Autumn 2012
Letters to the Editor

Readers offer insight and alternate solutions to Toronto’s traffic congestion

Getting People Moving
Having been a lay participant in the early development of rapid transit for York Region, I read “Escaping Gridlock” (Summer 2012) with interest, but found that it neglected to mention several important points.

It’s well known that development follows transit and vice versa. I hope Metrolinx’s simulations take this into account.

Toronto’s computer-controlled traffic signals have not kept up with the times. New wireless technology allows signal-to-signal optimization of traffic flows at reasonable cost. Such systems have already been implemented in San Francisco and elsewhere.

I find it frustrating to hear the debate over transit devolve to subways versus LRT. Sloganeering polarizes the debate by focusing on solutions before the problem has been defined. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

In Los Angeles, dedicated toll expressways charge by time of day and provide discounts based on passenger occupancy. In Toronto, I could see charging tolls for the express lanes on the 401 (although the ratio of collector to express lanes might need to be adjusted).

However these or other infrastructure investments are to be funded, it needs to be a GTA-wide endeavour so that companies will locate where it makes the best business sense, and not in the municipality that subsidizes them the most.

R. A. Jamieson
BASc 1974, Aurora, Ontario

Telecommuting Has Benefits
Your article “Escaping Gridlock” overlooked one important point: most people drive to work to sit at their computers and answer the telephone when, in fact, they can do this at home. Companies should be legislated or subsidized heavily to allow employees to work at home on a part-time or fulltime basis. Having tried telecommuting, it is now inconceivable to me to drive or take the TTC to work. Working at home also has many benefits besides not generating traffic – primarily, less stress on the employee.

Cassandra Phillips
BSc 1978 Victoria, Toronto

New Highway Technology
An engineering alumnus, I am deeply committed to eliminating congestion from the world’s expressways. So I was disappointed (but not surprised) by the anti-car, transit-only stance of “Escaping Gridlock.”

Since 2002, I have been developing technology to prevent traffic congestion on major highways. This technology uses pavement-embedded lights to guide individual drivers to the optimal speed and spacing to ensure steady, safe, fast and efficient expressway traffic flow. I estimate that a capital investment of between $360 million and $720 million could completely eliminate expressway congestion in the GTA. That’s a fraction of the $50-billion cost of Metrolinx’s Big Move transit plan.

What’s more, I estimate this technology would yield net toll revenues of $200 million to $600 million a year, based on drivers paying up to $3 per business day to use highways equipped with the technology. In contrast, Metrolinx’s Big Move will consume, in perpetuity, a $1-billion annual taxpayer- funded operating subsidy.

The vast majority of Toronto-area commuters travel by car. These too-long-denigrated car-driving voters have the ballot box power to make my vision a reality.

Steve Petrie
BASc 1972, Oa kville, Ontario

Encouraging Sprawl
Contrary to the statement by geography professor André Sorensen in “Escaping Gridlock,” it wasn’t just free trade, cheap gas and changes in the planning process that drove business out of Toronto. A major factor was – and continues to be – a property tax system that encourages sprawl. New development in the suburbs is subsidized by property taxes from the City of Toronto, particularly downtown, where property values are highest.

Articles such as this perpetuate the idea that a problem 50 years in the making can be fixed by building a few high-cost transit lines that will require large operating subsidies forever from people who will never use them. An architect I know in St. Louis, Missouri, told me that a few LRT lines were built there 10 years ago, but that no one uses them because “they don’t go where you want to go.” Given the sprawl of businesses in the GTA and the low-density housing, we face the same problem. Why do we want to repeat mistakes made elsewhere in North America?

David Vallance
BA 1967 New, Toronto

Patriotic Reminder
I agree with David Naylor’s well-phrased comments in his recent President’s Message (Summer 2012), as I often do.

I have no argument against universities seeking a global presence as part of a growth strategy. But I do have one worry: If to achieve greater prominence we increase diversity amongst faculty, staff and students, do we risk forgetting Canadian values? How well does the current U of T community understand the character, history and culture of Canada? Do newcomers to Canada appreciate that being a Canadian citizen or resident comes with an obligation and responsibility to protect and enhance the country’s future?

To some, this may sound overly nationalistic. But when I look at the situations people deal with in many other countries, I feel doubly blessed that I was born and grew up in Canada and now live in the United States. I wonder if recent generations hold similar patriotic beliefs. And does the University of Toronto, as a Canadian institution, have a role in reminding the new generation what Canada is all about?

Richard M. Clarke
BASc 1954, Westport, Connecticut

David Naylor responds:
I appreciate Richard Clarke’s thoughtful comments about national identities and values in an era of transnational migration and globalization of higher education.

Many international students come to U of T with values similar to those woven into the fabric of Canada. And where that is not the case, students’ varied experiences inside and outside the Canadian classroom should help them see the world in new ways.

As to Canadian history and values specifically, scholars in varied disciplines at U of T have long been at the forefront of articulating what it is to be Canadian. We offer formal bridging programs to some international students, such as the Green Path program for Chinese nationals at UTSC. As well, the School of Continuing Studies offers popular courses that help new Canadians understand our context and workplaces.

There are, however, no easy answers here. Vice-President Deep Saini framed these challenges in a brave speech last April. He observed that diversity is a great strength but we also need Canadian society to be bound together with some sense of “common purpose.” Professor Saini added, incisively, that “we are increasingly defining our identity in terms of what we accept rather than what we expect.”

Food for thought – as are the questions posed by Richard Clarke.

Demand for Digital
For years, I have been wondering why U of T Magazine is still distributed in a paper format. In the summer issue, I saw an ad noting that it’s possible to get the magazine electronically. Finally! Not only is this helping the environment, but I am far more likely to look at it electronically.

Robert Britt on
BA 1974 Trinity, Toronto

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