York Urbanist

Vaughan Traffic Congestion – A Perception

April 18th, 2015

Vaughan doesn’t need more traffic lanes! Congestion refers to drivers’ discomfort with anticipated trips. When a 10 minute trip is lasts 15 minutes, traffic’s perception is ‘congestion’. . Vaughan’s congestion can be handled with existing lanes. Following is a breakdown of Traffic Congestion into Trip Length, Frequency and Urgency.

Trip length is longer than it needs to be. There are two factors – suburbanization; and advent of helicopter parents. Each single family dwellings needs to be served by a street. The City adopted street standards of widths and intersections that took up large land space and further separated housing from destinations. The distances between units makes transit too costly to create. To get to destinations, workplace or retail stores or institutions, the only transportation alternative is a car. Our municipal transportation planning focus therefore became a fixation on what the car needs, not what people need.

Thus the second factor, the helicopter parent. Fear has engulfed our psyche around the safety of streets. Easy access to media has made security seem worse than it once was. So, instead of allowing children to walk, ride or take the bus, parents drive their children to school. Accordingly, one experiences significant traffic reduction on school holidays and PD days.

Trip frequency has increased with wealth. Vaughan is one of Canada’s wealthiest municipalities. Making a separate trip to the store instead of combining it with a trip to work is legitimized because the decision is unaffected by the cost of the trip. Disposable income also allows people to indulge in extras such as day spas, fitness clubs and personal services.

Urgency of trips is under-evaluated. Combined with the aforementioned wealth argument, we have no hesitation in driving to the distant grocery store for that one product to complete a meal. Also, the direct costs to drive might be $5, which adds 25%to the cost for a $20 purchase. Driving also cuts into our time management equations. Whereas, prior to suburbanization, we could walk to the corner hardware store, now we are obligated to attend Big Box retailers and their ‘free’ parking conveniences. A fifteen minute distant car trip creates a 1½ hour event. We have no volunteer time because it is taken up in time on the roads.

So, how do we relieve congestion?

vAUGHAN bikelanes_web[1]

Relieving Traffic Congestion

Previously, Traffic Congestion was broken into Trip Length, Frequency and Urgency. The following suggests how the existing infrastructure of Vaughan can be used to reduce perceived ‘Congestion’.

Education

Emphasize to people/drivers the time and dollar cost of their trips in the car. Can we change their behavioural patterns through education? The answer is: likely not. We can afford the car and spread out housing and we are not changing.   But educate the children that they can enjoy a walk or ride to school and help the environment and our next generation could impart change.

Are there ways to make our existing infrastructure more efficient?

Sidewalk zonesThe intelligent street

Through computer technology and physical road planning there are ways to speed the trips taken. With sensors, communication between vehicle and road infrastructure, we could spend less time at traffic signals and increase safety by keeping our vehicles within the limits of the infrastructure. Building roundabouts instead of signalized intersections increases traffic flow by as much as 50%. Smart streets can also respond to transit and emergency vehicles, allowing them to flow more freely through traffic. Intelligent streets will not affect the numbers of trips, indeed it will increase the number of trips because it becomes easier to go from origin to destination.

So how else can we improve infrastructure?

If you need a sign - street designed wrongComplete Streets

The concept of including pedestrians and cyclists with transit and motorized vehicles has grown in the past ten years. It may be adopted by Vaughan on Centre Street in Thornhill. Cyclists have long campaigned for safer and defined corridors. A complete street provides that. Generous sidewalks provide for pedestrian safety and comfort. And transit only lanes/tracks give priority to multi-user vehicles. Although Highway 7 in Richmond Hill/Markham attempts a complete street, the pedestrian is left with a long crossing. Hence, few pedestrians are found. Similarly the cycling lane is a green patch of asphalt. It is unseparated from motorized traffic. Consequently, cyclists are few.

Had the City incorporated a separated cycle lane and generous pedestrian space on Major Mackenzie between Keele Street and Jane Street in Maple, there would be more cyclists and pedestrians venturing between homes and retail. There would be fewer motorists using the route for short trips that cause frequent turns and hence slower traffic.

We do not need to increase and grow streets. We need to think smarter, both planners and citizens of Vaughan.

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