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Traffic congestion at King Street West and Spadina Avenue on Aug. 6, 2013. (GLORIA NIETO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Traffic congestion at King Street West and Spadina Avenue on Aug. 6, 2013. (GLORIA NIETO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Toronto mulls ideas to tackle its multibillion-dollar congestion problem Add to ...

Toronto is floating dozens of ideas to tackle congestion, a worsening problem that is costing the city billions according to the business lobby.

The proposals are detailed in a pair of traffic-related reports released Wednesday by the city. Changes include adapting several one-way streets to allow travel in both directions, cracking down harder on illegal stopping and coordinating traffic signals better. Also recommended is sometimes removing the priority now given to transit at many intersections.

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The reports were released in advance of next week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting.

The five-year Congestion Management Plan is budgeted at about $57-million, which must be approved by the committee, and includes a host of initiatives to be studied or rolled out over time. The Downtown Transportation Operations Study should be covered by the existing 2014 budget and tends to be things that can be implemented more quickly.

“It’s a series of incremental improvements,” said Stephen Buckley, general manager of the city’s Transportation Services department.

The two reports were months in the making and seek to address a problem that is increasingly worrying to residents and policy-makers.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade says that congestion costs the city $6-billion annually, a figure they say will rise to $15-billion unless something is done to address the problem. The Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance says that area residents have among the longest commutes in the continent, and that it will rise by another 32 minutes if something is not done.

But most transportation experts warn that, in a city with little additional road capacity to be had and transit being built at a glacial pace, there is no practical way to eliminate the problem. Efforts, pragmatists say, must be aimed at managing the problem to make traffic as efficient as possible and prevent it deteriorating further.

“We need tactical ways to squeeze as much out of the system as possible,” Mr. Buckley acknowledged Wednesday. “Our goal may simply be to accommodate the coming growth without things getting worse.”

Among the ideas that will be obvious to motorists is a plan to convert a pair of downtown one-way streets to allow traffic in both directions. This would apply to two stretches of Wellington (between Yonge and Simcoe and between John and Blue Jays Way) and to Simcoe from Front to Wellington. There is also a plan to clamp down on right turns off Bay Street in the financial district and look at improving access to the Gardiner in several places.

As well, the city plans to take a harsher line on illegally stopped vehicles with a more aggressive towing campaign, looking to establish an impound lot downtown and strike deals with towing companies for an increased presence around King, Richmond and Adelaide in the core. They are also pushing the province to raise the fine for stopping illegally from $60 to $150 as a way to address the number of drivers who blithely block a lane.

“There’s a real effect,” said Mr. Buckley, who noted that there will also be an education campaign urging drivers not to “be that guy.”

“Our goal is not necessarily to be punitive, but we need folks to realize the effects of bad behaviour.”

Also intended to speed traffic is the installation of congestion detection equipment on Richmond, from Bay to Jarvis, allowing traffic signal timing to be adapted to manage the flow better. And the city is floating the idea that it might be better for transit vehicles to get precedence at intersections only when running behind schedule or to help prevent bunching of vehicles.

The longer-range vision includes installing 100 cameras to monitor traffic flow on arterials, developing traffic management plans for disruptive scenarios that can be anticipated, working more closely with police, communicating better with motorists and looking at changing parking fees to encourage turnover and discourage illegal stopping.

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