Toronto’s traffic gridlocks are, mostly, artificial, since they are the consequence of two counterproductive planning trends: city overcrowding, and road reductions.
City overcrowding is the result of densification, or “smart growth” urban policies, aimed to increase the number of transit users per area. However, it has been more of an “irresponsible growth”, since the municipalities are getting loads of new income from additional property taxes, and development charges, but are being too slow and inefficient in providing the adequate transportation infrastructure to support this growth.
On the other hand, road capacity reductions are the result of, in part, by the replacement of some road lanes for dedicated transit ways (like the St. Clair West LRT), or new bicycle lanes, (as it was done on Jarvis Street); but most importantly, by lane reductions due to endless periods of road construction, which is by far the most irresponsible act of government incompetence, in this respect.
Why is the public supposed to expect more than a year for a bridge replacement over Highway 401, with its corresponding traffic delays?
Or, why do hundreds of pedestrians, and thousands of drivers, are supposed to endure over 6 months of delays to have an intersection reconfigured?
Who is the one in charge of approving these construction schedules? Can you imagine how long would it take to build those downtown highrises, if they were publicly funded, and managed by the same bureaucrats?
In many other jurisdictions around the world, the time that it takes to build these kind of road developments is about 1/4 of the time that it takes in Toronto and the GTA. And this is not necessarily due to lack of oversight or low quality controls. As a matter of fact, even within similar GTA jurisdictions, road improvements on the privately managed Highway 407 take less than 1/4 of the time that it typically takes on the publicly managed Highway 401. Everybody knows that the private sector builds at a greater speed compared to publicly funded jobs; but the way that our provincial and municipal governments tackle the construction of transportation infrastructure, is a matter of public abuse.
These days, our city and provincial politicians are trying to find ways to convince us to contribute more of our hard-earned income to fund new transit infrastructure. However, they still don’t make any effort to rationalize their own costs of building that infrastructure. They tell us that they currently have $8.4 billion for only 10 km of underground transit and about 50 km of surface transit, which is the same as saying that the construction of surface transit would cost about $60 million per kilometre, and the underground transit construction a staggering HALF A BILLION DOLLARS per kilometre. However, what they’re not telling us, is that if they rationalize their costs, those same $8.4 billion can be used for 42 kilometres of subways; or, sufficient to build the entire Sheppard subway line (from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre), the entire Eglinton line underground (from Black Creek to Kennedy), plus another 8 km of other subway. Or, use it for 34 kms of subway lines, and other surface transit, plus some road improvement projects. Whatever proportion they choose, they first need to come up clean with their capital budgets and costs.
At the same time, both municipal and provincial governments need to set construction deadlines that reflect actual construction work, and not months of inactivity. If these politicians and bureaucrats want more of our money, they first need to show us that they are using our current resources in a positive, transparent, and efficient way. Otherwise, we will still be left with more overpriced and endless construction projects (like an almost legendary 7-year-old elevator installation on Lawrence West subway station), and very little to show at the end of the day.