This Magazine

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Oh sweet Jim Stanford—take me away! Oh Margaret Wente—go away!

This Magazine Staff

Writing as one who has choked through each and every one of the 41 Toronto smog alert days so far this year (smog in the middle of winter—now there’s a hopeful trend) I now nominate Jim Stanford for some sort of official position in charge of getting me to work and back. His latest column on brings it all together. Some quotes:

…doctors estimate that smog causes 5800 premature deaths each year in Ontario alone. That’s a stunning toll. Imagine the hysteria if terrorists were to kill even a tiny fraction as many Canadians.

Take Toronto, where well-meaning officials urge commuters (via huge electronic signs over the city’s freeways) to “Reduce Vehicle Use” on smoggy days. Problem is, by the time they see the sign, the drivers are already in their cars. Just turning off the signs would probably save more pollution (through reduced electricity use) than this feel-good message does.

At any rate, if you find it hard to breathe on smoggy days, taking the bus won’t help: it’ll take longer to get to work, and you’ll spend longer outside, without air conditioning, until you get there.

Exactly! What’s a truly concerned, good environmental citizen to do in this city? Take a bullet for the environment by waiting outside in the smog for the streetcar for the twenty minutes (on a good day), and pay only about two bucks less per day than it costs to park at a Green P lot downtown. I know, I’ll ride my bike—that’s cheap—except all that heavy breathing on smog days, directly inhaling the exhaust from Toronto’s SUV driving majority, means I die sooner than jerkboy in the Hummer (of some lung disorder if he doesn’t run me over first).

As Margaret Wente recently reminded us, it ain’t like SUV drivers are really hurting for the extra gas dollars they willingly spend. Bring on $1.10 per litre and give that extra ten cents towards Stanford’s free transit. Hell bring on $1.50 or $2 per litre and let’s see a real commuter train service in Ontario. It’ll never happen says Wente, because groceries are heavy and we don’t want to smell each other.

Balls. I’ve seen the morning bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen. Give people real alternatives and not everyone displays Wente’s remarkable laziness. If the streetcar actually arrived on time and frequently enough for me to have a seat, I’d never drive in the city again. I love my car, but for the most part it is a necessary anchor around my neck. Give me a workable option and it stays underground until I go camping next time.

41 days of smog—has there ever been a better time for radical change?

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