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PAINFUL TRUTH: We live at the mercy of the auto century

Everything has the cost of cars buried in it
Traffic backed up in Langley. (Langley Advance Times files)

You very well might have to own a car for your job.

Lots of people do. I do. Folks in jobs as diverse as home care aids to farm veterinarians to construction workers need a way to get to a variety of workplaces.

Not to mention all those folks who either work or live somewhere without reliable, frequent transit service. Maybe they don’t technically require a car, but it sure as heck makes life easier.

But we have too many cars. Setting aside the pollution and carbon dioxide, have you ever thought about how much we pay for the infrastructure to have and use those cars?

The most obvious is the money you pay in taxes for the roads, bridges, and tunnels. Plus maintenance: line painting, snow plowing, pothole repairs and so on.

But you also pay a lot indirectly.

First of all, your rent or mortgage subsidizes car ownership, because every municipality mandates a minimum number of parking stalls per unit. This increases the size and cost of single family homes and townhouses, and it means condos have to dig big holes in the ground for parking lots before they can build a single unit of housing. Even if you don’t drive, you’re paying for cars just by living, well, anywhere.

And the same thing is true of malls and shopping centres which pave over more real estate for cars than they put under a roof for shoppers. Everything you buy costs more because of that parking.

So, what, should we ban cars? Take the bus and bike and walk everywhere?

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t.

We’ve been prisoners of the automobile since sometime around the 1920s. For 100 years, we’ve built all our housing, industrial, office, and commercial buildings around the car. We can’t run the clock backwards. We can only slowly modify the car-centric world we’ve created.

The frustrating thing about this is that for the first time in a long time, we have a variety of options that could allow us to loosen the shackles of car ownership.

READ ALSO: PAINFUL TRUTH: Back on the economic roller coaster

A few years back, I wrote about how the geography of Langley made cycling difficult. All those hills, right?

But now the market for ebikes is exploding. Have you seen all the folks zipping up hills on ebikes? Plus there are a number that come with cargo racks big enough for a Costco shopping trip.

We’ve also got SkyTrain, and Bus Rapid Transit, and electric buses on the way.

But all of that – the ebikes and the buses and SkyTrain – will fail if we don’t serve them the way we served cars for so long.

Minimum parking requirements? How about minimum bike racks! Covered, to keep your ride as dry as possible.

How about higher standards for bus stops, with more areas covered there, too?

How about doubling, tripling, quadrupling the budgets for bike lanes, sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, and traffic calming?

If we pursued the goal of building a world that was people-friendly like we chased the goal of a car-friendly world, we might start to make some real progress over the next decade.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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