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Maintaining and Building Urban Strength in Toronto
22/01/2003
There has been an ever-increasing flow of discussion about traffic and sprawl in Toronto recently, punctuated by frequent calls to action. In today's Toronto Star, Royson James takes a look at the story from an older point-of-view. In the past few years, the talk has been shifting more to "sprawl" rather than "traffic", but James' column today focuses again on the question of easing traffic. Interestingly, it leads inevitably back to sprawl. James points out the seeming hopelessness of the various suggestions that are being floated these days for reducing traffic congestion. For example, some planners want to spend $12 million on a campaign to promote car pooling and ride sharing. The common wisdom developed over the past decades indicates that the benefits will be negligible at best. Not only are the participation rates likely to be miniscule, but experience has shown that traffic will quickly expand to fill the opening in capacity. Another DOA idea is that of priority lanes for car-poolers and transit vehicles on major streets. As James points out, we have these lanes on along Eglinton Avenue. There are similar restrictions on Bay Street and King Street. Drivers universally ignore these restrictions because they are not enforced by the police. However, simply building more transit is not a solution either. It depends on where you build it. There are places in the City of Toronto that can certainly use intensified transit. Plans, however, to link the entire suburban region with bus routes or light rail seem to be wishful thinking. Yes, it is a good idea for people who rely on transit to have a way to get from, say, Mississauga to Markham. But it will never be popular. The fact is, transit can only be successful in communities that are structurally amenable to it. In typical suburban sprawl, the low densities of development mean that no system can ever be built that is within walking distance to enough people to make the system worthwhile. Park-and-ride programs can work, but really only for long-distance travel to high-density destinations, like the GO train into downtown. Otherwise, there is not much incentive to get out of one's car, not to mention the walk to the destination if it is in a low-density area. In short, for so long as suburban Toronto sprawls, it will rely on automotive traffic. And, for so long as there is traffic, especially cheap traffic, there will be jams, delays and frustration. (I won't get into it, but the Globe reports today that various suburban municipalities are fighting for an extension of highway 427 into their territory. Sprawl is incentivized and is sought by the powers-that-be in outlying areas.) In any case, as I write this I am more concerned with the City of Toronto itself. I tend to defer consideration of the struggle of trying to change suburbia. They can do what they want, although the smog is really starting to get to me in the summers. What I find to be more important is maintaining the standard of living found here in the city. For now, many of us can and do choose to live happy, comfortable, stress-free, efficient lives relying on transit, walking or cycling. I'd love to be able to stop massively subsidizing all the drivers of the GTA, but that sort of reform is too far off. I would like to ensure that what we have built is not eroded. To that end, I have argued, and will again argue that the City of Toronto must take strategic steps to not only continue to improve the livability, walkability, and transit-ability of the city, but also to maintain (or even grow) the power of the city relative to the rest of the region. If 2.7 million new residents and 1.8 million new jobs are coming to the GTA by 2030, we must aim to capture half of that growth within the city. Either that, or we can follow the advice of an unusual columnist, and start turning Toronto into Detroit. He writes:
There are sane voices, thankfully. They are starting to be heard. The clearest one belongs to Faye Lyons, who is the expert in municipal affairs around here for the Canadian Automobile Association. Bluntly: "We need to put more emphasis on road infrastructure." By "more emphasis," she means more than none at all, which is what we're putting on it today. By "road infrastructure," she means expressways. We need to build a whole bunch of new ones. Fortunately, hidden deep in recent official plans are the skeletons of magnificent expressways that have been languishing in the closet for 30 years. Ready and waiting. They could be hauled out, dusted off, and bulldozed through in no time. As for the Gardiner, add a second deck. One to carry traffic east, one to carry it west. That would be as close to Heaven as you can get on wheels.
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