Councillor Michael Thompson Remarks
Transportation Innovation and Cost Savings Conference
September 26, 2016, 11AM
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
I am especiallygrateful that you have asked me to speak about the challenges, and not to do the really hard work of providing the solutions.
Since I am a City Councillor and Chair of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee, I would like to address the topic of transportation challenges from an urban perspective.
What can cities do to help you operate more efficiently in an urban setting, and how can cities and the transportation industry collaborate to make the system work better?
It is no secret that the underlying problem – the root cause of nearly all other urban transportation challenges – is traffic congestion. On a typical Toronto weekday, drivers make over 5 million trips to destinations in the City. There are too many cars and not enough capacity.
It was bad five years ago… it is worse today… and I can assure you that as our population grows, without radical changes our City’s transportation system faces total gridlock.
Unless we find ways to increase road network capacity or reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways, our problems… your problems… will only grow.
I want to make it clear that trucks are not the problem. Despite economic and population growth, the number of commercial vehicles on the road hasn’t grown at anywhere near the rate of passenger cars. In fact, light vehicles outnumber medium and heavy trucks in Ontario by more than 35-to-one.
The underlying cause of increasing traffic congestion is rapid urban growth. The GTA’s population has nearly doubled in the last 30 years. The City of Torontois nowlarger than Chicago, making us the fourth most populous City in North America.
Like Toronto, all of the large cities - Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles – have significant traffic congestion problems, and some say that the Chicago area has the most serious problems of all.
The congestion problem is a many-headed beast.
The City’s population is increasing by almost 40,000 people each year, and the skyline is changing to reflect this growth. More people means more pressure on our transportation network.
At the same time, our transportation infrastructure is aging, and many of our assets require significant rehabilitation, a problem that will be amplified over the next five years as Toronto continues to grow.
Of course rehabilitation and maintenanceleads to lane closures which add more constraints on flow. Similarly, high-rise and other infrastructure construction spills out onto roadways, reducing loading zones and parking and constricting lane space.
Transit vehicles, taxis, private cars and commercial trucks all compete for limited space, slowing traffic flow to a trickle.
Add to that the cyclists and pedestrians who are demanding ashare of the roadways and a safe environment to get around.
The City’s road network wasoriginally designed to handle a population in the thousands, not the millions, and with population density increasing, adding capacity is either very expensive or impossible. Congestion will continue to grow as population grows and the city densifies.
Too many vehicles are competing for too little capacity.
Ontario is the centre of Canada’s trucking industry, and the Toronto area is the centre of Ontario. So you know all too well what increasing congestion means for the transportation industry. More time from depot to delivery, increasing difficulty finding convenient places to load and unload, higher fuel, maintenance and labour costs and an increase in accidents. Congestion puts pressure on your resources and on your patience and affects your profitability.
A 2008 Metrolinx study reported that the cost of congestion in the GTHA was $6 billion annually in 2006. It is expected to rise to $15 billion by 2031 if major transportation system improvements are not made. It’s a regional problem and it must be addressed by a coordinated effort that includes governments and the private sector working together.
The answer isn’t to rely solely on increasing capacity. Historically, when you build new highways or add new lanes, you just encourage more people to drive. You end up with worse congestion throughout the system. We can’t build our way out of the traffic congestion problem.
If there is a solution, it will be found by taking dozens of small steps rather one or two large ones.
For example, we have to discourage the unnecessary use of private vehicles. By coaxing people out of their cars, cities can reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution, increase public transit ridership, and enjoy a safer and more livable urban environment, with less time wasted in congestion.
We have to overhaul and modernize the public transit system to increase its capacity and reliability and make it more attractive to use.
We must also incorporate the use of smart technologies. Better management of the existing network through Intelligent Transportation Systems technologies, including adaptive traffic control and improved signal coordination, will help drivers make smarter route and parking decisions.
In recent years, Toronto has begun taking a more aggressive approach to congestion management.
In 2014, the City introduced its five-year "Congestion Management Plan." The plan commits to an investment of $82 million dollars through 2020 to reduce congestion across the city, largely through the implementation of advanced traffic management technologies.
For example, under the plan the City has deployed technology to improve communication with drivers.
Variable message signs along the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway now display up-to-the-minute safety, travel time and congestion messages.
“Steer it – Clear it” signs on these routes remind motorists to move their vehicles out of traffic if they have a minor collision.
A City pilot program is installing about 150 illuminated signs to warn drivers about left-turn restrictions at intersections. And we are installing over 200 CCTV Cameras to help us detect and clear problems on the road more rapidly.
We have adopted other technologies to manage traffic flow. For example, we now study and coordinate traffic signals on selected high volume priority routes, facilitatinga 5% to 10% reduction in travel time for motorists.
In addition, the City has completed two studies reviewing the City's existing adaptive, “smart” traffic signal control system. A pilot project for new smart signals is anticipated to be in place in late 2016 or early 2017.
Toronto has also taken action at the curbside. We have launched a pilot project which installed 28 dedicated courtesy "Courier Zones" in the downtown area to make it easier to make deliveries. These loading zones are strategically located to avoid disrupting traffic flow.
We are purchasing mobile trailers equipped with cameras and variable message signs to help create Smart Work Zones around construction sites. Smart zones monitor and control traffic to reduce the negative impacts of long-term work. The City has also replaced a flat, street occupation fee with a graduated fee structure that reflects the impact of road closures on congestion.
To help us better coordinate traffic around the City, Toronto has completely overhauled its 20-year-old Transportation Operations Centre. New technology and related supporting software will help the City to improve response time to accidents, expedite emergency operations and keep drivers in the loop through social media and smart phone apps. In a pilot project, the City started tweeting traffic reports on the expressways and Lake Shore Blvd. last year.
Monitoring real-time traffic helps drivers make informed decisions about when to travel, the best route to take, and choice of travel mode.
The effective management of the Toronto area’s expressways, roads and streets is a complex business. It must balance the needs of public transit, Wheeltrans, bike lanes, taxis and taxi stands, couriers, film shoots, motor coaches, food trucks, emergency services, pedestrians, local businesses, residents and of course, delivery trucks.
There are choices to be made… hard choices… and no one will get everything they want.
What we need more than anything is new ideas and a collaborative mindset. To build a workable system for the future we need your input and your help. I urge you to come to the table and help us to uncover the answers.
Let’s find ways to collaborate so Toronto’s transportation management system is the best one we can possibly build under the circumstances.
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