On June 10, the Toronto City Council will vote on the future of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway. Many councillors are still undecided. If the council were to rely on evidence and facts, it would vote for the Hybrid option because it serves the welfare of millions more Torontonians than the Remove (8-lane Boulevard) option.
Sufficient evidence exists to suggest that the Hybrid option imposes minimum costs and facilitates new development without jeopardizing the welfare of those who live and work in downtown Toronto. The Remove option will worsen traffic congestion for tens of thousands in downtown Toronto and impose significant losses in economic productivity.
It certainly does not help when the proponents of the Remove Option discount the adverse impacts of traffic congestion. Writing in the Star, Professor Richard Florida recently stated that "removing the highway will ultimately have very little, if any impact, on commuting times." This is contrary to what is mentioned in several briefings by the City Staff and in the detailed Environmental Assessment (EA) report.
Similarly, writing to his constituents, Councillor Josh Matlow stated that the Remove Option will increase travel times by 52 seconds for only 5,200 drivers who commute westbound in the morning rush hour on Gardiner East. The learned councillor got this all wrong. The EA report clearly states that the average delay of 52 seconds is spread over a larger driver population of 440,000 who are expected to drive during rush hours each day in Toronto.
Despite the fact that the EA report has been in circulation for more than a year, widespread ignorance persists about the worsening of traffic congestion. The Remove option will increase travel times for not merely the 5,200 drivers who commute westbound on Gardiner East in the morning peak hour. It will increase commute times for over 440,000 drivers who use the road network in downtown Toronto during rush hours each day.
Even public transit is not exempt from the amplified congestion. The EA report warns that the Remove option will increase commute times on streetcar routes in downtown Toronto.
Another misconception about increased traffic congestion is the estimated average delay of 52 seconds during the morning peak hour. The traffic simulation study, commissioned by the city, estimates this delay for a very large number of cars operating in downtown Toronto. At the same time, a significantly large number of drivers will experience much longer delays. In fact, the EA report suggests that in a year, over 5.5 million trips will be delayed by seven to 12 minutes and another 22 million trips will be delayed between two to seven minutes. Hardly a small impact by any means!
The EA report quantifies the economic loss in productivity resulting from the increase in traffic congestion once Gardiner East is dismantled. It estimates that the average delay of 52 seconds per vehicle will add an additional 2.9 million hours of congestion amounting to an annual $60 million loss in economic productivity, $37 million more than the Hybrid option.
Many cite the 100-year maintenance costs for the Hybrid Option will be $458 million (nominal) higher than the Remove option. This amounts to $4.6 million more per year in costs. But when we factor in the Remove option's annual lost economic productivity of $37 million, the Hybrid option becomes $32 million cheaper per year than the Remove option.
As for pedestrian safety, make no mistake, more traffic on the 8-lane Lakeshore Boulevard will increase the odds of collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. Researchers at McGill University analysed 519 signalized intersections in Montréal to conclude that a 30 per cent reduction in traffic volumes reduced the average risk of pedestrian collision by 50 per cent. Since the Remove Option will divert the current traffic on Gardiner East to the resulting 8-lane Lakeshore Boulevard, it will result in a sizeable increase in traffic volumes, which will significantly increase the odds of pedestrian collisions making the Remove Option less safe than the Hybrid option.
If our metrics for the decision include economic productivity, reducing congestion, fewer GHG emissions, and pedestrian safety, the Hybrid Option trumps the Remove Option. The very interest of the city lies in the hope that the Councillors would be able to interpret the reports correctly before they vote next week.
The City Council is duty bound to enhance and protect the socio-economic well-being of this great City. The choice before the Councillors on June 10 requires them to make an informed decision. The evidence supports the Hybrid option. It creates new opportunities without threatening the existing ones. We call Hybrid the truly sustainable option.
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