Committee asks for more from city staff to alleviate Toronto traffic congestion

City staff have put forward a plans to tackle congestion during unprecedented construction road closures. Faiza Amin reports on the questions and concerns raised at a committee meeting.

The City of Toronto has seen unprecedented construction and closures, creating headaches for road users, and it’s expected to only get worse.

City staff’s latest plans to improve congestion were reviewed by the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on Wednesday, and some councillors are asking if more measures can be taken.

The city will be using technology like artificial intelligence and expanded smart signal programs at key intersections to help with the flow of traffic, whether that’s cyclists, pedestrians, drivers or transit riders. 

One expert said the plan is promising but it needs to be effective.

“Traffic lights and cameras think on a second-to-second basis on the movement of road users so that directions that have heavier traffic will get priority,” explained Baher Abdulhai, Professor & Director, Intelligent Transportation System Centre, University of Toronto.

“But it’s often ignoring a bus with 100 people on it is more important than 10 or 20 passenger cars with one person. So, the solution there [is to] treat the number of entities approaching an intersection as the number of people, not the number of vehicles.”

City construction has been a hurdle, sometimes causing tremendous delays for TTC riders.

“The Dupont bus, for example, was 21 minutes late during rush hour because of all the construction sites,” noted city councillor Dianne Saxe (University-Rosedale).

One of the proposed solutions is traffic agents. The city is temporarily relying on Toronto police to fill those roles.

“Toronto police are not the solution. The traffic agent program is something that’s really been successful, and we hope the city will expedite the hiring and training of these agents,” commented Alison Stewart, the Directory of Advocacy and Public Policy for Cycle Toronto.

There are plans to ramp up the number of traffic agents on the roads to 27 agents by the end of November. Earlier this year, there were only three.

Roger Brown, the Director of Traffic Management for the City of Toronto, said one of the issues is how long it takes to onboard traffic agents “in terms of training, security, background checks but the demand for traffic management at these locations is very high.” 

The demand for construction projects is also high. City councillor James Pasternak (York Centre) asked staff on Wednesday about enforcement around road closures when no work is being completed.

“You see these orange pylons up from Friday at noon to Monday morning, with no work, no equipment, no workers, and no digging,” Pasternak commented during the committee meeting.

The city said its new online booking system for contractors, which will outline the project’s needs and road closures, is expected to help. The conditions and requirements will also be attached to a QR code, accessible by members of the public and will help improve enforcement. 

“If any of our Transportation Standards Officers go out there, they hit the QR code. They see the conditions of the permit. Immediately if they see no vehicles there, and that was something that was discussed during the permitting process, then they have the ability to better enforce it,” explained Brown. 

Abdulhai said these are short-term solutions, but the city needs to think long-term.

“I believe the situation will get worse until we address the problem.”

He said these steps include more transit, whether that’s LRT, GO Transit, and subways. Abdulhai said companies should also be embracing telecommuting. He suggests having people go to work two or three times a week, which would halve the amount of commuters.

“Understandably, not everybody will be able to do that, but those who can, if encouraged, can go a long way in addressing congestion issues,” explained Abdulhai.

The report is expected to go before city council next month.

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