Leading candidates will do nothing about gridlock: Keenan

Item date: 
October 10, 2014
Item context: 

Edward Keenan quotes TF speaker Matt Turner in this article about a recent mayoral debate that included a question about road pricing.  Unfortunately, Mr. Keenan did not cover the TF mayoral debate at June's Solving Gridlock Forum where many questions were asked about road pricing and transit funding.

By EDWARD KEENAN  (with files from Jennifer Pagliaro)

There was a point in a debate this week when all three frontrunning candidates for mayor admitted they plan to do nothing about traffic congestion in this city...

Longshot mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind, who was not invited as a participant on the debate stage, asked a question from the audience, about whether Olivia Chow, John Tory, and Doug Ford (open Doug Ford's policard) would support congestion pricing or road tolls to fight gridlock.

This is a trick question, for reasons that may not immediately be obvious to most people, or most mayoral candidates. Most people don’t understand that pricing roads through either tolls or congestion charges is virtually the only thing a government can do to reduce traffic congestion at all. Building roads doesn’t work. Building public transit doesn’t work. Making traffic flow better doesn’t work. Those things can all be worth doing, and some of them can often allow many people to get where they’re going easier, more effectively, or faster. But none of them effectively reduces gridlock.

Researchers Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner called it “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion” in their 2011 University of Toronto study: if you get traffic to move faster by building more road space or fixing traffic signals or reducing road blockages, more cars will fill up that space within a decade. If you convince people to stop driving cars by building good public transit for them, more cars will take their place within a decade...

I spoke to Turner this spring about his research on this, and he said it’s pretty clear looking around the world that only one thing actually works to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads: charging people directly to use them...

So at the debate this week, Goldkind (who supports tolls in his platform) was essentially asking, “Will you do anything at all to effectively reduce congestion?”

They promise a lot of things, these candidates. Some of what they promise could move people who ride transit faster, which is good. Some could allow more cars to travel on roads, which is fine, I guess, if that’s what you want to do. Some could eliminate the frustrating temporary slowdowns that come with construction road closings, which is good.

But whatever they are talking about, it is not ending gridlock. It’s not clear to me whether they realize that, but the rest of us should.