Thursday, January 28, 2010

A solution to Toronto traffic accidents: Get the cars up to speed

[This week's Toronto Torah is here!]

Toronto has seen more than a dozen pedestrian deaths in traffic over a period of two weeks, and so, naturally, Toronto police and city council are adding new traffic restrictions. They’re talking about increased ticketing for speeding, lowering the speed limit, cracking down on reckless driving, along with increased ticketing for jaywalking pedestrians and better design of intersections and extending the time for pedestrians to cross.

Some of these ideas have merit – as does the mathematical argument that the spike is just a random fluke – but I think they’re missing a major point.

The point: Frustrated drivers are poor drivers. To increase traffic safety, don’t slow things down –Speed things up!

Alternatively, you could try to calm down the drivers – but I wish you lots of luck.

Think about the guy who is stuck behind a 30-mile-per-driver in the left-hand lane of a highway for a mile, before he finds a way to get around the turtle. Out he zooms, barely looking to make sure he’s not cutting anyone off. Around a corner he flies, anxious about making his appointment and minimally glancing at the foot traffic nearby.

Think about the woman who misses four consecutive lights on Bathurst Street. On the next light she comes to a Yellow, of course she’s going to zoom through. Ditto for the driver sitting in the left-hand turning lane; do you really think he won’t go through as the yellow turns red?

I'm not condoning frustrated driving; the drivers are morally as well as logically wrong. But this is what human emotions do.

It’s one of the reasons that the a Jewish court is not empowered to issue decrees which are beyond the tolerance of the community – גזירה שאין הציבור יכול לעמוד בה. Such decrees frustrate people and weaken loyalty to the system, overall.

Back in October, Toronto officials admitted that their traffic lights are staggered in such a way that traffic is slowed, and people miss lights at consecutive intersections.

A couple of months ago, Toronto officials [correctly] banned the use of hand-held phones, and of the practic of texting, while driving.

We’re now in the heart of winter, and traffic becomes much worse and visibility becomes much worse due to snow and rain and slush.

Back on January 7th, the Globe and Mail reported that Toronto commuting times have spiked in the last two years. "In some cases, average 2008 speeds were less than half of what they were two years earlier. Drivers taking Highway 410 from Bovaird Drive to Highway 403 were crawling at an average of 38 kilometres an hour, down from 71 in 2006; the average speed on the 401 collector from Mississauga Road to Dixie Road was 50 kilometres an hour, down from 95 two years ago."

Not to mention, aggressive city buses are licensed to cut off cars entering and exiting bus stops, thereby frightening drivers and forcing them to swerve, as well as slowing down traffic lanes.

The end result: Frustrated drivers can’t get where they want to go, can’t take care of work in the car [again, correctly!], and can’t see pedestrians or maneuver around them easily. And so the number of accidents skyrockets.

Slowing down cars and cracking down on traffic laws is guaranteed to increase the number of frustrated drivers. I'd advise working to get things up to speed, engineering the lights and patterns to help drivers get where they need to go, so that they’ll feel more capable of waiting out a light, taking a corner slowly, and generally being more accomodating on the road.

[PS Yes, of course, I know that even speeding things up won't solve frustrations entirely; people will simply come to have higher expectations for getting where they want to go. But let's see if we can't improve this, nonetheless.]


  1. But if we speed things up, that driver that purposely runs a yellow and encounters a jaywalker is now traveling 20 to 30 over the now new speed limit of 60 km/h and certain death is now inevitable because it's rare pedestrians survive strikes at 80 km/h to 90 km/h.

    Where do we increase these limits?
    At Bathurst and Steeles which is ped-centric?

    Honestly? You would like to see trucks, buses and vehicles driving at 80 instead of 60?! This wouldn't cure gridlock. It won't move cars because it's still dictated by volume during rush hour which slows everyone down anyway. But at 7pm, that little old lady looking to cross from north to south on Steeles away from the intersection no longer stands a chance if drivers are now traveling between 70 and 90 kph. It's not a good idea!

    Now go more north to Markham Rd and 16th ... raise it to 80 kph there instead of 60 kph ... drivers will always speed but now we're legally encourage them to. People won't survive these strikes.

    We can no longer focus on motor vehicle infrastructure and what's best for traffic on two wheels. Montreal changed all their limits to 30. So far, only 1 pedestrian has been killed in 2010.

    It won't work.

  2. Great idea. In Chicago we now have cameras at the intersections and get ticket for running redlights without even knowing until these things come in the mail. $100.00 each. So I'm slowing it down a lot, surely causing accidents. But one ticket is good aversive therapy.

  3. Hi Cindy,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I hear what you are saying, but I don't think a drop to 30 will address the problem, either. I'd be in favor of holding the limit where it is, and engineering the roads, and speifically those from Steeles/Finch and south, to make the rides less frustrating.
    I should also note that as of 2008, Toronto was better than Montreal in traffic fatalities. When did they change the speed limits in Montreal?

    I don't know much about Chicago drivers; where do they rank on the scale of Boston (worst) to Manhattan (best)?

  4. There is a benefit to lower speed limits not mentioned, that being revenue to the city. Once upon a time fines were used to discourage certain behaviors. Now that cities factor fines into budgets there is increased pressure to raise fines when the behaviors drop off. I believe this happened in D.C., where speeding fines increased dramatically when the number of speeders decreased.

    On a more serious note, chances are someone who drives at 30 miles per hour in the left lane of a highway (barring inclement weather or other factors) is violating the law himself. I believe most, if not all, states have minimum speed requirements, particularly in the left lanes of highways. If nothing else, there are generic laws against hazardous driving, which arguable driving to slow would fall under.

    Regarding cell phones, if I remember correctly studies have shown no significant difference in accident rates between hand-held cell phone use and hands-free cell phone use. It is not the hand that is the issue, but rather the distraction of talking. The politicians who pass the laws banning only hand-held cell phone use are either ignorant or recognize that banning all cell phone use would be either futile or impossible.

    For the record, I am a survivor of a hit and run. I was a pedestrian who got hit by a car that was rear-ended by an SUV. I walked away with some minor scratches, but it could have been a lot worse.

  5. The laws of physics, forget the laws of man, dictate that the higher the velocity the greater the likelihood that a collision will result in greater injuries and a higher number of fatalities. If it were only a matter of reducing the frustration level of drivers (albeit, an important consideration) than Highway 6 in Israel: 110 km speed limit and no lights, et cetera, would be a veritable driver's heaven. As it is, I just heard a report on the IBA Reka network that Highway 6 (spawned by the same company that created Highway 407 in the GTA) has one of the highest number of fatalities of any major highway in the area (including the European continent). No, speeding up vehicles is not a solution to reducing pedestrian fatalities. Observing speed limits, STOP signs, and regulated signaling devices is a solution already out there. These signs are not just for the secular "observant", they should be for everyone.

  6. Anonymous 8:54 AM
    Thanks for your comment, but I'm not recommending speeding up the cars; I'm only recommending that we not slow them unnecessarily. Stop lights are necessary - but we can design systems to stagger them properly. Pedestrian crossings are necessary - but we can place them in a way that minimizes pedestrian/car problems.