Cover Story / Feature / Summer 2012
Escaping Gridlock

What’s the solution to Toronto’s traffic problems?


Photo by Chris Thomaidis

For years, Jim Yates, a veteran Loblaws executive, had an almost effortless trip to work: just 20 minutes from his west-end home to the food giant’s midtown head office. He usually drove, but in good weather he often rode his bike. All that changed when his department moved into the company’s new corporate complex in Brampton. Now, says Yates, he leaves his home an hour earlier and has to drive at least an hour each way. Poor weather and dense afternoon traffic can draw out the return trip to well over 90 minutes. He tries to makes productive use of the time but acknowledges that the journeys take their toll: “It’s way more tiring,” he says.

Yates, of course, is not alone; just the opposite, in fact. Across the Greater Toronto Area, hundreds of thousands of commuters take to the region’s highways every day because they feel public transit is not an option for them. The situation inside the city proper isn’t much better. Encumbered by decades of under-investment, the Toronto Transit Commission’s subway network is woefully small and increasingly overcrowded.

Governments have begun to take heed, committing billions to extending the Spadina subway to Vaughan, expanding GO Transit service and building four new light-rapid transit (LRT) routes to connect Toronto’s inner suburbs. Those four lines, which will cost Queen’s Park $8.4 billion, were approved following a gut-wrenching fight at Toronto City Hall this spring. That showdown pitted Mayor Rob Ford, an ardent proponent of subways, against a broad coalition of city councillors who argued that the city’s inner suburbs didn’t have the population to justify the huge cost. Ford lost.

While these investments represent the largest expansion of rapid transit in Toronto in more than a generation, tough questions remain – especially for commuters who live and work in the outer suburbs. Gridlock costs the region an estimated $6 billion a year in lost productivity. Toronto’s air quality, though improved in recent years, continues to suffer because of excess smog. And with average commute times now in the 80-minute range, travelling across the GTA is a daunting task – one that will only become worse as three million people settle in the region over the next two decades. As a new Pembina Institute survey found, two-thirds of drivers experience stress on their daily odyssey. “Until transit becomes a convenient solution in the entire region,” says U of T geographer André Sorensen, who studies land use in the GTA, “we’re not going to solve our congestion problems. That’s the dilemma.”

To correct that deficit, Metrolinx, the regional transportation agency established in 2006, has developed a $50-billion, 25-year strategy known as “The Big Move” to build a network of high-occupancy vehicle lanes, LRT lines, bus rapid transit corridors, and subways in the GTA and Hamilton. It also wants to transform GO rail from a rush-hour service focused on getting commuters to Union Station in the morning and back home to the suburbs after work into a system that can be used all day, in any direction. But the agency and its Liberal masters have yet to reveal to voters how they plan to pay for all these transit projects. What’s more, some critics wonder whether Metrolinx’s plan will deliver the goods or merely dent the GTA’s grinding commute times. This much is clear: the region is now in the thick of an historic debate about its own future. The LRT train, it would seem, has left the station.

***

Rob Prichard, by his own account, has had the good fortune to spend much of his career perched atop three institutions with uniquely expansive perspectives on the city: U of T (as president), the Toronto Star (he ran Torstar), and now Metrolinx. Three years ago, when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty tapped him to serve as chair of the new regional transportation agency, the 63-year-old former law school dean agreed because McGuinty assured him that the GTA’s gridlock problem was high on his to-do list.

The urban file was hardly new to Prichard: in 1995, he sat on Anne Golden’s Greater Toronto Taskforce, which anticipated the region’s hyper-growth and recommended a regional council to help manage, among other things, mounting transportation-related problems. Seventeen years later, the heightened public interest in transit is great news, says Prichard. “We have to seize that moment.”

As Prichard well knows, Metrolinx’s most formidable challenge is figuring out how to deliver transit in the City of Toronto’s rapidly growing suburbs where sprawling development has militated against efficient and convenient transit service. Indeed, the Canadian Urban Institute recently reported that the GTA now contains more than 200 million square feet of office space, making it one of just four such regions in North America. Thirty years ago, almost two-thirds of the GTA’s offices were on subway lines. By 2010, however, less than half of region’s office space was anywhere near a rapid transit stop.

GO Transit has certainly ameliorated the tidal wave of traffic. The system of buses and trains serving communities outside of Toronto now carries 57 million passengers annually. But transit trips in the outer suburbs, Sorensen says, still pale in comparison to the TTC’s yearly ridership of about 500 million. Consequently, Toronto-area highways experience high volumes most of the day, and tough “reverse commutes,” as people drive out from the city to office parks in Markham and Mississauga. Indeed, it’s no surprise, then, that a U.S. Department of Transportation study concluded that Highway 401 through Toronto is officially the busiest stretch of freeway anywhere in North America.

In recent years, Queen’s Park and Metrolinx have begun work on several major projects meant to ease congestion. The province has carved out high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some of the GTA’s highways and is promoting carpooling. An 18-kilometre dedicated “busway” is under construction along Highway 403. But Toronto City Council’s dramatic fight this spring – over whether to build subways or LRT lines with $8.4 billion from the province – did more to shine a spotlight on the agency’s long-term strategy than anything else it has undertaken.

As he followed the overheated debate, Amer Shalaby, a professor of civil engineering and the chair of U of T’s Urban Transportation Research and Advancement Centre, was struck by the glaring absence of a key piece of the puzzle: how the proposed LRT lines would fit into the big picture. “We need to look at the network perspective,” he says. In an emotionally charged fight rife with misinformation, there was scant analysis of how or if these new transit routes would ease the GTA’s congestion woes or mesh with Metrolinx’s other long-term plans. City-regions with more integrated transit systems, Shalaby points out, tend to use a combination of commuter rail, subway, light-rail or bus rapid transit, and surface transit operating in mixed traffic. Toronto’s transit grid, for historic reasons, is built around a small subway system and extensive bus and streetcar routes tied closely to subway stops. The city needs to have intermediate level service (LRT or bus rapid transit routes) for corridors with medium demand, says Shalaby. “In the GTA, we don’t really have this hierarchy.”

Nor, he adds, has Metrolinx subjected its Big Move plan to the sort of detailed computer modelling that would have tested the viability of its transit network against other alternatives using current and projected population and economic and other data. The agency, he says, “didn’t come to us. When you look at the final product, the scenarios they came up with were . . . not very thorough.” (Metrolinx is currently refining the Big Move strategy, and will release version 2.0 at some point in the next year.)

This kind of due diligence seems relevant, given that employment projections, prepared by Metro Toronto planners in the 1980s to justify the construction of subways on Eglinton West and Sheppard East, proved to be wildly off the mark. Why? Sorensen cites three reasons: the exodus of manufacturing jobs in the wake of the 1989 free trade agreement; changes to the planning process that permitted more companies to set up shop in the outer suburbs; and the fact that gas was so cheap employers didn’t think twice about locating further afield. He also points to research by Danish economist Bent Flyvbjerg, who has documented how government agencies promoting large infrastructure projects routinely overestimate revenues and lowball costs.

Metro’s flawed 1980s projections figured largely in the 2012 subway-versus-LRT debate, as critics of the mayor pointed out that even with significant intensification along Sheppard, the line won’t attract enough riders to justify the cost. “What’s the point of putting in a subway and exhausting all our resources on a single line,” Shalaby says. “Put in the subway where it’s warranted.”

Indeed, in the run-up to the final decision, council asked an expert panel – involving Eric Miller, a professor of civil engineering and director of U of T’s Cities Centre – to look at the relative merits of an LRT line and a subway for Sheppard. An expert in transit demand and transportation modelling, Miller, along with the panel, devised a scoring system to objectively evaluate three possible options for Sheppard: an LRT line, a subway, or a combination of the two. The panel recommended the LRT, which garnered significantly higher ratings than the other two, and after two days of intense debate, council voted 24 to 19 for the LRT option. Ford, for his part, flatly rejected the panel’s findings, insisting that Torontonians want subways, not LRT.

Photo by Chris Thomaidis

Dressed in a crisp navy suit with an Ontario legislature lapel pin, John Tory strides into O&B Canteen, the stylish eatery in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and bangs out a quick text on his smartphone before settling in to discuss transit politics. Despite a bit more grey hair and a postpolitics gig on talk radio, Tory (BA Trinity 1975) is every bit as engaged in public life as he was when he ran for mayor, in 2003, and then led the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, from 2004 to 2009. These days, he’s using his platform as chair of CivicAction, a Toronto lobby group, to convince the McGuinty government to establish a long-term revenue source to finance The Big Move.

The strategy involves assembling a GTA-wide coalition of labour, business, not-for-profit and institutional leaders who are willing to back policies that will likely involve asking the region’s residents to pay more to alleviate traffic snarls. The PR campaign, expected to be in full swing by the fall, won’t include new transportation studies; nor does Tory intend to get into the policy weeds. “The people of the region are desperate to see actions taken to create a viable transit system,” he says. They know there’s been little progress “whether they’re driving their car or waiting for four trains to go by to get on the Yonge subway.” But to solve the worsening gridlock issues, he adds, “they’re going to have to pick their poison.”

Metrolinx is working on a plan to underwrite the Big Move, which means finding ways to raise about $2 billion a year. Lessons from other cities have helped advance the debate. In recent months, U of T’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance invited key figures from other cities that have cracked the funding problem. Among the speakers was Richard Katz, a former California assemblyman who helped Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sell voters on a plan to raise $40 billion over 30 years by adding half a per cent to the L.A. County sales tax.

The tax, approved by plebiscite in 2008, is earmarked for more than a dozen major transit and transportation projects, as well as smaller improvements. “People have a sense that their tax dollars are getting into the local community for something they can see,” says Enid Slack, director of the municipal finance institute. “The ‘aha moment’ is that even in a time of fiscal restraint and a time of people wanting lower taxes, [L.A. residents] could agree to be taxed for things they can see and benefit from.”

Yet an L.A.-style retail sales tax – seen as acceptable by between half and three-quarters of the GTA’s population, according to various polls – isn’t a complete solution because it doesn’t encourage drivers to use transit. One approach used in other cities is a regional parking levy. Studies have shown that higher parking fees and fewer spaces downtown encourage people to use transit. But in suburban areas, where drivers have long been accustomed to free parking in malls and office complexes, the impact is more difficult to predict because transit isn’t yet a viable alternative for most people.

Such chicken-and-egg dilemmas bedevil the debate about transit expansion. People need travel options besides cars, says Miller, who suggests “demand management” tools such as gas taxes, road tolls on the 400-series highways or congestion charges, like those used in downtown London to dissuade people from driving into the city core at certain times of the day. “Managing the use of the roads is important,” he says (though he adds he doesn’t think London’s congestion charge would translate well to Toronto).

While he acknowledges that road pricing is often seen as the third rail of local politics, Miller feels the issue is often framed incorrectly: “We typically ask the wrong question. It’s always viewed as a tax for which there is no benefit.” In fact, experience elsewhere shows some drivers are willing to pay more to reach their destination more quickly because the benefit they receive is immediate.

The riddle is that there is no GTA-wide political body, like L.A. County, that can formally levy these taxes and then be held accountable for their use. Nor is it clear how the region’s residents would express their views on such proposals. “We don’t do referenda here in Ontario, but there’s still a question of how do you get public support,” Slack observes, adding that she’s not opposed to the province giving local municipalities the right to use a range of levies but then letting each council decide if they wish to impose one.

Tory, for his part, believes that it would be possible to hold and win a referendum, but he feels that the decision should be made at Queen’s Park. On the latter point, Prichard agrees: “The ultimate decider is the legislature of Ontario.” He doesn’t think that it’s possible to achieve consensus by putting these questions to each of the GTA and Hamilton’s 31 municipalities. “It seems to me it has to be a region-wide initiative.”

Even if the provincial Liberals take Metrolinx’s forthcoming advice and impose various taxes, levies and fees on GTA residents to pay for the Big Move, the issue of how and when to spend those dollars remains something of an open question.

Transit watchers are eagerly awaiting next year’s release of a refined version of the Big Move. But experts remain divided about how the agency should target its investments. U of T economist Gilles Duranton argues that new revenues should be invested in high-speed bus service, using comfortable, state-of-the-art vehicles, because subways and LRT lines only make sense in areas with high population densities. “The idea that you build subways and then buildings will go up is just so fanciful.”

André Sorensen, however, argues that Metrolinx remains overly focused on expanding GO bus service, particularly to Union Station. “It doesn’t really create a regional transit system,” he says. “It just puts [more] people on the 400-series highways.”

Both Sorensen and Miller feel the real opportunity is to transform the GO rail network into an all-day service in all directions. Prichard says the McGuinty Liberals made just such a promise in the 2010 provincial election. “That’s the future of GO,” he states. “The whole issue is, ‘how fast can we do it?’ That’s both a financial question and a physical question.”

Sorensen argues that the way to get there is by converting the GO system from diesel trains to electric vehicles that can start and stop quickly, thus allowing Metrolinx to put both local and commuter service on the GO rail tracks. The agency has conducted an electrification study for its planned Union Station-Pearson shuttle service and has pledged to make the transition incrementally, but the major shifts won’t happen until after 2020.

By moving to a combination of commuter and local service on the GO rail corridors, Metrolinx could bring relatively inexpensive rapid transit to suburban areas. Such a solution could also solve a major problem on the TTC’s increasingly overtaxed subway network, especially the Yonge line. Transit experts have long advocated for a “downtown relief line” that would create another U-shaped route between the Bloor- Danforth subway and downtown, possibly from Pape Station in the east, through Union, to Dundas West, as a means of diverting riders from the Yonge-University line. The project, estimated in 2009 to cost $3 billion, is part of Metrolinx’s long-term plan, and has been endorsed by Toronto city council. But it will take over a decade to complete and the funding remains a question mark.

***

From his perch at Torys LLP, in the southernmost TD Bank tower, Prichard has an unbeatable ringside view of the waterfront and, in particular, Union Station, which remains the focus of much of the region’s transit planning. These days, the construction on the GO platforms is clearly visible, and the stylish glass-and-steel roof that will cover the tracks is taking shape.

The station’s revitalization, years in the making, will go down in history as one of Toronto’s most formidably complicated infrastructure projects, with myriad moving parts, technical challenges and competing interests. It’s a microcosm of Metrolinx’s own mandate in the GTA. With the agency poised to ignite a historic debate about how to finance billions in transit improvements, Prichard realizes Metrolinx may find itself arrayed against a tax-averse mayor and skeptical voters. Nonetheless, he revels in the challenge, and feels optimistic that a consensus will emerge. “Do I think the GTA and Hamilton, with its complexity, can get this issue right?” Prichard says, his voice rising. “Absolutely.”

Journalist and author John Lorinc (BSc 1987) writes about urban affairs for the Globe and Mail and Spacing Magazine

Illustration by Office of Gilbert Li

Metrolinx officials expect GO Transit’s ridership to reach 75… million by 2016, almost a third higher than today. Other agencies, including the TTC, Mississauga Transit and York Region Transit, are also seeing big increases in customers. The growing demand has prompted significant investment in major transit projects besides the four new LRT routes planned for Toronto:

1. Spadina subway expansion to Vaughan Metro Centre
Cost: $2.6 billion Completion date: 2015
2. York Region Viva bus rapid transit (five corridors)
Cost: $1.4 billion Completion date: 2014-20
3. Georgetown South (additional GO tracks)
Cost: $1.2 billion Completion date: 2015
4. Union Station Go Transit revitalization
Cost: $1.1 billion Completion date: 2015-16
5. Air Rail Link (Union Station to Pearson International)
Cost: $129 million Completion date: 2015
6. Mississauga bus rapid transit corridor
Cost: $249 million Completion date: 2013
7. Union Station subway station revitalization
Cost: $90 million Completion date: 2012

Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Scott Anderson on June 21st, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

Having been a lay participant in York Region’s early rapid transit development initiatives, I read your article on GTA gridlock with great interest.

And having worked for a Fortune 100 American company for more than three decades, I have had an opportunity to visit many cities in North America and abroad, what works there, and what wasn’t mentioned in your multi-page article. For example:

It’s well-known that development follows transit, and vice versa, so I hope Metrolinx’s simulations take this into account. The Yonge subway line was already at full capacity several years ago.

There are other capital options that work. Centralized computer-controlled traffic signals smooth surface traffic flow. They did this in Toronto back in the day, but Toronto’s system has not kept up. The wireless technologies available now can allow signal-to-signal optimization of traffic flows at reasonable cost. Such systems have been implemented elsewhere, such as San Francisco.

After a long career marketing technical products and solutions, it is frustrating to hear the debate devolve to subways vs LRT. Sloganeering like this 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. Although from very different eras and levels of sophistication, Vancouver, New York City and Chicago use overhead systems successfully in high-density urban areas where land availability and budgets are scarce, for example.

In L.A., there are dedicated toll expressways that charge by time of day and discount fees by passenger occupancy levels, which allows people to pay for rapid movement if they need it. In Toronto, I could see charging tolls for the express lanes on 401 (although the ratio of collector to express lanes might need to be adjusted), and implementing a parallel structure on 407.

Speaking of the expressway we all love to complain about, I watched the privately-constructed 407 completed in about the same time period as it would have taken the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to prepare the tender documents after funding was finally approved by the province. It’s an expensive road, but IT WORKS. Thank you, Mike Harris for signing a contract preventing subsequent Queen’s Park administrations from messing it up to placate the loudest special interest groups.

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 best business sense, and not in the municipality that subsidizes them the most.

This issue is too important to our future well-being, and we need to stop confusing “the how” with “the what”.

R. A. Jamieson
PEng 1974
Aurora, Omtario

# 2
Posted by Scott Anderson on June 26th, 2012 @ 9:53 am

One point was overlooked here: why people get in their cars and drive to work in the first place. Most people drive to work to sit at their computers, answer the telephone and send or receive a fax. They don’t need to drive to an office to do this. They can do this at home.

Companies should be legislated or subsidized heavily to allow their employees to work at home on a part-time or full-time basis. Some companies are huge into telecommuting and some are not into it at all. Having done both, it is inconceivable to me to drive to work when I can do the same thing at home. This also applies to taking the TTC to work.

Working at home has many benefits besides not creating gridlock – namely, and number one, less stress on the employee, which makes for a much more productive employee.

Cassandra Phillips
BSc 1978 Victoria
Toronto

# 3
Posted by Scott Anderson on June 26th, 2012 @ 10:08 am

As a U of T engineering alumnus with a deep commitment to eliminating congestion from the world’s expressways, I was disappointed — but not surprised — by the anti-car/transit-only stance of this article.

Here are quotes from the article with my comments:

Across the Greater Toronto Area, hundreds of thousands of commuters take to the region’s highways every day because they feel public transit is not an option for them.

Toronto area commuters take cars instead of transit because they prefer the shorter commute time, the convenience, the quiet private ride, and the schedule flexibility, over public transit’s comparatively slow, noisy, crowded and inconveniently scheduled service.

Until transit becomes a convenient solution in the entire region,” says U of T geographer Andre Sorensen, who studies land use in the GTA, “we’re not going to solve our congestion problems. That’s the dilemma.

Given the massive capital and operating taxpayer subsidies it would require, public transit alone will never solve Toronto’s traffic congestion problem. The idea that greatly expanded public transit will motivate large numbers of car commuters to abandon their autos is a pipe dream promoted by an elitist “transportation establishment” seeking to build a mega-sized transit empire financed by billions of dollars in new taxes and tolls for both transit construction and operation. We’re only going to solve our congestion problem when visionary politicians demand practical yet innovative thinking from our transportation experts. We need visionary politicians who are not afraid to build desperately needed new highway capacity, and champion technological innovation to eliminate congestion on existing highways. We can completely fix expressway congestion in the Greater Toronto Area for a tiny fraction of the $50-billion capital price tag of the Metrolinx “Big Move” regional transit plan.

People need travel options besides cars, says [UofT civil engineering professor Eric] Miller, who suggests “demand management” tools such as gas taxes, road tolls on the 400-series highways or congestion charges, like those used in downtown London to dissuade people from driving into the city core at certain times of the day.

There is nothing wrong with the auto. Practical, cost-effective technology can greatly reduce congestion on busy expressways. It seems to me that one roadblock at U of T to a car-friendly technology solution, could be U of T’s profound dependence on government (i.e. taxpayer) largesse. Is it possible that U of T faculty would hesitate to explore, let alone publicly endorse, potentially practical technology solutions for highway congestion because the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government of Ontario financially supports U of T?

Andre Sorensen, however, argues that Metrolinx remains overly focused on expanding GO bus services, particularly to Union Station. “It doesn’t really create a regional transit system,” he says, “It just puts [more] people on the 400-series highways.

The 400-series highways (and Don Valley Parkway, Allen Expressway and Queen Elizabeth Way) are capable of carrying much more traffic than at present if decongested by made-in-Ontario technology. Unfortunately, the McGuinty Liberals view public transit primarily as a terrific machine for creating union jobs. They hope to create thousands of more taxpayer-subsidized transit jobs, filled by people who naturally will vote for yet more taxpayer-subsidized transit. McGuinty et al. don’t want to fix Toronto-area expressway congestion in situ by spearheading development of comparatively inexpensive technology, because McGuinty et al. view expressway congestion as an “incentive” for drivers to switch to public transit. The dual irony of this anti-car/transit-only ideology is:

1. Expressway users would cheerfully pay a modest toll ($1 to $3 per vehicle per business day), to enjoy safe, steady, fast, congestion-free expressway trips, enabled by innovative made-in-Ontario technology that mitigates congestion. Piggybacking road tolls on this technology would yield significant net revenues that could provide a dependable long-term source of transit funding — not the $2 billion a year that Metrolinx seeks, but hundreds of millions a year.

2. The University of Toronto would gain immense worldwide prestige by unleashing the awesome talents of its engineering (and other) faculty and students to investigate and develop the technology, with an export potential of many billions of dollars.

***

Since 2002 I have been developing and promoting Expressway Traffic Optimization (ETO) technology for preventing traffic congestion on expressways.

ETO uses pavement-embedded signal lights to guide individual drivers in real time to use speed and spacing to ensure safe, fast and efficient expressway traffic flow.

I estimate that a capital investment in ETO of from $360 million to $720 million, can completely eliminate expressway congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. That’s a tiny fraction of the $50 billion capital price tag of the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan.

And while ETO can yield net toll revenues from $200 million to $600 million a year from expressway drivers paying $1 to $3 per vehicle per business day, the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan will consume in perpetuity a $1 billion annual operating taxpayer subsidy.

Toronto needs a balanced approach to transportation policy. Yes, we desperately need better public transit. We also desperately need more highway capacity, plus technology innovation to eliminate congestion from our existing highways.

Metrolinx has poured millions of dollars into developing the “Big Move” transit plan. Yet Metrolinx executives steadfastly refuse to invest “only” $500,000 to $1 million for a multidisciplinary engineering feasibility investigation into the ETO technology concept.

The vast majority of Toronto-area commuters choose to travel by private car. These denigrated car-driving voters easily have the ballot box power they need to make the ETO vision a reality.

Steve Petrie
BASc 1972
Oakville, Ontario

# 4
Posted by Scott Anderson on June 26th, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

Contrary to the statement by geography professor Andre Sorensen, 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 Toronto, where property values are highest.

Articles like this are very discouraging, particularly when the writer is one of the more astute observers of Toronto. It perpetuates the idea that a problem that was 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 the mistakes that are rife elsewhere in North America?

David Vallance
Toronto

# 5
Posted by Eric Jelinski P. Eng. MEng%201992 on June 27th, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

I read this article with interest because I am part of the problem: I use both car and transit because I live outside the city and work in the downtown core. This is mostly because of the “inertia” of old habits. However, development policy drives local decisions. Skewed economics creates sub-optimal decisions and results. For example, higher occupancy per square meter of either real estate or vehicles (which also need real estate to operate) will have a lower shared cost per person.

Transportation policy,therefore, begins with urban planning policy. It is wrong for speculators to buy up relatively cheap farmland and pave it over to build dream houses that add to our transportation nightmares.

It is wrong for urban decision-makers to approve such development without considering transportation beyond the edge of the development.

It is wrong to make the car the default mode of transportation when better transportation technology exists.

We need to promote “live where your work and work where you live.”

Gas taxes are obsolete given new transportation technology. The appropriate tax to pay for commuting infrastructure is a new “commuting tax” based on the distance commuted, and that can easily be determined by the distance between primary residence and place of work as already documented on T4 slips for people who work. This may be used to address the real cost of commuting from the 905/705 area codes in and out of the city using highways and cars and/or the GO train/subway.

When “full cost accounting” has been determined and applied, people will be motivated to adjust where they live and the transportation services they demand. We will also have a way of creating appropriate revenue streams for transportation infrastructure paid for by the user, which is appropriate when needs are differentiated by geography and service level.

# 6
Posted by Scott Anderson on June 28th, 2012 @ 11:20 am

I looked forward to reading this article and learning something new from bright, educated minds. Instead, it was a boring research paper. There were no solutions offered, only safe discussion topics and stale ideas. Accountability was not mentioned. Here are some REAL problems and possibly REAL solutions:

1. Gridlock is caused by having a stop sign and/or stop light on almost every corner in Toronto. Is it any wonder that drivers speed and race to get anywhere? Slowly get rid of at least half of the gazillion that are out there and let cars move more freely. Trains and subways are not a solution for this.

2. End over-parenting by politicians. Bicycles and pedestrians are important but politicians need to make street laws clearly in favor of cars. Streets are for cars. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. People pedal through red lights, jaywalk freely, ignore crosswalk signs, step into traffic while texting because politicians and the laws have entitled them to own the streets as well as the sidewalks. Those on foot or on bike should not have equal rights on the roads. Imagine if spectators at an Indy 500 were allowed to do what pedestrians get away with in cities. If stupid and dangerous people get injured or cause accidents on streets, they should be legally held fully accountable, not drivers.

3. Give all roads and streets back to drivers. As a driver, I should have access to any street at any time. I pay for that privilege. Residential areas are mostly devoid of pedestrians during the day so why can’t cars drive there at any time? Yet, cars get funneled into main thoroughfares that get clogged and gridlock results. Let drivers figure out their best routes that will get them places quickly and efficiently using any streets! Limited Access signs often result in half the city being empty of traffic and the other half in gridlock.

Seoul, Korea and Lahore, Pakistan are only two examples of huge cities where traffic moves almost all the time. Why? No stop signs! Very few stop lights. People are forced to take full responsibility for their driving and safety in traffic.

How about university minds coming up with some REAL, creative solutions for our traffic problems? Cheap talk and toll booths don’t cut it.

Otto Schmidt
Toronto

# 7
Posted by Scott Anderson on July 3rd, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

I read the article on Toronto’s transportation woes with interest. I consider this issue close to my heart.

Forty-two years ago I presented a lengthy report on the unused road, pathways and railroads running around and through Toronto. It was unbelievable to me how many abandoned rail tracks could have been brought into service for inter-city rail lines and for the expansion of the subway above ground.

Since then I have begged our provincial governments to stop the expansion of businesses and offices in downtown Toronto. In a computerized society, there is absolutely no reason for nearly everyone to go every day to an office tower in Toronto.

Similarly I begged the mayor of Mississauga to stop expanding her kingdom. For example; as soon as the overpass at Winston Church Blvd. was completed at Highway 403, the mayor allowed housing for another 41,000 people in the northwest corner of that junction. Highway 403 was never meant for that kind of traffic volume. Similarly Milton, Oakville, Burlington, Markham, Whitby and Richmond Hill grow unabated, resulting in greater traffic coming into Toronto.

There are too many factors to control – including unstoppable real estate and political greed – before you can truly tackle the transportation system.

Michael Pawlowski
St. Michael’s College, 1972

# 8
Posted by Scott Anderson on August 12th, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

Has everyone forgotten that in 1989 Loblaws paid Pollution Probe to endorse its President’s Choice line? Loblaws has lobbied effectively to prevent labeling of genetically modified foods.

These are only two instances showing that Loblaws cares only about profits — not about people or the environment. Using a Loblaws executive as an example of someone who is trying to make a difference to traffic gridlock is like using an oil company executive as an example of someone trying to improve air quality.

Bad example. You lost me after the first paragraph.

Jim R. Edwards

# 9
Posted by krishna on September 7th, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

In the GTA most of the roads are blocked by trucks affecting commuters both in the morning and evening rush hours. In some countries the trucks are banned from the streets for specific times, such as the peak commuting hours so that everyone reaches home sooner and safer. I have not understood why such a law cannot be enacted at least on a few internal routes in the GTA. Is the transport lobby so powerful that the government does not bother about the rest of the commuters who pay all the taxes?

# 10
Posted by Kent Lee on October 1st, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

I have to wonder what city some of the above commenters are actually living in? Saying that there is little demand for new transit lines? That everybody wants to drive? Here in the real Toronto, the GO Trains, subways, and buses are bursting at the seams. Demand already outstrips supply by a huge margin. If you come down from your ivory tower, perhaps you will see this for yourself.

# 11
Posted by adrian on March 18th, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

There are other capital options that work. Centralized computer-controlled traffic signals smooth surface traffic flow. Gridlock is caused by having a stop sign or a stop light on almost every corner in Toronto. Is it any wonder that drivers speed and race to get everywhere? Millions of our dollars are going up in the air, and then we breathe the air pollution this causes.

And a question for city planners: Why must school begin and garbage pick-up occur during rush hour, making gridlock even worse?

# 12
Posted by Blaine Peterson CivilEngineer%201993 on January 13th, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

I greatly appreciate the thoughtful responses included here. Clearly we have hugely varying opinions on solutions to urban congestion and all seem to have merit.

However, what’s conspicuously absent in this and related discussions is information pertaining to the cost to taxpayers and system-users for existing roadways. We all take for granted the costs associated with maintaining, renewing and expanding the road network. But we examine the alternatives under a microscope. Our history in rail and road development can teach us much about which is more palatable in terms of cost, but I rarely see any discussion of this.

The original passenger rail systems in Canada and the U.S. were developed by private interests. Their motivation was money, since rail represented an efficient and economical means of transportation for the typical person. Since then, the construction of highways and the development of a successful aviation network have diminished profits from intercity passenger rail. But the potential to move people efficiently on commuter rail systems in the most densely populated and developed urban regions remains a viable transportation option.

If taxpayers are concerned about the costs of developing solutions to current and anticipated congestion, we need to consider the lowest cost options first. Far from being a luxury, an efficient commuter rail system represents the absolute best value.

# 13
Posted by Nick on October 28th, 2014 @ 10:52 am

We need underground high speed transit. LRT only causes gridlock and congestion. I can see how LRT might work in places such as Mississauga, but not in Toronto.

Whether we pay for transit now or later is irrelevant. We will end up paying for this one way or another. Go to any other international city in the world and you’ll find transit infrastructure far superior to Toronto’s.

High-speed underground transit will save Toronto money on the long term thanks to lower maintenance costs, less automobile gridlock and faster transit times. Build the infrastructure and people will use it.

# 14
Posted by Stephen Tlalka on November 4th, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

While telecommuting is certainly a viable solution many organizations for both reasons of internal culture and operational necessity cannot embrace it. I propose a legislative agenda that develops and implements tangible financial benefits for employers to locate outside of the GTA. There is plenty of serviced land and trained employees in Southwestern and Eastern Ontario that would relish having more employment opportunities. Why isn’t this solution being considered? Allowing more people and traffic into the GTA is not the answer.

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