March 31, 2010

When Government "Knows" What's Best.

In a recent report of traffic congestion in 24 major urban centers across the globe, Toronto, Canada came in last place for the average daily commute.  There's plenty of reasons for that, not excluding the fact that the population growth in the area over the past few decades has been steep.  But the real culprit, the root cause, is unsurprisingly, unintended consequences resulting from a paternalistic view city political officials and planners.  When government "knows" what's best, you can usually bet that they are going to get it wrong.  What did it mean for Toronto? GRIDLOCK.

Why does this matter to anyone not in Toronto?  It matters because it serves as an important example not only of the problems of government planning but also of how those unintended consequences will ripple through time to become much bigger problems down the road.  The solution has been worse than the initial problem.  It is a lesson that can be applied to  health care reform, to immigration reform, and to a myriad of other agenda items sure to come up over the next two years of the Obama administration.

Toronto did have an expressway plan.  At one point politicians understood the possibility of growth and the importance of the automobile.  In 1966 the plan looked like this (click on the picture to enlarge). Access to the downtown core (the bottom center of the map) was crucial to keeping the city productive.  That's where the jobs were.

But somewhere along the way, politicians started jumping on the environmental bandwagon.  Noise pollution, neighborhood disruption, and noisy activist complaints (not uncommon in the late 1960's and early 1970's led politicians astray.  Astray in the sense that they suddenly knew better than what the free market was demanding.

The expressway system was planned in a grid pattern crossing Toronto to take the City's ever-increasing traffic out of neighbourhoods by routing it around them on by-pass routes, therefore unclogging local streets. Expressways also provided fast routes for the movement of goods. The system would be expanded to keep the growing traffic volumes moving. The anti-expressway movement, which became strong in the early 1970's, argued that expressways took out homes, brought more cars downtown and increased air pollution. This debate caused great controversy and resulted in virtually no new highways being built in Toronto since 1971...
On June 3, 1971 cabinet overruled the OMB, effectively killing the Spadina Expressway extension south of Lawrence Avenue. The new Premier of Ontario, William Davis made this well known statement in the legislature: "If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start. But if we are building a transportation system to serve the people, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to stop."

This second graphic was the result.  The feeling of many politicians, both municipal and provincial, in those early development days, was that the city was better served by a bigger mass transit system.  What politicians like conservative-in-name-only Premier Davis failed to see, was that the free market, serving people's needs, didn't see things the same way.  In clearer terms - serving the transportation system [roads] was serving the free market, which was serving the needs of the very people his none-too-clever statement was meant for.

It is a matter of fact that municipal politics in Toronto suffers from very low turnout, and as a result, the mayorship and city council are dominated by the far left, who are smart enough to take advantage of an opportunity like low voter interest.  They have thwarted highway development at every turn and touted public transit.  The wrongheadedness not only continues, but has been exacerbated by liberalism and the idea that government can force people to take public transit when the clear preference is for cars.  The Toronto Board of Trade study, found that 70% of the people in Toronto commute via their car.

That public transit system the politicians have touted has expanded, but not enough. As the current far left mayor correctly observed
"This isn't complicated. Everybody agrees that Toronto has a fantastic transit system, but for a city of about one million," Miller said. "We stopped building meaningful rapid transit about 30 years ago."
But recognizing the problem is only half the battle.  Recognizing the cure - well, that should be left to the marketplace. His solution is only rapid transit and it's already proven to be a disaster.  The standard liberal hue and cry for 'more funding!" won't solve it any more than it has so far - and rapid transit already has been expanded far more than highways over the last 30 years. The mayor is wrong. As a result, the clueless citizens of a happy green city go on suffering, thinking they are helping the world by crowding onto overcrowded streetcars, buses and trains, paying through the nose for the privilege.

Government knows best? Nope.  Just another example of thinking that they do. Let this be a lesson.  If this can happen with transit in a city of 5.5 million, imagine what it could do in a health care system of over 300 million possible patients requiring government to organize things.  You think an 80 minute commute time to work is bad?  Wait until you see the line ups in your doctor's office.

1 comment:

  1. i visited your site n was good enough then othere site that i visited last month

    work and study


Disagreement is always welcome. Please remain civil. Vulgar or disrespectful comments towards anyone will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Share This