They're the high-speed adrenaline rush that automobile advertisements are made of.
How can pedestrians get anywhere when highway crossing ends abruptly in a dirt trail?
I'm talking about the maze of highway on- and off-ramps slicing kilometres-wide pedestrian no-go zones through the heart of the city. The folks at the Ministry of Transportation will tell you that if we allow pedestrians to safely cross the ramps, the world as we know it will end.
"Providing signals or a crosswalk may give pedestrians the expectation that a vehicle is more likely to stop," says MTO spokesperson Jackie Mahon.
Yes, providing bike lanes or pedestrian amenities might only encourage people to ride or walk through the dangerous weaving traffic associated with these highway access lanes.
Nonetheless, the city of Toronto has actually proposed their elimination altogether, along with interchanges, from time to time.
Consider what's happening to the South Kingsway in Swansea. A recent interchange environmental assessment recommended replacing some of the ramps of the Gardiner with a traffic signal and link road.
But in July, caving to the concerns of vocal motorists, local councillor Bill Saundercook declared the link road option "officially dead."
Like a ping-pong ball, though, the plan bounced back earlier this month thanks to a motion passed by the planning and growth management committee.
Committee member and Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor Peter Milczyn describes the Swansea improvements as "not a big deal" compared with plans for his ward like demolishing the Six Points Interchange where Bloor, Kipling and Dundas collide.
Removing Six Points, Milczyn says, "will make the community whole again. It's a huge amount of public land [about 10 hectares]." The proposal to replace ramps with offices, parks and a new Etobicoke Civic Centre will be presented at a public meeting Monday (October 29)
We might take a lesson from other cities.
Montreal is in the final phase of demolishing its Avenue du Parc interchange at the base of Mont Royal. The city took the unusual step of holding a contest to decide what to do with the land and received over 100 submissions that will be made public in November.
Many U.S. cities even the Motor City itself, Detroit were forced to provide practical freeway crossings like pedestrian bridges because their expressways hacked through the beating heart of pre-existing communities crammed full of people.
By contrast, Toronto's highway mileage generally follows the path of least resistance through parks, industry or farmers' fields, where there was little pressure to accommodate pedestrians.
But as condos go up, more and more conflicts will arise between increasing numbers of those on foot or bike and cars.
In the north part of the city, for example, residents Ron Hart and pedestrian advocate Helen Hansen have been fighting for a decade to make the Highway 401 and Yonge interchange more pedestrian-friendly.
But like previous requests, theirs rammed right into a concrete wall.
Residents weren't asking for much, just sidewalks and signage or rumble strips to alert motorists to crossing pedestrians. When signs finally appeared, they read, "Pedestrians yield to motorists"!
The MTO says further pedestrian improvements could interfere with the flow of traffic on Yonge or the 401. At the city, the manager of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, Dan Egan, says there likely won't be sidewalks added because of "unsafe conditions created by the ramps."
Standing on Yonge near the 401 entrance, Hart shows me a loopy pedestrian off-ramp that was built instead of the convenient crossings they requested. We follow the fenced trail that arcs east, then south around the massive interchange, through tunnels, eventually looping over Yonge Street to join another sidewalk where both end abruptly in a dirt trail.
Rather than debate the value of this engineering curiosity, let's just say that Toronto is headed down the wrong path when it takes a healthy person 15 minutes to legally walk across an intersection.
The MTO spends billions expanding highways, lengthening ramps and fighting to keep obstacles at bay, but it's not pedestrians impeding the sacred flow of vehicles. It's other vehicles.
Hart demonstrates how to cross some of the other clogged Yonge-401 exits and entrances during rush hour, gingerly squeezing sideways between cars in stop-and-go traffic. I chat with a young woman who's walking her bike along the sidewalk. She says she normally rides on the street, but considers this part of Yonge "too scary."
It's not her imagination.
This stretch of Yonge approaching the 401, turns into a high-speed limited-access arterial with no street intersections for more than a kilometre.
The MTO claims it's willing to build pedestrian bridges "if it can be demonstrated that there is an identified need or demand for pedestrian or cycling facilities."
But not one cent of this year's $1.7 billion highway budget goes toward studying and identifying potential pedestrian crossings.
I ask the MTO how constructing impediments to walking and cycling jibes with environmental concerns like global warming. They tell me keeping cars flowing reduces idling.
Ontario's economy is built around the automobile, and the MTO seems determined to steer us ever faster toward this dead end.