Chairman's Desk

Toronto needs a bold vision to tackle its traffic woes. Who will step up?

Anyone reading this who attempted to drive downtown this weekend will understand why I’m once again writing about traffic.

Our city is in a prolonged congestion nightmare compounded by construction disruptions affecting University Avenue, Queen Street and other major thoroughfares as well as terminally delayed projects, like the Eglinton LRT. This weekend, the pandemonium was exacerbated by more major road closures for the waterfront marathon.

Yet even without special events such as Sunday’s race, our roads are so routinely bogged down the situation has become untenable.

Toronto is the third most congested in North America. Last year, the average driver spent 118 hours stuck in traffic, an increase of 60 per cent from the previous year.

It’s a bleak prospect contemplating what this year’s figures will reveal.

After years of being fed false hope, based on myopia, and misguided faith that there exists a perfect policy, along with convenient promises of easy fixes, all Torontonians have to show for it are failed, reckless investments in paper-bound solutions. And, as traffic has increased, so too have the missed opportunities to clear the intellectual congestion standing in the way of real progress.

What we need is action. We need a real long-term plan to change the way our city moves based on long-term objectives. We need to change the way we use our roads by scrapping our current way of designing commuting networks to create better transit for where people actually go.

But creating that change means decision-makers simply must forget about the short term political price they might pay and get on with actual, real, honest to goodness long-term strategy and planning.

Transit dominated as an issue alongside housing through the mayoral campaign. So, now that Mayor Olivia Chow has settled into her tenure, this is my plea to her and the entire council: use your mandate to effect lasting change on a city that must adapt to survive.

With limited time at council, I understand Chow hasn’t had an opportunity to assemble the grand vision that’s required, but as the daily chaotic congestion reveals — we can’t wait. Too many of us have arrived at appointments late, missed our children’s dance recitals, or had to leave before the last inning, for too long.

Let’s not have any illusions: this will be exceedingly painful. Like an infection left untreated, the problem will worsen before it gets better. It will require precise and decisive intervention that, above all, prioritizes those long-term objectives.

Facing a multi-billion-dollar shortfall, Chow has shown a promising willingness to make tough but farsighted moves. Council voted to cap licenses for ride-hailing vehicles at 52,000 as they examine how the industry impacts local transit and workers.

The freeze will likely face legal challenges from the industry. Both Uber and Lyft have warned it will worsen downtown traffic with more people driving their cars amid more construction and also raised the issues of safety and higher prices.

Despite this, it will put more people back on Toronto’s struggling transit system —complementary to other moves Chow has made to increase service and staffing on the TTC. More importantly, it contributes to a broader, and braver, attempt to transform how our transit works — making it suitable and sustainable for the future.

But we need much, much more. If we are going to go through the pain of turning the city upside down, let’s build it back right.

That will require license to act creatively, dare I say radically. But if it’s done, it would be defining for Chow’s legacy, who will have to work between three levels of government and use all her political experience to fight off critics.

Starting now — we need a plan that shows the mayor is prepared to continue usurping the status quo to build something that not only improves convenience, but creates real civic purpose and pride.

This article first appeared in The Toronto Star on October 15, 2023.

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