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The problem of sustainability in most of the North American cities and Toronto in particular is a confounding one. The resultant pattern of sprawling regional development has contributed to utilization of large space and tracts of agriculture land. This practice has led to the serious damage of the ecosystems especially because they required high level of automobile use. The eventual spatial segregation of class and social groups has also greatly undermined existence of communities that are place oriented among other numerous problems. In order to ensure more sustainability in metropolitan environments, government initiatives do not seem to bear fruits as the situation is always deteriorating day after the other posing many unresolved questions to regional planners. This essay discusses the problems associated with automobile dependency in North America with special focus on Toronto. It also highlights the possible remedies to these problems as well as describing the inhibiting factors to sustainable planning in transport sector.
Problems of Automobile Dependency in Toronto and Other Cities
Most transport problems are often related to urban areas because urban dwellers rely heavily on transport for mobility. The productivity in any urban environment is highly dependent on an efficient system of transport for transferring of laborers, goods and consumers between assorted origins and destinations (Wheeler, 2000). Most serious issue is that many crucial transport terminals such as ports, railways yards, bus stations and airports are located within urban areas. This has largely contributed to an extensive array of problems as highlighted below.
First of all, the problem of traffic congestion and shortage of parking yards has become one of the most perplexing issues that Toronto metropolitan is grappling with. It is for a reason that the dire need to satisfy the necessities of over one million inhabitants. The ever growing need for mobility has always outpaced the supply of infrastructure leading to an incredible congestion in large urban agglomerations. The demand for parking space has also become directly proportional to the expansion of motorization, as majority of city dwellers prefer automobiles for quicker mobility (Harrison, 2000). This kind of congestion triggers the challenge of parking where a number of motorists would spend a couple of minutes cruising around searching for parking spots. Already this eats too much into their working time and, hence causes unnecessary inconvenience in their schedules. Similarly, some freight tracks would consume double parking spots during loading and unloading; a situation that adds to the same problem.
Besides this, there is a problem of longer commuting as a result of looking for affordable residence farther from the central areas of the city. Due to congestion in the central business district, many houses would also become expensive because of high demand. Therefore, many people, especially the low income earners would prefer to move slightly far where they can get affordable housing and still rely of automobile for transport to and from the city although they are apparently oblivious of the problem of poor health and isolation from their loved ones.
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On the other hand, there is a chronic problem of inadequacy of public transport since many of the public transit systems are un-roadworthy and, therefore, unfit to render transit services. This has prompted the Toronto metropolitan to borrow a leave from Montreal to introduce bike-sharing policy to avert this menace but seemingly the policy has not yet sunk into the minds of majority of the Toronto inhabitants. The policy of bike-sharing would lead to reduced overdependence on automobiles for mobility which is hitherto resulting to overcrowding and causing untold discomfort among the dependents.
Similarly, there are massive difficulties for non-motorized transport still as a result of intense traffic. Mobility of pedestrians, riders and even cart pushers in the suburbs as well as in the central business district of Toronto, and even in other cities have greatly been impaired. This is also partly attributed to irregular sustainability planning in metropolitan context, which did not factor in the non-motorized transport because people’s tendency to walk or cycle is minimal when traffic is tense (Scott, 1996).
In the same breath, overdependence on automobile transport has contributed to massive loss of public space which is often converted into road reserves. Public spaces, which have since been utilized for markets, parades, processions and games activities, have gradually been encroached on by roads’ authorities, which have constructed more roads to keep pace with the increased demand. In some cases, these vital activities have shifted to shopping malls where they have subsequently been highly commercialized. In other words, traffics flow has adversely affected social interactions and street activities.
Further from that an expansive transport infrastructure such as that of Toronto attracts exorbitant maintenance costs and hectic circulation disruptions during repairs. In cases where maintenance has been delayed, costs have also been kept low although at the expense of future inflation due to overhaul and massive repairs. The more extensive the transport network, the higher the financial burden for the maintenance.
Furthermore, dependency on automobiles has deadly environmental impacts and energy consumption. The kind of pollution generated from these machines seriously impedes the quality of life, and poses health threat to an enormous urban population. Worse still is the high dependence on petroleum due to increased energy consumption by urban transportation. For instance, peak oil demand is increasingly associated with peak mobility expectations, hence resulting in high prices.
Worth noting are alarming rates of accidents and fatalities related with traffic in urban areas. Although road safety is a key priority among many road users in Toronto, road safety issue is still confounding in many urban areas, especially in developing countries where accounts significantly for the share of recurring delays in traffic, injuries and loss of lives. In fact, there is a growing anxiety among people whenever they are using road transport for mobility.
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Finally, the need for freight distribution has greatly contributed to growing quantities of goods moving within urban areas. This is due to emphasized globalization and materialization of economy giving rise to increased generation of freight. Since freight usually shares infrastructure with the circulation of passengers, it has become problematic prompting the city logistics to craft strategies of mitigating various challenges related to freight distribution.
Remedies to Automobile Dependency
Due to the rampancy of the aforementioned problems associated with automobile dependency, North American cities including Toronto should stipulate mechanisms to mitigate the looming threat as a result of over depending on motorized transport. First of all, they should devise a system whereby there is controlled access to highways that are congested by filtering entry whereby vehicles enter one by one unlike in the past when they could stampede into the highways in groups (David, 2014). The outcome of this would be reduced disruption on highway flows, lower rates of accidents and quick mobility by motorists and non-motorized transport.
Nevertheless, they should synchronize traffic signals to the time and direction where there are chronic traffic flows. This will be very effective since signals would be adjusted hourly depending on the changes in patterns of commuting, for instance during morning hours when people are rushing, afternoon when they are on lunch break and in the evening when they are exiting from work. Usually, these are the times that experience inflated traffic. As a result, unnecessary delays and traffic related accidents will be reduced drastically.
Besides, the traffic personnel should also find an agile way of managing incident as they arise to avoid blockages that usually result in long traffic jams. They should make vehicles that develop mechanical hitches or get involved in accidents are ridded off the road as quickly as possible. This will ensure that casualties are attended to in good time as other road users are not inconvenienced in their endeavors. Recent statics carried out in Toronto metropolitan revealed that road accidents account to between 20% and 30% of all the causes of congestion on city roads (David, 2014). This is quite high compared to other causes and it is attributed to sluggish response from traffic personnel whenever they are notified about incidents.
Moreover, the transport department ought to come up with restrictions on car ownership to limit the number of those who can own vehicles and to ensure those who own comply fully with the requisite traffic regulations. These restrictions can be imposed through a licensing system where they can introduce quotas in the number license plates that can be issued at any given point in time. Alternatively, the licensing fees should also be high and driving the curriculum of courses on driving to be intensified so that only the serious individuals can be eligible to drive.
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In the same breath, Toronto metropolitan should reinforce the idea of bike sharing, an idea borrowed from Montreal. This is a system that offers short-term bicycle rental service as an alternative use instead of motorized transport. It is available through automated stations which often located at automobile terminuses for passengers to rent out for mobility (Satterthwaite, 1997). This system does not only mitigate the over-dependency on automobiles by reducing congestion in cities but also encourages physical activities among urban dwellers for improved health. This way, bike sharing will contribute to the commencement of more sustainable transportation around world.
Similarly, the city traffic personnel should also embrace the system of carpooling where an individual particularly at the place of work can provide ridership to co-workers if they have a similar origin, destination and/or same commuting time. This also helps to cut down considerably dependency on automobiles although extra care has to be taken to ensure harmonious relationship in supply and demand (Connelly, 2007). More so, the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes should be introduced to ensure that vehicles with two or more have restricted access to lanes that are less congested especially during peak hours. This will inhibit them from congesting lens that are used by high capacity passenger vehicles (Connelly, 2007).
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Another alternative will be to introduce congestion pricing where charges are imposed on specific regions of segments of transport system in form of a toll. Such charges, which can also vary depending on the congestion levels, will restrict some drivers from using those roads forcing them to consider other times of other modes of transit. This can be the best method to restore sanity on roads and counter the fact that public roads are free, therefore, they are used excessively and sometime even haphazardly.
In spite of that, free parking spaces should be abolished through a comprehensive parking management system. This will serve as an effective dissuasion tool to reduce cruising anyhow and enabling only those who ready to pay for the parking to access the slot. This will discourage people who usually want to park anywhere but evade charges (Peter, 2004). For example, at a shopping mall where one may park comfortably then goes on adventure knowing the car is safe. Finally, non-motorized transportation should be encouraged since majority of urban trips are over a short distance. Some inhabitants should resort to walking and or cycling to avoid unnecessary congestion on city roads and in parking slots. In line with the city planners should also focus more on providing walking paths or sidewalks, flyovers and bicycle lanes as a way of encouraging non-motorized mode of transportation.
Challenges Facing Urban Transit in North America
The aforementioned solutions could be very appropriate to restore sanity and harmony in urban roads in most cities of the world other than Toronto. However, the most obvious challenges that may curtail the successful implementation of these strategies are as follows. First, there is the advocacy for decentralization. This option could be helpful although does not fit urban transit since public transit systems are not designed to service low density and scattered urban areas. It will mean that even urban activities be decentralized, thus, making it more difficult and expensive. More so, decentralization promotes long distance trips on transit systems which may hike the operating cost and revenue issues (Garde, 2004).
Secondly, the fixed nature of some infrastructure, such as rail and subway, makes it difficult for the cities to implement their expansion plans. Some of these forms of infrastructure have faced spatial obsolescence since they are designed to service a specific pattern regardless of the dynamic nature of the city environment. Another challenge that may hinder the implementation of the solutions is the issue of connectivity. The fact, that public transport systems are quite independent from other modes and terminuses, makes it completely difficult transfer usual passengers from one system of transit to another. This will completely disorganize city planning making the city to lose essence given that people prefer city life for its easy availability access to facilities and amenities. Disintegrating connectivity will really make mobility hard and may inhibit corporate activities from taking place.
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Furthermore, the issue of competition and loss ridership which the public transport system faces due to cheap and ubiquitous road transport system. The higher level of dependency on the more inappropriate the service of public transport, the more it is outpaced by the convenience of the automobiles. Also, changes in prices of fuel as likely to impose a new equilibrium this new relationship.
In addition, the financing and structures of fares is another potential challenge. It is for a reason that most transit systems for the public have deserted fare structure that is based on distance and adopted a simpler flat rate system (Beland, 2014). This discourages long distance trips for most public will find short trips convenient and cost effective. To counter this condition it may compel city transport regulators to structure the mechanisms to have the transit systems offer more equitable fare structure that is distance based.
The next challenge will be legacy costs which are the tendency of unionized public transport labor taking into streets to protests as a way of creating leverage to negotiate favorable contracts. It is envisaged that this drastic proposed changes will obviously be objected to these uncivilized groups who are often anti-reforms. They will do all possible to curtail the process of reforming transport sector including vandalizing public facilities that are structure to enhance smooth running the sector.
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Finally, the most perturbing is lack of political good wills as well corruption. Most cities have adversely been adversely affected by this pair of vices and in most case force to abort its super city plans on the altar of corruption (Wheeler, 2003). Negative politicization of city initiatives would normally kill the morale of implementers who in most case are obliged to shelf the plans which would have taken much time and expertise to draft them. Much politicization has also prompted legal interventions which usually take unnecessarily long, scuttling the process of reformation. These delays in finalizing changes are what normally create a leeway for more irregularities in transport sector to take root and become quite cumbersome to deal with, leave alone an attempt to outdo them. Corruption on the other side has also been an impeding factor to development since many city planners have been on record having embezzled public funds which would have been set aside for purposes of developing the city’s infrastructure.
Transport system is the pivot for the development and the desired progress of any nation. Through transport, people can access their work places, goods and services can reach their designated markets, and individuals can move around to accomplish their desired missions comfortably. It should be believed that no meaningful activity can take place without a fully-fledged transport system. It is, therefore, very necessary for cities to strengthen the transport sector and shield it from upcoming vices which threaten to crumple it because the collapse of transport sector literally means the collapse of the economy of the country. If city personnel in charge of planning can work hard to counter these challenge and go ahead to implement the earlier mentioned recommendations, it is hoped that the transport sector will be more sustainable and people will gradually embrace the new system as they reduce over-dependence on automobile transport which has more disadvantages than advantages. It is also high time for people to make a paradigm shift from regarding automobile as luxuries to viewing them as necessities. Hence, they will invest in them not for prestige bur only when they deem it is very necessary and when they are cognizant of the fact that the said automobiles can still be used sparingly. If these thoughts were embraced by urban dwellers in Toronto and other cities, positive change will soon be a reality.