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(Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
(Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Are we reaching 'peak car'? Add to ...

In suburbs and cities alike, the demand will rise for density: “Peak car use will generate a growing rationale for removal of high-capacity roads and conversion of space to support transit, walking and cycling and the urbanism of the new city.”

Likewise, cities banking on parking fees or toll roads to balance their budgets might find their hopes disappointed, regions dependent on the auto industry may need to look elsewhere and economists may have to measure growth by a metric other than new-car sales.

As people drive less, governments also should prepare for a drop in revenue from fuel taxes, an eventuality that could in itself limit how many roads are built, Mr. Tomer says. But over the long term, building fewer roads could bring economic relief to cities and their residents, as auto-oriented cities spend twice as much to get people around than cities that rely more heavily on public transit, walking and cycling.

Perhaps the most welcome change for many urban areas, though, would be a volume reduction in the ongoing shouting matches between partisans of different transportation models. One of the implications of Marchetti's constant is that cities become dysfunctional when they expand to more than “an hour wide,” resulting in a stressed-out population, and the symptoms are everywhere evident when users of cars, bikes and transit battle in the public sphere for shares of city budgets, road space and moral bragging rights.

In Toronto, for example, Mayor Rob Ford made ending “the war on the car” a major plank of his campaign last year, and cancelled a regional transit plan almost as soon as he took office. Mr. Litman expects the constituency for such polemics will diminish as congestion eases.

As denizens of (denser) suburbs and city dwellers each come to define themselves less by choices of wheels – and find more common ground on, for example, light rail – the polarization between centre and sprawl that affects other levels of politics may begin to ease too.

It would be a welcome détente, not in any war on the car but in cars' long, slow battle with their own drivers.



Anita Elash is a reporter for The Globe and Mail.

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