Heavy highway traffic. Click image to enlarge

Article by Steven Bochenek

An acronym, NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard. Epidemic in Canada – most nakedly the GTA – nimbyism has stifled debate, frozen progress and turned our roads into crumbling parking lots. They are the reason cities like Toronto have just a couple of main arterial roads, and why highways like the 401 are gridlocked horrors.

Mostly though, nimbyists are a windy pain in the backside.

Among the most offensive are the retailer types. Despite countless studies proving traffic flows better with one-way thoroughfares, the shrill retail lobby patiently hollers down any changes. “You’re killing jobs. If roads are one-way, how will customers get to my store?” they ask. The obvious retort – “a couple of right-hand turns” – isn’t offered. Instead politicians back down and leave us cooking in chemically static traffic.

Possibly worse though are my own peeps: academically enlighteneder than thou downtowners who “support public transit” but haven’t ridden since the Spoons sang Romantic Traffic.

Like angry retailers they don’t see themselves as nimbyists; simply right. It’s been like that for decades.

Case in point: were you aware TO movement wasn’t planned to entail only the DVP, Gardiner and Allen Expressways? The Allen was to be the Spadina Expressway, continuing through Cedarvale Park and Forest Hill, connecting with Spadina Road near Dupont. The Gardiner was to extend past the Beach or ‘Beaches’ (the debate over which is another source of nimby rage) into Scarborough.

However neighbourhood alliances protested vehemently against the now defunct Metro government in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. “Stop Spadina” was co-led by transplanted American urban philosopher Jane Jacobs, author of “The Life and Death of Great American Cities”. She and her lobby believed the expressway would turn our green city into Detroit.

Oh, and her house was three blocks from where the new expressway would have been built. Adios, property values! Doubtless, she was protesting for the good of our city, but let’s allow space for the faintest blush of self-interest.

The immediate fallout? The government backed down. We’re not Detroit. Instead we’re LA with crappy weather and crappier roads.

Total gridlock. Click image to enlarge

Unforeseen fallout: the local nimbyists had tasted blood. I actually live one block from the late Ms. Jacobs’ erstwhile domain. The neighbourhood culture of halting change hasn’t – well, changed. At local “discussions”, aggressively grey-haired vegans with dogs called Heidegger and children called Caleb are glad to let you know in excruciating and windy detail why they’re right and you’re “Shut-up!”

Case in point: eleven years ago the tiny boys’ school down the road wanted to expand its facilities and make better use of its existing space. You’d have thought they were trying to ram through a strip mall with Jack Astor’s franchises, Walmarts and lap dancing. The nimbyists were incandescent.

“This is a quiet street, dammit, not some suburban bypass” Throughout the first two weeks of school, with anti-development signs held high, the vocal local lobby descended on bewildered parents dropping off their scions, blocking their movement, pamphleteering their stuck cars.

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The fallout? It’s taken over a decade for those improvements to the school to get finished. The paint was drying on the artificial grass when Labour Day parades blocked traffic three clicks down the pot-holed road.

To me, it’s indicative of the constant self-interest that keeps us from sorting our congestion crises. It’s been thus for decades and probably felt like victories for the locals. Meanwhile the roads have fallen apart.

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