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September 22, 2003

Canada's Gross

I probably held off too long before writing this particular article. The leaves are starting to turn colours, the overnight temperature is dipping into single digits, and the days are getting noticeably shorter. Quite likely your thoughts are focused on Thanksgiving and the Grey Cup, maybe Hallowe'en, or if you're really obsessive, you might already be thinking along the lines of.... Christmas. Shudder. What am I contemplating this week? Canada Day.

To clarify, it's not the holiday in particular that I'm thinking about, but the local celebration of said holiday. Don't get me wrong - the presentation of our much-anticipated fireworks display is not in question here. There are, however, certain aspects of this celebration that cry for some obvious changes that could do nothing but enhance an already enjoyable event. Unfortunately, the general citizenry cannot be counted upon to act in a manner that would make these changes unnecessary. It's up to the event organizers to champion these changes.

Our local Canada Day celebrations are located at the local sports fields, next to a big pond. On the fields all kinds of typical holiday vendors set up: ice cream, food, t-shirts, trinkets, glow-in-the-dark sticks, and so on. There's the portable stage where various music acts entertain the crowd as it grows from substantial to enormous as twilight approaches. As night falls people stake out a section of the field with their blankets and lawn chairs and eagerly await the fireworks that are set up on the far side of the pond. For fifteen glorious minutes our night sky is lit up with amazingly colourful pyrotechnics, to the glee of young and old alike. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Well, that's because I've omitted how you get down to the fields, and what happens when the last firework pops and everyone leaves.

My household learned very quickly that if you live within a 45-minute walk of the sports fields that it simply isn't worth the bother to drive down, park, and drive out again afterwards. Getting home will actually take you longer than if you had walked. Cars, SUVs, and minivans of all descriptions cram onto the shoulder, along side streets, on the grass, and onto the boulevards as far as the eye can see. Consequently, when the pyrotechnic display ends, thousands of vehicles start up, idle, and creep along, trying to get past the rest of the horde of vehicles which are hopelessly clogging outbound streets and traffic lights. The air becomes thick with exhaust and fumes, not to mention the oppressive heat coming off of so many tightly packed, running engines. This past year was particularly bad, as there was absolutely no wind, which meant that all the smoke and haze from the fireworks simply drifted across the pond to the fields and then to the streets where tens of thousands of pedestrians were streaming out, trying to get home. It was nasty.

Unfortunately, not very many people recognize the fact that the immediate air quality suffers horrendously once the fireworks ends. Certainly not the people in the cars, anyway. As my family and I walk past the chaotically parked vehicles on our way home (walking the whole way, thank you) we see vehicle after vehicle sitting gridlocked and idling, inching forward or even just parked and idling for the sake of running the air conditioner. Are these people stupid? Do they not realized that they're not going to go any more than a few meters in the next 10 minutes? Do they not care one whit about reducing idle time, greenhouse emissions or pollution? Apparently not.

I have thereby come up with two simple plans that my municipality can implement one of this coming Canada Day. Either plan will ensure that pedestrian egress from the event is not impeded or endangered by tired, gridlocked drivers and that the immediate air quality does not suffer needlessly. Both would work equally well in mitigating the smog disaster that happens each year.

The first option has the least manpower investment of the two, but may be highly unpopular to thoughtless louts. I took my inspiration from theme park ride lineups, where signs will periodically tell you, "It is a 30 minute wait from this point." Such signs could be erected radiating out from the sports fields, letting drivers who park nearby know that they will certainly be gridlocked for 10, 20, 30 or more minutes after the fireworks end. That way they know to simply sit on the field for X number of minutes, enjoy the night air, or simply sit in their vehicle and wait out the rush. Of course, I'd be a complete pansy nincompoop if I truly believed that everyone would take heed of such signs. That is where bylaw officers and an idle by-law would come into play.

I'm not certain if we have an idle by-law yet, but if we don't, we need one. Such by-laws restrict the time a standing vehicle is allowed to idle, as an idling engine does nothing but produce heat and pollution. Officers would patrol the high wait time areas and issue both warnings and tickets to citizens that feel they absolutely must run their engine despite the impossibility of moving more than a few meters in immediate timeframe. I'm sure this would cause an outcry, but only because it hits people in the wallets, instead of in the heart and lungs as they're normally assaulted each year. Let them complain - and either walk or take transit next year. I have no sympathy for people that force me to breathe their exhaust.

The other option is much less Draconian, but involves more organization and manpower. The most visible aspect of this option is to make all major streets within 1 kilometer (perhaps more) of the sports fields No Parking zones for the duration of the event. You may drive down and drop your family off at the fields, but you must turn around and head to one of the many designated parking areas available. Local businesses, shopping plazas, schools, churches, and parks could all be asked to provide after-hours event parking, and could all be serviced by city transit shuttles to and from the sports fields. This would give pedestrians much more freedom and safety in moving from the fields to the streets and sidewalks. By spreading out the concentration of parked vehicles it would also allow said vehicles to exit the area more quickly, thereby producing much less pollution and more preserved sanity.

Neither of these suggestions should be controversial - they are simply looking out for the welfare of everyone attending the event, whether on foot or in a vehicle. Both are easily implemented. If the groundwork is started now, reorganizing our Canada Day festivities for 2004 will not be a problem, and will produce a much more enjoyable experience for all.

I would certainly hope that something - anything - is implemented before 2011. In 2011 Canada will be 144 years old, 144 being a "gross". I'd much rather reserve the title "Canada's Gross!" for Canada's 144th birthday than use it as a descriptor for wading through a Canada Day vehicular haze.


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