Congestion Pricing is the only solution to traffic congestion – not removing bike lanes

Dear Mayor Ford, City Councillors and MPP’s:

Below are links to one technical research paper written by two University of Toronto researchers and two related articles for your enlightenment, all shedding light on the continuing debate about bike lanes and transit in general in Toronto.

1. The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US cities, By GILLES DURANTON AND MATTHEW A. TURNER

2. Why Building Roads Creates Traffic, Posted on Monday June 6, 2011,  by Eric Jaffe for The Infrastructurist – Ameica Under Construction

3. Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy, By ELISABETH ROSENTHALPublished: June 26, 2011, New York Times

The exhaustive data of the research paper leads to the inescapable conclusion that increasing transit options and bike lanes make no contribution to alleviating road congestion. The authors conclude that when a road space is freed up by public transit, a new car driver fills that space – and that car and driver did not come from another congested road – it is just a new car and driver. (The paper has nothing to say about the safety provided to bike riders by separated bike lanes, so I still agree with providing separate bike lanes.) The authors also say that their research is of interest for three reasons: 1. excessive person time wasted by congestion, 2. the excessive costs to society of congestion, 3. transportation represents a third of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and congestion just aggravates this problem.

The authors, in the last two lines of their conclusion on page 35 say:

“These findings suggest that both road capacity expansions and extensions to public transit are not appropriate policies with which to combat traffic congestion. This leaves congestion pricing as the main candidate tool to curb traffic congestion.”

Therefore the paper’s conclusion says that transit, whether surface or subway (and bike lanes), do not create congestion – only cars and trucks do that.

This is why I find it odd that there are proposals to be voted on at the next City Council meeting to remove newly installed bike lanes from Jarvis Street (as well as from Pharmacy and Birchmount) which city published data indicates have increased bike traffic from 300 cycle trips to 900 cycle trip per day – an increase of 300%. This also means that there are 900 fewer car trips on Jarvis.

Replies from Mayor Ford’s office to citizens who have written to him about this matter, say in part:

Thank you for your email regarding the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. I appreciate hearing from you. Toronto’s economy loses billions of dollars every year from gridlock and traffic congestion. We need to make the situation better – not worse.

The Jarvis Street bike lanes experiment has been a failure. Ninety-four percent of commuters now face longer commutes on Jarvis Street. Over 15,000 commuters each day are suffering from longer travel times, for the sake of 600 additional cyclists.

The City should remove the bike lanes as soon as possible and improve travel times for thousands of daily commuters. City staff have been directed to develop a low-cost plan to do so.

In light of the research paper conclusions – the solution offered by Mayor Ford’s letter is absurd. It is not the bikes that are causing the congestion – it is the cars and trucks themselves because if more road space is provided for cars those spaces will just fill up with new drivers and according to article #2 this is really old news. The authors say that the only solution to car and truck congestion is ‘congestion pricing’.

A few weeks ago, Gordon Chong, head of Toronto Transit Commission’s consulting subsidiary, suggested just such a solution for Toronto’s congestion and both Mayor Ford and Doug Ford said they would never implement a congestion fee on Toronto’s roads.

So please stop blaming cyclists for congestion – that accusation is misplaced. Also, since there is no solution to congestion except congestion pricing, it does not matter what kind of transit is built. Why not build Transit City surface transit since it is cheaper, will serve more people and will get built quicker.

While I was reading this paper and the articles, it occurred to me that what I was reading represented reality. If a person encounters reality but for some reason fails to recognize it, we usually conclude that the person is out of touch with reality and is therefore mentally ill. Are many of us mentally ill or just ill-informed or mis-informed? It is up to political leaders to tell the citizenry the truth and then lead toward that truth. This is not what is happening now.


About Murray Lumley

Board member of Conscience Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist; retired teacher; grandfather
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