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Most councillors are familiar now with the theory of induced demand, which posits that traffic grows as fast as you build roads for it. The corollary is known as disappearing traffic — the idea that the less road space you provide, the less traffic there will be. This was why the Boulevardiers seemed ‘soft’ on the congestion issue: they couldn’t make themselves believe congestion would extend beyond some point, short of congelation, when drivers would adapt to their Gardinerlessness, when drivers would change their routes, their routines, their travel modes, when they would move downtown, work closer to home, whatever.
Toronto’s commuter figures provide some support for this idea. Since 1975, the number of cars commuting into downtown has remained constant, reflecting the fact that the road network is at capacity and no new roads are being built. All commuter growth since 1975 has been carried by GO and the TTC. Drivers now constitute only 28% of commuters into downtown, a proportion bound to steadily diminish.
But, politically speaking, suburban councillors can hardly say to their constituents, “Don’t worry, traffic will just evaporate.”
There’s also the question of whether Torontonians really do have alternatives. Seoul, for example, has been lauded for tearing down its elevated Cheonggyecheon Expressway and turning the liberated land into parkland with a restored urban river. As it happened, Korean-born Raymond Cho (Scarboro-Rouge River), knew something about Seoul. The Cheonggyecheon, he said, represented a trivial portion of the city’s huge expressway network. Cars in Seoul have lots of choices. In addition, Seoulites enjoy 18 subway and commuter lines and over 300 subway stations. Cho showed on a chart that the total number of subway stations in his own ward equals zero. From deep Scarboro, it can take an hour and a half to get downtown by transit.
It was interesting to see how many suburban councillors shed crocodile tears about their inadequate transit. They gave to understand that in different circumstances, in transit-rich circumstances, they might actually see their way to dismantling the Gardiner. They completely forgot, some of them, that they had waylaid Dave Miller’s Transit City plan and that they had subscribed to Rob Ford’s transit cuts and that they were even now about to bestow upon the Gardiner money that might otherwise go to transit. They forgot all that.