With urban sprawl, employees may now be travelling greater distances to their place of employment, but the primary contributing factor to increased commuting times is widespread traffic congestion.
In your experience, what cities have the best and worst traffic conditions, and what can we learn from them?
Everybody hurts when we sit in traffic. It has a tremendous emotional and physical toll, not to mention an economic and environmental toll. Traffic engineers and city planners across the globe are always looking to find new solutions. For example, The London Congestion charge of five pounds was implemented in 2003 (now upped to eight pounds) aiming to reduce vehicle congestion in central London. Within six months of the congestion charge, the number of motorists entering the area dropped about 30 percent. Half of the former motorists turned to public transportation, about a quarter of them avoided the area and others began to carpool or use bicycles.
In an effort to improve traffic safety and efficiency, Drachten, a city in the Netherlands began to remove road signs and traffic lights to encourage drivers to pay more attention to their surroundings. The experiment worked; the number of traffic fatalities dropped and traffic jams are almost non-existent. Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman pioneered the concept and called it “shared space”. Variations of it are being used in other European Union cities.
But will North American commuters ever abandon their cars a la Mr. Stipe and his band?
Back home in Toronto, blogger Steve Munro provides a forum for discussing transit issues. His website draws readers to leave detailed comments, and engage in lengthy discussions — it’s not just a place to vent their transit frustrations. Despite his advocacy for transit, he understands the challenges in using public transportation as an alternative. He says the city needs to offer better service and continue to grow with the commuter demands of the city.
In a phone interview, Munro says traffic congestion has grown over the decades and there is no magic bullet. He says a lot of traffic problems are now in the suburbs, “traffic woes in the [Greater Toronto Area] are regional, and they are actually worse in the suburbs where a lot of the alternative schemes are simply not practical.”
In the daily traffic wars on Toronto streets, public transportation is sold as the best solution. But this alternative will never be the better way until it is made more convenient. For example, in Toronto the subway could operate longer hours, perhaps be open round the clock. Currently, on Sunday, the first subway car doesn’t begin service until 9 a.m. Riders complain that streetcars are overcrowded during peak hours, they run irregularly and many routes are under-serviced. Commuters coming from the suburbs don’t have it any easier. The region’s GO trains are often standing room only, and finding parking in the GO station lot is close to impossible unless you pay monthly to reserve a spot.
With a glaring lack of a national strategy, Canadian public transit is mostly stuck in neutral. So how else can we improve the mess? Suggestions are most welcome.