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Roads: Ontario/GTA Highways Discussion

sche

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So let's take an extreme example then. Iet's say the 401 was left as a 4 lane highway like when it was first built. Would it still be able to carry the volume it does now? No. That traffic would have to go somewhere- it doesn't magically disappear. Yes some could be taken away by better transit but you'd run into severe congestion on the highway possibly stretching hundreds of KM. All the other roads in and outside Greater Toronto would also become clogged and the economy would grind to a halt, especially any kind of industry that relies on trucking.

Ideally, road and transit projects need to keep pace with growth. Induced demand is a thing so yes lesson learned when they jumped the 401 from 4 to 12 lanes. If you build it, they will come. It could have been expanded more slowly to keep up with demand but that may have been more costly in the long run. At least highways weren't built everywhere like in many US cities.
Before I get into this, a bit about induced demand:
There are only two (major) things that will discourage someone from using a road: traffic and tolls. I will ignore tolls, since the 407 and 412 are the only toll roads in Ontario. If there happens to be no traffic on a non-tolled highway, people will move further away from their work, make more trips, etc. because there is now nothing to discourage them from using the highway. Developers will take advantage and build more subdivisions near the highway. As a result, the highway becomes congested because of its own existence. The highway will always be congested, as long as this highway is located in a successful major city. If the highway is widened and traffic reduced, the same thing I was talking about earlier happens again, and the highway becomes congested again. In a successful major city, demand for mobility is almost always much, much higher than supply. There is an enormous amount of latent demand. Thus, as soon as supply increases, the latent demand quickly comes to fill that newly created supply.

Now back to the 401 example:
If the 401 was never expanded past 4 lanes, yes there would be traffic. Yes, a 4 lane highway carries less cars than a 12 lane highway. But, if the highway was never expanded, the traffic would disappear (not magically). In fact, it would never exist in the first place. Just as induced demand is true (if you build it they will come), the inverse is equally true (if you don't build it, they won't come).

Think about why the 401, even though it is an enormous 12 lanes wide, is so full of traffic. Why are there so many cars?

The reason all 12 lanes are full of traffic today is because there are 12 lanes. If the 401 (and for that matter, any of the other highways in the GTA) was never expanded or built, we would never see the vast expanses of car-centric suburbia funnelling traffic onto our roads. We would not see people living 30+ km from work and thus having to drive that far. The entire built form of the GTA would be different to reflect the fact that there is less highway capacity

Road projects can (almost) never keep up with growth in a successful large city. Growth (in traffic) increases because of road projects. Roads can't be expanded indefinitely due to space and money constraints.

Now, what about transit?
Transit projects face induced demand too. Part of the reason the Yonge line is overcrowded is also due to its own existence - for example, all of the development along the Yonge corridor and the people that make travelling decisions due to the existence of the Yonge line. In big transit-centric cities like Tokyo or London or Paris, the system is always overcrowded, even after huge expansions.

However, there is a very important difference between transit and roads: transit is much more efficient. I mentioned earlier that the constraints on road-building are space and money. Transit building faces the same constraints. However, assuming both the roads and transit are equally intelligently planned, roads require far more money and far more space than transit to carry the same number of people. A transit vehicle simply moves more people in a smaller space. Transit can be built in far more different corridors than roads because it is much cheaper and easier to build underground or elevated transit when compared to underground or elevated roads, so far more transit lines are built. For example, the Bloor-Danforth line takes up much less ROW and carries something like 4-5x more riders than the DVP despite only being about 2x longer. As another example, a mid-sized car-centric city like Indianapolis has traffic issues (looking up "Indianapolis traffic congestion" yields many results), but similarly sized transit-oriented cities like Marseille do not have similarly bad transit overcrowding issues (looking up "Marseille metro overcrowding" doesn't yield anything relevant). Although not a perfect comparison, this shows that with similar resources and population, transit investment goes further in moving people.

I didn't really know where to add this so this will be at the end, but transit also has another huge advantage - when road users increase, very quickly everyone's journeys get much slower due to traffic. But, with transit, as ridership increases, riders may be less comfortable, but speed does not decrease nearly as much.

Note: Self driving cars and increasing road efficiency
Self-driving car stuff seems to be popping up on other threads here. It is true that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars will dramatically increase road capacity by increasing efficiency. However, this increase in capacity is not fundamentally different from the increase in capacity from widening roads. Induced demand does not change. And, the core problem of cars taking up more space than transit and thus costing more remains the same - transit infrastructure will still be more efficient than roads for self driving cars.

Apologies for the long post!
 

TorPronto

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Widening and building new roads actually cause more congestion.

Expanding highways and building more roads actually makes traffic worse

More roads, more expenses, more congestion: a new report argues America’s transit policy gridlock is costing us billions of dollars

From link.
The author of the article doesn't understand that while road volume and population are linear, congestion works on an exponential curve. That means that road volume would has to dramatically increase relative to population increases to allow for a constant level of congestion. Read the article again with that lens and you'll see it pop out.
 

TorPronto

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Before I get into this, a bit about induced demand:
There are only two (major) things that will discourage someone from using a road: traffic and tolls. I will ignore tolls, since the 407 and 412 are the only toll roads in Ontario. If there happens to be no traffic on a non-tolled highway, people will move further away from their work, make more trips, etc. because there is now nothing to discourage them from using the highway. Developers will take advantage and build more subdivisions near the highway. As a result, the highway becomes congested because of its own existence. The highway will always be congested, as long as this highway is located in a successful major city. If the highway is widened and traffic reduced, the same thing I was talking about earlier happens again, and the highway becomes congested again. In a successful major city, demand for mobility is almost always much, much higher than supply. There is an enormous amount of latent demand. Thus, as soon as supply increases, the latent demand quickly comes to fill that newly created supply.

Now back to the 401 example:
If the 401 was never expanded past 4 lanes, yes there would be traffic. Yes, a 4 lane highway carries less cars than a 12 lane highway. But, if the highway was never expanded, the traffic would disappear (not magically). In fact, it would never exist in the first place. Just as induced demand is true (if you build it they will come), the inverse is equally true (if you don't build it, they won't come).

Think about why the 401, even though it is an enormous 12 lanes wide, is so full of traffic. Why are there so many cars?

The reason all 12 lanes are full of traffic today is because there are 12 lanes. If the 401 (and for that matter, any of the other highways in the GTA) was never expanded or built, we would never see the vast expanses of car-centric suburbia funnelling traffic onto our roads. We would not see people living 30+ km from work and thus having to drive that far. The entire built form of the GTA would be different to reflect the fact that there is less highway capacity

Road projects can (almost) never keep up with growth in a successful large city. Growth (in traffic) increases because of road projects. Roads can't be expanded indefinitely due to space and money constraints.

Now, what about transit?
Transit projects face induced demand too. Part of the reason the Yonge line is overcrowded is also due to its own existence - for example, all of the development along the Yonge corridor and the people that make travelling decisions due to the existence of the Yonge line. In big transit-centric cities like Tokyo or London or Paris, the system is always overcrowded, even after huge expansions.

However, there is a very important difference between transit and roads: transit is much more efficient. I mentioned earlier that the constraints on road-building are space and money. Transit building faces the same constraints. However, assuming both the roads and transit are equally intelligently planned, roads require far more money and far more space than transit to carry the same number of people. A transit vehicle simply moves more people in a smaller space. Transit can be built in far more different corridors than roads because it is much cheaper and easier to build underground or elevated transit when compared to underground or elevated roads, so far more transit lines are built. For example, the Bloor-Danforth line takes up much less ROW and carries something like 4-5x more riders than the DVP despite only being about 2x longer. As another example, a mid-sized car-centric city like Indianapolis has traffic issues (looking up "Indianapolis traffic congestion" yields many results), but similarly sized transit-oriented cities like Marseille do not have similarly bad transit overcrowding issues (looking up "Marseille metro overcrowding" doesn't yield anything relevant). Although not a perfect comparison, this shows that with similar resources and population, transit investment goes further in moving people.

I didn't really know where to add this so this will be at the end, but transit also has another huge advantage - when road users increase, very quickly everyone's journeys get much slower due to traffic. But, with transit, as ridership increases, riders may be less comfortable, but speed does not decrease nearly as much.

Note: Self driving cars and increasing road efficiency
Self-driving car stuff seems to be popping up on other threads here. It is true that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars will dramatically increase road capacity by increasing efficiency. However, this increase in capacity is not fundamentally different from the increase in capacity from widening roads. Induced demand does not change. And, the core problem of cars taking up more space than transit and thus costing more remains the same - transit infrastructure will still be more efficient than roads for self driving cars.

Apologies for the long post!
Just got off the 401 a couple of hours ago and what is frequently not mentioned is that a good % of the vehicle volumes are trucks. Transit doesn't help with trucks.

The underlying mechanism is the design of cities. The GTA is car-centric and the current zoning are set to continue the car-centric design. You are right in what you have stated but to fix the situation would require undemocratic level of bulldozing cities. With our current situation, what do we do? I am completely for a more open zoning, building much more rapid transit and TOD but even those changes wouldn't be enough.
 

sche

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Just got off the 401 a couple of hours ago and what is frequently not mentioned is that a good % of the vehicle volumes are trucks. Transit doesn't help with trucks.

The underlying mechanism is the design of cities. The GTA is car-centric and the current zoning are set to continue the car-centric design. You are right in what you have stated but to fix the situation would require undemocratic level of bulldozing cities. With our current situation, what do we do? I am completely for a more open zoning, building much more rapid transit and TOD but even those changes wouldn't be enough.
Not much we can do now, but point was just that the world wouldn’t have ended if the 401 was never built and we should stop wasting money on road expansions that don’t fix any problems.
 

toaster29

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We should be trying to get people to stop relying on their cars. For some, the traffic/travel is inevitable, but for others, we can reduce it. Why doesn't the government do anything to reduce some of that congestion? There are a ton of nurses, teachers, police officers, government employees who commute along the 401 for hours to get to their jobs, when they could do the same job closer to where they live. The government should be making transfers to work where you live easier. It's not 1990 where you move to, and spend the rest of your life in one place.
 

W. K. Lis

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Most big cities have major highways and subways

But in Canada we just play a zero sum game instead.
At one time, cities HAD to have walls surrounding them.

Québec City.


Montréal


From link.

Doesn't mean we should build walls. (Except to keep the 905ers from driving their cars into Toronto using the city's streets and expressways for free.)
 

Jasmine18

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Issue is i think the problem is the 401 is stuck at Milton is not something transit can fix.

its literally the only east West road and its only 3 lanes in an area with insane regional and truck traffic.


i agree about urban expressways are dumb but I dont see an issue about widening the 401 as it is the life blood of this province.
 

innsertnamehere

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Even in the planning wundaland of The Netherlands there are a ton of large freeways. They are probably one of the largest freeway builders in Europe actually. People like to hate on them but they are necessary and widening them absolutely helps with traffic and grows the GDP and general economic wellbeing as even if traffic eventually returns, that much larger amount of volume is throughput vs. without the widening, meaning more people are doing more things. More productivity.
 

Haljackey

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We would love some induced demand transportation projects in London. That would take the strain away from the overloaded grid. No commuter freeways, no rapid transit. Roads and buses were clogged pre-Covid.

We are going to get a half-assed BRT but it won't be enough to cope with the growth this city has had over the past couple years. That will induce some demand I guess.

We're jealous of places like K-W with freeways and LRT. But we kinda shot ourselves in the foot- local government doesn't want them.
 

lenaitch

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We should be trying to get people to stop relying on their cars. For some, the traffic/travel is inevitable, but for others, we can reduce it. Why doesn't the government do anything to reduce some of that congestion? There are a ton of nurses, teachers, police officers, government employees who commute along the 401 for hours to get to their jobs, when they could do the same job closer to where they live. The government should be making transfers to work where you live easier. It's not 1990 where you move to, and spend the rest of your life in one place.
It's not a government thing. How can a government facilitate that on a broad scale? I recall when the Ontario government decentralized a number of their offices back in the 90s and there was much angst because many people didn't want to move. People are free to work and live where they choose. One would assume a nurse living in Cobourg and commuting to Toronto lives there out of choice - perhaps because of housing costs - and either can't get a job locally or doesn't want to. If a TPS member wants to get a job at Barrie PS, they can apply. Working from home may start playing a larger role, depending on the job.
 

TorPronto

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It's not a government thing. How can a government facilitate that on a broad scale? I recall when the Ontario government decentralized a number of their offices back in the 90s and there was much angst because many people didn't want to move. People are free to work and live where they choose. One would assume a nurse living in Cobourg and commuting to Toronto lives there out of choice - perhaps because of housing costs - and either can't get a job locally or doesn't want to. If a TPS member wants to get a job at Barrie PS, they can apply. Working from home may start playing a larger role, depending on the job.
The biggest change would be working remotely. That is the something the government can play a part in (Provincial/Health Care/Municipalities - as applicable) but that only goes so far.
 

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