year that are less than three kilometres, trips that can easily be made by bike. York Region Cycling and Pedestrian Master Plan proposes only 1.5 km of additional bike lanes in Vaughan in the next five years. When priorities are right, a street can be transformed into a vibrant place for people. It's obvious that priorities are elsewhere.

At Vaughan Corporate Centre (Hwy 400 & Hwy 7), the big box stores with their massive free parking lots make walking from one store to another very challenging. Moreover, all this pavement is where nature was before. Where do the birds go? What effect does this have on our watercourses and the air we breathe?

The GO Train takes only 35 minutes from Maple to Union Station. Fantastic! But with only four trains in the morning and evening, Monday to Friday, there is standing-room only. What about those who work in North Toronto, or to the East or West? There are few alternatives to driving, except spending a very long time travelling by bus. In Vaughan, the majority who take transit do so because they don't have an available vehicle, not because it's easier or more convenient. Far from it.

Imagine our City with dedicated lanes for buses and light rail that come every five minutes, so people would choose not to drive. Imagine a network of bikeways throughout the City that would take you anywhere you want to go, with vibrant public spaces to walk and socialize in the absence of noisy traffic. What a wonderful place it would be. We need decision-makers to champion a better transportation system. A happier, healthier, and more sustainable future depends on it!


Hwy 407 @ Keele Street

6 lanes of traffic lanes, but no bike lanes

Check out the state of this sidewalk at Keele and Steeles, as you enter Vaughan!

Buses inch along in rush hour traffic

Cars are the priority here... no sidewalk.

The City of Vaughan has since repaved this intersection (Keele St & Major Mackenzie) but still no bike lanes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


OTTAWA — The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and the Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources Canada welcomed the proclamation into law of the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (MVFCSA).

"Regulating the fuel efficiency of new motor vehicles is an important element of the Government's legal framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Proclaiming the Act is an important step towards achieving one mandatory national standard," said Minister Cannon.

"The proclamation of this act is good news for Canada," said Minister Lunn. "Setting mandatory fuel consumption standards will lead to sustained improvements in fuel efficiency and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles purchased in Canada."

In 2005, the Government of Canada and the Canadian automotive industry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stipulating that the Canadian automotive industry would take actions to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of new vehicles in Canada. The agreement called on the automobile industry to cut GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles (cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks) so that by 2010, annual emissions reductions will reach 5.3 megatonnes (Mt).

Under the MVFCSA, fuel consumption standards will be established for light-duty road motor vehicles. These standards will come into force following the expiration of the MOU between the auto industry and the Government of Canada in 2010 and will be implemented for model year 2011.

MVFCSA standards will be developed with input from stakeholders. They will be designed for Canada to maximize our environmental and economic benefits, will be achievable within the integrated North American market and will be benchmarked against a stringent, dominant North American standard. The new standards will be published by the end of 2008.

For more information on the Government of Canada's ecoTRANSPORT initiatives, please visit

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stop the Alberta Tar Sands!

The tar sands are one of the most dangerous and dirty sources of energy on the planet. The destructive impact of extracting oil from the tar sands is being felt across the province. The people of Alberta are already suffering from environmental and social problems caused by the tar sands. Old growth forests are ripped from the ground and discarded to make way for giant earthmovers to dig up the landscape, an important habitat to wildlife. If all of the proposed leases for tar sands development are granted, the tar sands will encompass an area the size of Florida.

The tar sands are the single largest source of increases in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and one of the main reasons we are not meeting our international obligations under the Kyoto treaty to reduce emissions. By 2020, they will produce double the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars and trucks currently in Canada.

Buried below the Boreal Forest of northern Alberta is a source of oil known as the tar sands. Deposits of tar sands are spread out over 138 000 km2 of land (an area the size of Florida) and including 4.3 million hectares of the Boreal Forest. Until recently, it was too expensive and complicated to extract the tar sands to produce oil, but over the past few years increases in oil prices and technological changes have made it possible, and profitable. Companies are now producing over a million barrels of oil per day from the tar sands, and this number is constantly increasing. But the explosive growth of these projects has huge environmental costs, damaging land, air, water, forests, and the climate. Greenpeace is calling on oil companies and the government to stop the tar sands, for the sake of people and the planet.

It is totally irresponsible for the Alberta government to push for more development in the face of the dire consequences of global warming. If politicians were really concerned about the health of their constituents and the environment, they would be weaning the province off oil and developing clean, renewable energy such as solar, geothermal, and wind power. The solutions exist; what is lacking is the political will.

But this is not a matter of concern just for the people of Alberta. The tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted during the production of tar sands oil do not stay in the province, but are flushed into the atmosphere shared by all living creatures. The tar sands are an environmental crime being perpetrated against the entire planet.

Please do what you can to stop it.

Take Action

If you live in Alberta, send a letter to the Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach asking him to shut down the tar sands and stop polluting the atmosphere:
Stop the Tar Sands, Mr. Stelmach!

If you live in other parts of Canada, write to Prime Minister Harper demanding that he end all access to the accelerated capital cost allowance tax break to any tar sands projects immediately, and ensure that hard emissions reductions targets are enforced in the industry:
Stop the Tar Sands Mr. Harper!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Jim Bradley, Ontario's new Minister of Transportation

Toronto Star
Monday, November 5, 2007

Environmentalists bet on Bradley
New transportation minister expected to exert influence well beyond his portfolio
Peter Gorrie - Environment Reporter

A surprise name comes up when environmentalists assess Ontario's new cabinet. They tout Jim Bradley as the minister, among the half-dozen with a direct impact on green issues, who offers the most hope for progress.

Yes, that Jim Bradley – the gregarious 30-year Legislature veteran from St. Catharines who's been nearly invisible during the past four years in stints as the minister for seniors and tourism, and government house leader.

His new job, minister of transportation, isn't much more of a political powerhouse than those others.

But green observers say transportation policies will be crucial in deciding southern Ontario's environmental fate. They also expect Bradley to wield strong influence beyond the borders of his ministry.

They are pleased by the choices for all six ministries, announced last Tuesday, which include John Gerretsen in Environment, Gerry Phillips at Energy, Donna Cansfield in natural resources, Jim Watson in Municipal Affairs and David Caplan, returning as minister of public infrastructure renewal.

"None of the six is a lead weight; none are anchors," says Chris Winter, executive director of the Conservation Council of Ontario. "They all have the potential to move their agenda forward. We're miles ahead of where we were 20 years ago."

Advocates are also pleased by the government's apparent recognition that environment issues aren't separate from others – as, for example, with the recent report that linked the spread of diabetes to the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by car-dependent suburbs.

"You can see how these things fit together," says Julia Langer, of World Wildlife Fund Canada. Agriculture ministry support for local food buttresses the climate-change plan. Several ministries must mesh to ensure new housing is never more than an easy walk from a transit stop. "The cabinet has to have more than one environment minister."

But Bradley occupies a special place, partly because of his record as environment minister under then-premier David Peterson from 1985 to '90, but also because he's reputed to have been a quiet force since the Liberals regained power in 2003.

"Bradley is considered to be the father of the modern environmental government," says David Donnelly, a lawyer who works on issues such as urban sprawl, building standards and protection of Lake Simcoe.

Among other things, Bradley stared down nickel-smelting giants Inco. Ltd. and Falconbridge Ltd. and other industries that caused acid rain, and, over strong business objections, pushed through regulations that reduced toxic pollution from sewer pipes.

Now, he's in charge of a ministry that's fixated on more and bigger highways and bridges, and that critics argue must shift to support public transit, cycling and walking.

"He does a wonderful `aw shucks' routine," Donnelly says. But "very few people are shrewder.

"He holds a great deal of sway with the cabinet....I expect him to fight and, based on his past history, I expect him to win."

Winter adds: "He had a lot of spine back then (as environment minister) and I don't think he's lost it."

In their most optimistic moments, environmentalists picture Bradley killing plans for new expressways through the Greenbelt – the extension of Highways 404 and 407 and a new route along the Niagara Peninsula and across York Region's mid-section.

More realistically, they say he might reduce the scale of those massive road plans, which seem to fly in the face of the government's claim to want more compact, transit- and pedestrian-friendly communities.

A cautious Bradley, still busy moving to his new office, says he hasn't yet "turned my attention" to that issue. He is certain, though, that much of his effort will focus on how to spend the $17.5 billion Premier Dalton McGuinty has pledged for transit projects.

The other five ministers have reasonable green credentials but those with track records get mixed reviews.

Gerretsen, former mayor of Kingston, earns high marks for creating the Greenbelt over strong objections from developers and landowners. He's downgraded, though, for approving energy-efficiency standards for new houses that Donnelly calls "disappointing."

Caplan, with part of the responsibility for containing sprawl, is praised for general direction but considered weak on putting it into practice. Phillips strongly backed the creation of the Rouge Valley park on Toronto's eastern border.

Friday, November 2, 2007

$17B for transit; that's good, right?

$17B for transit; that's good, right?
Toronto Star, P. A06, October 17, 2007

You can call it the quietest $17 billion gift ever promised the Toronto region in our lifetime - such has been the low-key, almost "I don't believe it" reaction to the province's stupendous funding announcement for public transit. Aired in June, the plan purports to fund just about every wish-list project in Toronto, 905 and Hamilton - busways and LRTs and subway and GO rail extensions. You'd think they'd be screaming in orgasmic delight from the clamshell at Toronto City Hall to the far-flung bedroom communities whose workers must traverse the GTA each day. You'd think there would have been a huge news conference, replete with town crier and horns and ribbons and pronouncements that the holy grail has finally been seized and the Toronto region had finally reached transit nirvana.


Get "GO-ing" on commuter rail
Metroland - Brampton Division, P. 1, October 17, 2007

Town officials are pressuring the province's new transportation authority to put the pedal to the metal to address gridlock on local roads. Council passed a motion last Tuesday calling on the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA) to expedite the 'planning and environmental assessment process, including negotiations with Canadian Pacific Rail, for a new GO rail line between Bolton and Union Station.' "Not only will this help with gridlock on (Highway) 427, it will also help with gridlock on Highway 50 south of Mayfield Road," said Bolton Regional Councillor Annette Groves, of providing GO train service to her community. The motion also calls on the GTTA to create commuter carpool lots with connecting GO bus services in Caledon to encourage commuters to 'park and ride'.

With Jim Bradley as the new Minister of Transport, it appears that GO Transit has a good chance of expanding service to places like Niagara Region. -S