Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Highways and Trains

Highways and Trains

Doug Ford won his comfortable majority in the last election, so it looks like we are going to get another stupid 400-series highway. So be it. I have a modest proposal: no highways without trains. If you build a highway you have to build rail alongside it.

I probably have expressed this modest proposal before. Certainly it has been in my head a long time. The proposal is a sneaky way to inhibit highway development by making it more expensive, but it also makes a lot of sense. Unlike the Ontario Greens, I concede that sometimes we might need more highways (even the Greens want electric vehicles, after all). But one reason people need highways is because there are not effective mass transit options available. In my head, it is clear that if there is enough demand to build a multi-billion dollar highway, there is enough demand for additional mass transit. So we should build railways whenever we build (or expand!) highways.

Right now we decouple public transit and roads. This is stupid. Both roads and mass transit solve the same problem, and we should build them together. It takes a lot of planning and environmental assessments and land appropriation to build a highway; I think the marginal cost of doing those studies to add rail capacity is pretty small.

Of course, this will never happen, because highways are fundamental infrastructure and trains are a luxury for champagne-sipping elitists. Also, it would be easy to sabotage such a rule even if it was implemented -- you could build the rail lines and then conveniently not fund effective train service along the line. Having only 2-4 trips per day on your commuter rail line is a great way to keep people in their cars. But if the rail lines exist there will be political pressure for them to be used (just look at the push in Northern Ontario for the Northlander).

One might weaken this proposal by saying we need dedicated bus lanes (or maybe even bus service) along all new highways. If I believed politicians would honor such pledges then maybe this could work, but dropping bus service is even more easy than dropping train service.

The real win of this proposal would be if commuters came to their senses and started taking train service along highway routes. Then maybe highways would not become congested as quickly, and we would not need as many highway expansions.

It is clear to me that sprawl is here to stay. When municipalities like Waterloo Region adopt greenbelts and countryside lines, then the sprawly suburbs just get built further away. So be it. But if we built such sprawly suburbs with transit from the start, then maybe we could keep the commuting in check. (I stole this from the Not Just Bikes guy too.)