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.
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
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 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.
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.
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