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road sage

Today’s traffic hellscapes push drivers to daring manoeuvres. Faced with kilometres of congestion they go outlaw. These aren’t transgressions that spring from the opportunity of the moment. They are planned. The driver makes the decision long before they execute the wrongdoing.

Often, these moves occur at a location where the right set of wrong factors meet, which can be found in every city. In Toronto, one of the worst sites is the west-bound Gardiner Expressway on-ramp at Lower Jarvis Street that runs off the four-lane artery Lake Shore Boulevard East.

The entrance to the ramp lies across a set of traffic lights. The far-right lane is reserved for traffic turning right onto Jarvis. The centre-right lane is for traffic accessing the on-ramp. It is separated by a line of flexible traffic bollards that were installed east of Lower Jarvis Street in March 2022. The two left lanes are for through traffic.

The problem is caused by the volume of traffic trying to access the on-ramp. In 2021, a ramp farther east named the Logan Avenue ramp was demolished. Drivers who would have used it must now use the Jarvis ramp. Each day thousands of drivers attempt to squeeze into this one single lane. The delays and congestion are epic. Early mergers fill the Gardiner-bound lane for a kilometre. This flow is interrupted by late-comers who cut into the line at various points. The congestion is so bad that police are deployed at the intersection in the afternoon and early evenings on weekdays.

Open this photo in gallery:

A screen capture from Google Maps shows a car trying to merge into the lane designated for cars waiting to access the west-bound Gardiner Expressway via the Jarvis ramp.Handout

And so, the stage is set for the “premediated merger.”

Here’s the scenario when west-bound traffic has a red light:

  • The right lane is filled with drivers turning onto Jarvis Street.
  • The centre-right lane is crammed with hopefuls to one day access the Gardiner.
  • The centre-left lane pretty much empty. The premeditated merger chooses this lane because they can see the mouth of the Gardiner ramp wide open and inviting. Legally, they know they can’t use the on-ramp. Only drivers in the official “Gardiner Expressway” lane are allowed to do that. Yet, there it sits so close, just a stone’s throw away.

Gentleman. Start your engines!

When the light turns green, the premeditated merger slams their foot on the gas and veers into the Gardiner traffic, snaking their way precariously onto the ramp. Instead of being stuck in traffic for 20 minutes waiting their turn, they have thumbed their nose at authority and the civilized rules of society. Those who have been waiting dutifully are appalled by the gall (also, why didn’t they think of that).

Premeditated merging at the Jarvis on-ramp happens constantly. I’ve seen more than one merger commit merger in the first degree at the same time. It’s not a fluke violation. It’s a strategy - and a a dangerous one. There are pedestrians crossing and cyclists, not to mention drivers. However, temptation is always there. You can only stew waiting to take Dante’s on-ramp for so long. Everyone has a breaking point.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that it used to be worse. The decision to get rid of the Logan ramp was made in 2016, yet when it finally came down drivers were still “caught off guard” and chaos ensued. The disaster was predictable, especially when the extent of the city’s plan to deal with traffic fallout was more communication.

The first stage was utter bedlam as thousands of drivers tried to squeeze into a single lane. Rather then employing the “zipper method” deranged motorists applied the “flipper method” in which they flipped each other the bird and then re-enacted Death Race 2000. Roads were blocked, nothing moved, it could take 45 minutes to drive half a kilometre.

According to a communications officer at the City of Toronto, “Post ramp removal, staff observed multiple instances of unsafe driving behaviour and near-misses. For example, motorists were observed ‘jumping the queue’ by travelling in the lane adjacent to the queue westbound on-ramp, then merging near the front of the queue.” That’s when the bollards went in.

And what of the future?

When will the Gardiner Expressway be fully aborted?

When will the madness end?

When will it all be over?

“The City and Waterfront Toronto continue to monitor traffic in the wider area and adjusting traffic signal timing and coordination,” the communications officer says. “In addition to working with a Construction Liaison Committee made up of affected residents and businesses.”

Apparently, our job is to wait.

When will the premediated mergers be brought to justice?

That, apparently, is none of our business. Our job is to wait.

It reminds me of a 1917 joke from the First World War comedy troupe, the Dumbells. A recruit is joining his unit and a grizzled veteran asks him how long he has been enlisted for.

“Seven years,” the recruit replies.

“You’re lucky,” says the veteran. “I’m in for the duration.”

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