Misconceptions of traffic

A lot of words and concepts have been thrown around in the interesting Lansdowne reconstruction debate that we've had here and here. I hope to clear up what I think are some of the misconceptions and misrepresentations.

all modes representated<br/>All modes of traffic are represented on this section of the waterfront, but guess which one gets priority?


(Note: Another long post, because a seemingly simple thing as a single road reconstruction brings up lots of interrelated issues that are even here haphazardly dealt with.)

  1. First, let's be clear that traffic congestion is not something that is particularly relevant to Lansdowne. As the city staff have studied (pdf), the road is currently under capacity and it isn't anticipated that the reconstruction will put it over capacity, so any increased travel times for cars does not necessarily equate "traffic congestion". This isn't stop-and-go traffic.
  2. Let's be clear too that using the term "traffic" has come to mean solely motor vehicles to the exclusion of bikes, transit and pedestrians. Once we include transit, bikes and pedestrians in the model we could say that some traffic will be slower, but other traffic may be faster as their mode is improved. It's about reprioritizing transportation to favour higher value trips and lower cost modes.
  3. In the report Joe mentioned, the city staff did 24 counts on sections of Cosburn to measure changes in motor vehicle traffic volume on Cosburn and adjoining streets. They made the assumption that a "decrease in traffic volumes on Cosburn Avenue after implementation of the bike lanes would indicate that some traffic had diverted from Cosburn Avenue to alternate routes". Note that this isn't the same as talking about "disappearing traffic", where motor vehicle traffic would need to be tracked before and after construction to see what choices were made.

    There is a relationship between travel time and traffic volume. Travel time is a measure of how long it takes for an individual car to make it across the study area. In the case of Cosburn, this is from Pape to Woodbine. Longer travel times suggests that some of the drivers will seek alternatives such as parallel streets. To measure the load on the road and parallel streets traffic volume is used. If traffic volume on the road in question decreases we likely see an increase on parallel streets, but if the we can't account for all shifted motor vehicle traffic then we can assume that some drivers chosen to take transit, bike, walk or avoid the inconvenience of the trip altogether.

    Still, we should be careful in comparing the Cosburn to Lansdowne since on Cosburn they actually took out a travel lane whereas they aren't even doing that on Lansdowne. The difference may be even more minimal in terms of travel time, but it will be hard to tell since they are widening the travel lanes on the one hand, and putting in some pedestrian crossings that jut out.

  4. A few of the commenters have confessed their scepticism with the official studies, yet have provided only assertions and no proof on the traffic demand. In the absence of community-based studies of traffic dynamics and demand I propose we stick with the experts.

    There has been the assumption that many of the motor vehicle trips on Lansdowne involve commuters to far-flung suburbs. I'd like to see such statistics if they are out there, but it doesn't cancel the effect of better cycling facilities helping shift travel modes from motor vehicles to bicycles. Studies suggest that there are a significant number of motor vehicle trips that involve distances easily covered by bicycle. A New York City study found that 22% of motor vehicle trips in NYC are under 1 mile and 56% are under 3 miles! (The original CityinFlux report can be found here (pdf)). There is a huge opportunity for making streets much friendlier for bikes and transit for these short distances. My own commute by bicycle is much longer so I think I can safely assume that there are a significant number of reasonably fit people that can tackle a 5 km bike ride during our 7-8 months of half-decent weather.

  5. These issues are nothing new. City traffic demand and dynamics have been studied for many years, if perhaps skewed towards encouraging motor vehicle traffic. Official plans over the years have tried various strategies for dealing with traffic, though mostly this has involved widening roads for motor vehicle traffic. Toronto's fairly progressive official plan takes positive steps in dealing with the increasing demand on the roads and created a strategy for increasing density along major corridors that need to be well-served by transit. Officials and experts haven't been taken by surprise by increasing traffic. We can't blame all the problems on current officials and politicians for a issue that has been set in motion since the dawn of the automobile. Critics have long known the problems with the over-reliance on automobiles -- Lewis Mumford is just one of many. There has, however, been a culture of complacency among the elite who were unwilling to upset the comfortable automobile class by making dramatic changes to the way we build and service our cities.
  6. I believe we need to have a carrot and stick strategy when it comes to shifting travel modes from private motor vehicles to transit, bikes, pedestrians and telecommuting. Driving needs to be discouraged and rewarding those choose alternatives. Real life doesn't work by saying we should just focus on education or study something to death before we do anything. It's all being done right now, we just need to do a lot more of it.

    Lansdowne is an area well served by subway and buses. For the most part, the carrot is much more available there than many other distant parts of Toronto. Yet people still choose to drive because it is convenient. While transit needs to be made much more convenient and available, there has to be a point where we say that drivers should pay more for the unbalanced cost they impose on the rest of the population.

Comments

Herb,

I don't fault the studies, and I'm sure the experts are right... but I'm confused. The Councillor and the City have talked about how this is a "green" plan, and it's supposed to "calm" traffic, but they've never publicly said it was part of the effort to stop people from driving. Now, in a meeting with a half dozen residents he has admitted to as much.

Shouldn't the real reason for the plan be the publicly announced reason for the plan?

Do people just magically stop driving, or do they choose other routes?

Shouldn't the people on those other routes be informed? Shouldn't they have some input?

And most importantly of all:

Shouldn't the other routes have traffic calming measures in place before the Lansdowne plan is implemented, if only for the sake of safety?

Traffic calming measures require an official city poll, with 60% of residents responding and then majority of that to proceed. Where is that poll of all area residents, or even the Lansdowne residents? Where are the officially sanctioned results?

As I've said repeatedly, many of the plan goals are laudable, but this process has done nothing but alienate a large proportion of area residents.

Herb, I'm not sure what to say, I'm not sure what to think. Is it just an inconvient fact for you that people with disabilities exist, and that people with mobility issues also need to be taken into consideration. Because I still don't see you addressing this. If you were to address it, you might actually come up with modifications to the plan that would be inclusive. As is you are so intent on seeing this plan through one set of optics, it doesn't even occur to you how exclusive it is. And just because you are being appropriately represented by the physical features being proposed, doesn't mean you are entitled to that representation to the exclusion of others.

This seems to be a major part of the court case of the TLRA against Giambrone: that he didn't follow the Traffic Calming Policy of the city. Scott quotes it when saying:

Traffic calming measures require an official city poll, with 60% of residents responding and then majority of that to proceed. Where is that poll of all area residents, or even the Lansdowne residents? Where are the officially sanctioned results?

I took a look at the policy online. To me it seems to consist of rules governing how the city officials will respond to individual citizens requesting traffic calming measures in their neighbourhood. That is when a survey is required.

I'm not expert, but from what I know of Lansdowne, there was no citizen request. The roadway had to be resurfaced all the same so the councillor introduced some changes to the roadway, some of which, in my humble opinion, will calm traffic and some of which will increase the traffic flow.

In sum, I don't think the Traffic Calming Policy is relevant here and that the residents will lose the case. But I'm no judge so let's wait and see.

I'm not sure where you are getting this stuff, Luiga. Just because my one post doesn't talk about people with disabilities then I must be against them? That is completely unfair and ridiculous.

In either case, if we allow cities to be dominated by automobiles, or if we build cities centred on people - on foot, bike, wheelchair, transit - we will have to address issues of accessibility for all citizens.

I would argue that a city prioritizes public and active transportation will provide much better opportunities for building in accessibility for people with various disabilities. We're all going to get old and need assistance. It's just been shown over and over that private automobiles are the worst system ever to provide access for all citizens whether they be in a wheelchair, unable to buy a car or just prefer to go about by foot or bike.

I put it to you to show us all why you think the status quo is such a good thing.

Herb, you addressed your post specifically to Lansdowne. What I'm trying to point out is that some of us who have been raising opposition, have not been raising it in direct opposition to the proposed changes. If the conversation is always limited to the physical features, there is no point in a discussion. Or even you taking the time to research and frame your work. Which I do appreciate you taking the time to do. What I'm highlighting is the affects this plan is having on disabled individuals and their family. Its one thing to have certain features to work with, its another thing to have features taken away that you've based your support network around. That impacts a family support network, to make sacrifices, that may not be possible for the family to make, wheather it be time or money to make up for the lost features, That is what is happening to my neighbour,
Even if its just one family that is one family too many. For me it all comes down to how we as a society treat people and eachother. I don't think you purposefully excluded addressing people with mobility issues in your post as if you have some hostility towards them, that is ridiculous. What I'm saying is that you took time, effort, and what looks like alot of thought to put your peice together, and it didn't even enter your awareness. And to be truthfull I don't know that it would even be a part of my conciousness if my neighbour was not handicapped, and even more so if I didn't have to greet him and his mother every morning, it would not of occured to me either. I hope you don't take what I'm saying as an insult that is certainly not how I am intending my comments.