The works committee met on March 7 to consider an initiative that would "decrease congestion, increase safety and help the environment." The Pedestrian Master Plan? No. The Ridership Growth Strategy? Not quite.
Called Intelligent Transportation Systems, the proposal refers to an array of traffic management initiatives such as using sensors and GPS transponders to manage flow at stoplights or accident scenes and providing route info for travellers wirelessly through their PDAs or cellphones.
"One person is injured [in a car collision] every 28 minutes," said Faye Lyons of the Canadian Automobile Association. "This number is staggering and needs to be addressed."
It's surprising to hear that staff would even consider this. It seems at first glance like an enormous public subsidy for private motorists.
"Is there technology," asked Councillor David Shiner, "to allow me to drive from Scarborough to Mississauga on Eglinton without hitting a red light?"
Staff informed him that there is. Afterward, however, director of transportation systems Les Kelman elaborated. "I could do that [for Shiner] today," he tells me. "I'm not sure that we want to." Kelman believes an integrated traffic management system could just as easily be used to clear the way for public transit and show how much quicker it would be than driving. "Our system will probably favour transit."
Existing technology currently gives TTC operators priority control over 286 traffic signals. The ITS plan would see an expansion to 60 additional lights each year. The TTC control centre would also be tied in with a computerized traffic-flow management system.
Expansion of ITS would not proceed until 2007, and hard costs aren't being floated until the next budget process. (One speculative figure is $7 million to equip 200 intersections with sensors under the road.) While a Works report stresses the benefit to non-motorists, most of the proposed tech is currently geared to motorists. Those focused on pedestrians and cyclists are described as being at the "investigate and assess" stage.
Some may wonder why introducing technology to aid pedestrians is needed at all, when it's arguably not a lack of technology, but a glut of one in particular that endangers them.
Kelman believes ITS could prove helpful with "demand management" (discouraging driving), noting that ITS cannot making driving any less cumbersome.
But is it safe to underestimate motorists' capacity for magical thinking? "I envision that one day," said Glenn De Baeremaeker, "like George Jetson, I can hop in my little automobile and have the computer take me away with no traffic jams." Unfortunately, Councillor, so does everyone else with a car.