Monday, October 25, 2010

Highway to a Heart Attack

Weary, stressed, and often late. This is the common plight of Toronto drivers. Contending with multiple routes disrupted by construction, or roads closed because of events such as parades and marathons, motorists are losing their patience and clamouring for action—before a heart attack happens at the wheel. Make sure you have your health card handy in case you need to make a detour to the hospital.

What to do? Call a city councillor, elect a new mayor? The mismanaged roads in Toronto are a travesty. We think of ourselves as a world class city, but our road infrastructure is about as leading edge as our dysfunctional subway system. As I write this, my husband is trapped on the Gardiner once again, inching his way home after a twelve-hour work day. He called an hour and a half ago to say he was en route; the drive should have taken thirty minutes from downtown to our west end home—I’m keeping his chicken warm, but maybe he’ll be too stressed too eat it.

My husband could have taken the subway to work instead this morning, but since it broke down yesterday, he thought he’d take the car. Seems that the better way is just as bad. But the TTC is a whole other story.

How long can this go on? People’s lives are being impacted adversely almost every time they commute. A half-hour drive should not turn into a ninety minute road trip each time we travel in and out of the city. The Jameson bridge midway across the Gardiner has been under construction since the spring of 2010 and will not be ready until the fall of 2011. The closed exit and the reduced lanes are the source of constant gridlock. Funny that whenever I pass the site, the workers are nowhere in sight; maybe they’re busy fixing the subway.

Driving-induced stress is no small concern. I’d like to see a study on how many accidents occur because of highway construction and reduced lanes. I’d like to know how many people have heart attacks or strokes or anxiety attacks because of the increased stress caused by traffic congestion. Studies show that our blood pressure goes up while we’re stuck in traffic. What is the impact on healthcare costs? And how many working hours are wasted while trying to get to our jobs.

Sure, the city needs to maintain roads and highways, and to allow for recreational activities like marathons, but perhaps it’s time to review the pitfalls and benefits of how these things are implemented in our city. Does one section of a major highway really require eighteen months to be repaired? Must we use downtown streets for marathons? Do two important highways need to be closed at the same time?

Play some music and relax while you’re stuck in traffic, a therapist recommends. Think of something positive; imagine yourself on the beach. Make eye contact with other drivers and smile, a well-intended website suggests.

Solid solutions are not straightforward. They require consultation, collaboration and communication—and perhaps a municipal shake-up. For now, how about investing in more expedient highway repairs, which can only help the economy through increased employment and ultimately, a more productive workforce. And as far as road closures are concerned, a little planning goes a long way. Shutting down two major thoroughfares on one busy Saturday does not make sense. Let’s get all our ducks lined up and figure out a plan.

This city tries to heal and repair our traffic problems with Band-Aids and knee-jerk fixes rather than make the investment and perform the crucial surgery that’s required. But the Band-Aids keep falling off and the operating costs become greater as the injuries get worse. In the meantime, drivers are at risk of becoming road-weary and sick. As the city population continues to grow and our citizens continue to age and rage, we’ll need more than a few Band-Aids to keep our roads and our drivers from breaking down altogether.


  1. Hear, hear. You capture a general sentiment. I think we'll all getting fed up with construction. There's nothing more frustrating that being caught in a traffic jam.

  2. Just this week, it took me 50 minutes to get home from work one night and I go AGAINST the traffic flow - it should only take me 20 minutes! Makes me want to flee the city!