THE BLOG

Toronto Traffic is Fine So Long as You Drive Like a Rude Son of a Bitch

04/19/2012 12:44 EDT | Updated 06/19/2012 05:12 EDT

What's really irritating about being a motorist in Toronto is not so much the rush-hour traffic jams in and out of the city, but the ambushes the Works Department set up to trap the unsuspecting.

Those who work in the city but live outside its confines are conditioned -- resigned, might be a better word -- to long waits in traffic to reach home or work.

Torontonians may take perverse pride in being the champion Canadian city for time lost in daily traffic jams. This amounts to something like $3.3 billion lost in productive work, gasoline costs, air pollution, health stress, and so on.

This is an assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and if it makes Torontonians feel important, we are also the fourth most congested area in North America.

Toronto is surpassed in traffic congestion only by Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. We are marginally ahead of Houston. Even New York doesn't have the world-class traffic congestion of Toronto -- something I find both surprising and questionable. But we're world class when it comes to congested traffic.

Even New York traffic doesn't match ours.

Throughout Canada, Toronto also has a reputation of being a nasty city to drive in. I disagree. Apart from the street repair ambushes, I find Toronto alarmingly easy and courteous to drive in -- so long as you are decisive, no nonsense, and not a dawdler.

What Toronto motorists can't abide are hesitant slowpokes -- drivers who wait endlessly for openings, who are officiously courteous, who show infuriating patience.

Coming from a side street into flowing traffic if you ease forward, invariably a driver will slow to let you in on the unspoken understanding that you won't dawdle or hold him or her up.

By contrast, I find Montreal driving difficult. Quebec drivers have a different style. It seems to me they dare you to challenge them, and are reluctant to give way, as if it reflects on their courage.

In the Maritimes, drivers are so damn polite that they always seem to defer to you. A sort of "after you Alphonse" attitude that makes you (me) feel like a barbarian for cutting in.

Western motorists are Western motorists and have a cheerful "what the hell" attitude and no ego when it comes to cars. Whatever happens in traffic isn't personal, but can be dangerous.

Back to Toronto.

What's frustrating about our traffic is that jams would have been lessened if the galoots who ran the city decades ago had had the vision and courage to invest in subways instead of streetcars.

Rapid transit will never replace cars in Toronto. Period.

Nor will more cyclists ease problems. In their own way, bicycles contribute to driver frustration and add to traffic congestion. Not to mention accidents.

Most of all, it was the lefties on city council who in the 1960s sandbagged more arterial roadways -- like the Spadina Expressway, which was half-built before it was cancelled.

This led directly to rush-hour stagnation on the Don Valley Parkway -- the only freeway out of Toronto to the North. Originally, the DVP was intended to supplement the un-built Spadina and Scarborough expressways.

Now council debates closing the Gardiner -- the only western expressway out of Toronto. Thanks myopic Toronto politicians!

Considering all of the above -- really an iceberg tip -- Toronto traffic congestion could be a lot worse.

We could be like Sao Paolo, Brazil, where in 2008 some 855 kms of roads had 266 kms of traffic jams -- and an average 1000 new cars a day were introduced on to city streets.

Then there's Shanghai, when in a five-year span the car population zoomed from 7,000 to 170,000 and traffic lights aren't coordinated. Say no more.

London is a perpetual traffic jam that can't be solved because of narrow streets of historic significance, and roads too old for heavy vehicular traffic.

Toronto has a way to go before it's like Beijing, which boasts a 60-mile traffic jam that lasted most of a month. Beijing's 20 million population is increasingly affluent and in 2010 purchased 250,000 new cars in a four-month period. Many of these new owners had not learned to drive -- but drove anyway.

Moscow is the record holder for most time lost in daily traffic jams, an average of 2.5 hours. Moscow records 650 traffic jams per day. Street widening adds to congestion, yet deaths from car accidents are said to be twice as high as in the European Union -- which has three times more cars than Russia.

Mexico City is the North American champion for traffic congestion -- exacerbated by some nine political protests staged every day. One street protest led to a traffic jam of 500,000 cars. Also, 1,500 are killed per year in city car accidents.

Lagos, Nigeria, is in a class by itself. Endemic traffic congestion is matched by world-class numbers of traffic deaths. Obstacles for motorists include potholes that break axles, car-jackings, traffic jams that encourage bandits to hop in stalled cars and rob the occupant(s), corrupt cops, flooded roads and traffic lights that rarely work.

Comparatively speaking, Toronto could be a lot worse. Construction ambushes are unlikely to ease; they have been a Toronto tradition as long as I've lived here (since 1956). Every year, I try to plot my way to avoid repairs, but rarely succeed.

We, at the Sun periodically have contests to discover the most lethal potholes. Maybe we should consider a contest to discover which big streets have no construction going on.

I bet there'd be no winner.