I've always felt that we all have within us another person: One who wants to break the good rules and enforce the stupid ones. One who delights in tearing apart communities and doesn't think twice about shoving aside the noble beliefs he or she otherwise espouses. One who is inherently self-centred. This other person is our inner motorist.
This split is evident in the way gentle people become road warriors, or in urban car lovers touting the freedom of driving but cursing gridlock. The complex manifests itself most markedly in those who are duty-bound to demonize cars but haven't yet exorcised them.
Take the city's move this week to kill ambitious plans for this fall's Car Free Day, an international day celebrating car-free transportation.
Some 1,500 cities in Europe alone mark the occasion, and others, such as Bogotá, in Colombia, close their streets to cars for the day. Toronto, however, is skittish about inconveniencing motorists.
The original plan, outlined in reports from the board of health and the works department, envisioned a car-free zone in the core along Queen and King Streets from Church to Spadina, from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. The works committee, responsible for a final proposal to council, pared the funding request from $500,000 to $110,000 and signed off on a zone of Queen West from Yonge to Spadina, between 10 am and 3 pm. On Monday (January 31), the budget advisory committee nixed even that.
Councillor Adam Giambrone notes that the Car-Free funding decision must still go through the policy and finance committee. "There's still discussion," he says, adding that the mayor's office may still try to push it through.
The mayor's media spokesperson, Patchen Barss, mentions no pushing. "It's a real shame that it was struck from the budget," he says. "If there's any way to still have it within the city's means, the mayor supports it. But this is the hardest budget we've ever had."
Gord Perks of the Toronto Environmental Alliance is very disappointed, though he notes that the city's current sustainability campaigns remain. Carfree day, he says, are needed to "draw them all together and bring them up a level," he says. "Then we can change the culture at City Hall."
That culture can only be influenced by addressing one of our great shared contradictions: the person within each of us who loves and hates cars.
It was works committee chair Councillor Jane Pitfield who moved the watered-down plan before the budget committee did in the whole thing this week - but not because of finances, and possibly in spite of herself.
"From the reaction I was hearing from the business community and the public, we cannot encourage people to explore options other than cars by forcing them," she tells me via cellphone from a taxi. (According to Giambrone, one such "community member" was the Canadian Automobile Association, which was naturally concerned that the event would increase pollution).
"I also think that watering it down to avoid rush hour makes it too easy for people to bring their cars. Why would we support an event that isn't going to cover peak rush hour?" Pitfield asks. Well, I don't know. Have you asked the other Jane Pitfield? Are the two of you able to communicate?
The chair may or may not agree. "I think it makes more sense to actually cordon off more than one street," she says. All right, so why put the brakes on the original plan?
"It would have been an exercise in great frustration," answers motorist Pitfield. "Many people would have felt it was forced on them and would have tried to make sure it never happens again." It's counterproductive to embitter people when you're trying to get them to do something for you. Point taken.
Still, I find the councillor's words too familiar. I know many people who use similar language to describe the traffic status quo. I'm also reminded that the vast majority of smokers also felt - rightly - that the smoking ban was forced on them, and many merchants were similarly concerned about lost business. But smoke-free Toronto survives.
"I'd love to see the same measures put on cars as on smoking," says Shamez Amlani, proprietor of Kensington bistro La Palette and a member of pedestrian activist group Streets Are for People. "Like a ban on advertising: stop making cars look sexy to young people. Warnings on the hood of each car: 'Cars are the leading cause of death in schoolchildren.' Or a list of toxic chemicals by the tailpipe."
Amlani was one of many Kensington locals involved in organizing last summer's Pedestrian Sundays, which were controversial among merchants. "As a business owner, I think businesses definitely stand to gain," he says. "And Queen and University? I don't see how they couldn't. But there are different kinds of businesses.'
According to a survey of merchants by the city's community outreach department, dry goods sellers in Kensington tended to report lower revenues on car-free days than cafés and restaurants. After the events, a slight majority of Kensington merchants indicated some level of support, but those who were against were dead set against.
"I wouldn't want to see Kensington turned into a car-free zone overnight. You have to worry about changing a neighbourhood too quickly," says Amlani. "It's a matter of building consensus.'
Exactly. And that's why it's so short-sighted and cowardly to cut an experiment that will score points for pedestrian power.
"The ultimate goal," says the Sierra Club's Michael Noble, "is to support numerous year-round initiatives" like BikeShare, the Toronto Cycling Path and the TTC Ridership Growth Strategy. "They get people thinking about new ways of travelling. And I think there are those who would be inspired to start new initiatives."
I ask Pitfield if she thinks we'll ever have a car-free core. "I think we're more likely to change the technology," she says. "Once pollution's gone, what about cars is there to complain about?"
Crowded cities on an inhuman scale? Death and injury? Sprawl-induced destruction?
"Right," she says. "Absolutely right." Thanks. And, you're doing it again.