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Collins' Capital

Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Could that traffic jam be a sign you're not heeding?

In a bonus column this week, Metro's Steve Collins explores what long commutes could mean for drivers.

Maybe it's time to stop driving.

Metro File

Maybe it's time to stop driving.

As one of the booted and un-horse-powered (I owned a car for a couple of months in '03-'04) I view the trials of motorists, from my icy vantage point on the curb with sometimes imperfect sympathy.

When I see plans for a revamped Elgin Street that propose — apparently controversially —  to widen the street's skinny sidewalks at the expense of traffic lanes and coveted on-street parking spots, I fail to see much downside..

Last month, as federal and provincial politicians announced they were going to solve the Queensway's traffic woes once again by widening another section, I was struck by their persistent optimism that the dreaded force of induced demand (if you build it they will drive) won't kick in this time. That it won’t fill the new lane with new traffic and leaving everyone stuck pretty much where they were before construction, just $95 million poorer.

Earlier this month, as I trudged along Montreal Road in the early rush hour snow, I kept pace with a van trapped in cranky congestion, trading the lead for several blocks. I was home soon enough with some takeout chicken to share with a buddy who, faced with his own snowbound drive from Orleans to Westboro, wisely decided to stop in and wait out the rush hour.

And so it's in the spirit of friendly inter-modal antagonism I note a new study from the Canadian Automobile Association, Grinding to a Halt: Evaluating Canada's Worst Bottlenecks, an examination of the most consistently congested sticking points on major cities' highways and expressways.

The good news for local drivers: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are so bunged up that there was hardly any room for other cities on the top 20 hate parade of the country's worst bottlenecks.

Ottawa still managed to score CAA dishonours for two national-level choke points—the 417 between Bayswater and O'Connor, which apparently swallows 127,000 hours from motorists' lives annually, at an estimated cost of $3.24 million; and the Vanier Parkway from Montreal Road back to the 417 (106,000 hours and $2.72 million).

In the overall rankings, we tie Hamilton for the seventh place in terms of total time sucked by traffic bottlenecks tallied at 5.2 million hours in each.

I often think of glitches in the public transit system, whether in the form of budget/service cuts, construction-related route disruptions, or the STO near-strike across the river, as helping to sell cars to bus riders. Is it too much to hope enough hours lost in traffic bottlenecks might sell the occasional bus pass?

New Yorker writer David Owen, in his book Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, suggested this might be the case:  “Traffic jams are actually beneficial, environmentally, if they reduce the willingness of drivers to drive and, in doing so, turn car pools, buses, trains, bicycles, walking and urban apartments into attractive options.”

I think I read it on the bus.

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