A Road to More Congestion"
By John Wilson
From: At the Forks, Volume 7, Issue 2, Summer 2000

My name is John, and I am a car addict. There. I've said it. That wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Don't think I'm being flippant. I believe that my car addiction is deeply ingrained and easy to deny. It harms me, my loved ones and my community. It's just so easy to organize my life around weekend dashes in the car to do errands. I enjoy the feeling of freedom I get when I'm alone, behind the wheel - master of my fate.

However, my experience wheeling around the streets of Toronto has convinced me that building an extension on Redway Road - connecting the Bayview Avenue Extension to Mill-wood Road, and, eventually to Eglinton at Leslie - will NOT ease traffic congestion. It will add to it.

Let's back up. Why all the fuss about cars and roads, anyway? There's a simple piece of urban algebra that is being proven again and again across Europe and North America. It goes like this:

  • Roads bring vehicles!
  • Vehicles bring smog!
  • Smog brings death!

It sounds 'way too dramatic. Smog brings death? The doctors at the Ontario Medical Association and the Toronto Board of Health have no trouble believing that. They see it in their patients; they treat it, study it, and, just recently, the Board of Health quantified it — 1,000 deaths each year in Toronto.

Federal Environment Minister David Anderson, and Health Minister Allan Rock, have recently declared aerosol particles of 10 microns or less to be toxic. They have announced that sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia will soon be added to the list of toxins. All these have one thing in common — they contribute to smog.

Vehicles bring smog? That's a little harder to observe directly, but when an old smoker drives by, it's not too hard to relate it to the thick, brown haze that blights our city on hot, summer days. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has quantified the problem. Transportation sources contribute 59% of nitrogen oxides, 25% of volatile organic compounds, 9% of particulate matter and 5% of sulphur oxides in our air (as well as 64% of the carbon monoxide and 26% of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change).

Roads bring vehicles? That's the hard part. Since the 1950s we've been fooling ourselves, saying, "Just one more road, then we'll be finished. Then we'll have enough roads." It's a classic line we've all heard before — the self-deceptive line of the addict.

Now there is a growing body of evidence from the US and Europe that adding to road capacity only adds to traffic congestion. One California seventeen year study showed that every 1% increase in lane-miles generated a 0.9% addition of new traffic within five years.

So again, in Leaside, we're hearing the refrain. Even though building roads is generally the wrong thing to do, this case is different. The Redway Road extension is the exception.

Now, I want you to imagine yourself driving through the area. Let's say you want to go from Don Mills and Lawrence to the downtown. The DVP is congested at rush hour, so you decide to try out the new Redway extension. You find that, at first, it's somewhat less congested, so you continue to use it. You have become "new" traffic moving through the Leaside area.

Now, let's say you want to go to St. Clair and Yonge or Little Italy or Yorkville or Jarvis and Wellesley. All these trips would likely bring you down the new road as far as Millwood, where you would turn off onto the Leaside streets, most likely Southvale, to get to St. Clair, Mt. Pleasant or Avenue Road. Where previously you might take the DVP or Eglinton, now you are more likely to drive through Leaside. You have become an example of new traffic, attracted by a new road, adding to congestion on Leaside's neighbourhood streets.

You must also imagine that there are thousands of other motorists like yourself. Soon you would find that the Redway Road extension is also congested. You would look for new shortcuts, through side streets in Leaside, to complete your trips.

Furthermore, if only the section of road between Bayview Extension and Millwood were completed (as a recent traffic study recommends), you would turn onto Laird Drive. As Laird became more and more congested, you would try, perhaps, cutting across McRae from Bayview to Laird. These are all common trips that contribute to traffic infiltration into Leaside today. But with the new road, drawing new traffic, there would eventually be more infiltration, not less.

Let's try to think differently. My suggestion would be to lobby for new rapid transit commuter rail lines along the existing CP tracks from Summerhill and Yonge through a new Leaside Station to Don Mills and Scarborough. This proposal would not eliminate congestion in Leaside streets, I'm afraid. But it would not add to it. And it would be one step in the direction of protecting our health and revitalizing our city.

John Wilson works with Pollution Probe and is the Vice-Chair of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don

FODE is a membership-based non-profit organization working to protect and enhance the Don River and to encourage the establishment of healthy and sustainable communities within the central and eastern portions of the Don watershed, Toronto, Ontario. © 2004