Road or Congestion Pricing – a Solution to Gridlock

This note is directed to Councillor Peruzza of the PWIC Committee because I wanted to comment on something he said at the last PWIC Committee meeting on Thursday April 9/15 during the debate on reducing some Toronto roadways’ speed limits to 30 km/h. I do hope others will read this as well. I don’t mean to be critical at all of what Councillor Peruzza said because I appreciate his strong support regarding opposing the transit of dangerous crude oil across the city.
But I was really struck by his comment about the meaninglessness of lowering speed limits when he said that in his drive down University Avenue in the mornings the actual average speed is about 2 km/h and he would be (and voted that way) opposed to lowering speed limits because that would slow auto traffic more and create even more gridlock. A logical solution then might be to increase speed limits throughout the city for the sake of decreasing gridlock, but that would increase deaths and injuries due to higher speed collisions with pedestrians and cyclists so that is not an option either.
My first thought was – why doesn’t Councillor Peruzza just take the TTC. But maybe for some reason that is not an option for him.
So what are the actions to take to make Toronto safer for everyone while reducing gridlock?
Since that PWIC debate, the study about what to do with the Gardiner Expressway has been released with at least one public consultation completed. It seems that none of the three options presented are very palatable.
The least expensive one, tearing down the Gardiner will increase traffic wait times too much, especially while travelling from the east; repairing and using the present Gardiner is also expensive and closes off waterfront lands that could be profitably developed. And there is a ‘hybrid’ solution that has slightly less wait times but is the most expensive.
Nowhere in the discussion in the media so far has there been raised the possibility of bringing in ‘road pricing’ or ‘congestion pricing’, which has been introduced in some cities such as London and has successfully reduced congestion somewhat. Mayor Tory has already spoken in support of increased digitization of traffic lights in order to make traffic move more smoothly with fewer  stops. If digitization were brought in fully then ‘congestion pricing’ could be introduced. This means that anyone driving down University Avenue, or along the Gardiner (in whatever form) would pay more to drive during morning and afternoon rush hours. If the price were high enough drivers would try to use less expensive times to drive or find other modes such as public transit, which must be built along with whatever is done with the Gardiner. Construction of safe cycling infrastructure would also be encouraged.
I have included the link to a study that was published in 2011 by two then University of Toronto professors (there are lots of other articles on the net). It is called ‘The fundamental Law of Road Congestion’, which says that no matter how much road space is provided either physically or by increasing speed limits, traffic will inevitably fill the new space. Even providing public transit or increasing cycling will not fix traffic congestion (because whenever more space is provided on roads, more people will begin to drive). They conclude that there is no solution to traffic congestion except one and that is ‘road or congestion pricing’.
To quote the last line of their Conclusion on page 2646: 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.
 
The logical takeaway is that Toronto City Council and the Mayor must consider the use of ‘road pricing’ and begin to educate all of us that this pricing must be brought in as a way to reduce congestion on roads like University Avenue and to pay for construction and maintenance of thru-ways like the Gardiner no matter which option is adopted.
There is also a fairness objective. Users of transit, whether TTC subways, buses or LRT’s or GO trains and buses, all directly pay at least a portion of the transit cost – at time of use. This logic should be carried over to the use of roads and highways. They are not free; their construction, maintenance, snow removal, policing etc. cost all taxpayers regardless of whether one owns a car or not and should at least be partially paid for by direct charge for use.
I hope that PWIC, Mayor Tory and all Councillors will begin to talk about ‘Road/Congestion Pricing’ as the logical way to deal with traffic gridlock and pedestrian and cyclist safety. I know this will not be popular at first but someone has to take the first step and it should be our local elected representatives.
I read recently that there in not one world city that has been able to successfully deal with traffic gridlock while still trying to accommodate the high number of automobiles we have allowed into our cities.
Let us do what works!
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About Murray Lumley

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