A plan is underway to keep red lights to a minimum on major streets, such as Leslie St., Avenue Rd., Yonge St., Eglinton Ave. and Weston Rd.
Toronto is developing a plan to better synchronize traffic lights on some “priority corridors” over the next five years, a much-anticipated effort to ease gridlock and cut down on emissions.
Yet in a city where commute times are among the lengthiest in North America, some say a more comprehensive solution is long overdue.
“I respect that they [city staff] have done everything they can with the resources that they’ve got,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who has for years advocated for more effective signal coordination. “The reality, though, is they don’t have anything near what they need to actually make this system work as well as it should.”
With clenched teeth and with one foot heavy on the brake, it can sometimes seem as though the string of red lights along major streets is conspiring to slow traffic to a stop-start crawl. But according to Myles Currie, a transportation services director who oversees the city’s traffic management centre, all of Toronto’s 2,200 traffic signals are capable of providing synchronization.
The problem is that over time this coordination can break down due to aging technology, new residential development and changes on particular roads, such as construction that reduces the number of lanes.
“There’s room for improvement. Particular routes have had a lot of changes that we need to take into account,” Currie said.
To address this, Currie said his team are in the midst of upgrading the technology that controls signals from telephone line communication to wireless, which is more reliable. This work, which costs $10,000 to $15,000 per intersection, is about two-thirds complete, he said.
Meanwhile, the traffic management centre has been reviewing the coordination of signals on individual streets. Each review, which takes into account the speed and flow of traffic, time of day, pedestrians and turning lanes, requires six weeks up to several months per road to complete.
Not including the cost of upgrades, last year the city spent about $450,000 reviewing and resetting signal coordination at 114 intersections along Kennedy Rd., Bloor St., Richmond St. and Adelaide St.
Over the next five years, it will do the same along other “priority corridors” such as Leslie St., Eglinton Ave., Weston Rd., Avenue Rd. and Yonge St.
Although the specific roads and timeline have yet to be determined, Currie estimated the project will involve about 900 intersections and cost a at least $3.6 million, excluding technology upgrades.
“Gradually, you will see improvement throughout the city as we review our priority corridors,” he said.
Change cannot come soon enough for Toronto resident Ian Chamandy, who said he is “eternally frustrated” by red lights.
Chamandy said he began casually “testing” signal coordination on major routes about 15 years ago, accelerating to the speed limit at every intersection. Almost without fail, the next light would turn red.
“You’ve got these thoroughfares that are important rush hour arteries … and it’s just stop, stop, stop,” he said. “In Toronto, there’s actually an incentive to speed if there’s no traffic, because it’s the only way to get green lights.”
Matlow had so many complaints from residents in his midtown district that he requested a staff report “on the possible implementation of synchronized traffic signals” in September 2011.
Currie expects to report back to the committee this spring — about a year and half after council approved Matlow’s request.
Matlow said he hopes council will devote the resources required to expand the work already underway.
“The city needs to work together,” he said. “It doesn’t mean necessarily everywhere, every light, but there needs to be a smooth transition; otherwise it’s not going to work.”