It has happened to most of us. You are going to work in the morning or coming home in the afternoon and some joker stops in the curb lane. Maybe she is popping in to grab a morning coffee. Maybe he is pausing to pick up his wife at her office. Or maybe it is only 10 or 15 minutes till the rush-hour ban on curb-lane stopping expires and he figures – close enough – he can get away with parking early.
Whatever the reason, the selfish ninny blocks a whole lane of traffic. Cars back up behind him. Blocked drivers try to turn into the left lane to get around him, bunging up that lane, too. He doesn’t care. He puts on his flashers (or not) and sits there, blithely ignoring the dirty looks and honking horns of his fellow drivers. That he is keeping dozens of people from doing their jobs or returning home to their families doesn’t matter to him. His convenience comes first.
That kind of behaviour drives Josh Matlow mad. The north Toronto councillor (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) is so annoyed that he is proposing a $500 fine for motorists, including delivery-truck drivers, who commit the cardinal sin of “stopping, standing, parking or otherwise obstructing traffic” during rush hours. The fine would also apply to those who park in bicycle lanes, forcing cyclists to veer dangerously into traffic to get around them.
Of course, it is already illegal to stop in a rush-hour zone or block a bicycle lane. Fines range from $40 to $60. But parking cops can’t patrol every lane and there are always those who will flout the rules if they judge that the risk of getting caught is low. Mr. Matlow is hoping the prospect of a $500 ticket will make them think twice.
“I’m not trying to enlighten these individuals and teach them how to be considerate and thoughtful and caring about others,” he says. “That’s their job and it was their parents’ job before them. What my interest is is to get these people to stop blocking up traffic in the middle of rush hour. It is basic common courtesy, basic etiquette. If these selfish people don’t get it, then they’re going to get a fine for 500 bucks.”
With the support of another freshman councillor, Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) Mr. Matlow is taking his proposal to city council next month. It deserves a look.
Lane blockers belong in a special circle of civic hell, along with litterers, graffiti taggers, rogue cyclists and drivers who blast by stopped streetcars when the doors are still open. They are of a piece with those highway drivers who insist on going at a snail’s pace in the fast lane, refusing to move to the right and make way for those who might actually want to get somewhere.
Mr. Matlow is right: It’s a matter of simple manners. The essence of any system of etiquette is consideration for others. When they hold up traffic, curb-lane hogs are being willfully blind to the needs, even the presence, of those travelling on the same road. They are in effect saying, “To me, you do not exist.”
Stopping in the curb-lane at rush hour is not just impractical – a small-town habit in a big-city environment – it’s anti-social. It may seem like a little thing: a minor breach of the traffic rules, a few lost minutes for fellow road users. But in a busy, crowded city like ours, where everyone must rub along, respect for others is what holds everything together.
When some flout the rules without consequence, others are tempted to follow. “If he is going to be an S.O.B., why shouldn’t I?” Urban life becomes harsher, meaner. The web of urban civilization frays.
A $500 fine may be too kind. A better punishment might be to send curb-lane hogs on an endless rush-hour commute up and down Yonge Street, with another driver pulling over right in front of them on every block.
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