Minnan-Wong planning “significant” downtown transportation study; believes more roads can solve traffic problems

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while. Amidst a bunch of news cycles dominated by that thing where other councillors forced the removal of existing infrastructure in her ward — despite her objections, and those of local residents and business –, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam revealed a major plan for the renewal of the section of Yonge Street between Dundas and Gerrard. It calls for wider sidewalks, an improved public realm, “sharrows” for cyclists and, oh yeah, the removal of two car lanes. Pedestrians vastly outnumber vehicles on this stretch so this doesn’t seem like an overly crazy suggestion.

You can download the entire report here. I’ve compressed it from its original downtown-elite file size of nearly 140 megabytes, so the images are a bit grainy.

Response to the report was swift, of course. Councillor and Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong essentially smacked it down, citing the need to first do a “very significant transportation study” of the downtown before making any moves to revitalize streets.

The Sun’s Chris Reynolds:

While Public Works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong said he had yet to see the report, he cautioned any rush to rip up Yonge St. traffic lanes.

“The city is planning a very significant transportation study of the downtown, all the major roads and thoroughfares,” Minnan-Wong said. “It is going to be proposed by staff, it is coming forward in September and we are going to be looking at gridlock and congestion in the downtown.

via Study says Yonge stretch should be narrowed | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Oh good. We’re going to look at gridlock and congestion in the downtown.

Much of Toronto’s downtown ‘gridlock’ can be attributed to simple physics: there are too many cars coming into a relatively small space. You might be able to nominally increase some traffic metrics by improving signal timing and filling in some missing roadway links (as seen with the Dufferin underpass last year), but you’re not going to drastically increase overall capacity unless you start knocking down buildings to allow for wider streets.

Even then, adding roadway capacity only leads to the “induced demand” phenomenon, which says, basically, that new roads create new traffic. There isn’t a magical point at which roadspace is bountiful enough that congestion and gridlock stop happening. (The inverse is also true: contrary to logic, some traffic will simply disappear if road capacity is reduced.)

The principles behind induced demand are pretty widely accepted by planners and politicians these days. A notable exception would be the Councillor backing this downtown transportation study. He seemingly does not buy it, as he told Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan last week that he thinks, “if you have more roads you will have traffic run better.”

And so, in an attempt to deal with downtown traffic, it looks like we’re going to try and dig our way out of this hole. Meanwhile, Yonge Street will probably be waiting a long time for its much-needed revitalization.

Somewhat Related: I wanted to throw a link out for Edward Keenan’s ambitious five-part series at The Grid, which stands as a remarkably thorough examination of the idea of road pricing in Toronto and the GTA. Recommended reading.

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