The province was off in many projections of how badly this summer's Pan Am Games would affect traffic, with some drivers faring better than expected while others faced seven times the predicted delay.
A comprehensive report on the games' transportation impact that was released this week lays bare how sharply the reality differed – both positively and negatively – from the scenarios officials described before the games.
In the most stark example, car trips on the Queen Elizabeth Way between highways 427 and 403 were about 13 to 14 minutes slower, depending on direction, than they had been the previous summer. The pre-games projection was a delay of less than two minutes. Another trouble spot was the northbound Don Valley Parkway, where drivers were slowed by more than nine minutes rather than the expect two minutes.
The games this summer attracted thousands of athletes and spectators. In a bid to handle the additional people and get competitors to their venues, drivers were strongly encouraged to use transit, and regular lanes on many area highways were set aside for official games use and carpools. The lanes sparked criticism at the time, but their full impact on other traffic was unclear until now, with the ministry saying the numbers had to be analyzed properly before release.
The province's Minister of Transportation was not available on Thursday to comment on the report, which had been promised by the end of the year and came in just before the deadline.
Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris said he thinks people understand that big events can cause congestion – so they did not, as he put it, "lose any sleep" about traffic during the games – but he also argued that the province did not do enough to manage problems.
"We were surprised by the lack of real planning," Mr. Harris said. "Perhaps those added [travel] moments ... could've been shaved down to close to nothing."
Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring said that "the majority of people knew there was going to be an impact," and that he heard more about residents switching to GO Transit than complaining about the traffic. And he said games-related delays have to be weighed against the broader benefits of holding the games.
The MTO report also shows the games produced some unexpected positive effects on transportation. The province's goal of having one-fifth of people change their travel plans during the event was widely outstripped, with 34 per cent reporting having made adjustments.
Among the roughly two-thirds who did not alter their plans during the games, 70 per cent felt the event had little or no impact on their travel, the report shows.
Athletes were able to get to events on time, the report said, and quoted one saying the reserved lanes were "well worth it." Ninety per cent of spectators were satisfied with their transportation experience, the report states.
The impact on regular drivers is somewhat more complicated. According to the report, the average traffic impact during the games ranged from about one to two minutes. That average covers a wide range of results, however, from major delays on the QEW and DVP to unexpected improvements on the Gardiner.
Among the findings are data about several travel routes that appeared to be less less affected by the games than had been predicted, though a straight comparison between the final analysis and the projections was not always possible.
In the case of Highway 401, projections in March cut the roadway into eight sections and said delays would be between less than one minute and seven minutes, depending on which part was being used. The final analysis that appeared this week divided the 401 into only three sections and said the impact ranged from less than a minute of delay to less than a minute of time saved.
The Gardiner, where delays of up to five minutes were forecast, was also faster than expected. It was five to eight minutes faster, depending on direction, than the previous summer – although the year-over-year improvement needs also to take into account an end to construction that had been under way in 2014.