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Pan Am fever grips Toronto – traffic fever, that is

City meets games with a shrug, but traffic congestion worries abound

By Todd Humber

The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games are coming to Toronto in July and August, which means Canada’s largest city is being swept with excitement.

Not about who’s going to win gold, silver or bronze. No, that’s the runner up topic. The water cooler chit chat is all about the traffic. And freaking out about it.

 “How, exactly, am I going to get to work?”

Highways across the city have been transformed, with temporary high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes popping up on major arteries. These are roadways already jammed with traffic on a daily basis — the portion of Highway 401 that runs through Toronto has been named the busiest highway in the world. More than 500,000 cars pass through this stretch daily — 120,000 more than the second busiest highway, Interstate 405 in Los Angeles.

Take out a lane or two and you’ve got yourself a recipe for traffic Armageddon. How bad is traffic in Toronto? Let’s put it this way — I moved because of it. Literally. From the suburbs to the city to get out of the unpredictable monotony of a drive that could take 35 minutes on a rare good day to nearly three hours on a bad. Good for my mental health, bad for the mortgage payment.

Complaining about traffic is sport in Toronto, right up there with the constant real estate watch — “Can you believe how much that house sold for?”

So when you add 10,000 athletes and officials, 250,000 visitors and 4,000 media to the mix, the eyes of drivers tend to gloss over.

Employers go for the gold

Organizers have reached out to the citizens to try and get traffic reduced — the Ministry of Transportation has asked people to consider the “Four R’s” — reduce, re-time, re-mode and re-route. The HR department here at Carswell, a Thomson Reuters business (publishers of Canadian HR Reporter) have reached out to staff with suggestions to make this work.

Reduce: Minimize the need for travel, by using vacation or personal days during the games or other flexible work arrangements where feasible.

Re-time: Shift travel to times with less congestion. Staff can work with mangers to adjust start/finish times — even a 15-20 minute shift can make a big difference.

Re-mode: Shift driving trips to other modes, such as public transit or carpooling to take advantage of the HOV lanes (which will require a minimum of three occupants during peak times).

Re-route: Shift travel to routes with less congestion where possible.

Those are really the only options on the table. Once the games open, the city’s focus will turn to the athletic feats and we will, finally, catch the true spirit of the games.

But it won’t be the marathon runners who elicit the most cheers for their arduous competition. Not in this city. That honour will go to the iron-fisted commuter, slaving behind the wheel, who will push and push and look for openings. But despite years of training, of navigating the world’s busiest roads, they’re simply not going to be able to make it home in time for dinner.

Related links

Pan Am/Parapan Am Games: Transit, driving and traffic routes

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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