The many detours due to road repairs and festivals that have taken over the city can only mean that summer is fully upon us. There is no avoiding them, especially for motorists. But, driving around Toronto last Saturday anywhere away from Yonge Street’s Pride Parade or St. Clair West and Dufferin’s Corsa Italia Festival was a really pleasant motoring experience. There were hardly any cars on the roads. It was the kind of driving condition of which most motorists can only dream.
On the other hand, traffic on Highway 401 heading to the U.S. border was a different story. Perhaps all the cars that cleared off Toronto streets were the ones parked along those routes waiting as much as 3.5 hours to crawl across the Canada/U.S. border. Ontario Provincial Police called the highway traffic the worst case of gridlock they have ever witnessed on a long weekend.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has seen a boom in automobile use on downtown city streets as well as on the highways. The result is that the GTA is earning a reputation for having one of the most inefficient systems of transportation infrastructure compared to other major cities in North America. Alarm bells have been going off for a decade regarding the growing problem.
According to the Toronto Board of Trade (BOT) commute times now average 80 minutes, among the highest in North America, and this loss of time already costs the region $6 billion each year.
A million more cars are projected to be on the roads over the next 20 years, which will only add more time stuck in commute, an additional 27 minutes according to the BOT, if nothing is done.
This city is decades behind other ‘world class’ cities in addressing the transportation infrastructure issue. The biggest problem is lack of momentum from managers at the provincial and municipal levels and too much fixation on meeting to discuss and study the problem, as opposed to action. There have been ‘white’ paper studies and ‘green’ paper studies. What is required now is financing and a steady push to make this city’s roads workable, because we need them yesterday.
The price tag to modernize commuting efficacy in the GTA has been pegged at $50-billion. However, provincial and municipal leaders are cautious about how that money is to be raised.
We have heard the talk about instituting road tolls. But, with their eyes on the upcoming provincial elections both the Liberals and Conservatives are steering clear of this as a possible option. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is also against this method of raising the money. Yet, we have to consider this as one way to finance the kind of ease of commuting that we say we want. Anyone who has driven into New York City or similar municipalities has already experienced a system of road tolls. The BOT has also suggested raising the money through a tax or parking surcharges. We need to make something happen.
That is not to say nothing has been done. The initiatives by Metrolinx are but a start. We can look forward to 2015 when the rail link between Union Station and the Airport is set to be completed, in time for the Pan American Games being held here. That initiative is expected to take more than one million cars off the route to Pearson Airport. And the 25-km Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown project will begin this summer, starting at Black Creek and Eglinton Ave. West.
That project raises another important matter; to ease traffic congestion we need a system that rewards people for not using their cars as much. The answer for that is a better funded and more efficient public transportation system.
We also have to find a way to accommodate all the trucks that are moving goods across the city’s highways because they are taking over the roads, leaving precious little room for other motorists.
Continued foot-dragging regarding the city’s infrastructure needs is bad for business, bad for the environment and the wrong direction for the future of this city.