There’s estimates that traffic adds economic costs which are in the billions of dollars to Toronto’s economy. So much so that different organizations have completely different estimates for the exact impact. Government estimates come in at around $5B while some private think-tanks place the damage in the $10-11B range.
It’s quite simple to understand where the costs come from. A large cost would come from Toronto’s most productive citizens and companies doing less business because they’re stuck in one geographic region. By stuck in one area, I mean companies only have 7am-7pm to sell products and service everywhere around the globe. Now if in one region (GTA) you spend an extra 1H30M in traffic, this cost can add up for everyone. So not only do Toronto’s most productive suffer but everyone effectively has 90 minutes less in a day. Another major cost comes from the fact that people spending more time in traffic means less time with family. Imagine being able to spend 5 more hours with your family a week, rather than in the iron cages we are forced to drive to and from work in. Then another major costs come from foreign companies who choose metropolitan regions with less traffic because traffic is an additional cost of doing business in the GTA. Quite simply, it is difficult to add up all the costs so it makes sense why it’s hard for people to agree on it, however we can agree that it does exist and it is substantial.
So while I was watching a documentary on the majestic water fountains outside of Dubai’s largest mall, their talk of the laminar flow of the fountains got me thinking. Before I explain the thinking, the Dubai fountains perform a show every day where the water from the fountains effectively dances on an artificial lake (think outside Las Vegas’ Bellagio casino). To get the water to shoot 50 ft into the air, in a solid stream of water, the water must be of laminar flow. There’s two types of Fluid flow, laminar and turbulent, and basically when the speed of a fluid in a hose becomes too great, it passes the threshold of laminar flow and becomes turbulent. Turbulent flow is difficult to analyze, hard to describe mathematically and basically can be thought of as just being too chaotic to deal with. So you’re probably wondering why I am talking about laminar & turbulent flow of water and traffic in the same article?
I equate the flow of water to the flow of traffic in this way, water through a hose, kind of acts like cars on a highway. There’s only a certain amount of cars I can fit onto a road before there happens to be traffic, or there’s only a certain amount of cars on a road before driving conditions become chaotic (turbulent). Those of you who’ve been on the highway as it slows to 100, and you’re no longer able to go 120, you know it’s only a matter of time before you slow to the crawl of stop ‘n go. Why does stop and go happen? I’ve been told, to answer this question, one must realize traffic cannot be modelled, there are too many variables to account for and traffic should be thought of as random. But the way I see it, traffic is the result of increased chances for decision making situations; I classify that as scenarios where ‘someone’ wants to push the envelope and drive faster than traffic, or tailgating someone close or creating other dangerous road conditions for everyone on the road. I am of the opinion that this is one of the main determinants behind what causes traffic. When you have a few drivers who wants to continue to drive 100 when traffic is moving at 70 or 80, they create situations for other drivers to make decisions because you can bet driving faster than traffic means you’re not staying in the same lane. These decisions are unnecessary and cause time delays & since they are all additive, they add up to me sitting in traffic. By additive I mean, if I have to stop my vehicle because someone with a long response time (maybe an elderly driver) stops, then I cannot go until they are comfortable moving their car. This brings me to the main point of how these ‘fast drivers’ cause traffic to move from laminar to turbulent. Just as with water and a hose, if you have the flow rate (or speed of water) set too high, you get turbulent flow; the easy way to attain laminar flow is to reduce the speed of the water to get that smooth predictable laminar flow. Trust me you don’t want turbulent flow on the road.
So the next thought to think of is it’s so easy to get water to slow down (you just reduce the hose pressure) but how in the world can you possibly get all drivers to slow down to the same speed at the same time? How do you reduce this ‘fast driver’ situation that I think is the main cause of traffic. The answer is simple and obvious, but requires the effort of the Toronto police force. Instead of sitting idly by and watching people speed during rush hour on the Gardiner and 404, it would be awesome if they could ticket people for breaking the posted speed limit. This is an effective way to reduce speeding during rush hour while helping traffic move, rather than the stop and go mess we have now. What could make traffic move even faster is for the police to enforce the 2 car minimum on the highway during rush hour. Would you tailgate someone if it meant risking a $100 fine? I definitely wouldn’t. This way, there’d always be a self correcting mechanism by which the speed of traffic would gradually reduce as more cars entered the highway and would never slow down to an absolute crawl.
Article was written by gtareguy (Greater Toronto area real Estate guy) . I release a new article every Friday and I write about economics, the nba and real estate in the GTA.