The Ontario government will be limiting access on major highways across the Toronto area during the Pan Am Games next summer, part of a $61-million plan for managing traffic during the athletic competition.
The plan rolled out Monday offers greater detail about the reality for locals when the Games come to the area. It will boost the number of high-occupancy vehicle lanes – while increasing the number of people required to use them – as well as prompting parking and driving restrictions near venues.
"Everyone needs to get where they need to be during the Games, whether you're a business, whether you're a spectator, or just trying to get to work," said Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. "Our transportation plan will help Ontarians get around and reduce congestion."
He did not answer directly when asked about how much delay the Games would cause for drivers. A ministry report from February speaks of a major uptick in travel times on area highways – more than double in some cases – unless local motorists and businesses change their behaviour.
The Pan Am Games are to run from July 10 to 26, with competition spread over a vast swath of Southern Ontario. They are expected to attract 7,500 athletes and 1.4 million spectators. There will be about 4,000 media covering the events and some 23,000 volunteers assisting.
The huge numbers of people involved threatens to worsen traffic in an already congested area. In the plan issued Monday, the government promised that it would "keep the region moving."
Earlier Monday, mayor-elect John Tory said he would expect to vet transportation plans for the Games.
"We want the Pan Am Games to be a success in every single way," he said. "But we also have to carry on business in this city – people have to carry on with their lives – and whatever the plans are they're certainly going to have to be passed by me as the mayor-to-be and I would think by other public officials to make sure that we're not grinding the city to a halt."
The transportation plan calls for 235 kilometres of temporary HOV lanes, on top of the 48 kilometres currently on what is being called the "Games route network." These lanes will be open to Games-connected vehicles, emergency and transit vehicles, taxis and private vehicles with at least three people on board. Under normal rules, HOV lanes can be used by vehicles carrying two people.
The Games will put a major emphasis on transit, with the cost of a trip to the venue included in the event price. There will also be limited parking at venues. And they are creating a trip-planning app, which will offer advice on the best route to events, based on real-time information.
Those not attending events are being asked to play a role as well. Residents will be encouraged to carpool, modify travel times to avoid rush hour and opt for other modes than driving. Businesses will be asked to use transit more, modify delivery schedules and stockpile supplies before the Games.
These sorts of measures are presented as key to managing congestion. According to the ministry figures from earlier this year, travel times on key highways would be expected to jump sharply due to Games-related traffic. But with behaviour modification by locals and businesses, the ministry said, the increase could be largely nullified.
With a report from Ann Hui