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Old Posted Aug 4, 2014, 8:17 PM
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Danish tourists lament Canadian car culture

Danish tourists lament Canadian car culture


August 4, 2014

By MARIE-DANIELLE SMITH

Read More: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-...an-car-culture

Quote:
A pair of Danish tourists are taking Canadians to task for being far too dependent on motor vehicles and, less directly, for our obesity and the general lack of fulfilment in our communities. In an open letter sent to the Citizen and several Canadian politicians, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, the tourists denounce the smoggy, traffic-filled state of Canada’s major cities.

- Though the tourists call their journey through some of Canada’s busiest metropoles an “incredible adventure” where they met “the most wonderful Canadians,” their overwhelming impression of the country seems to have been “great oceans of car parks.” --- “We were treated like second class citizens compared to cars,” according to Chabowski, who is originally from England but now lives in Denmark. “The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.”

- Having asked Canucks how they feel about their reliance on vehicles, the Danes picked out a few examples of Canadian opinion: “Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers,” said one person in Ottawa, they claim. The couple notes that a few cities were “making an effort to make life livable” by having small businesses, bike lanes and streets suitable for pedestrians.

.....

An open letter to the people who hold power and responsibility in Canada,

My girlfriend and I (Danish) were tourists in your country for 5 weeks this summer. We had the most incredible adventure and met the most wonderful Canadians, who welcomed us warmly into their homes. Apart from these people, who sincerely do your nation credit, our overwhelming memory of Canada is one of cars, traffic, parking and the related obesity and unfulfilled communities. It is an impression that we have since shared with other tourists who have visited Canada.

Before arriving in Canada we had a genuine impression of a clean, healthy and sustainable first world country. Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where. A greater shock came when we discovered that this kind of infrastructure is not reserved just for the sprawl surrounding towns and cities but that highways actually run through city centres too. As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.

An observation that was especially noticeable in Halifax was the sheer amount of land in the city centre given to parking. Ginormous swaths of prime locations for living (parks, shops, cafés, market squares, theatres, playing fields etc – human activities which are key to quality of life) concreted over as homes for an ever increasing number of SUVs (most trucks and SUVs we saw contained only one person. The most SUVs we saw in a row were full of singular people driving through Tim Hortens). We asked the Canadians that we met how they felt living in such a car culture, here are a few of their responses:

- ‘Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers.’ Ottawa

- ‘It’s only 10km to my work place. I would love to cycle, it would only take 30 minutes but it is simply not possible. I don’t feel safe. Instead I park and sweat, meaning after 25 minutes stuck in traffic I drive my car to the gym and waste another 25 minutes of time I could spend with my family.’ Quebec City

- ‘I hate cars in the city so much that I actually find myself slowing down as I cross the road, in a tiny effort to exert my authority as a human being over all that metal.’ Toronto

- ‘It seems to me that birds fly, fish swim and humans walk. Except in North America where you are expected to drive-everywhere. You wouldn’t put a fish in a submarine!’ Montreal

- ‘I am obese. My children are overweight and most of the people who live around here. I am surrounded by fast food chains, car parks and highways. I would love to ditch the car. My neighbourhood doesn’t even have sidewalks.’ Levis

As we explored more of the country we tried to console ourselves that at least a few cities were making an effort to make life liveable for humans – small local businesses, cycle infrastructure and pedestrianised streets. However, it felt like a token gesture rather than a genuine effort to make Canada a healthy, happy and sustainable country. Pedestrians were squeezed onto narrow pavements and forced to stop every 100m to cross the road, bike lanes were little more than paint on the ground for the cyclists to help protect the parked cars lining every street. We heard that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is actually tearing up bicycle lanes to make way for more cars!

Walking and cycling are human activities that bring great life, health and economy to communities. Streets that prioritise cars over humans are bad for business, bad for health (mental, social and physical), unsafe and break down communities. I write this letter to appeal to you to take radical steps to transform Canada into the healthy, happy and sustainable country we were expecting. You are a nation of the most fantastic people, we know because we met them everywhere! As citizens they deserve much, much better. Come on Canada! When tourists visit Canada make sure they remember it for for its parks rather than parking.

Sincerely yours,
Holly Chabowski
Denmark

.....



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  #2  
Old Posted Aug 4, 2014, 8:55 PM
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While not a fan of sprawl, these Danes need to have their asses kicked, preferably by bicycle chain, just so the violence is green and sustainable.

"Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where."
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2014, 10:49 PM
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roughly speaking, you could fit the entire population of denmark into the toronto metro, which of course is a much, much smaller area landwise than denmark. i dont think the danes would have too many issues with the variety of transit options. at least no more than toronto ppl do. just sayin. sheesh.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2014, 11:02 PM
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How is the air dirty in Canadian cities? Vancouver and Calgary are often remarked for their super-clean air, but even the Eastern cities mentioned in the article are very clean. It's certainly nothing compared to the big American and European cities.

Halifax is one of the most walkable cities on the continent. Everything there is so delightfully human-scaled. Of course, that's the one city they brush over for opinions in the open letter.

Quebec City has sprawl issues, but the older city is very intact and walkable. Montreal is king when it comes to bikes in this country and has a very extensive metro. It's also pretty walkable. Ottawa's inner city is fairly walkable too and Toronto is hell for drivers. Yeah, there's the 401, the DVP, the Gardiner, but unless you're way out in Scarborough or Rexdale, Toronto is plenty walkable.

It seems like these Danes were going to the Markhams and Levis' of our cities and then critiquing the hell out of them. It's not like Danish cities don't have suburbs as well, though. And yes, I realize even their suburbs are on average better than ours, but Denmark is a small country with smaller cities and built up its civilization well before automobiles existed. North America is largely post-war by comparison. With that in mind, we do alright.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 12:09 AM
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Lightbulb

Population of Denmark = 5,590,000
Area of Denmark = 16,562 sq miles

Population of Canada = 34,880,000
Area of Canada = 3,855,000 sq miles

Keeping it simple, Canada's population is 6 times more, it's area is 232 times more.
16,500 sq miles can be thought as a 100 mile by 165 mile rectangle. 3,855,000 sq miles is equivalent to a 100 mile by 38,550 mile rectangle.

Putting those numbers into perspective; A professional cyclist could and often bike 165 miles in one day. Averaging 30 mph, they could do so in less than 6 hours. It would take the same cyclist more than 1283 hours to bike 38,550 miles, without resting.

Canada is a much larger country than Denmark. It's vastness doesn't make bicycles a preferred method of transport.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 2:19 AM
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Some of it is true to a point. Outside of the original old cities it's the same monotony that could be anywhere.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 2:22 AM
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Size is mostly irrelevant. The vast majority of travelled miles in Canada are within metro areas, and despite our fondness for long drives and freeways only a few of us commute distances that would be impossible by other modes.

Half of our area is taken up by the territories, where nobody commutes to another municipality, everything in town is in walking distance in all but a handful of places, and the vast majority of the land is empty.

And while the Danes' letter is full of hyperbole, it's not too far off the mark. Far too many of our places are dominated by cars and auto infrastructure. We've invested so heavily in cars that a lot of otherwise viable walking or cycling trips have become almost impossible. There are places you can't go without taking the freeway, and that's a tragedy.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 2:29 AM
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Sure, it comes off as a little snarky and holier-than-thou, but it's hard to deny that we in North America are woefully bad at building streets and communities that are safe and pleasant for people who aren't driving. I can't imagine how these Danes would have felt in one of our Sunbelt cities.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 3:27 AM
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Of course Denmark is walkable.............you can walk the whole country in a couple hours.

These are just 2 loud mouthed, arrogant, and self-righteous "visitors" who have no respect for the country they are visiting. These are the same people who would bitch like hell if Americans ever did the same in Denmark.

Also, you really have to question the intellect of someone who had no idea that Canada had so many cars and freeways.................and all this time I thought Denmark had internet, who knew?
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 3:33 AM
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Not everyone spends their Internet time in the skyscraperpage transportation forum.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 4:02 AM
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I wouldn't post this sort of thing about another country either, but, they're right, and there's nothing wrong with them saying these things.

The insecurity jumps off the page from some SSPers. At least that's what it looks like.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 4:10 AM
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^ Agreed. They're right, and whether or not they're also arrogant or poor at expressing themselves is beside the point.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 4:36 AM
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Were they really expecting to find European cities in Canada? A couple from Denmark travelling to Canada cannot be that naive. Surely they've been to Paris where pollution from cars is so bad, there are tight restrictions on the amount of vehicles allowed in the city. I'm sure they've been to the U.K., where obesity rates are high. Next they're off to Australia where they will be shocked to find it's just like Canada.

That letter comes off more as "look how much more evolved we are in Denmark", as opposed to real concern for the well being of Canadians. There's no insecurity, everybody here is well aware of the differences to Europe. These 2 are just dickheads.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 5:00 AM
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The same article was posted in the Canadian highway thread, this was my response:

Ugh, I do find such articles a little hypocritical.

For several reasons:

First, Denmark itself has quite an impressive freeway network, allowing one to drive to almost any part of the nation via grade separated roadway. In fact, Copenhagen's freeway network is far more extensive than Vancouver's (and Metro Copenhagen is about 500 000 people smaller than Metro Vancouver)

The entire nation of Denmark has a smaller population than Metro-Toronto, yet I am willing to bet it has many more km of freeway than metro-Toronto does.

Now, there is some legitimacy in what they have said, regarding the girth of eastern Canadian freeways, lower density in the city cores, and lack of bike networks.

Still, overall, it is a little lopsided of an article. (They make it sound like Denmark has no road infrastructure and its all bikes, which is very far form the truth, Denmark has a very highly developed freeway network that some parts of Canada (such Vancouver Island or the eastern interior of BC) can only dream of right now).
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 8:19 AM
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They are so over-the-top that they distract from whatever legitimate point they were trying to make. If one's goal is to covert someone else to your opinion, this is not how you go about doing it. I think what makes it worse is the fact that they are from Denmark, which while I'm sure is considerably more walkable and human-oriented is also not the place you think of as unusually/exceptionally dense.

I can't even think of the response had they written this same letter south of the border. They'd have never made it back to Denmark, because they'd have been stroked out.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 11:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhays View Post
I wouldn't post this sort of thing about another country either, but, they're right, and there's nothing wrong with them saying these things.

The insecurity jumps off the page from some SSPers. At least that's what it looks like.
They're not really right though, and I sense the insecurity from the Danes, not the Canadians. Can you imagine if a Canadian (or worse yet, an American) went to Copenhagen, saw fewer cars (because Danes generally have much more difficulty affording cars) and then wrote an article "North American visitors lament Danish poverty and lack of personal mobility".

Everyone knows that North America is more car-oriented than Europe. So they're completely ignorant if they thought otherwise. Toronto is one of the most transit-oriented cities in North America.

And Denmark actually has quite high car ownership, and fairly high auto orientation, and this despite crazy-high car taxes The idea that Danes would express shock at such things as parking garages and freeways strains the imagination, especially in countries that don't have crazy high car taxes (which would be pretty much every country).

Imagine if they visited Houston or Phoenix. They probably would have dropped dead in shock. Even if they visisted Germany they would probably have to be seek medical treatment upon viewing car-oriented infrastructure. I mean, the closest big city to Denmark (Hamburg) has a big (surface!) parking lot right outside the main train station, and highways circling the city center. My God, the poor Danes!
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 3:17 PM
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The opposite example doesn't work here. Both regions want to reduce car dependence.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 3:45 PM
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It's the mentality of many Danes that they believe their way is the only way, and the best way. It's incredibly irritating and elitist. Having lived in Copenhagen for 7 years, of course I can agree that it's extremely walk-able and transit friendly..a transit utopia compared to most places in fact.

But like the majority of European cities, they've had a centuries old urban fabric that is far more suited to building a comprehensive, auto-free environment. To visit a foreign country and scoff/judge at how different it is without looking more at the history of their urban development is absurd.

And last time I checked, Canadian cities are far more dense, walk-able, and easy to get around sans automobile than 95% of the US...so they'll be in for a shock when they visit America or Australia. Maybe I've just never really viewed Canada as this auto-crazed culture.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 4:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by destroycreate View Post
And last time I checked, Canadian cities are far more dense, walk-able, and easy to get around sans automobile than 95% of the US...so they'll be in for a shock when they visit America or Australia. Maybe I've just never really viewed Canada as this auto-crazed culture.
I whole heartedly agree. Outside of NYC which, after all, is NYC, the US public transit friendless can truly stink.

I would rank the most auto dedicated countries something like this:

1. The US
2. Saudi Arabia (they now are working hard to improve public transit).
3. New Zealand
4. Australia
5. Canada
6. Argentina
7. Brazil (Sao Paulo being the exception)

___________

A better comparison would be between Denmark, and, the Greater Golden Horseshoe (~33,500 sq km or about 13,000 sq miles) with a population of 8.76 million.

Denmark has an area of 43,094 square km or 16,663 sq mi, with a population of 5.6 million.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2014, 5:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wizened Variations View Post
I whole heartedly agree. Outside of NYC which, after all, is NYC, the US public transit friendless can truly stink.

I would rank the most auto dedicated countries something like this:

1. The US
2. Saudi Arabia (they now are working hard to improve public transit).
3. New Zealand
4. Australia
5. Canada
6. Argentina
7. Brazil (Sao Paulo being the exception)

___________
Mexico is super auto-oriented. I suspect most of Latin America is pretty auto-oriented, and it's just poverty limiting auto ownership.
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