By Ryan McGreal
Published February 24, 2009
this blog entry has been updated
Last week, RTH reported that the city dropped a proposed pedestrian scramble intersection at York and MacNab from its York Blvd Streetscape Master Plan because a traffic study indicated that traffic on York west of Bay would back up to Queen after an hour of peak activity.
Hart Solomon, manager of traffic engineering and operations in the operations and maintenance division of the public works department, has since provided more context on the study and the assumptions that went into it.
I contacted Solomon last week to ask whether the study assumes that total traffic volume will remain the same after the two-way conversion and scramble intersection.
Solomon responded that the study is based on current traffic volumes. He defended this assumption as a "reasonable choice" given the city's plans for other east-west thoroughfares:
This is likely conservative, in that the future impact of rapid transit and other initiatives on Main Street and King Street would be the diversion of additional traffic to York.
He added that the base volume of traffic is also steadily growing - "subject to the cost of fuel and the current economic climate" - in the background.
He concluded that since the effect observed in the traffic study was "quite severe", a "minor adjustment in volumes would not change the outcome." In other words, the combination of two-way conversion and a pedestrian scramble would produce such a significant slowing of traffic flows that the magnitude of the base traffic volume isn't an especially sigificant factor.
What concerns me is this assumption that overall background traffic volumes will continue to grow. Isn't the ultimate goal of the city's traffic and land use plans to transform our patterns of travel so that traffic volumes do not continue to grow indefinitely?
One of the objectives of revitalizing an under-used area is to bring destinations closer together so that people don't need to travel as far. Similarly, one of the objectives of higher order transit (like LRT on the B and A Lines) is to replace driving trips with transit trips at a much more efficient use of lane capacity.
The economic and geological evidence from the global oil industry is that energy price volatility will persist over the next couple of decades; and the overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change indicates that we need to reduce dramatically our total greenhouse gas production.
In this context, what justifies a continued business-as-usual approach to traffic planning?
Hart Solomon just responded to my last question with the following comment:
Please separate the long-term goals/planning of the City from the short-term effects of a particular local traffic change.
Longer-term, we have plans and strategies to change transportation behaviour, although those will be most successful if we also change how we plan and implement land use, since transportation and land use are tightly connected.
The scramble was proposed for 2009 or 2010 and at that point in time the effects of changes like LRT, etc. would not be in effect.
However, in the meantime, we have to try to operate a traffic system that is reasonably efficient, as that is the best way to minimize the use of non-renewable resources, maximize air quality and minimize motor vehicle collisions.
So the assumption on traffic volumes wasn't for 2020, it was for tomorrow or the next day.
Hope this adds some clarity to the discussion.
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