John Tory is moving to reduce congestion in Toronto, tackling one of his key campaign promises only days after becoming mayor.
The six-point plan unveiled on Thursday includes visible steps such as towing vehicles that block traffic during rush hour, more parking enforcement officers on main routes and better planning of road closings.
"Will people see this happening? Yes, they will," Mr. Tory said at Toronto's traffic management centre in front of a bank of television screens showing congestion hotspots across the city. "I don't want people to think we're not going to have traffic … but they are going to see a difference."
Traffic and transit were the most important issues of the campaign, according to pollsters. Mr. Tory based his candidacy in large part on addressing the problems.
On Thursday, he acknowledged that the larger solution is to improve transit so people can get out of their cars, but he wants to do what he can to ease congestion in the short run.
Among the other ideas in the plan are having crews work longer hours for some road construction and increasing the number of traffic cameras, including using feeds from media aircraft. The cost is still being worked out, the mayor said, noting that some parts of the plan simply redeploy resources.
Asked how success would be measured, a spokesperson for Mr. Tory said the public will see tangible effects such as more police or towing. And she said people will make it clear if they believe it is working.
"We get feedback bluntly every day," Amanda Galbraith said. "The measurement's going to be in the people of Toronto."
Some highlights of the plan:
Mr. Tory is promising "zero tolerance" for illegal parking on main roads during rush hour. The policy is to apply equally to people grabbing a coffee and the delivery and shredder trucks that rack up multiple tickets.
"We can't have these people, these traffic-stoppers, disrupting the lives of hundreds and thousands of other Torontonians any more, no matter what it is they're doing," Mr. Tory said.
Hauling away delivery trucks in substantial numbers would require more extrasize trucks than JP Towing usually puts on the road, heavy division operations manager Kevin Araya said, but he added that the company has the vehicles needed.
The policy could also have a benefit beyond easing traffic flow. York University professor David Wiesenthal, who studies driving and stress, noted that aggravation and aggressive behaviour rise with congestion.
"When people don't see traffic moving and there's an obvious target, the person at the curb lane making a delivery, that I think would make people even more stressed and angered," he said.
Closing road access
Mr. Tory wants to crack down on the road restrictions related to repair work and development.
He will chair the road closings co-ordination committee for the next six months. And he said it is time to modernize the system, noting that information about road closings often comes to the city by fax.
"Let's get in the 21st century, or maybe even just the 20th century, here and not have this done by fax anymore,'" he said.
The sheer number of events in the city, coupled with the short summer construction season, will complicate this co-ordination. The TTC and Transportation Services have responded to past criticism of the timing of their work by pointing out just how little flexibility they have.
Also, Mr. Tory wants Transportation Services to look into more stringent criteria and higher fees for developers to take over a lane. The issue came up repeatedly during the campaign, with candidates saying it is now too easy and cheap.
"By attaching a real price to closing down lanes of traffic, I believe we will significantly reduce the number of lanes of traffic that we have to close, and the length of time those lanes are closed, if in fact they are at all," Mr. Tory said.
The city has been gradually re-timing traffic signals to reflect changes in travel patterns: 250 intersections were scheduled for next year. Mr. Tory's plan will bump that to 350. "This will allow traffic to move better," he said. "We will also move faster to test and pilot up the new traffic signal technology that can sense traffic flows and respond in real time."
The possibility of a so-called "green wave" of signals is attractive to motorists and was widely touted during the campaign. While signal timing is not a simple solution – it works best on roads with heavy and predictable traffic flow in one direction at a time and is complicated by factors such as grid size and pedestrian movements – it can improve efficiency.
Ryerson professor Murtaza Haider, director of the Institute of Housing and Mobility, said he has seen research that indicates as much as a 30-per-cent improvement for drivers if retiming is done well.
"If we were to co-ordinate the signal timings, for not just two consecutive signals but the network of intersections, and we co-ordinate their signal timings, we have tremendous ability to reduce the delay," he said.