Stop with Congestion Relief, Focus on Throughput

Before John Tory started his campaign to get cars moving faster under the guise of congestion relief there was a mutual understanding — through ignorance mind you — that pedestrians could cross intersections despite the countdown clock. As long as they were out of the roadway when the countdown reached zero few motorists would complain. In his various press appearances on the matter Tory has decisively punctured that ignorance, arming aggressive motorists with yet another tool to use against pedestrians and cyclists.

If Tory’s agenda in puncturing that veil of ignorance was to ensure that all road users — motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike — were equally aware of their respective responsibilities and to abide by them, he’s unquestioningly failed. In framing the issue as one of how to reduce congestion — read how to speed up automobile travel — he has given license to motorists to blame all congestion related issues on pedestrians and cyclists, absolving themselves of their role.

The fact is, for Toronto — a large and vibrant city — congestion is here to stay. The halcyon days of being able to drive from one end of the city to the other in fifteen minutes was likely lost around the time that The Beatles broke up. Besides, would we want a city where there was no automobile congestion? One is able to get around Detroit with relative ease these days; a city which has lost almost two thirds of its population. As Detroit recovers so will their congestion “problem”.

New York, Tokyo, London, Seoul, Paris, Singapore. In all of these world class cities, like in Toronto, residents and tourists alike have to deal with congestion. That congestion lends itself to their vibrancy; congestion means there are many people and potential customers, many shops and sights. One visits New York for Broadway, not for Merrick Blvd. Congestion is what makes a city a city.

Instead of trying to tackle congestion we as a city need to tackle throughput: the quantity of people we are able to move past a given point. Despite Tory’s assertion to the contrary, increasing throughput cannot be accomplished by further accommodating cars.

In 2012, the two lanes along Bloor between Yonge and Avenue averaged 1,281 cars/hour or 640.5 cars/lane/hour. Further west between Bathurst and Christie it averaged 886 cars/hour or 443 cars/lane/hour. However the Bathurst-Christie stretch had a higher throughput because save for 2 hours per day it had on street parking. Factoring in parking, Bathurst-Christie had a real average of 817 cars/lane/hour. Assuming 1.67 passengers/vehicle that is 1,070 and 1,366 people/lane/hour respectively.

The only real consequence of the installation of the bike lane on Bloor between Avenue and Shaw was to eliminate the two hours per day when there were 2 lanes available to automobile traffic. Assuming a commensurate reduction in automobile traffic (approximately 1,636 cars, 2,732 people), and assuming similar use of the bike lane as at Richmond & Spadina in 2016 (6,541 people), it had a net increase in total throughput of 3,809 people.

But instead Tory has put disproportionate focus on moving cars faster.