Traffic congestion in Toronto was slightly better last year. A mild winter helped.
It was a shift so slight you probably didn’t even feel it. Toronto’s traffic turmoil abated marginally last year — down by 3 per cent from 2014, according to the annual traffic index report produced by GPS-technology company TomTom.
But don’t thank the politicians touting new transit and stoplight technology. They might have played a minor role but there were bigger factors.
The decline in congestion last year was probably due to a number of factors, including last summer’s Pan Am Games traffic mitigation measures and mild weather in November and December, said TomTom CEO Nick Cohn.
“I know there are a lot of efforts in Toronto to improve cycle and public transport options. I’m sure that has some effect. But I think it’s a mix. I don’t think there’s one thing that changes it all,” he said.
A slower economy that meant slightly fewer people were commuting to work or doing fewer business or delivery trips could also have been factors, said Cohn.
Toronto ranked 64 out of 174 big cities in 38 countries and was the second most congested city among six Canadian centres ranked on the TomTom index. All six fell slightly on the index from the previous year. In North America, Toronto ranked ninth for congestion, with Mexico City, Los Angeles and San Francisco taking the top three spots and, Vancouver fourth.
Toronto had an overall score of 28 per cent, meaning that’s how much longer it typically takes Toronto drivers to get where they’re going because of traffic. That compares to 57 per cent in Bangkok, Thailand, 44 per cent in Moscow and 33 per cent in New York.
Toronto Mayor John Tory and city transportation officials say they want to work with the kind of data produced by companies such as TomTom. While there is no formal relationship, Cohn said the firm, which makes GPS devices, apps and maps, would welcome such a move.
The Traffic Index is based on how much time traffic adds to the normal speed of an unimpeded trip.
The researchers looked at delays by individual road segments and calculated how much travel time was added to those segments in congested periods compared to free flowing periods.
The worst day to be on the roads in Toronto last year wasn’t even a weekday. It was Saturday, Feb. 21 when a sudden snowstorm saw the city’s roads seized by collisions.
Like a lot of cities, Toronto experiences its worst commutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While Monday can feel like the worst morning of the week for commuters, Cohn says that it’s also the day when more people tend to be late to work for reasons that have nothing to do with congestion.
Toronto’s middle-of-the-index status is comparable to Miami or Barcelona, he said.
“Toronto has much better public transportation alternatives than Miami does and better attitudes about using public transportation than people in Miami. Barcelona has a much bigger metro system but it’s got a little bit worse traffic than Toronto,” said Cohn.
Like Toronto, the Spanish city is built on a waterfront and has similar freeways. It also has more cyclists and many more narrow streets, while Toronto has more broad arterial roads.
Cohn said the index is really designed to get planners and people thinking about how to make their cities move better.
“What we really want to do is raise the awareness of travellers that we shouldn’t be expecting our public authorities to solve our congestion. We really should be looking at what options we do have. It’s good to look at peaks and how bad are they in different cities . . . Also how much could you potentially save if you are able to get your employer to be a little bit more flexible about working hours?” said Cohn.
“I think it’s strange that in this day and age when everybody talks about flexible, new style working we still have these peak hours as bad that are as they ever were. I hope we collectively think about how we can improve this because building more freeways doesn’t solve it.”