The climate strike in Waterloo last month raised awareness and got people talking about climate change, which is a good thing. What's a lot more important but a lot more difficult to organize and be a part of is the action that is taken after a strike like this. How can we build off this energy?
The solution I am proposing is likely one that will cause many people to roll their eyes or get a bit upset at first, which I understand. However, I hope that once you think it through and you see the bigger picture, you’ll realize it’s actually not too far-fetched and would be in everyone’s best interest.
I believe the one thing individuals can do to have the greatest impact in the fight against climate change is to give up their cars. The best possible thing you can do is sell your personal vehicles, or even better, get them demolished and use the parts to build a bicycle or two. Gas-powered, solar-powered, hybrid or whatever, the autonomy and universality of personal automobiles not only hurts the natural environment, but also makes it harder for everyone to get around the cities at peak times of the day, contributes to social isolation, and wastes so much space in our cities with roads and parking lots that could be used for much more useful and live-giving purposes.
The main argument against this solution of getting rid of cars is: Why would I give up my car if it’s still the quickest and most convenient way for me to get around? The reality is it’s a paradox: Bus routes will only become more convenient and faster, and more cycling infrastructure will only be built, if less people drive cars.
If I ever became some sort of politician that had enough influence, here is what I would do to try to solve the paradox of automobile convenience:
- Create more bus routes through residential areas and have buses running on all routes at minimum every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Reduce every city road to two lanes, wide enough for one lane of buses or firetrucks travelling in each direction, turning the excess lanes into elevated bike lanes and wider sidewalks.
- Create pedestrian-only downtown/uptown cores by prohibiting all traffic except for emergency and delivery vehicles, bikes and rapid transit.
- Motivate people to rent cars, vans or trucks rather than own them by providing a low-cost rental service/car-share program.
- Ban all parking lots/long-term parking spaces in the cities except for one communal lot at every on/off ramp of the highways, which would include a car rental place for those who want to use the highways and would connect to numerous bus routes.
None of these changes are unrealistic. I do realize they are major though, and I don’t think the political will is there at this point to make these kind of changes.
What it’s going to take in the short term at least is for some of us to simply suck it up and live a lifestyle that is more inconvenient than what we’re used to.
It’s going to require us to take longer to get to work or school, and even be late sometimes. It also may require us to get off our butts, to walk or bike in the heat, cold, rain or snow, to get to work covered in sweat. It will require us to compromise, to sacrifice some of our own comfort and freedom of mobility for the greater good.
What we need now is not more pilot projects, but more real action because there are simply too many pilots on our roads.
Jonathan Klassen is a fifth-year general arts student at the University of Waterloo and a member at Breslau Mennonite Church in Breslau, Ont.
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