Monday, May 26, 2008

Letting Living Things Cross the Road


You think of vast open spaces. Unspoilt. Pure, even when not smothered by snow and ice.

Oh yes, Canada is the place for every (well, at least the ones that hate hot weather or their countrymen) American who dreams to get away . Once called "The Great White North" by Second City comedians. Bears strolling about in the street. Salmon leaping up rivers, begging to be caught. Royal Canadian Mounties. European-descended Protestants living in small homely towns as close to their farming roots as possible. Lumberjacks and Fishermen and Boatsmen. Canada, the land once known for "Hewers of Wood and Bearers of Water."

The reality? Roads, roads, more roads and sprawling cities that are endlessly spreading their drab suburbia, and cars filling up all these roads, killing everything in their path.

Roadkill has always been a major problem in Canada. Canada has in the past always assumed that it had so much land, so much wilderness, that what gets killed on the road does not matter. Canadians have always taken the side of the car. For example, any anecdotes about an encounter between a moose and a car will always blame the moose. This will be rejoined by the Canadian habit of over-earnest familiar solicitousness, firstly for the driver's safety but more importantly for the car's outcome. Was it a write-off? No, not the moose, of course they mean the car!

These days, you don't see dead animals by the sides of the big main roads. No, because all the animals along those roads have given up and been killed. But if you drive on the quieter, straight and boring county and rural roads of Southern Ontario, you will see freshly killed animals - deer, raccoons, and many ugh others that you don't really want to pause to identify.

The truth is that although Canada is large, the amount which is south of the 45th Parallel (45 degrees North latitude line) is very scarce. This bit of Canada, which lies entirely in the Province of Ontario with Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario and the St Lawrence River bounding it, is Southern Ontario.

Southern Ontario south of the 45th Parallel has a land area about the same as the Republic of Ireland. Cover this up with industrialized farmland, roads, cities, shopping malls, parking lots, endless suburbs, endless lakeside Cottage Development, and Earth Calling Canada: YOU have a Problem!.

Indeed, Toronto is so devoted to cars, parking lots, roads and sprawling suburbia, that David Cronenberg, its most famous native Film Director, was inspired to make the film "CRASH". Since he made that film, which satirizes the human sexual attraction to cars in a built landscape that worships the car, there are even more towering buildings that overlook the dreadful 401 that ploughs right across the city from east to west.

The 401 is a hideous example of Twentieth Century North American civilization. Even by the mid-1970s, most of the 20 mile length of the 401 in Metropolitan Toronto had TWELVE LANES. There never was any way any animal could cross that road and ever survive.

So it seems very obvious: roads, highways, and motorways, should only ever be built with tunnels and bridges for animals and land invertebrates so that they can safely cross the road.

It is obvious. Isn't it? Let living things Cross the Road, safe from Killing Cars. Why is something that has been obvious to me for 30 years only now getting into the Toronto Star?

Do countries like China and India want to make these same mistakes as the United States and Canada did so many years ago? China and India can build their roads with tunnel and bridge crossings for living things. Or they could just concern themselves with feeding their burdensome populations and satisfying the materialistic indulgences of their wealthy elite classes.

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