Published Saturday July 5, 2014
Traffic congestion was a hot topic in the recent provincial election, and most Ontario drivers would agree that something needs to be done to ease traffic woes throughout the province.
Gridlock alone within the GTA is costing the economy up to $11 billion annually, according to the C.D. Howe Institute (not to mention the $11 million that the Ontario government rakes annually from the Drive Clean program, which is supposed to be revenue neutral). Statistics Canada reports that commute times to and from work nationwide have jumped from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005.
With governments deadlocked over macro solutions and roads and highways getting busier, here are seven practical fixes wouldn't cost a fortune.
1. Better driving habits. Bad driving habits cause people to drive at variable speeds, which impairs traffic flow and causes accidents. My main grievances are motorists who flick cigarette butts out the window, motorists who drive too slow on "on" ramps, motorists who slow down to take pictures of accident scenes, and motorists who text/talk on their phones while driving. We all need to improve our driving habits, and we all need to be part of the solution in creating a culture of better driving.
2. Increase road and highway speeds. If the maximum speed limits on Series 400 highways were increased to 120 km/h or 130 km/h, it would result in improved traffic flow and lower fatality rates. According to stop100.ca (a lobby group dedicated to this goal), Ontario has the lowest rural freeway speed limit among the industrialized nations, and 120 km/h and 130 km/h speed limits are maintained in more than 60 countries and states worldwide. The 400 series of highways were designed for higher speeds.
3. More real-time traffic info signs. In April, Toronto began a pilot project with the posting of real-time traffic information on 11 electronic signs on the Don Valley Parkway, Lake Shore Blvd., and Gardiner Expressway. Electronic signs alert drivers to delays and problems so that alternate routes can be taken. They could even be used to control traffic speeds - posting slower speeds during rush-hour and higher speeds during non rush-hour.
4. Variable speed limits (VSL). VSL is meant to manage traffic flow by adjusting speed limits in reaction to traffic conditions and weather conditions. VSL would improve safety and ease traffic congestion. It has proven successful in Europe and some U.S. states have adopted it. Where feasible, we could expand HOV lanes and have dedicated lanes for transport trucks, motorcycles and passenger vehicles. We could post regulated speed limits on these dedicated lanes based on traffic flow, weather conditions, construction zones and accident scenes.
5. Traffic apps. Mobile traffic apps are becoming increasingly popular with motorists, especially among urban commuters. Beat The Traffic is a free, crowd-sourced app that provides users with traffic notifications, full traffic maps, personalized traffic info on one screen, and more. Traffic apps are a great idea, but they shouldn't be used while driving.
6. Roundabouts. Roundabout are intersections without traffic lights, where traffic moves counterclockwise. In the past few years, roundabouts have been popping up in communities across Canada (Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Waterloo Region and Lethbridge). In Lethbridge, city officials say that roundabouts have helped to "reduce the number of collisions in interactions by 37 per cent, increasing safety for both drivers and pedestrians." (Globanews.ca).
7. Change your driving routine. The majority of commuters who drive have few options when it comes to getting to work on time. But alternative travel arrangements could be explored: telecommuting once or twice a week, travelling a different route to work, leaving home earlier, car pooling, taking public transit (if that's an option).
What are your traffic fixes or driving beefs?