Episode 8: The City, the Traffic, and the Rage

Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves
— Robin Williams

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Let’s start with a fluids lesson, for all the nerds out there. Think water moving in a pipe. The water is all moving at the same speed. It’s Laminar. Uniform. Undramatic. Now, imagine a rock partially blocking that end of the pipe, distorting the water flow. Turbulence. Chaos. Accidents. Remind you of something? It’s Toronto traffic!

Toronto; the 4th most populous city in North America. Toronto, were the condos are booming and the traffic is forever slowing. According to TomTom, the GPS navigator company that is not Garmin, Toronto is the 47th most congested city…in the world. We experience an increase in time of over 50 percent during the morning rush hour, and over 60% during evening rush hour. So an hour’s drive becomes an hour and half. Wow!

And it’s not like TomTom made these numbers up, it’s true! I live in Mississauga and drive to Oshawa every day. Work starts at 6 and I’m on the road at 5. My drive is pleasant, fast, and tuned to the sound of Matt Galloway on CBC Metro Morning (which everyone should listen to; 5:30 to 8:30 on 99.1 FM). I end at 2:30, and even though it isn’t officially the start of rush hour, it still takes me around an hour, 20 minutes to get home, assuming it’s not Friday, which is by far the worst day to commute in the afternoon, and it’s not even winter yet. I don’t get why it’s called rush hour and everyone goes so slow; it just grinds my gears!

You know what pisses me off? When I am on the left most lane, which is technically the fast lane, and during rush hour, it becomes the slowest. This is caused by people crossing into it thinking it will be faster, as well as by the ripple effect caused by that one person constantly pressing his car’s brakes.

I wonder whether the express lanes on the highway can have a no lane change law during rush hours. The lane you go into is determined by how far you want to go. For example, if your trip on the highway is less than 20 km, you are restricted to the right lane, if it’s between 20 and 40 km, you use the middle lane, and greater than 40 km is the left lane. Maybe this will improve the flow of traffic!

There are few times when your speed on GTA highways is actually in double-digits. Heaven forbid you cross 100km/h as that’s illegal. Let’s face it though, if you’ve ever been on the 401 at 5 in the morning, 100 is considered the minimum speed limit. The 401 does regress exponentially after that, but on the 407 toll road, 100+ speed is the norm. This raises a question, if everyone is going above 100, why can’t the government increase the speed limit? If the government does decide to increase the speed limit, say to 120, then it loses on all the revenue it would get from people who “speed” between 100-120, which is everyone on the 407!

I want to talk now about the scariest slow moving objects out there: trucks. Nothing gives me the chills more than overtaking trucks, being stuck between trucks, seeing trucks overtake other trucks, basically, anything truck related! They slow down traffic, cause anxiety, and should really be restricted from driving during rush hour. I wonder what difference that would make on the roads? That or dedicating a lane for trucks only; preferably one in the collectors and not the express, because, you know, express means as fast as possible!

Instead of dedicating a lane for trucks, we instead dedicated a lane for cars that carry 3 or more people during the PanAm Games; the dreaded HOV lane. Instead of using HOV’s, we should drop the V and put a T and go HOT. (High Occupancy Toll). It’s been implemented in the States to over 300 roads, yet, we do not have a single one! It’s basically an HOV-407esque lane, where transit buses, car poolers, taxis, and green cars get to ride for free, while riders that do not fall in that group get to enjoy such a lane at a price.

In my opinion, an HOT lane is better than an HOV lane as it would maximize the use of that lane on the highway, because nothing makes drivers mad more than being stuck in traffic and seeing an empty HOV lane they cannot get on! Before people start arguing that this is a luxury pass for the rich, remember, that’s better than the road you are building for them with your tax money that is the 407 East, which you will never ride on if you cannot afford it

In reality though, increasing the speed limit, having dedicated truck lanes, and HOT lanes only present bandage solutions to congestion. A surgical approach requires less cars on the roads and more people on public transit. Maybe if public transit wasn’t so inadequate, people would be inclined to use it more!

Here are some transit fact: one subway carries 40,000 per hour, that’s equivalent to 20 lanes of highway. Street space occupied in downtown Toronto by a streetcar passenger is 6 square feet, in a car, around 67 square feet. You see, taking more people off the car, and into public transit, reduces congestion, reduces traffic times, and reduces headaches for everyone out there!

But that relies on an accessible public transit system that could get me to work, I would have taken in it and sold the car. I would be saving money on insurance, fuel, 407 tolls, car maintenance, etc. Now, if more people did that, we would be saving the environment, as well as extinguishing a burning hole in our pockets! I used to think the Metropass, at $112, was a lot of money when I commuted to school, but now, since I started working and using the car, I wish I still pay that amount!

The question then becomes, how do we incentivize more people to switch to transit? Tax increases are often seen as a blunt instrument that can be deemed ineffective.  Instead of taxing people, we should come up with more creative and incentivizing ideas to promote transit. For example, reward companies that set-up carpooling for its workers, or has a high percentage of the employees coming in using public transit. The same idea can be applied to neighborhoods that do the same thing.

However, for any change to occur, whether it’s a surgical or bandage approach, strong leadership from our politicians is required! We need someone who is willing to act, the question is, do we have that someone in the city, the province, or the country? The problem with politicians these days is they follow what is called Politicians Logic; We need an idea, here is an idea, let’s do it! There is sometimes no thinking behind an idea, it’s just a matter of selling it to us.

So, let them know about your frustration about congestion. Maybe they don’t know how much of a problem congestion is. Let them know of your frustration: email them, call them, or start a hashtag #LetsGetMoving or something of that sort. From the parking lot that is the 401, I’m Omar Ismail, see you soon on another episode of The Null Space!