Two of my favourite moments this holiday involved driving on Toronto’s inner-city highways. Oddly, they reflect some of the biggest issues facing our city this year: crumbling infrastructure and commuter congestion.
We are stuck in traffic on the Don Valley Parkway — a daily fight for many Torontonians. The Parking Lot, as it’s affectionately known, was built to accommodate about 60,000 commuters – these days its north of 100,000. Just ahead are the flashing lights of an accident scene.
We’re heading north, coming up to the Lawrence exit — I figure if we get off and travel east, we can go up the next main street and get back on the highway — cleverly outwitting 2,000 other drivers and avoiding a delay of at least half an hour.
So we deke off the highway and head east to Victoria Park. There’s a huge queue of cars waiting to turn north (we apparently weren’t the only ones with this idea), so we go one intersection further.
Then — something we hadn’t expected. The radio traffic report says that coming along the 401 and heading toward the Don Valley Parkway is a line of snow plows blocking all traffic in its wake.
If we don’t beat those plows we’ll lose a half an hour and be bathed in the clattering spray of fresh road salt.
But if we’re lucky, if we get the lights right, we’ll get onto the highway just ahead of them. I turn north on Warden. We make one green light, then another … There, just ahead, is the eastbound on-ramp. I zip onto it.
There are no cars to be seen. I repeat: NO CARS TO BE SEEN. A surreal sight in a city of more than 2 and a half million. I’m sure this hasn’t happened since the highway was built in 1952.
We look behind us: there, about 300 yards back, are the snow plows, stretched across the highway like a line of riot police. We pump our arms. Yesssss. We beat ’em.
I’m coming in to work New Year’s Day morning. About 9.15. Driving along the Gardiner Expressway — another corridor of commuting misery.
There are only a few cars on the road. Maybe 10 going either way. This is the way the Gardiner was meant to be travelled — with room for traffic to flow. It was finished in 1966. These days, during a normal day, at least a few hundred thousand drivers use this stretch of highway to get into downtown – or out of it.
But on this fresh, sunny new morning, we have the entire, beautiful, crumbling infrastructure to ourselves.
I travel from Parkside to Yonge St. in 3 minutes flat. An eighth of my usual time.
Commuting life, for a moment, is good.
Take a ride on the Gardiner here: