Guest Commentary

The solution to Grant Road congestion is a change in thinking, not a wider road

At this moment of unprecedented, human-caused environmental degradation, we are not faced with a decision whether to gradually "greenify" our existing, unsustainable way of life--the degradation is already too great, and the decline into environmental collapse is too sharp. Instead, we need to act quickly and radically.

While many aspects of the proposed Grant Road widening project have included newly popular and trendy green touches, such as solar-powered lighting, landscape shading and water-harvesting, the project itself--the widening of a major thoroughfare--is in and of itself unsustainable. All of the solar-powered lights and water-harvesting will not offset the detrimental environmental impact of the materials used to build it, the cars manufactured to use it (including such "environmentally friendly" cars as hybrids) or the oil used to power all of it (building, manufacture and, of course, driving).

In addition to all of this is the fact that road-widening, as research literature widely demonstrates, has the exact opposite effect on the problem it is designed to alleviate--traffic congestion. As the road widens, more people take to their cars and/or take to using that thoroughfare, in short measure re-clogging the artery and regressing to square one. After millions of tax dollars have been spent, more fuel has been burned and more infrastructure has been created to support the use of the automobile, we are left with the same transportation bottleneck.

Looking at the underlying issue--our presumption that the best mode of transportation is the automobile--is especially pertinent given the recent economic reality of dwindling oil supplies (leading to, until recently, increased gas prices), as well as the even more recent "economic crisis and downturn." Citizens are now, more than ever, willing to consider other modes of transportation, like buses, streetcars, trains, bicycles, etc.

The mistakes of our 50-plus-year-long love affair with the automobile are all too apparent. Instead of continuing to follow in a tradition that has proven itself to be not only outdated, but erroneous, we should follow both common sense and the growing body of research that suggests moving away from the car and toward other modes of transportation. Doing so offers the answers to a few of our most pressing and fundamental problems: our oil dependence, our diminishing quality of life and health, and our destructive environmental impact.

At a time when the federal government talks daily about weaning ourselves off of foreign oil and moving toward energy independence, a hugely expensive project that would expand our dependence on cars is puzzling and provincial, to say the least.

Instead of throwing good money, time and energy after bad, city officials should now--before walking one step further down the well-worn path of "two wrongs make a right"--stop and realign themselves with the highest interests of their constituents, their city and their environment. Although much money and time have already been spent in pursuit of this misinformed goal, much more will be squandered if more asphalt is laid, and more yet if this project is seen to completion.

The $166 million that is slated to be spent on the Grant Road project would be infinitely better spent on actual long-term solutions to our traffic-congestion problem--getting people out of their cars and into buses, trains and streetcars, and onto bicycles and feet--than sinking it into another unforgivably expensive assault on reason and common sense, not to mention our environment.