Will increased fines and technology alleviate traffic congestion?

Andre Bermon, Publisher –

“Don’t Block the Box” is the lat­est City Hall slogan to emerge as Council searches for solu­tions to Toronto’s infamous bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The city’s Congestion Man­agement Plan 2023-2026, ap­proved last October, was updat­ed in Council’s March session to consider increasing fines for drivers blocking intersections between traffic lights. A staff recommendation to impose a $450 fine – up from $90 – was passed without debate.

According to Transportation Services, “Blockage of the In­tersection” not only creates a safety risk for vulnerable road users but also has a negative impact on transit and other ve­hicles.

But before the fine can be applied under the Provincial Offences Act, it has to be re­viewed by the Ministry of the Attorney General and approved by the regional senior judge of the Ontario Court of Justice.

If and when the increased fine is approved, enforcement is a whole other matter, frustrating residents living near high traffic zones.

“How are they going to imple­ment this?” Frances Mahoney, a 25-year Esplanade resident, commented to the bridge.

Fed up with daytime gridlock on Jarvis Street, Mahoney wrote Ward 10 Councillor Ausma Ma­lik in early February making the case for more traffic agents in the area. Since then, she has seen more consistent support from the city, but worries that relying on traffic agents alone won’t work in the long term.

The city expanded its traffic agent program last spring to in­crease road safety and keep traf­fic moving. Two areas initially targeted in the Downtown East were the Jarvis Street intersec­tions with Lakeshore Boule­vard and Adelaide Street East. More recently, agents have also been seen directing traffic at both Front Street East and The Esplanade crossings of Jarvis.

The city says traffic agents provide support along the Jarvis corridor from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. on regular weekdays.

However, traffic agents can’t hand out fines if they witness in­fractions. The city’s Legal Ser­vices has confirmed that only the police have the legal author­ity to pull drivers over and issue tickets.

Transportation Services says it will engage with Toronto po­lice to develop a strategy to en­force bylaw infractions, and re­port to Council in the fall.

In the meantime, three years of intermittent lane closures on the western portion of the Gar­diner Expressway start in mid-April, and watermain replace­ment on The Esplanade will last until December. Traffic in the Downtown East is likely to get worse.

Mahoney characterized cross­ing the street at Jarvis and The Esplanade as “hazardous, ex­tremely dangerous. [It’s] irre­sponsible of drivers because there’s a lot of elderly people out with their wheelchairs and walkers. And during rush hour, children are coming home from school.”

Car traffic “blocking the box” on Lower Jarvis Street and The Esplanade. Photo: Frances Mahoney

The city is also looking to pilot new technologies in traffic management, including artifi­cial intelligence (AI). Currently, the city uses different “Automat­ed Enforcement” tools such as cameras that fine drivers enter­ing an intersection on red lights.

Transportation Services has recently linked up with the Ontario Centre for Innovation to jointly fund Ontario-based companies seeking to pilot ser­vices that mitigate congestion and improve road safety. Local telecommunications compa­nies have also been solicited to leverage their 5G networks for the improved data flow that AI technology needs.

A recent study by geolocation firm TomTom showed the aver­age Toronto driver loses about 255 hours every year to com­mutes.