A report released by Statistics Canada told us something we already knew, which is that it sucks to commute in Toronto. In fact, Toronto's commute is the suckiest in all of Canada, averaging 33 minutes, compared to 31 minutes in Montreal and 30 in Vancouver.
And the worst of it is our traffic worries are only multiplying. In 20 years there will be an estimated 1 million more cars on the streets of Toronto, and that's a problem because some say Toronto's infrastructure has already reached the limit of the number of automobiles we can accommodate.
"In a city like Toronto with such high density, we're not in the position to create more roads, so the sensible thing to do is provide alternative modes of transportation," argues Eva Ligeti, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership that runs the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation.
Ligeti advocates that Toronto follow New York City's example of reducing the number of cars on the road by aggressively building cycling infrastructure.
"New York has huge suburbs like Toronto and millions of people coming into the city via the transit system, so for people within the city you can alleviate their distress by making cycling an option," she said. "Many cities have shown that if you make it convenient, connected, and safe, people want to use their bicycles. But if we don't have the infrastructure then they don't have the options."
But according to veteran Toronto transit advocate Steve Munro, more bike lanes won't come close to fixing the city's commuting woes because long travel times have been built into the GTA.
"It's as least as much a sprawl problem as a transit problem," he says. "We have housing and jobs spread all over the place and people are traveling long distances to get from one to another."
According to city stats, in the past decade the number of cars driving into the downtown core has increased 10 per cent and we now have 400,000 cars entering the city every morning rush hour. But the number of cars driving out of the city every morning has also increased 10 per cent as downtown dwellers seek out jobs in the suburbs. That trend has blown the old, unidirectional model of transit infrastructure out of the water.
If we're going to address the suburbs' underdeveloped infrastructure, Munro thinks we need simple measures like adding bus routes and light rail lines outside of the core.
If that idea sounds familiar, it should. The Transit City plan former mayor David Miller brokered with the province would have seen a network of eight light rail lines branching out from our existing subway system into the suburbs. Rob Ford killed the project on his first day in office, opting instead for three subway lines.
"There is no magic bullet that fixes everything in one go," says Munro, "but the important thing about Transit City was that it was finally a change where the city and the TTC were looking at transit as a network and implementing more than one change at one time, touching many parts of the city."
With real relief for Toronto's commuters nowhere in sight, the city has resorted to trying to maximize the existing road system by modernizing traffic surveillance and the way it provides information to drivers. The transportation department recently turned the shoulder of the Don Valley Parkway into a bus-only lane, which is a good idea, but hardly the fix we need.
Until the city comes up with some better plans, Roberto Stopnicki, director of the city's traffic management centre, says drivers need to help out by changing their behaviour.
"At the peak periods almost 70 per cent of those that are driving a car are driving by themselves," he said. "That might not be sustainable."