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Heavy Toronto traffic on the westbound Gardiner Expressway. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Heavy Toronto traffic on the westbound Gardiner Expressway. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Road Sage

We're on the road to ruin: you can't get there from here Add to ...

Big Blue brought down its latest floppy disc from Mount Sinai last week, unveiling The Globalization of Traffic Congestion: IBM 2010 Commuter Pain Survey. A total of 8,192 drivers in 20 cities around the world were asked about the quality of their daily travels from drudgery (at home) to drudgery (at work). Fifty-seven per cent of those questioned said that commuting harmed their health with stress and anger being the most frequent complaints.

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Five North American cities were polled and Toronto (surprise) topped the list of most unhappy commuters, beating out both Los Angeles and New York to claim the title of North America's whiniest city. Montrealers said they were relatively happy. This proves they are this continent's most skilled liars.

Here is an example of the incisive revelations the survey uncovered:

"Perceptions of worsening traffic stemmed in large part from having been stuck in traffic for significant lengths of time."

Really? I always thought perceptions of traffic congestion stemmed from unicorn sightings or Russell Brand imitations.

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Like any good corporate survey, experts were on hand to give good quote.

Carol Wilding, chief executive officer of the Toronto Board of Trade told this paper that Torontonians were fed up because, despite debate over transit, little had actually been done.

"Emotional distress will go down if they see some progress," she said. So, people are unhappy because nothing has been done to improve traffic conditions, but if we improve traffic conditions people will be happier. Thanks for clarifying that.

But wait, perhaps things aren't that bad. IBM's survey showed that some people would rather commute than do house work (which is kind of like saying people would rather be punched in the stomach than in the face). Ryerson University professor Murtaza Haider described the average commute thusly: "You are sitting in the most comfortable chair you own … listening to your favourite tracks on a fine-tuned sound system in a climate adjusted to your personal preferences while you are sipping your favourite gourmet coffee."

Which is exactly like my commute except that you'd have to add: "You look out at the stream of single-occupant vehicles before you, laboriously inching along like a great serpent coiling and uncoiling itself in an unholy fuming crawl. The sheer futility snatches your breath. The millions of minutes, billions of seconds, wasted, thrown away, human beings sealed in rolling steel wombs, an exercise in madness. Time, which is finite, flung aside, while each driver journeys to a job performed to earn money, which must be left behind when they finally travel down that road from which no one ever returns … You take a sip from your favourite gourmet coffee."

The most disgruntled commuters live in Beijing and Moscow, where, coincidentally, people are more likely to take the bus (the only thing worse than being stuck in traffic in a car is being stuck in traffic on a bus). Moscow has a reported delay of 2.5 hours. Among the "best" cities were Melbourne (okay, I like Australians) and Stockholm (finally a reason to resent the Swedish). When asked what other things they would do with their time, Torontonians said they'd work more, exercise, spend time with family, or get more sleep, however, 4 per cent said "Other." This is the 4 per cent I want to hang out with. These people are up to things.

While the rest of the country can use Toronto's suffering as a form of civic deodorant, they ignore the city's complete and utter failure at their peril. This city is so messed up you could shoot an episode of Intervention about it. If you wanted to publish a book entitled Destroying Your City's Public Transit and Transportation Infrastructure for Dummies all you'd have to do is print up the last 30 years of city council meetings. First, don't build any useful public transit, just go into denial, second don't build any new roads or freeways (you don't need them), unload transit costs from the province to the municipalities and then sit back and relax. Now try and move a city of four million on a transportation system designed for one million. And hey presto! Gridlock. I defy anyone to do a worse job than Toronto. We're number one!

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You hear that Calgary? Send not for whom the toll tolls. It tolls for thee.

As far as problems go, this is a perennial. Commuting has been a challenge since the first societies were formed. Prehistoric cave drawings of wild animals being chased by spear-carrying tribesmen weren't showing a hunt. They were showing the daily commute. The Roman poet Juvenal complained that Rome's street were so clogged and noisy that at night it was impossible to sleep.

For my money the past is where the answer lies. We need to build a time machine and go back and get some Egyptian pyramid builders, Romans architects, Mayan engineers, Chinese dudes who constructed the Great Wall, basically anyone who wore sandals and can build stuff without electricity and we need to get them back here pronto and say, "Look, you know that world you left us? Well, long-story short: we screwed up. If you fix things for us we'll give you land, cattle, silk and all the mead you can drink." I guarantee they will go for that.

Commuting problem solved.


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