Getting Nowhere Fast: We Need to Rethink City Planning

August 6th, 2010

If you live in any major urban centre you know just how difficult it can be getting from one place to another, whether you’re stuck behind the wheel of your car or taking public transit.

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), traffic congestion has reached such proportions that it compares unfavorably with most cities in North America, included Los Angeles, a point made all the worse when you consider that the average Torontonian spends seven hours a week in traffic . A new report released by the Toronto City Summit Alliance . goes to great lengths to show how much more onerous getting around Southern Ontario has become over recent years:

“While the supply of roads in lane-kilometres increased by 56% between 1986 and 2006, the vehicle-kilometres of personal vehicle travel demand using those roads increased by 106%, almost twice as fast as the supply. During the same 20-year period the supply of transit grew by 18% (a substantial improvement over the 1% increase from 1986-2001), but the demand in passenger-kilometres grew by 45%, almost two and a half times faster than the supply. The result has been more traffic congestion on roads and more crowding on transit. The GTHA has become a world leader in forcing residents to waste the maximum amount of time in their vehicle of choice, whether at work or play.”

The report targets persistent underfunding of public transit and a lack of political will on transit issues that has lead to serious road congestion and inadequate transit. The report identifies the lack of reliable funding as the main culprit and details a number of alternate funding sources.

Included on the list of alternate sources of funding were road tolls on GTHA freeways (including 400 series highways), which could net an additional $1-2 billion dollars in revenue. Other potential funding sources include utility bill levies, which could earn $50-100 million dollars per year and employer payroll taxes, which can bring in an estimated maximum of $200 million dollars a year.

The scale and impact of these new funding sources make them controversial and toll roads in particular have become an election issue. So, the Toronto City Summit Alliance held a roundtable, in which CARP was a participant, to solicit opinions and recommendations from relevant stakeholders. Opinions were anything but unanimous.

For some, taxing cars and gasoline isn’t fair because not everyone can afford to live near city centres, and therefore must rely on automobiles. However, for those who live in city centres and may not use highways to get around, tolls make perfect sense.

For our part, CARP used the occasion to point out the need to rethink how cities are allowed to develop – to be mindful of how business, services and residential communities are located to minimize the need for mass traffic and even transit – before looking for ways to fund the existing and planned transportation networks. Any such mass transportation network must be accessible for people of all ages and funding options should not place an unfair burden on those who do not directly contribute to the congestion and may not be able to benefit from the changes.