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We have to face GTA gridlock gloom head-on

Created on Friday, 25 June 2010

A recent Report by the Toronto Board of Trade ranked Toronto last in a survey of commute times, of major world cities.

Our average commute time for work is 80 minutes. Traffic congestion within the GTA was a problem five decades ago, and it has become an even greater problem today.

It's costing our economy millions in lost productivity each year, and it's adding tons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Daily, we hear ever- changing dialogue about traffic issues in the GTA.

From my vantage point, there has been an undeclared war on vehicles in the GTA since the early 1970s. That was when the Spadina Expressway was abruptly cancelled because of strong lobbying from various special interest groups.

The completion of the Expressway was to be the key element for a resulting network of freeways integrated with public transit. These were planned to provide the GTA with an efficient transportation system and to prevent much of the traffic congestion that plagues us fifty years later.

Today, as was the case in 1965, the only major, north-south vehicle corridor leading in and out of downtown Toronto is the Don Valley Parkway/Hwy 404. Peak traffic volumes on this roadway, result in traffic chaos and gridlock throughout the GTA

East-west travel within the GTA (the Gardiner Expressway, Highways 401, 407, Highways 7 and 2, including Lakeshore Blvd,) allows motorists more choice. However, these roads as well, often become gridlocked during peak traffic hours.

Over the years, many suggestions have been offered to address traffic issues. Most are Band-Aid solutions at best, and many have not favoured motorists.

Fifty years ago, we did not invest in the infrastructure that is needed to handle today's traffic volumes. Fixing the problem will be enormously costly, and requires leadership and tough political decisions.

Experts who study traffic congestion have suggested that investing in public transit infrastructure would help alleviate traffic gridlock. Yes, adding more busses, streetcars, subways, GO Trains and light rail systems would ease some of the traffic.

The underlying reality is that public transit, by itself, simply isn't a practical option for everyone, especially those who commute from bedroom communities surrounding the GTA. People and commerce will continue to rely on vehicles, and vehicles require efficient roads.

However, it seems the various levels of government will not commit the necessary funds to begin the process.

A possible funding solution that's been discussed is to put the burden on the motorist via a road toll system. I've read that this could generate up to $700 million annually for transit solutions and road improvements.

The concern here is that the funds generated from this "taxation" could wind up in general government revenues; and therefore unavailable to fund roads or to enhance public transportation. Many examples exist of various vehicle-related taxes and fees that support this concern.

In the interim, how do we deal with today's traffic volumes? Here are some stop-gap ideas (although controversial) that we could consider:

• Limiting truck traffic on all major roadways in the GTA to non-rush hour periods.

• Re-visit the benefits of one-way traffic on major roads.

• Restrict bicycle traffic to non-major arteries.

• Encourage ride-sharing, and staggered work hours.

I do not suggest that any of the above represent long-term solutions. On the contrary, they may be viewed as temporary measures, and too little, too late.

The solutions to GTA gridlock require a great deal of innovative thinking, strong political leadership and commitment from all interested parties (politicians, environmentalists, cyclists, motorists, public transit users and the business community). Sadly, if the status quo on our roads and highways continues, traffic congestion will only get worse, and the war on the motorists will persist.

Go back to Cohen Editorials 2010 »

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