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Plan to battle Toronto congestion picks up speed at council

Councillors approve staff strategy to address 'unprecedented' number of road closures
Nov. 13, 2023
Shawn Jeffords

Toronto councillors hit the gas this week on a new congestion management plan to address the "unprecedented" number of road closures on city streets.

Council adopted the new plan, recommended by city staff, which will introduce more traffic wardens to jammed intersections, provide better coordination of major events, and use new technology to combat gridlock.

Staff say Toronto is facing an "unprecedented amount of construction road closures" with billions of dollars in transit and infrastructure upgrades underway across the city.

Councillor Chris Moise, who represents downtown's Toronto Centre riding, put the frustration people are feeling bluntly.

"I gotta say, it's a cluster ... mess," Moise said.

He paused as he chose his words carefully on the council floor.

"Let's call it that."

The plan updates a previous strategy first created by the city in 2013. It will see Toronto adopt a number of new tools to address congestion. The city will work with the Toronto Police Service on an interim basis to have between 10 to 13 special constables actively manage key intersections during high-volume periods.

By March, the city hopes to have 45 traffic agents in the field, but staff told council 50 would be the ideal complement.

"The timeline that it takes to actually get our special constables able to be deployed in the training is actually quite significant," said Barbara Gray, the city's general manager of transportation.

"We have job calls out all the time to fill those positions."

City to use new tech to give real-time info
Staff will also roll out a new program that would require construction sites to have clearly-posted QR codes that can be scanned with a smartphone to get real-time information on projects. That information would include the company doing the work, the nature and duration of road closures, and a 24/7 emergency contact number.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the QR codes should help address the frustration of local residents and drivers seeking clear project updates.

There is billions of dollars in infrastructure and transit construction going on in the city right now and that will be positive in the years to come, she said, but there's no denying the inconvenience it creates now.

"It's an enormous amount of development that is happening in the city of Toronto," she said. "It is good for people and it will be good for our future. The next generations will thank us for that."

Transportation Services will update its road restrictions website with more information about impacts to road, pedestrian, and cycling infrastructure. That data will continue to be shared with way-finding apps so people can access it while driving.

Council also approved a plan to buy and install more smart signals at intersections which rely on artificial intelligence and a torrent of real-time data to keep traffic moving. Toronto has already installed smart signals at 59 intersections throughout the city. Another 30 intersections will get them by year's end.

The city already earmarked some $39 million for the deployment of smart signals in the 2023 budget. Another $45.9 million will be requested through the budget process in coming years.

'Free flowing' traffic at all times not the goal: Gray
Coun. Gord Perks (Parkdale-High Park) said the city needs to focus on increasing the efficiency of its road system and encouraging people to use car alternatives to get around. He pressed city staff about what resident's expectations should be of the new plan, specifically when it comes to reducing traffic.

"This isn't a plan that just says the city of Toronto should have free flowing, fast traffic at all times. That's not the goal here," he said.

"That is not the goal," Barbara Gray responded.

"That's an impossible goal, isn't it?" Perks asked.

"Yes," she said. "I would say that is an impossible goal."

Coun. Brad Bradford (Beaches-East York) said the city must continue to improve its management of ongoing construction projects.

Council passed a motion from Bradford directing city staff to better integrate work on major capital projects and report back early next year on that plan. He says that will help minimize the disruption to drivers.

"We need to do a better job when folks are losing hours of time on a daily basis, stuck in traffic and congestion here in the city of Toronto, that impacts their ability to get to work, that impacts their ability to get back home to their families," he said. "And we need to find a better way to do this, in a more streamlined fashion."