One of the biggest downfalls about being a nine to five grinder in Toronto is that the daily journey to and from work is mood-altering – and not for the better.
The traffic and congestion leave a lot to be desired for everyone on the road, in a city that keeps increasing in density. A study released this past June by B2B comparison site Expert Market revealed that Toronto was the sixth worst city in the world for commuting – something that comes as no surprise to its residents, and definitely not something to brag about.
The overcrowded subway cars, congested roadways, near-death experiences, and snail’s pace that characterizes Toronto’s daily commute can easily ruin your day… even before it has a chance to begin. Your negative vibes can then affect those around you – whether coworkers, family, or friends – more than you may realize. Negative energy is proven to be contagious, and secondhand emotions are a reality. A handful of coworkers with brutal commutes can therefore easily throw off the equilibrium of your whole workplace with each late arrival at the office.
The maddening, patience-testing congestion – whether on the roads or on the reliably unreliable Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) – is only one part of Toronto’s transportation issue. The city’s news headlines tell of yet another cyclist or pedestrian death way too often. Far beyond killing commuters’ vibe, the daily journey to and from work is killing people. Period.
Toronto’s streets no longer feel safe, especially for the city’s cyclists and pedestrians.
Naturally, the solutions to Toronto’s transportation issue are numerous, costly, and highly controversial, and relieving any pressure requires both short-term and long-term resolutions. According to seasoned urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume, improving the problem includes two key elements: building transit where there is a demonstrated need and a heightened demand for it – as opposed to “in the middle of nowhere”– and facilitating biking on roads.
In terms of public transit, Hume says that the long-proposed Downtown Relief Line – which would run east from Osgoode, cross the Don River, then north from Carlaw to Pape station – is completely overdue and should be bumped to the top of our transit priority list.
“The idea was first proposed in 1910 – over a century ago,” says Hume. “It was obvious to planners 108 years ago that it was going to be something we needed and we still haven’t built the thing.” The bottom line, he says, is that subways aren’t being built where they are needed most. Instead of relieving pressure on the dangerously overcrowded Yonge subway line with another east-west line downtown, we’re building shiny new subway stations in the suburbs.
“If you go to the Downsview Park station right now – one of the new stations that opened in December – it’s in the middle of a field. It’s totally ridiculous,” says Hume, referencing the recently completed Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension that added six stops north of the city and took 10 years to build. “Maybe 30 years from now it will be in use; in the meantime, you’ve got thousands and thousands of people who live east along the Danforth and south of that who could be using the relief line should it get built; it’s the same story for the west side.”
Hume says that the recent subway extensions add ridership to the TTC, but don’t really add capacity. “That is a big distinction,” he says. “Right now, everything feeds into the Yonge line. The relief line will allow the subway to carry more people.”
The TTC is currently unable to handle an increase in passengers – something that is painfully obvious to its daily users. Acknowledging that adding more subways to the mix isn’t an option, Hume suggests the addition of more surface routes – with more buses and streetcars – as a short-term solution. He cites the controversial King Street Pilot Project as an example of success when it comes to prioritizing the streetcar, something he’d like to see more of.
Another way to relieve congestion on the TTC and on roadways, says Hume, is with a comprehensive network of interconnected, protected bike lanes. “The Bloor bike lane – which everybody thinks is such a big deal – goes maybe 2.5 kilometres,” says Hume. “It just suddenly starts and suddenly stops. It needs to go the entire length of Bloor and connect with bike lanes on Bay, Yonge, Jarvis, and University. There needs to be a system that people can use to get around the city.”
The safety and convenience offered with a protected network of bike lanes would encourage more people to bike to work, keeping more cars off city streets and people off our strained public transit system. “The thing that drivers never understand is that if you get people onto bikes, you’re getting them out of cars,” says Hume. “A network of bike lanes means less space for cars, but fewer cars on the road means less congestion. Less congestion means happier drivers. It’s in the drivers’ best interest to empower the cyclist.”
In the meantime, we could do more to facilitate the harmonious flow of the city for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. While cars are typically considered the culprit in collisions between cyclists and automobiles, I’ve also witnessed questionable behaviour from cyclists, resulting in no shortage of middle finger-waving drivers.
One idea is that cyclists require a license. The issue with this, of course, is that it’s difficult to implement when it comes to public bikes, especially when their riders include tourists. At very least, however, Toronto’s Bike Share docking stations should have a clearly outlined set of road rules for users, like they do in Vancouver.
The good news is that there are progressive plans in place to improve the state of Toronto’s roads, thanks to more money being poured into the Vision Zero road safety plan. This includes a protected intersection pilot project, whereby 10 intersections will have islands that separate cyclists from cars at four corners of the intersection. In addition to the existing red-light cameras some of Toronto’s most dangerous intersections (which we need more of), the city is also undergoing a speed enforcement pilot project using radar technology.
There are things you can do on a personal level to make the daily commute less of a nightmare.
The best way to shake off a chaotic journey home is to hit the gym or the yoga studio right away – probably even before you walk in your front door, so you don’t throw off the vibe of your household. Music has helped the commute since the mass popularity of the Walkman; creating a “TTC” or “Traffic” playlist full of nostalgic favourites may help. Toronto is also now home to a handful of new meditation centres, helping your cause when it comes to disconnecting from it all and leaving that commute far behind you.
If you still can’t handle it, you may want to consider a career that lets you work remotely.