New study puts Toronto at the top of 14 cities when it comes to the gap between an ideal trip time and stop-and-go reality.

traffic congestion

David Cooper / Toronto Star
Construction work and congestion play havoc with the length of time it takes to get from A to B in Toronto, despite the city’s lack of major obstructions such as major rivers with few bridges.

It typically takes nearly three times longer to travel a common Toronto route than it would if traffic flowed freely, according to a new study that measures “traffic stretch” to determine just how much worse driving in the city is than it should be.

Traffic stretch is what happens when the 18-minute hop from the Beach to High Park becomes a 45-minute stop-and-go ordeal, says the aptly named report How Bad is the Traffic Where You Live?

The research, done by a data analytics website called The 10 and 3, shows that Toronto has the worst traffic stretch among 14 Canadian cities. That ranking is based on the difference between a trip’s normal length and the time it takes when snarled by construction, traffic, weather or a combination.

Co-author Arik Motskin says the differences among the 14 cities in the study are “stark and surprising.”

“We have Ottawa, whose worst case increases by a relatively paltry 80 per cent, or Montreal, by a relatively small 130 per cent. But in Toronto, the stretch is just about double that, at a 180 per cent increase. Given the insanity of traveling onto Montreal Island, or crossing Vancouver’s rivers, it’s surprising that the stretch in Toronto can still be that much more, given no obvious water-based bottlenecks,” he said.

Other traffic studies, including one earlier this year by TomTom, which sells GPS-based apps, have cited Vancouver for having the worst traffic in Canada.

But Vancouver is third, and Montreal second, in the traffic-stretch ranking. That doesn’t mean drivers get an easy ride in those centres, where their proximity to water contributes to congestion, says the report.

Vancouver “is hamstrung” by a “network of congested river crossings” and Montreal suffers from backed-up bridges on and off the island.

The 10 and 3 analysis is based on Google Maps’ trip-time predictions. It provides the shortest time a route should take when the roads are open (usually in the middle of the night) and the longest predicted trip times. The analysis considered three scenarios from each city: a route between the main transit hub and the airport; a set of suburban commuting routes to downtown; and a set of routes between popular destinations. Those times were averaged over a week in October.

It’s a different way of interpreting traffic than other studies, which have tended to measure commuting-time averages, said Motskin.

“When I think of traffic, I need to know how long it’s going to take from Point A to Point B and how much time I need to plan for, in case there’s a snowstorm or construction, or a baseball game is getting out,” he said.

“Forget going to Union Station from Pearson airport in a reasonable amount of time; major backups on the Gardiner and Highway 427 can give this route a stretch multiplier of three times or more,” says the report, which notes that the Union Pearson Express Train, nevertheless, “remains woefully underused.”

The 10 and 3 name is a reference to Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories, said Motskin, who has a PhD from Stanford University and lives on the west coast. He co-wrote the report with Torontonian Zack Gallinger.

Ideal vs. Ordeal

Here are best-case (no traffic) and worst-case (with traffic) scenarios for some typical Toronto routes, according to The 10 and 3 research:

Pearson to Union Station: 22 minutes vs. 70 minutes

Bayview Ave. and Highway 7 to Dundas Square: 28 minutes vs. 75 minutes

Square One in Mississauga to the Air Canada Centre: 24 minutes vs. 80 minutes

Scarborough Town Centre to ROM: 24 minutes vs. 75 minutes

Bloor West Village to Distillery District: 14 minutes vs. 35 minutes

Kensington Market to Leslieville: 20 minutes vs. 40 minutes

Yonge and Eglinton to King and Bathurst: 18 minutes vs. 40 minutes

Source: The Toronto Star