GTA traffic gridlock
Gridlock is here to stay
Monday, November 20, 2006
A report came out last week on the present and future state of gridlock within the GTA. Prepared by The Residential Construction and Civil Alliance of Ontario, the report estimates that the cost to the GTA in lost productivity due to gridlock could be as high as $2 billion a year. The report also estimates that by the year 2031, 25 years from now,there will be another 100,000 vehicles on the roads in Toronto. The report that was authored by transportation expert, Dr. Richard Soberman also indicated that roads must be improved; spending on improvements to public transit will simply not be sufficient to end the paralyzing gridlock.
It does not look promising for the city of Toronto that is at least for the time being still referred to as the economic engine of Canada. What began as an attempt to avoid higher business taxes, businesses will now have a greater incentive to flee the city for the 905 area as the gridlock worsens. Not only does Toronto have a car-hating, bicycle-loving mayor and council, but David Miller and his socialist supporters have just won a clear mandate to continue their ways for the next four years. If Torontonians start whining about gridlock while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, they have no one to blame but themselves.
The population of the GTA will increase in the next few years and much of this increase can be expected to come from new immigrants to Canada who tend to settle, at least initially, in the country’s major cities. Without going into all of the reasons why people uproot themselves to settle in a foreign land half way around the world, it’s a safe bet that very few if any immigrants come to Canada so they can bicycle along Dundas Street or ride the Queen Street streetcar. Immigrants want to have cars; either because they’ve always had one or wanted one but couldn’t afford to own a vehicle. In some countries, owning your own car and not having to resort to overcrowded buses is a status symbol. And mobility is important to those who are new to Canada and Toronto, especially those who are seeking jobs and services. No amount of changes to the public transit systems in Toronto or the GTA is likely to change the expected increase in the number of cars on the roads.
Toronto will be doomed by its lack of adequate roads and new subways and there is no will on the part of the current city council or those that are keeping them in power to spend money on either. More bus lanes or streetcar-friendly streets like St. Clair Avenue is in the process of becoming, is not going to cut it. These types of changes will improve the lives of those who are forced to rely on public transit but are not enough to get people out of their cars. There is just something about being on a surface route and not being in control of the vehicle that is much less appealing than driving when taking transit is a choice rather than a necessity.
Transit will never be an adequate alternative to the automobile unless and until there is a vast subway system with many east/west and north/south routes that connect downtown not only with the city’s suburbs but with the GTA. Even if the political will is there, the money isn’t. The last subway line to be built in the city was the Sheppard line, which is often referred to as the “subway to nowhere”. Other than relieve a little bit of congestion on Sheppard Avenue while giving developers on the North York line an increase in property values, it did nothing to make a major dent in gridlock. No matter what happens, gridlock is bound to increase in the near and distant future that will result in more loss of businesses for Toronto.
The report contained the interesting proposal that the Greater Toronto Transit Authority (GTAA) should consist only of non-elected persons. The people who would run the authority could then make decisions based upon solutions to gridlock that do not contain any political components. While this sounds good, it is likely too good to be true. The entire country would be run better if we could just get the politicians out of everything.
In the meantime, dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes and speed bumps (oops, traffic calming devices) will abound while the roads will continue to be neglected. But hey, that’s what the residents of Toronto just voted for.