I was raised with the Western idea of constant progress through science and enlightened thinking.
We invented the jetliner, went to the moon and dreamed of a brilliant transportation future – supersonic airliners, fast highways, engaging cars – the list goes on.
But what happened to constant progress? How did the transportation dream turn into a nightmare? Here are the Seven Scourges – the people and ideas that have wrecked the world of travel:
1. The builders of the Gardiner Expressway
In your dreams, you gambol down green country roads and glass-smooth highways. In the real world, you find yourself stuck on Toronto's Gardiner Expressway, a 59-year-old abomination that serves as an abject lesson on how not to build a highway.
Designers raised long stretches of the Gardiner on concrete pylons so it could pass over existing streets. Unfortunately, they didn't design the structure to withstand road salt. As a result, the pylons have to be continually rebuilt, and chunks of concrete occasionally drop like bombs onto the roads below.
2. The Green Hornet
If you live in a major city such as Toronto or New York, you are locked into a symbiotic relationship with Green Hornets, a.k.a. meter maids, that could be compared to the one that the bloodsucking lamprey eel enjoys with the salmon of the Great Lakes – and you play the role of the salmon. Toronto issues more than 2.6 million parking tickets per year. Pay up, sucker!
3. Terry Naugle and Sukhvinder Singh Rai
Rai was charged after a dump truck, its bed upraised, rammed into the Burlington Skyway, creating one of the worst traffic jams in Canadian history.
The skyway was shut down for several days (including a long weekend), creating traffic hell for millions. Rai's case is still before the courts. Naugle is a Nova Scotia man who has earned transport infamy as Canada's worst drunk driver, with dozens of convictions and multiple jail terms.
4. Alfred Horner Munro
The average car has morphed into a dull, soul-sucking box. As you drone your way between home and office in your generic machine with its self-shifting transmission, you can thank Munro for your state of ennui: Munro, a steam engineer from Regina, is the inventor of the automatic transmission.
He filed his first patents in 1923. By 1957, more than 82 per cent of all cars sold were automatics.
Today, the number is more than 95 per cent, and the joy of driving has decreased in direct proportion.
5. Rappers and soccer moms
As philosopher Adam Smith pointed out, the invisible hand of capitalism moves in mysterious ways. And so it is that the gas-guzzling, bad-handling SUV has come to dominate the car market, thanks to two disparate consumer groups that are united by their desire to sit up high in a giant metal box: rappers and soccer moms. The market has spoken. And we all pay the price.
6. The radar gun
Modern engineering has given us cars that can safely cruise at much more than 120 kilometres/hour, which allows motorists to reach distant destinations in a fraction of the time that Henry Ford's Model T required. But modern engineering has also given us the radar gun and its corollary development: the speed trap. By the time you're done with speed traps and traffic, your average speed will probably match a Model T's.
7. Bad navigation
GPS systems are a marvel – until they tell you to drive into a lake or deliver you to a farm field instead of a ski resort. GPS is only as good as the road database that's loaded into your car's unit. And some databases were apparently created during the Roosevelt administration. "Interstate 75? What's that?"
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