The City of Toronto is seemingly going through a transportation renaissance – it may be too bold to say this just over a week into the King Street Pilot, but with the recent announcement about the City’s partnership with Waze, things are looking up.
Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, and it happens to be owned by Google, a company with vested interest elsewhere in Toronto. More on that later.
Waze has 560,000 active users who can all post hazards, accidents, congestion, and other alerts that give fellow drivers real-time updates. The idea is to crowdsource traffic data in order to improve travel for everyone using the roads.
“For the first time, the City is sharing its traffic data with Waze and Waze users. This partnership will give our traffic operations centre better visibility into traffic patterns and provide Waze users enhanced information to plan and adjust their commute,” says Mayor John Tory in a press release. “Over the last three years, we have finally focused on fighting traffic in Toronto and improving commute times. I am determined to build on the progress we’ve made and continue the fight each and every day.”
The City will also be able to use the anonymous driver data in order to influence and guide future infrastructure development.
Here’s how it works: You have your phone mounted on your dash with Waze open, and as you’re travelling to your destination, you will receive notifications from other drivers if there has been an accident or if congestion is really bad. You also have the power to share this info with everyone else. Then Waze can suggest alternative routes to your destination.
“Waze was founded on the belief that we can outsmart traffic together,” says Mike Wilson, Waze Canada’s country manager. “Our partnership with the City of Toronto will empower drivers with real-time information on routes, traffic alerts and road closures to get them to their destination on time. Additionally, by leveraging Waze insights, the City will now have greater visibility into traffic patterns and will be able to make better planning decisions.”
Okay, so why is this a sign that Toronto is going through a transportation renaissance? Let’s look to the east to answer that question. Last October, Waterfront Toronto announced its partnership with Sidewalk Labs, a firm owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, to develop hundreds of acres of eastern waterfront. The project is called Sidewalk Toronto and it will be a mini smart city on the water.
Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle technology will be implemented into the project. A fleet of “taxibots” will be included, encouraging companies like Lyft and privately owned autonomous vehicles to also be available to tourists and residents.
Then we have the King Street Pilot. Some people hate it, some people love it. We’re assuming people who drive across king are the former and streetcar patrons the latter. We’re just over a week into the year-long pilot, but there is a clear difference on the stretch of King from Jarvis to Bathurst.
For the first few days of the pilot, many cars either ignored or did not see the signage directing them to turn right at the intersection. Through-traffic is only allowed for transit and cyclists. Taxis can drive straight through from 10 pm to 5 am.
As a pedestrian or streetcar patron, it is clear that the King Street Pilot is a step in the right direction. The roads are clear and streetcars are actually moving. The grace period for motorists is now over, so tickets are being handed out for disobeying the street signs.
With ample signage and road lines directing vehicles to turn right, there really is no excuse for driving through an intersection along King (between Jarvis and Bathurst).
If the King Street Pilot becomes permanent and the system implemented in other areas of the city, if Waze users can improve vehicular traffic and guide infrastructure development, and if Alphabet successfully brings autonomous cars to Toronto – it will change everything about the way we use and access the downtown core.