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facts on the ground

Toronto traffick can be a nightmare, especially with roads closing for the summer. <137>Rush hour traffic on Spadina Avenue in Toronto on Nov. 29, 2013. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)<137>Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Welcome, tourist, to Toronto, the city with potholes the size of the Grand Canyon, roads permanently under construction, roads soon to be closed for an assortment of parades, carnivals, festivals, public floggings of municipal and provincial politicians seeking election, and an assortment of feets of strength, or marathons as they are known.

For those willing to test their survival instincts, herewith are the need-to-know basic road rules, as interpreted by Toronto drivers:

1. Red lights. When you see a red light it means you are supposed to stop, preferably behind the lines where pedestrians tread. In Toronto, however, a red light means the next eight cars can proceed; the ninth must stop, so keep count.

2. Turns. In Toronto, you may make a right turn from the left lane, a left turn from the right lane, turns in any direction from the centre lane. No need to signal; other drivers will understand.

3. Painted arrows on the road. On some city streets you may see big white arrows directing drivers left, or right, or straight ahead. Pay no heed. In Toronto graffiti artists also use the roadways as a canvas. If confused, see Point 2 on turns.

4. Police directing traffic (not). You may see what would appear to be policemen at openly busy construction sites wearing yellow jackets and standing near, or leaning against orange pylons. They are not police. They are actors in police uniforms advertising for various cellphone or takeaway coffee companies. You may also see what appear to be firearms. Fear not. They are water pistols to cool hot foreheads on sunny days.

5. Taxis. We will try to simplify the approach to taxis. Understand it is much more complex but, in brief:

  • Taxis are allowed to drive down the centre of the road.
  • Rules 1 through 3 do not apply to taxis.
  • It is against the law if you fail to yield to a taxi in search of a fare.
  • Taxis are allowed to block six lanes of traffic to make U-turns if: they have a fare; they suspect a fare; they need a coffee; they need to beat another taxi, same firm or not, to a suspected fare, a definite fare, a tourist or resident looking confused, anyone making arm gestures out of the norm.
  • All drivers must stop for a taxi ballet. This occurs when a westbound taxi spots an eastbound fare or an eastbound taxi spots a westbound fare. The movement, the taxi ballet, involves two cabs doing figure 8’s across four to six lanes. On two lane roads, all traffic should veer to a sidewalk (watch the pedestrians, please) so as not to interrupt this delicate movement. Demerit points and stiff fines face those drivers who refuse to get out of the way of a taxi in search of a fare, a suspected fare, a potential fare sometime in the future (you get it I am sure).

6. Merging traffic. Do not allow it. You were there first.

7. One-way streets. The signs are obvious, they direct drivers to usage of a roadway where they should not face opposing traffic. Taxis, however, do not have to abide by this regulation. A cab must be pointed in the direction of the arrow but may proceed to reverse against the grain. See Rule 5, same demerit points and fines apply for vehicles impeding the flow of a taxi on a one-way street.

8. Rush hour. A misnomer, no one is in a rush, quite the opposite. However, when stopped during rush hour feel free to take part in the symphony of the horn. It is there for a reason but at rush hour, really has no purpose other than tonal  quality.

9. Single lanes. Many Toronto roads have only one lane in either direction. Feel free to pass if your car has enough power. Remember taxis can stop in either direction for real or imagined or potential fares, to exchange gossip or, well, because they can. See Rule 5, again.

10. Be thankful. Driving in Toronto should be a pleasurable experience. Despite our rules, be thankful you are not on the road to Gravenhurst. If it can't be helped, please check "Rules of road – 400 series highways."

Have a great vacation.

Jim Palmateer is The Globe and Mail's production editor

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