If COVID-19 has had one benefit, it may be the largest drop-off in traffic volumes ever recorded in Toronto. But eventually, it would be wise to expect a return to the growth of traffic and congestion seen over many decades. The current drop in demand should only present an opportunity to be ready for the rebound.
This week, City Council unanimously approved an action plan, dubbed MoveTO, to manage congestion and create an improved transportation network. Though many of the components have been in the works for several years, the action plan will now deploy several modern traffic management tools across the city.
‘Smart’ traffic signals can automatically sense volumes at intersections and adjust signal timing based on actual traffic demand, rather than relying on a pre-programmed cycle. The City began piloting two different types of systems in 2018, and have now selected the option that had proven most effective during the test. 500 major intersections have been proposed for new smart signals over the next five years. Though most of these sensors will run parallel to expressways, Yonge Street, Bayview Avenue, Sheppard Avenue, and Steeles Avenue are all included in the plan.
While smart signals focus primarily on motor vehicles, MoveTO also introduces 100 ‘intelligent’ intersections to the network. Tested during the 2017 King Street Pilot, sensors were installed to monitor the total number of pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles travelling through intersections, and sent that data to signals to help adapt timings to support all road users. This coordinated approach not only improved the overall efficiency of the intersections, but helped to keep pedestrians and cyclists safer as well.
Last week, I looked at the Surface Transit Network Plan to improve service for busses. MoveTO also offers solutions by adding Advanced Transit Signal Priority (ATSP) to busy bus routes, including Finch Avenue East, and Steeles Avenue West. This system is able to detect busses running behind schedule and extend green signal times when necessary to help them catch up. This would improve vehicle spacing, reliability, and lower overall travel times.
A safer and more efficient transportation network has benefits for all road users, for the environment and for the city’s economy. Leveraging modern technology to achieve these goals is long overdue. Though no single solution is going to “fix” traffic in the long run, we much continue to explore all available tools to continue making improvements.