Toronto overtakes L.A. in gridlock

Why an improved TTC is essential!!

Annual Scorecard; 80-minute average commute slowest of 19 cities

Megan O’Toole,  National Post

Toronto’s commute times are a “glaring downfall” in the city’s economic picture — even worse than the notorious traffic snarls in Los Angeles, according to a new Board of Trade report.

Toronto, with an average total commute time of 80 minutes, ranked dead last among 19 urban centres, the board found in its annual prosperity scorecard, which compares Toronto with metropolitan areas around the world in 34 categories to measure how the city is competing in the global economy.

Overall, Toronto finished fourth in the ranking, but the report highlights a discrepancy between the city’s strong ability to attract labour and its mediocre economic performance.

“Our most glaring downfall is our embarrassing finish on commuting time,” board president Carol Wilding said, noting Toronto lags behind the legendary Los Angeles by 24 minutes, earning a grade of D.

Building the city’s public transit infrastructure is critical to improving productivity, Ms. Wilding said, but that will become more difficult in light of the province’s “disappointing” move to delay key Transit City projects.

In last week’s provincial budget, the McGuinty government announced plans to postpone $4-billion in Toronto transit infrastructure spending over the next five years, meaning some of the city’s planned rapid transit lines could be delayed well beyond 2020.

“I don’t think we can back down in terms of advocacy for that funding,” Ms. Wilding said.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates traffic congestion in Toronto costs the country more than $5-billion annually in lost productivity, while the Ministry of Transportation’s bi-annual review of traffic congestion indicates average speeds on some of Toronto’s busiest sections of roads are being recorded at 38 kilometres an hour.

About 70% of Torontonians drive to work, the Board of Trade found, highlighting what Mayor David Miller calls the province’s “wrong-headed” decision to delay Transit City.

“There’s a huge competitiveness problem with our lack of transit,” Mr. Miller said.

Though Transit City is his legacy, the Mayor said he does not regret his decision not to seek a third term, noting “nobody can credibly run for mayor of this city … without supporting these investments.”

Despite Toronto’s poor showing in the commuting time category, the city placed fourth overall in the board’s 2010 scorecard — the same ranking as last year. A total of 24 urban centres were included in the report, though data are not available for each city in every category.

Toronto ranked second only to Barcelona in labour attractiveness, but sat at 11th place in terms of overall economy; the discrepancy is a “perplexing riddle” that must be addressed, Ms. Wilding said.

“Toronto’s high ranking masks the troublesome weaknesses that will undermine our ability to maintain our position in future editions of this report,” she warned. “Toronto’s poor economic performance is threatening the very liveability that we are all so proud of.”

The city earned high marks in areas such as affordability, diversity and strength of education, yet performed poorly on GDP growth, a key driver of future prosperity.

The city also fell short on access to venture capital and is “leagues away” from top-ranked Hong Kong in productivity growth, Ms. Wilding said.

“In one domain we’re a world leader, but in the other domain we lag behind our competitors,” she said, noting unless we improve on the economic side, we risk falling behind on our ability to draw top talent.

“This discrepancy between labour attractiveness and our economic performance is not just an idle curiosity,” Ms. Wilding said. “It is a major and pressing public-policy and private-sector challenge.”


1 thought on “Toronto overtakes L.A. in gridlock

  1. votejohnrichardson Post author

    Check out the following article by David Olive of the Toronto Star:

    Read the comments too:–olive-unwillingness-to-spend-costs-gta#comments

    “Olive: Unwillingness to spend costs GTA

    March 31, 2010

    David Olive

    Oh, to work in Manhattan. For just $99 (U.S.) a day or so, Liberty Helicopters Inc. will transport you magically from downtown Gotham to New Jersey, a 32-kilometre ride in just eight minutes, for a weekly savings in commuting time of 14 hours, and a weekly tab of $1,000, round trip.

    It might someday be the more affordable option for Toronto to pay its commuters for chopper rides than continue enduring the estimated $5 billion (Canadian) cost to the GTA economy of our status as the most traffic-congested of 19 major world cities recently studied by the Toronto Board of Trade and the Conference Board of Canada in a report released Monday.

    With a blended average commute time for motorists and transit users of 80 minutes a day, round trip, Torontonians waste more time travelling than people in Los Angeles, Paris, London, New York or Barcelona, which had the best commute time, 48 minutes.

    As Mayor David Miller pointed out this week, ours is an excellent public-transit system for a city of 1 million people. Alas, the GTA population is 5.5 million, and projected to increase by more than one-third in the next two decades.

    Miller’s $9.6-billion Transit City plan for above-ground light-rail lines was just kneecapped by the recent provincial budget, which indefinitely postpones $4 billion from the scheme.

    The gridlock-relief gambit “was 80 per cent unfunded and, now, with [the latest] provincial budget, it’s 90 per cent unfunded,” Carol Wilding, CEO of the board of trade, said with a sigh in a Monday interview with the Star.

    In the former “city that works,” there has been no progress in implementing the road tolls or zoning systems common in European centres. A proposed 24-kilometre Bloor-Danforth bike lane is on hold, along with a planned network of bike-rental depots, popular in Paris, Montreal, Boston, Melbourne and Minneapolis.

    The overcrowded Scarborough RT is near obsolescence, but there are no funds to replace it.

    The Bloor-Yonge TTC junction is dangerously congested.

    There are between 55,000 and 70,000 vehicle collisions in the GTA each year, of which 2,000-2,300 involve pedestrians.

    For lack of investment in public transit, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Toronto is suffering huge losses in productivity.

    We do, after all, live in a “just-in-time” global economy, in which retailers and manufacturers keep inventories low and, instead, rely on immediate delivery of thinly stocked merchandise and parts. That has city streets crowded with delivery trucks and bicycle couriers as never before.

    Our chronic underinvestment in public transit helps account for the 70 per cent of Toronto commuters who still drive to work, compared with 60 per cent of New Yorkers, 40 per cent of Londoners and 25 per cent of Parisians.

    The lack of urgency about solving this decades-old problem is matched only by poor coordination.

    Take plans for the Georgetown GO Transit corridor, for instance. No fewer than three transit lines are proposed for the corridor: an upgraded GO train service; a Union Station-Pearson airport express train; and a new subway, dubbed the Downtown Relief Line, to ease congestion at the Bloor-Yonge bottleneck.

    But priced at $25 one-way, the Union-Pearson elite service will be out of reach for all but business commuters. The line will use diesel engines, anathema to civic health authorities and local residents, and the express line will lack local service, having just four stops – Union, Dundas West, Weston and Pearson.

    “This express-only approach misses the intensification and revitalization opportunity of the corridor,” André Sorensen, associate professor of geography at University of Toronto, noted in a recent Star op-ed article.

    A single electrified rail service with express and local-stop service would cost less than the three planned projects, be more environmentally sound and boost neighbourhood economies along the route.

    Too many engineers at the throttle account for the hopeless sloth and disjointedness of gridlock-relieving plans. The players include: provincially-owned GO Transit and Metrolinx, which has authority over transit for the GTA and Hamilton; Toronto’s Transit City initiative, launched when Metrolinx was perceived to be slow off the mark; and a separate city-run transportation department overseeing bicycle-related projects.

    It’s enough to make one wistful for the bullheadedness of Sam Cass, legendary local transportation boss who bullied his planned expressways to completion into the early 1970s until a Jane Jacobs-inspired anti-expressway movement thwarted his grand schemes. As the small-is-beautiful David Miller now concedes, that’s about when Toronto stopped building major transportation projects.

    When Cass was forced to give up his Scarborough Expressway dream, a sign was erected where the Gardiner Expressway abruptly stopped that read “Expressway Stops Here.” A bitter Cass thought that was oblique. He put up a new sign: “ROAD ENDS.”

    Can’t say we weren’t warned.”


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