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GREENINGS (Oct. 2017): Down to the data

November 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

What’s left out is just as important

The data is in on the Bloor Street pilot bike lanes, and it seems to support keeping the lanes. (Now that the bike lanes are in, even on a pilot basis, it’s a little surreal to me that anyone actually wants to pull them out.) But speaking of data, it’s worth thinking about which data gets included, as well as how the data itself is interpreted.

Why should the neighbourhood continue to function as a thoroughfare for car commuters? This is a neighbourhood, not a highway.

There’s the traffic flow studies, whether cars have been delayed, and how many cyclists use the lanes. The local BIAs have also spent a lot of money studying the impact on businesses, considering the difficulty with loading supplies and that sort of thing. But absent from these studies is data that is harder to quantify.

For example, a Barcelona Institute for Global Health study found that children exposed to fine particulate matter (found in car exhaust) had a reduction in the growth of working memory. Then there’s the association between commuting by bicycle and lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The majority of people operating businesses on Bloor Street have reported an increase in business, something that goes against the wisdom of the majority of shop owners. It’s a sign of the changing times that more business comes from foot and bike traffic than cars. Young people are shunning vehicle ownership in droves and with good reason. Who wants to sit in traffic all day long? Fewer than 10 per cent of patrons along the corridor depend on a car to get where they are going.

Why should the neighbourhood continue to function as a thoroughfare for car commuters? This is a neighbourhood, not a highway.

If we want to increase business further, we need to take the money we put into subsidizing car parking spots and put it into making transit more affordable. At $3.25 per ride, it’s a big deterrent for me to get out and spend money. I know, for my family, we stopped going to dinner at places that aren’t within walking distance unless we are meeting friends or family. The extra $13 every meal adds up.

Here’s another piece of data we know. Westbank plans on adding 800 residential units to the former Honest Ed’s site. If cars have a long commute now, wait until there are 800 more cars in the neighbourhood and there are no bike lanes to encourage cyclists to relieve the congestion.

The data also leaves out the impact of technology on transportation.

Few people in the tech sector think that a broad rollout of driverless cars is more than five to ten years away. Self-driving vehicles will mean a lower percentage of vehicle ownership altogether.

Car culture will go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes any society has ever made. The more we build, the more congestion we will get. Public policy that focused on moving cars is an anachronism of the past. The reality is that we no longer have to plan our cities, and our lives, around cars. Car makers are no longer the big employers they once were.

The evidence is already overwhelming in favour of the bike lanes. A lot of data has been presented, but a lot of data has been left out, mostly because we can’t quantify it. This goes for all data-driven decisions.

Evidence-based decision making is great. We just have to know which evidence is and isn’t being considered.

Terri Chu has a master’s degree in engineering, and is committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.



Reducing paper waste (Fall 2017)

Taking tolls to the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway (July 2017)

Lessons from Madrid (June 2017)

Thoughts on hitting the 400 benchmark (May 2017)

Solving the food waste problem (April 2017)

Kellie Leitch was right (March 2017)

Tags: Annex · Life