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Bigger city doesn't need more roads — GTA Sep. 30, 2002. 07:14 AM

By Royson James

THE TORONTO Transit Commission is to announce today a contest to honour the TTC’s 24 billionth rider, expected in December. That’s enough rides to transport all the people of the world about four times — on The Better Way.

Imagine Toronto without the TTC: No slow-moving, stupid buses to block the path of your muscle car or sedate sedan or nimble SUV. And no room to move amidst true gridlock.

More than a million rides occur on the TTC each day. Eight out of every 10 Toronto residents use it at least once a month. And four out of every 10 residents of the 905 use it just as frequently.

The TTC trains, buses and streetcars keep the city’s economy moving. Next to hospitals, the transit system is probably the most essential service we have. One bus replaces 50 cars on the road. One subway line equals 27 lanes of highway or Highways 400, 401 and 403 combined. One subway line takes 53,000 cars per hour off the road.

Transit is more efficient, cleaner, healthier, less costly than the alternative. Torontonians get this. They’ve been through a transit strike. Still, automobile use has doubled across Canada over the past 20 years. And car lovers would have us believe Toronto needs more roads into the downtown. If the population is increasing, and it is, and overall car use is up, and it is, then it figures that we need more roads to accommodate the private automobile.

Well, not exactly, it turns out.

Since 1975, Toronto’s population has increased by about 500,000. And how have our commuting patterns changed to accommodate this increase?

The city does periodic traffic counts to track commuters. Between 1975 and 2001, the number of passengers travelling by TTC into the downtown during morning rush hour remained essentially the same, 123,628 in 1975 to 122,360 in 2001. GO Transit trips jumped dramatically to 52,149 from 9,456. And auto trips? They fell to 76,252 from 79,506.

The traffic count survey, completed this year, shows the number of people travelling into the downtown by car has not changed significantly for 25 years (and even back 40 years, according to other figures). There are more people working downtown (240,000 office jobs in 1998 compared to 150,000 in 1975), more people living downtown (a stunning 160,000) and more people travelling to downtown, but they are not coming by car.

The same survey shows 80 per cent of people who live in the 905 area and work downtown travel to work via transit, primarily GO.

In the Scarborough city centre, in the McCowan Rd. and Highway 401 area, where city officials directed population growth and delivered reasonable transit options, the result is equally impressive. Again, 80 per cent of Scarborough city centre residents who work downtown take transit to get there.

“This just shows that if you direct growth to certain areas and provide people with effective transit, they’ll use it,” said Rod McPhail, Toronto’s senior transportation planner. “That’s the strategy behind the new official plan.”

In fact, that’s the plan’s genius, its essential message.

This should be enough to scuttle deceptive arguments by city councillors like Paul Sutherland. Sutherland relishes the King of the Road role. He promotes a widened Don Valley Parkway, more highways and roads into Toronto. This, he says, will take traffic away from stable neighbourhoods like Don Mills.

Intensification of arterial roads and more compact urban development will cause more traffic jams, he says. Hence, the city’s new official plan is fatally flawed because it doesn’t contemplate new roads and highways to accommodate people’s preferred mode of transportation, the private automobile.

But most of us know this is not so. Roads attract cars. One of the reasons the campaign to stall and undermine the city’s proposed official plan fell flat last week and will not survive at city council is because Sutherland, as one of the main leaders of the opposition, is blatantly anti-transit in outlook and philosophy.