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Transit sign in Toronto. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Transit sign in Toronto. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)


Unlocking the gridlock Add to ...

No major city is free from traffic problems, and urban planners say that the situation, while frustrating, is a sign of a healthy community. So along with all the congestion-busting ideas, the necessary final ingredient may be a different public attitude – a change in what we consider acceptable.

In his book Fighting Traffic , Peter Norton describes the early battles by the automobile lobby to gain pre-eminence on the road, over the objections of other users. Drivers won that fight and the idea has become entrenched to the point that some argue roads are for motorists only.

But even if roads were exclusively for motorists, still there would not be enough space. And others continue to insist that city streets remain multimodal, with space given over to cyclists, pedestrians and other users.

“Why motorists should have the priority is far from clear,” Prof. Miller said. “Streets are for moving people, but they’re for much more than moving people. They’re part of our urban form.”


The good news for cities out of the federal budget this week is that they can count on stable infrastructure funding from Ottawa. The budget earmarked more than $47-billion for infrastructure over 10 years. Much of this is re-allocation of existing funding, but there will be more money for municipalities, and Toronto is already angling for its share.

Toronto councillor and TTC Chair Karen Stintz responded to the federal budget by immediately calling for the city to apply for funding for a new subway line, taking pressure off the overloaded system. But a compatriot on council, Denzil Minnan-Wong, cautioned that the city’s road and water systems are in need of serious investment.

There will not be enough money to make everyone happy. Setting priorities will involve difficult discussions and winning the suburbs is key. There’s a net inflow into Toronto each day of about 230,000 people, many of whom don’t have alternative modes of transport. This is a ready constituency for politicians who claim to be fighting against the so-called “war on the car.”

Still, while road vs. rail is an old debate in Toronto, there are solutions out there. But it will take a dose of fresh thinking to break the deadlock.

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