Opinion

An Unnecessary Evil: Transportation in the GTHA

The situation on the GTHA's highways is ridiculous, unsustainable and a terribly stupid waste of everyone's time.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published June 06, 2013

A little while ago, I drove to Toronto and back again.

What a stupid, stupid mistake that was.

A client had requested a meeting at their office in the Beaches area of Toronto. No problem: they're a good client, and besides, I didn't mind making a quick jaunt out to TO. The drive was a mere 74 kilometers.

Of course, although I rarely drive to Toronto, I'm not totally unaware of the situation on our highways. I requested what I thought was a safe time for the meeting - 12:45 pm. That way I'd be back on the road by 2:30 pm so I could miss rush hour.

Fat chance. The term "rush hour" grossly underestimates the duration of traffic congestion in the GTHA. I'm not sure when rush "hour" starts, but it's certainly before 2:30 pm. A drive that took me 50 minutes on the way there was more than two-hours of excruciatingly endless stops and starts on the way back. I spent most of the time either stopped or traveling at 15 km/hr.

I know this isn't news to anyone, but sometimes being removed from a situation for a while gives you a fresh perspective when you're reintroduced to it. The current situation is ridiculous. It's totally unsustainable. It's a major drag on the economy. And it's really just a terribly stupid waste of everyone's time.

False Advertising

I also think it's grounds for a class action lawsuit against every car manufacturer on the grounds of false advertising. For years, a common marketing tactic has been to communicate the experience of a particular product, rather than the characteristics of the product itself.

Apple is adept at this. For example, ads that show Facetime, the Apple technology that allows their customers to easily video-chat one another, focus on the way Facetime connects people with one another on an emotional level rather than enumerating its quality, bitrate, etc.

Virtually every car advertisement ever created for television similarly focuses on the experience of driving. And the experience is awesome. Your tires grip the asphalt as you rocket through a hairpin turn. Cut to pistons thrusting in slow motion, propelled by CGI explosions of exploding gasoline vapour. Cut back to you, blasting through the wooded landscape.

What a liberating, fast, sexy and powerful experience!

What total bullshit!

The reality is actually:

QEW VERY SLOW TO ERIN MILLS

And:

QEW VERY SLOW AT FORD DRIVE

(Why do they need an electronic sign for that one? The QEW is always slow at Ford Drive. Just put up a regular sign and use the fancy one for Amber Alerts, Rob Ford video announcements, etc.)

The reality is nothing like the ads and much more like the opening traffic jam scene in Office Space:

In fact, that is actually an entirely accurate, 100% realistic portrayal of the average commuter's life in the GTHA.

It's no surprise that marriages in which one person commutes for more than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce. In fact, long commutes "cause obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress, and insomnia," according to findings presented in the article I just linked to.

The Solution

The solution isn't more highways, no matter what Tim Hudak would have you believe. Nor is the solution to expand our existing highways. The problem with this approach can be found in the law of diminishing returns.

When Canada and the United States were building their road network, each new road that connected one place to another represented a brand new way to move people and goods between those places. The investments in those roads had a rapid and major return. Now that the road network is complete, the money spent on it is spent maintaining it, with far lower returns.

Increasing lane capacity is subject to the same law. A limited study found that the carrying capacity of each lane on a highway decreased by 6.7% with each additional lane.

Instead of more highways, what we need is better public transit and more cycling infrastructure. We need driving to be disincentivized. We need a political leader who is willing to champion a major, transformational investment in Ontario's transit infrastructure. We need a plan to fix this mess.

Somewhat surprisingly, we've got a leader and a plan. Kathleen Wynne hasn't faced a general election yet, but her courageous plain talk is earning her plenty of support. And the Big Move may not be perfect, but it's a sight better than doing nothing.

Why This Matters

The Big Move will, apparently, cost Ontario's households about $477/year. After Metrolinx announced this number, I was dismayed to read a steady succession of letters in the Spec's opinion pages that all claimed this was an unaffordable, totally unconscionable expense.

Metrolinx, however, says that Ontario is losing $6 billion/year in productivity due to our transportation woes. That's a huge amount of money, but setting that aside, consider the time we're wasting sitting in traffic! Consider all the additional time we'll waste if we do nothing.

Each person who chooses or is forced to commute squanders the most valuable and finite resource they possess, their time.

There's a word that describes something that destroys marriages, wrecks families, keeps parents from their children, unnecessarily pollutes the air we breathe, kills people before their time, makes people suffer, and destroys vast amounts of our society's wealth. That word is evil.

The state of travel on our highways is evil, plain and simple. It's time to do something about it.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

20 Comments

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2013 at 23:00:21

Until we pimp the hell out of the Lakeshore line, Hamilton-Toronto transit commutes will rarely drop below 60 minutes. Hopefully Facetime holds those marriages together.

Aside from anything else, the very fact that people are willing to invest that much of their time going so far from home puts the lie to the talk of balanced, diversified live-work communities.

The Big Move is expansive enough to contain both highway-friendly and transit-friendly measures. For example:

"Improvements to the transportation system in the first 15 years of the plan are not limited to transit. Hundreds of lane-kilometres will be added to the region’s expressway network with the completion of the Highway 407 East extension to Highway 35/115 and the extensions of Highways 404, 427 and 410, as identified in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Improvements to existing 400 series highways are also part of the RTP. For example, they include widening Highway 401 from Highway 410 to Hurontario Street, including HOV lanes, and new HOV lanes on Highway 400 between Major Mackenzie Drive and King Road, on Highway 427 from Highway 409 to Highway 407, and on the QEW between Trafalgar Road and Guelph Line.

Carpool lots will be added to the highway network to encourage carpooling and to support interregional bus services and HOV lanes.

In addition, arterial road widenings and extensions will be added to the road system, in accordance with the 10-year municipal road programs and longer range road network expansion plans in the Transportation Master Plans of the Cities of Toronto and Hamilton and the regional municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham."

http://www.metrolinx.com/thebigmove/en/lookingforward/5_2_first15years.aspx

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 07:56:53 in reply to Comment 89336

< Aside from anything else, the very fact that people are willing to invest that much of their time going so far from home puts the lie to the talk of balanced, diversified live-work communities.

What are their options?

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 11:22:18 in reply to Comment 89342

In other words, a lot of outlying communities are able to claim "diversification" but in reality, dynamic career opportunities and accompanying renumeration are often not located in those communities. The luckiest locals are those able to successfully make their own options.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 08:53:24 in reply to Comment 89342

You got that wright :)

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted June 05, 2013 at 23:43:40

Remember that all day GO service we were supposed to get the second Liuna station opened, and now has turned into 6 trains a day.

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/20...

That GO service we needed 10 years ago? Guess it wasn't quite as done a deal, which frankly infuriates me. This reeks of the liberals scratching Bratina's back to skirt out LRT and let the province reduce the investment of the big move that's takes negative flack from the HST suggestion. Now he can sit back and say "Oh well...we need to focus on full day GO service."

Seriously, a real provincial leader would tell CN "You either free up space for all day GO, or we expropriate it from you" or "Fine, then we build a new track next to yours, and we'll sell usage of it to VIA."

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 10:18:37 in reply to Comment 89337

Love it. Bob Bratina picks All-Day GO service over LRT, and then doesn't deliver.

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By Stupid People (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 03:40:14 in reply to Comment 89337

They can't expropriate federally regulated lands. Those railway right of ways were granted to the railway companies by the federal government. The province has no jurisdiction over those lands.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted June 07, 2013 at 11:59:46 in reply to Comment 89338

That's good to know, if that is the case then the province should be pressuring the Federal government to make CP/CN make them accessible. They certainly have avenues and contacts with the federal ministry of transportation. The province knows there is a 6 Billion dollar traffic congestion issue and the 403/QEW is the busiest highway in the province. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out better, quicker, more expansive rail access along this corridor is needed to deal with this problem.

I'm just glad there's no rails or room to run them along the Skyway. With how long this is taking, they'd probably try to avoid Hamilton all together.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2013-06-07 12:04:43

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2013 at 07:55:25

Was listening to CBC radio one on the way home last week (the late afternoon radio show out of Toronto), heard the substitute host, when mentioning the Metrolinx Big Move announcement, put verbal scare quotes around the "H" in GTHA, and the financial commenter (Kate Macnamara?) refer to Hamilton as Toronto's Labrador.

If this is indicative of attitudes toward the GTHA, there's a whole lot that needs improving here before transit infrastructure is ever going to follow.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2013 at 14:47:45 in reply to Comment 89341

That's hilarious!

Hamilton: The Ambitious City..... =>

Hamilton: The 20 Minute City .... =>

Hamilton: Toronto's Labrador.

You're doing a great job there Bob and the rest of council. Way to run a city....

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2013 at 18:46:46 in reply to Comment 89364

Actually, I thought that whole episode spoke very badly of CBC Toronto, not our own city. Yet why should I have been surprised, we lived in Toronto for years, and that's what they think of people who don't live there. Got tired of it. It's one of the reasons we left.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 09:04:45

During the past 10 years of commuting between Hamilton and Burlington, I've been joking to myself that I will retire before Lakeshore West gets modernized.

Then the James North station was announced and suddenly there was hope for us to participate in a transit renaissance in the GTA. I thought, electrification and all day service between TO and Niagara? In my lifetime? Beautiful steps forward!

Nope, not happening. I get the impression that Metrolinx wants to implement some amazing projects but there is no political will.

So people will sit on the QEW/401 like sardines in cans and we will all breathe smog and avail of Hamilton's bustling cancer center. Hopefully public and political will changes and this situation is not for much longer.

Also I'm experiencing commuting burnout just as described in the article. Fortunately time on the GO train is spend reading and relaxing.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2013-06-06 09:07:27

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 09:58:08 in reply to Comment 89345

Public transit users are more tolerant of longer commuting times

In larger metropolitan areas, 6% of workers who used an active mode of transportation (walking or bicycling) to get to work were dissatisfied with their commuting time. Public transit users were more likely than car users to be dissatisfied with their commuting times (23% versus 18%). Public transit users’ higher level of dissatisfaction was primarily due to the fact it took them longer on average than car users to get to work.

However, when commuting times were taken into account, a complex
relationship between transportation mode and satisfaction level emerged(Chart 4). For shorter commuting times, public transit users were less satisfied than car users. Yet, as commuting time increased, the pattern was reversed. For example, 21% of car users with commuting times between 30 and 44 minutes said they were dissatisfied, compared with 10% of public transit users.

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2011002/article/11531-eng.pdf

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 09:13:53

I agree that the destruction of quality of life, due to the issues we are having progressing as a region, can be described as evil. If the externalities of this were actually measured, I think it would be appalling how much quality of life and time-opportunity is being robbed from people due to absence of awesome transit, complete streets, walkable neighborhoods, and the cafe's and culture and street life that ensues.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 09:51:41 in reply to Comment 89348

the destruction of quality of life

Get used to it, it is our future. We are trying to build what should have been built decades ago, while our sun sets and the Asian sun rises. We are looking for more and more money as the poverty line inches closer to our mean income and the middle class shrinks more and more each year.

Meanwhile I see high-speed rail lines, stadiums, conference centres, multi-lane highways, public transit and basically entire cities being built at an unbelievable scale and rate in a country with a growing middle class where money flows like wine at an Italian wedding. High times indeed for other parts of the world, while we struggle to pay the mortgage on our decades of fiscal irresponsibility.

Kiely from Tianjin , China.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2013 at 16:02:06

Whenever I hear the cavalcade of naysaying regarding global warming or fixing the banking sector or building ambitious transit projects, I'm reminded of this comic:

The Pain

Basically, when did we become a country of such can't-do wussies? We Canadians have our own massive mega-projects to point to - a freaking robotic baseball stadium, the (former) world's tallest freestanding structure, nation-wide railroads, and that whole space-robot-arm thing. What happened to us?

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By PublicSpacePete (registered) | Posted June 06, 2013 at 21:20:45

Lets be clear about GTHA BIG MOVE. The vast majority of already executed and new projects will be east and north of Mississauga. Hamilton is just a way to get the rest to pay up without whining too much. As commented above the west lakshore line is the only way to relieve the problem of us going to TO for whatever reason. Now they are finding reasons not to do it. You wont hear the same roadblocks occurring on the big moves from Mistersaga and eastwards.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2013 at 08:16:12

I don't think any reasonable person would argue we don't need significant investment in public transit and in fact our transportation infrastructure in totality. What reasonable people are fed up with is government dipping into their pockets again to pay for it when there is already enough government revenue to cover the $2 billion a year they say they need to fund The Big Move.
Ontario government expenditures have gone up almost %100 percent since 2001-2 from around $65 Billion to this years $127 Billion. $2billion a year out of that number is less than 2%. Every one of us has had to as some point make difficult decisions with our finances and prioritize what we spend it on. Usually that has meant making decisions about more than 2% of our household budget. Yet we do it and move on. This government is drunk on public money and spending like a sailor on shore leave in Bangkok. Only $477 per household? Really?( Thats on the low side. The announced average is $917 per household. ) Think about that statement for a minute. Maybe it's not that much money to you or me, but for a large percentage of the people in this city that is enough to cause some stress in their daily/monthly lives. And it's not necessary.

This is an election issue, not minor piece of legislation you try to sneak through on the QT. Lets hope Ms Horvath has the jabronies to pull the plug on this corrupt, inept government and we can have this debate in the public forum where it belongs.

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By ItsHammerTime (registered) | Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:53:17

Signpost: Metrolinx coming to Hamilton to talk transportation Hamilton Spectator Transportation talk

Metrolinx is coming to Hamilton to talk about its regional transportation plan and how to fund it. The briefing and question period is on June 12 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Liuna Station at 360 James St. N. RSVP to eric.barkman@metrolinx.com

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2013 at 18:56:19

Love the time of day this is being presented. Mid morning when anyone who might actually be using public transit is at work. # Whitewash.

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