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Driving for a Better Greater Toronto Area

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on June 24, 2015

In 1947, the first stretch of Highway 401 was completed from West Hill, Scarborough to Oshawa. The last stretch of the 818 kilometre highway – Gananoque to Brockville – was completed in 1968. Since then, the highway has grown steadily in both volume of traffic and importance to Ontario’s economy – each day more than 500,000 vehicles travel Highway 401, carrying $500 million worth of products.

Anyone driving the 401, and associated routes like the QEW, DVP, 404 and 400, quickly experiences the grid-lock that threatens to choke the region’s economy and further tax drivers’ patience. A similar aggravation faces many of Toronto’s subway, streetcar and bus patrons. Congestion in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) costs the economy more than $6 billion per year. It’s a figure that’s growing fast and does not include health impacts or reduced land values. Many studies have been completed and much work is underway to reduce congestion, e.g. Metrolinx’s ‘The Big Move’.

A recent study by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology adds yet another voice to the cacophony (perhaps a scream heard on the westbound 401 in Durham Region on a weekday morning). This study however is slightly different. What if a retrospective view is taken; say from 2050? And what if new technologies like Uber and self-driving cars are considered, and new technologies like electric vehicles and natural gas buses and heavy duty trucks are included? And what if less emphasis is placed on building more roads and transit and more emphasis is placed on connecting people to each other?

The study suggests:

  • moving to more shared (mostly electric) vehicles (EVs);
  • developing transportation nodes that act as work centres (and emergency relief centres);
  • implementing a Rapid Transit corridor along most of the 400 series highways, starting with Highway 407 and parts of 401 (dedicated routes);
  • using the dedicated transit corridor for heavy duty trucks during non-peak hours;
  • encouraging natural gas powered heavy duty trucks and buses (and later possible electrification);
  • possible partnership with Montreal and Vancouver to promote commuter-style EVs; and
  • encouraging new technologies like connected vehicles, Uber (with caution) and autonomous (self-drive) vehicles.

A key aspect of the study is recognition that most people do not travel for enjoyment of the journey, but for the benefits at the destination. People talking to people – preferably in person – is what drives our economy and what provides much of our quality of life. But we need to be able to move quickly, safely and with less noise and pollution than today.

Greater Toronto is not alone in its transportation challenges. The region is, however, uniquely positioned to benefit from low-carbon electricity, relatively secure and lower-cost natural gas, and a keen desire by many agencies and governments to weave together a much stronger and broader transportation plan. The plan outlined in the study would reduce 100 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050 and provide fuel savings of some $76 billion.

Canada’s automotive history started in Oshawa. This study in a small way tries to map a new transportation route. Similar to how the 401 linked together Southern Ontario, we now need to better connect Oshawa to Waterloo, Scarborough to Peterborough, Barrie to Bloor Street, and the Beach to Sheppard Avenue.

Read the full study, Exploring Alternative Transportation Options in the Greater Toronto Area: Electric and Natural Gas Vehicles, here.

Filed under: Students on Sustainability