Isn't it amazing what resources and attention can be brought to bear on certain problems? SARS sparred with WAR for a while. Then, with Iraq vanquished, SARS commanded and still holds the front pages. Out of nowhere, governments find millions of dollars for SARS and billions for WAR. The media-fed crisis trumpets the toll: 34 dead and rising in T.O. from SARS. Thirty-four people dead before their time is tragic. But on the eve of this year's Smog Summit, taking place this weekend, we have to ask, what if that many people were dying every 12 days in Toronto of a known, treatable urban disease?
Why do we rarely hear about Toronto's out-of-control CARS epidemic? Did you know that a thousand Torontonians die annually from toxic air, largely from tailpipes? Did you know that our city council recently voted to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new downtown road that will bring more toxic car traffic downtown?
It's a global crisis when 500 million tailpipes spew poisons into our common atmosphere that later nestle in the deepest recesses of our lungs, where oxygen is absorbed into our bodies via our respiratory systems. That's respiratory, the "R" in SARS.
Typing everything in CAPITALS is bad manners. It's akin to SCREAMING. So let's calm Sars down. There.
Now on to CARS. Pick up a newspaper or flip on the tube and CARS are all over the place in sleek and sexy full-page ads, in special sections staffed by a raft of autophilic reporters.
For 20 years Toronto's city clerk has published reports and commitments to build a city where people matter, where the focus shifts away from CARS. The Official Plan talks about making sustainable choices and not compromising future generations.
So it's a shock that building a new road, with access ramps to the Gardiner downtown, the so-called Front Street Extension, could even be on the table. But the bulldozers are revving and the concrete mixers spinning. It was projected to cost $172 million - whoops, now up to $245 million and growing. Can we really afford to spend $3,000 per inch on a new downtown road? Too many Toronto city councillors have a windshield view of the world. Most alarming is councillor Joe Pantalone's boosterism, since the freeway will bring more mayhem to his own ward. Strange behaviour from the city's self-avowed tree advocate.
Skill-testing question: what causes more tree mortality (not to mention human mortality), car fumes or dog pee? In Amsterdam they're turning former street parking spaces into playgrounds for kids. But in Toronto kids swelter in the smoggy heat because there's no money to open the swimming pools. What if this quarter-billion were spent on uncovering creeks and creating neighbourhood ponds? Think what we could do with the 30 to 40 per cent of the city's surface area that's now choking under asphalt.
And while we're at it, let's establish a network of green, shady trails north and west and south. Then grab all those railway rights-of-way, stick up a fence, put down some crushed gravel as they've done in Montreal along an active CP line downtown and create bicycle expressways. Then let's create some car-free zones. When the CARS crisis is acknowledged for what it is, all kinds of things will become possible.