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Roads: Ontario/GTA Highways Discussion

ARG1

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No.

Imagine a train line and highway running in parallel. Some people will always choose to use one or the other, but most people are swayed by a variety of factors, travel time, cost, etc.. Each mode has its benefits and drawbacks.

Now imagine a government widens the highway. Traffic levels are now lower on the highway. Some people who took transit will now see that using the highway is faster than it used to be and the scales are tipped in the direction of driving when previously they slightly preferred to take transit. They switch from using transit to driving and within a few years the capacity of the new lanes has been entirely consumed by new drivers.

At its absolute worst, induced demand looks like this: government improves highway, people switch from transit to driving, government sees traffic going up and transit use going down. Government spends more money building more highways, and cuts service on the train line. This makes driving better and transit worse, which causes even more people to make the switch, so government sees a demand for more lanes and fewer trains etc, etc, and suddenly you find yourself in a transit death spiral.
This is a very contextual example, because the reality is side by side comparisons between "a train line" and "a highway" barely, if ever exist. Not only does your example assume that transit and highways are competitive, but that they serve similar enough markets that people can choose one or the other. Very rarely is this actually the case, especially in Toronto/GTHA. In fact, many cities that often widen highways that people like to point to as examples of Induced Demand in action often show no such thing. A prime example of this is LA where the only public transit is an abysmally slow Light Rail system, and a commuter rail that at best runs every 2 hours, and doesn't even serve that many destinations. Induced Demand simply can't happen in the way you describe it because the people who are benefiting from a highway widening are unlikely to be previous transit riders.

The same principle applies in Toronto. Sure we have a pretty good transit network especially with GO transit feeding the downtown core, but the reality is that A) GO is very radial, and whilst it's amazing heading into downtown Toronto, for most other trips it's pretty bad. 2) Most of our widening projects are on corridors that aren't really heading into downtown, and are instead more suburban sections of our highway network. The many widenings we do for the 401 mostly serve the transit starved Mississauga and North York, and the newly widened 400 and under construction 404 serve York Region. Those expanded highways aren't really competing for downtown bound traffic, and as such aren't pulling ridership from transit.

In short, your entire scenario is moot, and doesn't represent the actual impacts of how we widen our highways in any meaningful way.
 

whydidimakethis

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I'm frankly baffled that the idea of induced demand is so widely doubted. Reduce the time cost of driving = more driving.
Let me put it this way: There's no doubt that it's a thing and you would have to disagree with a lot of evidence to say that it's not. Whether we want that induced demand or not is the main argument. Believe it or not, there are some cases in which you might want induced demand weirdly enough as it sounds. There are also many cases where you absolutely do not want it. I digress.
 

afransen

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Let me put it this way: There's no doubt that it's a thing and you would have to disagree with a lot of evidence to say that it's not. Whether we want that induced demand or not is the main argument. Believe it or not, there are some cases in which you might want induced demand weirdly enough as it sounds. There are also many cases where you absolutely do not want it. I digress.
Induced demand for things that have positive externalities is indeed a good thing. Single occupant vehicle driving is not something one could say has positive externalities. Or at least, the externalities are not sufficiently captured by user fees. I would be substantially more amenable to highway construction if highway use was priced appropriately so that highways actually provided economic value commensurate with their potential. Allowing highways to be so congested that they are scarcely faster than arterial streets is not that--it is pure waste. Everyone would be better off if 90% paid to use the highway and 10% traveled by a different mode or at a different time.
 

ARG1

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I'm frankly baffled that the idea of induced demand is so widely doubted. Reduce the time cost of driving = more driving.
Nobody is saying that induced demand doesn't exist, it obvious does. However its existence is often extremely exaggerated or misunderstood. Induced demand typically is a result of development. You build highway to place, people move in to place, there is now a larger demand. However a lot of people have this idea that highway users are like sims, and that adding an extra lane means that traffic will just appear out of nowhere (obviously no one is explicitly claiming this, but a lot of people argue as if this was the case). Also very few people say "oh they added new lane? I will drive more now", or at least, not a significant amount that makes lane expansions completely useless. We live in a consumerist society where people like to drive to places and do shopping on a regular basis, there aren't many cases where traffic reaches the point where people say "I'd rather stay home", especially after work and on weekends.
 

afransen

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Nobody is saying that induced demand doesn't exist, it obvious does. However its existence is often extremely exaggerated or misunderstood. Induced demand typically is a result of development. You build highway to place, people move in to place, there is now a larger demand. However a lot of people have this idea that highway users are like sims, and that adding an extra lane means that traffic will just appear out of nowhere (obviously no one is explicitly claiming this, but a lot of people argue as if this was the case). Also very few people say "oh they added new lane? I will drive more now", or at least, not a significant amount that makes lane expansions completely useless. We live in a consumerist society where people like to drive to places and do shopping on a regular basis, there aren't many cases where traffic reaches the point where people say "I'd rather stay home", especially after work and on weekends.
Reducing the time cost of driving leads people to consider living further from work. They're not being irrational. They are driving until they qualify. If you could guarantee low cost, free-flowing 401, people would live in Cambridge on a quarter acre and drive to dt Toronto.
 

sunnyside

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Nobody is saying that induced demand doesn't exist, it obvious does. However its existence is often extremely exaggerated or misunderstood. Induced demand typically is a result of development. You build highway to place, people move in to place, there is now a larger demand. However a lot of people have this idea that highway users are like sims, and that adding an extra lane means that traffic will just appear out of nowhere (obviously no one is explicitly claiming this, but a lot of people argue as if this was the case). Also very few people say "oh they added new lane? I will drive more now", or at least, not a significant amount that makes lane expansions completely useless. We live in a consumerist society where people like to drive to places and do shopping on a regular basis, there aren't many cases where traffic reaches the point where people say "I'd rather stay home", especially after work and on weekends.
I agree with your point, but I think the reason for the disconnect is that induced demand is useful to talk about in the way you address when you simply look at the scope of a single transportation route. Both the 'demand' and its 'induction' are inputs/outputs of a decision to improve a transport route; the demand for x, in this case land/real estate is everpresent in a city:
Reducing the time cost of driving leads people to consider living further from work. They're not being irrational. They are driving until they qualify. If you could guarantee low cost, free-flowing 401, people would live in Cambridge on a quarter acre and drive to dt Toronto.
Basically, people will live wherever is cheapest relative to the distance to work, and associated time/monetary costs to get there. Here's how I see it: so with the 401, people locate near it because it is the means by which they can have that specific, desired proximity to their job. In this case, that means driving. We have not 'induced' demand out of thin air, rather we have created automobile demand, ie traffic because to utilize this means of transport people must drive. Likewise, a compelling transit option, say the Lakeshore West Line, is more time-competitive than all the other options for someone in Oakville. Hence, they gravitate to the train. Similarly, those who are "driving until they qualify" basically are sacrificing that kind of time/proximity for something they can afford, either because they have to or would prefer the commute alongside a nicer place. People won't bring up that demand is everpresent in these conversations because usually its limited in scope. But the reality is we are simply dictating what form our future growth will have. If I looked just at the 401 and the land use that induced, then yeah I would call it induced demand- but these people were always going to live somewhere in Toronto, it was just a matter of where and how they'd get downtown.

Getting away from the point here, people probably would live in Cambridge and drive to Toronto if the 401 was clear, but the only time in history that was possible, people weren't really willing to commute an hour into Toronto just yet. Obviously being forced further from the city is a self-perpetuating cycle, because by building a piece of infrastructure you dictate the type of built form you will have ("induced demand") and guarantee that at some point your system will be overloaded and need expansion. Obviously, you can try and brute-force plan your way around this, by being very strict with land use, but as of right now all we are doing is increasing the density requirements of subdivisions, not changing their structure per se- we are just cramming more car dependency into a smaller space.
 

turbanplanner

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I'm frankly baffled that the idea of induced demand is so widely doubted. Reduce the time cost of driving = more driving.
First of all, what other infrastructure would we be unhappy if people were using?

Nothing is ever black and white in practice, there is a huge subset of people who cannot take transit for their highway trip, it's why I laugh when people are suggesting to build a go line by the 401. Great the train will drop me off in Guelph or Bowmanville and save me 15 mins of traffic and add 1 hour on 2 busses to get to my final destination.

On the other hand, reduced demand is part of the theory. If that was true, we wouldn't have such bad traffic when the 401 is under construction, especially the Gardiner because the TTC exists, but this isn't the reality.
 

turbanplanner

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I agree with your point, but I think the reason for the disconnect is that induced demand is useful to talk about in the way you address when you simply look at the scope of a single transportation route. Both the 'demand' and its 'induction' are inputs/outputs of a decision to improve a transport route; the demand for x, in this case land/real estate is everpresent in a city:

Basically, people will live wherever is cheapest relative to the distance to work, and associated time/monetary costs to get there. Here's how I see it: so with the 401, people locate near it because it is the means by which they can have that specific, desired proximity to their job. In this case, that means driving. We have not 'induced' demand out of thin air, rather we have created automobile demand, ie traffic because to utilize this means of transport people must drive. Likewise, a compelling transit option, say the Lakeshore West Line, is more time-competitive than all the other options for someone in Oakville. Hence, they gravitate to the train. Similarly, those who are "driving until they qualify" basically are sacrificing that kind of time/proximity for something they can afford, either because they have to or would prefer the commute alongside a nicer place. People won't bring up that demand is everpresent in these conversations because usually its limited in scope. But the reality is we are simply dictating what form our future growth will have. If I looked just at the 401 and the land use that induced, then yeah I would call it induced demand- but these people were always going to live somewhere in Toronto, it was just a matter of where and how they'd get downtown.

Getting away from the point here, people probably would live in Cambridge and drive to Toronto if the 401 was clear, but the only time in history that was possible, people weren't really willing to commute an hour into Toronto just yet. Obviously being forced further from the city is a self-perpetuating cycle, because by building a piece of infrastructure you dictate the type of built form you will have ("induced demand") and guarantee that at some point your system will be overloaded and need expansion. Obviously, you can try and brute-force plan your way around this, by being very strict with land use, but as of right now all we are doing is increasing the density requirements of subdivisions, not changing their structure per se- we are just cramming more car dependency into a smaller space.
An easy fix would be adding parking to GO lots. A lot of stations fill up before 8am, though I've mentioned this here and it freaks some people out.
I see the 2 way service should start in 2025 for Kitchener.
 
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This is a very contextual example, because the reality is side by side comparisons between "a train line" and "a highway" barely, if ever exist. Not only does your example assume that transit and highways are competitive, but that they serve similar enough markets that people can choose one or the other. Very rarely is this actually the case, especially in Toronto/GTHA. In fact, many cities that often widen highways that people like to point to as examples of Induced Demand in action often show no such thing. A prime example of this is LA where the only public transit is an abysmally slow Light Rail system, and a commuter rail that at best runs every 2 hours, and doesn't even serve that many destinations. Induced Demand simply can't happen in the way you describe it because the people who are benefiting from a highway widening are unlikely to be previous transit riders.

The same principle applies in Toronto. Sure we have a pretty good transit network especially with GO transit feeding the downtown core, but the reality is that A) GO is very radial, and whilst it's amazing heading into downtown Toronto, for most other trips it's pretty bad. 2) Most of our widening projects are on corridors that aren't really heading into downtown, and are instead more suburban sections of our highway network. The many widenings we do for the 401 mostly serve the transit starved Mississauga and North York, and the newly widened 400 and under construction 404 serve York Region. Those expanded highways aren't really competing for downtown bound traffic, and as such aren't pulling ridership from transit.

In short, your entire scenario is moot, and doesn't represent the actual impacts of how we widen our highways in any meaningful way.
The scenario I described is supposed to be a simplification, not to be taken literally. Obviously I know that there aren't highway and rail lines that directly compete with each other. The purpose was to show that people make value judgements between two things that essentially provide the same purpose, but have different drawbacks and benefits.

As for your LA example, nothing you said invalidates my point. Transit is slow, infrequent, and has poor coverage while highways are everywhere? Of course people choose to drive! And if the transit system was faster, more frequent, and had better coverage, then some people would choose to take it instead of driving. And if transit were gutted even further, the service would become even less attractive and car use would increase.

You are correct that in Toronto, GO and highways serve different trips. Transit options exist that could replace those driving trips, but they aren't very good, however...if they were better...bear with me now...they would be more popular. The 401 doesn't compete with transit? Of course it does! I myself have driven the 401 to avoid the slow Wilson bus. (And I have taken the Wilson bus at other times to avoid the cost and stress of driving).

For more information:
 
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afransen

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First of all, what other infrastructure would we be unhappy if people were using?

Nothing is ever black and white in practice, there is a huge subset of people who cannot take transit for their highway trip, it's why I laugh when people are suggesting to build a go line by the 401. Great the train will drop me off in Guelph or Bowmanville and save me 15 mins of traffic and add 1 hour on 2 busses to get to my final destination.

On the other hand, reduced demand is part of the theory. If that was true, we wouldn't have such bad traffic when the 401 is under construction, especially the Gardiner because the TTC exists, but this isn't the reality.
People don't just make decisions about whether they drive or take transit, they make decisions about how far they drive. I chose to live somewhere where I can avoid a highway commute intentionally, because the 401 is an absolute gong-show and life is too short. If the 401 had unlimited capacity, I would have lived in KW as I have a lot of friends that live in that area.
 

afransen

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An easy fix would be adding parking to GO lots. A lot of stations fill up before 8am, though I've mentioned this here and it freaks some people out.
I see the 2 way service should start in 2025 for Kitchener.
Sure, if it is paid on a cost-recovery basis. Otherwise, take all the money we would spend on providing parking and provide free bus transfers and more service.
 

sunnyside

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An easy fix would be adding parking to GO lots. A lot of stations fill up before 8am, though I've mentioned this here and it freaks some people out.
I see the 2 way service should start in 2025 for Kitchener.
I mean, we do this. It’s not really a great approach imo. The only way to induce demand on the GO network at this point is to increase service levels (obviously) and make the last mile connections better and more useful to suburbanites. It is a tall order to ask someone living in Brampton or Mississauga to take a bus to the GO station right now. The GO market is very different, read car dependent, than traditional transit around here. Those users don’t want to use a bus if they don’t have to because they are auto-oriented at heart. But, if the bus is as fast/faster than driving, slowly people will switch. What this entails is probably massively increasing frequency across all local agencies and integrating routes to GO stations like the TTC does. Even then, I struggle to see affluent Oakville residents bussing instead of driving to the GO station.
 

Transportfan

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This sort of thinking makes a lot of assumptions. I take transit because it's faster than driving and parking is killer downtown.
Increasing highway capacity helps since there is always a crash on weekends on most of the highways so more lanes means a crash or lane closure will have less of an effect.
Not everyone can use transit for every trip

True; I hardly expect ridership to drop on the Lakeshore West and Milton lines to drop just because the 401 was widened. Many studies are conducted by organizations which are biased.
 
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turbanplanner

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I mean, we do this. It’s not really a great approach imo. The only way to induce demand on the GO network at this point is to increase service levels (obviously) and make the last mile connections better and more useful to suburbanites. It is a tall order to ask someone living in Brampton or Mississauga to take a bus to the GO station right now. The GO market is very different, read car dependent, than traditional transit around here. Those users don’t want to use a bus if they don’t have to because they are auto-oriented at heart. But, if the bus is as fast/faster than driving, slowly people will switch. What this entails is probably massively increasing frequency across all local agencies and integrating routes to GO stations like the TTC does. Even then, I struggle to see affluent Oakville residents bussing instead of driving to the GO station.
You're not going to meaningfully increase ridership with more buses, it's a high chance someone needs to take 2 routes OR 1 very long one to get to where they live/work in Durham or Peel.

Frequency won't do much, getting to a main street is usually a 15-20 min walk for most people in those suburbs. I took a screenshot earlier of Vaughn, less than a 5 min drive, transit perfectly timed (no waiting) would be about 5 mins faster than walking. (25 mins via transit, vs 30 mins walking)

Everyone I know complains about parking though, some drive because they need to start at 7:45am to guarantee a spot.

Sure, if it is paid on a cost-recovery basis. Otherwise, take all the money we would spend on providing parking and provide free bus transfers and more service.
 

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