Congestion is Everybody’s Problem

While I sympathized with the frustration of every speaker who spoke at the forum, I do have to respectfully take issue with one commuter who complained loudly that the irregularity of service on 501 Queen meant that a 25 minute trip from the Beach turned into a 2 hour trek, and that people could drive to Buffalo or Kitchener in less time. Not to disagree with her comments on the poor quality of the service from the Beach, I still have to caution her against exaggerating too much in the things she chooses to compare it to.

I’ve taken the run between downtown Toronto and Buffalo. Without traffic congestion, it’s three hours, at least, and that’s assuming that the border crossings aren’t clogged. And let me re-emphasize that this is without traffic congestion. The only people routinely making the run from Hamilton, rather than Buffalo, faster than those living in the Beach on a bad day are those who take GO Transit — during those periods when the track switches haven’t frozen.

As for Kitchener, I’ve taken that trip even more frequently. The downtown-to-downtown run between the two cities is 90 minutes in perfect conditions, largely because I’m able to drive on a roadway whose legal speed limit is twice that of Queen Street, and probably not a corridor the Beach resident would want to live alongside. During rush hours, however, the Greyhound express bus between the two cities schedules an additional half hour into its running time. In my experience, that run is a half hour late or more at least one time in four.

When I head into Toronto, which I do quite often, I try to schedule my meetings for the afternoon, or some time after ten a.m.. The run into the city just after the rush hour isn’t bad, and I can park near the subway at Old Mill, buy a day pass, and comfortably take transit throughout the city for the rest of the day. The City of Toronto is exceptionally livable during the midday and on weekends. If I have to be in Toronto at 9 a.m., however, I park at Aldershot GO station. For those who don’t know, Aldershot is halfway between Burlington and Hamilton and it’s an hour trip to downtown Toronto by GO Train. It’s not a bad deal: $16.80 is the price of a return ticket, which is less than I’d pay for parking in some places in the city. But that’s how far I’m willing to go to avoid Toronto’s rush hour traffic.

My point is, while we should do as much as we can to improve service to the Beach, the residents of the neighbourhood should not feel themselves singled out for bad service. It doesn’t matter if you live in Hamilton, Long Branch, the Beach or Kitchener, rush hour commuting is an exercise in frustration. Congestion in this city is probably unavoidable. Indeed, I’d suggest that it is a symptom of economic prosperity. We will probably never eliminate it. The question is, can we manage it so that it doesn’t stifle the economic growth that’s creating it?