Hey, stupid, don't get pushy! Toronto is cracking down on drivers who block intersections.
The city is trying to end a recurring traffic nightmare in rush hour, when no one seems able to rush anywhere.
An all-too-familiar scene on Bay Street yesterday is typical of the problem. Traffic had ground to a halt to the north of the Adelaide Street intersection. The driver of a green SUV was stuck in the intersection and began angrily sounding his horn. Somehow that didn't deter the drivers of a Honda and a Ford from pulling into the intersection as well when the light turned red.
Now the light was green for traffic on the cross street but the corner was in gridlock.
A new program to be announced this morning is warning drivers "don't get caught in the box."
Four downtown intersections have been painted for the new program with bright yellow cross-hatched lines, marking a no-go zone if traffic is stopped on the other side of the intersection.
Three of the four trouble spots in the test program are on Bay Street, at Front Street, Adelaide Street and Richmond Street. A fourth is at the corner of University Avenue and Wellington Street.
Subtle reminders are not enough to make people keep their cars out of a busy intersection unless they are sure they can clear it, so the city and police are joining forces to crack down, said Les Kelman, director of the city's transportation management centre.
"Blocking the intersection has been targeted because it can lead to frustration and possible road rage," Mr. Kelman said. It also makes the drive home seem to take an eternity.
Police with ticket books will be highly visible at these intersections, but there will be extra enforcement of gridlock offences this week everywhere in the city, said Superintendent Gary Grant of the Toronto Police Service.
"It's a big problem in many places. In Scarborough, Don Mills, on Steeles Avenue, wherever traffic backs up, people are tempted to make a selfish choice," that makes traffic worse for everyone, he said.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, a driver who goes into an intersection on a green light when there is no "reasonable expectation" of getting across the intersection faces a $40 ticket.
The offence becomes more serious if the driver makes the move on a yellow light or makes a turn that causes gridlock, Supt. Grant said. The fine is $140 and three demerit points on the licence.
When Toronto police did a gridlock-awareness sweep week this spring, they wrote almost 1,500 tickets, but the problem returned soon after the end of the blitz.
Supt. Grant said the hope is that marking the grid on the intersections will give people a visual reference that will reinforce the anti-gridlock message.
The grid is based on programs that have been successful at speeding up traffic flow in New York and several European cities, Mr. Kelman said.
If the pilot program cuts down on gridlock, the boxes will be painted on a number of other intersections in the city. The police enforcement will be made a regular part of the program as well.
"There's no doubt the most effective control is police presence. But we hope the signs will be a constant reminder that even frustrated drivers should be considerate," Mr. Kelman said.