Watch: The Morning Show discussion on an open letter by a Danish tourist saying Canadians are dependent on cars.
TORONTO – Two Danish tourists are honking mad with Canada over what they perceive as a dependence on motor vehicles and what they describe as “unfulfilled communities.”
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English-born Holly Chabowski, 30, and her Danish girlfriend Nanna Sorensen, 23, are calling out Canadians after a recent trip left them “horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways (sic), rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going nowhere.”
Chabowski sent an open letter to the Ottawa Citizen and several politicians –including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt – after a recent trip to Canada left them with memories of traffic congestion, concrete landscapes and choking, smoggy air.
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Chabowski said she was inspired to write the letter because she feels strongly on the issues of sustainability and sustainable transportation.
“It is not just a car thing. I think it was more the lack of options that kind of struck me,” Chabowski told Global News, via Skype. “We did rent a car to go to the parks, but there didn’t seem to be any other options that were safe, convenient, or cheap.”
Chabowski and her girlfriend, who live in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, said she hopes her letter inspires others to speak out on issues they care about.
“I think people should stand up for the things, where or not you disagree. I hope people channel those energies into speaking with politicians,” she said.
The duo visited Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax during their five-week vacation.
Although Chabowski says the trip was an “incredible adventure” where they met “the most wonderful Canadians” the couple were left with the impression they were “treated like second class citizens compared to cars.”
Along their journey they also compiled a few testimonials to back up their observations.
“Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers,” said one unnamed Ottawa source.
The couple did note as they explored more of the country it appeared some cities were “making an effort to make life livable” through bike lanes, small businesses, and more accessible streets for pedestrians.
“It felt like a token gesture rather than a genuine effort to make Canada a healthy, happy and sustainable country,” Chabowski wrote. “We heard that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is actually tearing up bicycle lanes to make way for more cars!”
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Chabowski will perhaps be encouraged to learn Toronto has recently launched a pilot project adding bike lanes to the Richmond-Adelaide area.
Denmark is well-known for its cycling culture with roughly 10,000 kilometres of national biking routes according to a Danish government website.
And while Canada may not have a comparable national cycling strategy, Quebec has “La Route Verte” a network of over 5,000 km of bike paths across the province.
Chabowski’s letter also makes no mention of western Canada, where Calgary, for example, has unveiled plans for more cycling infrastructure. Vancouver already has a series of separated bike lanes.
The letter ends by encouraging Canada to take “radical steps” to turn itself into “the healthy, happy and sustainable country we were expecting.”
“When tourists visit Canada make sure they remember it for for its parks rather than parking,” she said.
But Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson suggested it’s impossible to compare Canada to Copenhagen.
“We’re 32 times the land mass of Copenhagen. So a lot of us use cars and we need parking spots and you can’t put public transit in every square inch of a city as large as Ottawa,” Watson said.
*With files from Global’s Jackson Proskow
Below is the full text of the open letter:
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.