With re­newed fo­cus on vul­ner­a­ble road users, such as pedes­tri­ans, the city needs to in­ves­ti­gate all op­tions

Annex Post - - CONTENTS - By Eric Sto­ber

Is this traf­fic app di­rect­ing too many com­muters into quiet neigh­bour­hoods?

Traf­fic app Waze was trum­peted as a grid­lock-solv­ing won­der tool when the city signed on to share traf­fic data last year. But ques­tions abound, and some are won­der­ing if this and sim­i­lar map apps, such as Google maps, are caus­ing more prob­lems than they are help­ing to solve.

With all the con­struc­tion and bumper-to-bumper traf­fic in Toronto, Waze is rou­tinely sug­gest­ing al­ter­nate routes that send driv­ers ca­reen­ing along on­ce­quiet res­i­den­tial streets. It’s like ev­ery driver in the city sud­denly has ev­ery­one else’s favourite short­cuts that were once re­served for lo­cals only.

And with the con­struc­tion of the Eglin­ton Crosstown LRT cut­ting a swath across the city, it is getting scary.

In Novem­ber 2017, the City of Toronto an­nounced a part­ner­ship with Waze, which uses user-sup­plied data to rec­om­mend quicker routes for cars, of­ten off the beaten path. Waze was pur­chased by Google for $1.15 bil­lion in 2013.

The part­ner­ship al­lows both the city and Waze to ac­cess each other’s real-time traf­fic and road data, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the city, in or­der to al­low Waze to pro­vide bet­ter route in­struc­tions based on the city’s data, while the city can use Waze’s data from anony­mous driv­ers to make what it calls “data-driven in­fra­struc­ture de­ci­sions.”

Although the part­ner­ship ap­pears to be one made in driv­ing-ef­fi­ciency heaven, Waze has been re­ceiv­ing back­lash across the United States and now in Toronto over traf­fic be­ing di­verted from main roads to qui­eter side streets be­cause of the app’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

Sto­ries have ap­peared out of the U.S. of bumper-to-bumper traf­fic on a res­i­den­tial street in L.A. or in Leo­nia, N.J., where “peo­ple can’t get out of their drive­ways,” the town’s po­lice chief told the New York Times.

Now there have been sim­i­lar com­plaints of traf­fic hit­ting res­i­den­tial streets in Toronto. And with con­tin­ued fo­cus on traf­fic safety project Vi­sion Zero and nu­mer­ous pedestrian and cy­clist deaths on our city streets, peo­ple are jus­ti­fi­ably look­ing for an­swers.

Toronto may­oral can­di­date Jen­nifer Keesmaat tweeted out the L.A. Waze story and said she has seen the “in­san­ity” her­self as Waze rec­om­mends “cir­cuitous routes.”

“[Waze] is a huge prob­lem in Lea­side and Dav­isville vil­lage,” said Ward 26 coun­cil­lor Jon Burn­side. “It is send­ing peo­ple down streets that were pre­vi­ously quiet.”

Burn­side ex­plained that, due to con­struc­tion along Eglin­ton Av­enue West for the LRT, peo­ple are hun­gry for quicker routes, which Waze is pro­vid­ing to the detri­ment of the neigh­bour­hoods.

“[Res­i­dents] talk about their feel­ing that the Waze app is send­ing traf­fic down their streets when pre­vi­ously it was be­yond their street,” Burn­side said.

Burn­side sees the in­crease in traf­fic as a safety con­cern be­cause of peo­ple that are in a rush speed­ing.

“Now that you have traf­fic on pre­vi­ously qui­eter streets, it changes the dy­namic be­tween pedes­tri­ans and their sur­round­ings, so peo­ple have to be more vig­i­lant,” he said. “That is of­ten a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult with chil­dren, so that’s the worry.”

The Lea­side neigh­bour­hood has seen the tragic re­sults of reck­less driv­ing on res­i­den­tial streets.

In 2014, a seven-year-old girl named Ge­or­gia Walsh was killed on a neigh­bour­hood street by the driver of a mini­van, putting traf­fic and safety in the spot­light.

Waze al­ready has a strong foothold in Toronto, with ap­prox­i­mately 560,000 driv­ers who ac­tively use the app as of late 2017.

So what is a tech-hun­gry city to do to tackle the un­wanted con­se­quences? The City of Leo­nia has taken dras­tic mea­sures to fight res­i­den­tial traf­fic due to Waze. The city has restricted 60 side streets to res­i­dents only dur­ing rush hour by is­su­ing a bright yel­low tag to keep in your car for res­i­dents of Leo­nia.

If you don’t have that tag, you can face a $200 fine.

Waze does seem will­ing to work with com­mu­ni­ties to limit res­i­den­tial traf­fic. Terry Wei, a Waze spokesper­son, told the New York Times that if a road is legally re­clas­si­fied into a pri­vate road then Waze’s map ed­i­tors will re­spect that change.

Some res­i­dents have even re­sorted to re­port­ing false block­ages in an at­tempt to not have their neigh­bour­hood as a route, but such an at­tempt couldn’t fool the crowd­sourc­ing of Waze.

A less dras­tic so­lu­tion could be to lower the speed limit on res­i­den­tial roads down to 30 km/h to pro­mote safe driv­ing in these res­i­den­tial streets, some­thing that Keesmaat has re­cently en­dorsed for all res­i­den­tial streets in Toronto.

Steven Far­ber, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of trans­port ge­og­ra­phy at Univer­sity of Toronto, agrees with the idea to lower speed lim­its.

“Our speed lim­its are still too high on quiet res­i­den­tial streets,” he said. “If the city reg­u­lated the speed limit on these res­i­den­tial streets down to 15 or 10 km/h, Waze would no longer see these streets as at­trac­tive de­tours be­cause the speed lim­its would be set too low and it wouldn’t ac­tu­ally save time. As long as they are open thor­ough­fares with rel­a­tively high speed lim­its, peo­ple are go­ing to try to use those streets to cut through traf­fic,” he said.

How­ever, Burn­side dis­agrees that low­er­ing the speed limit will af­fect the in­flux of cars from Waze.

“That isn’t go­ing to change the driv­ers who are al­ready us­ing the streets. The cat is al­ready out of the bag,” Burn­side said.

Although Waze does have neg­a­tive con­se­quences, Far­ber high­lights its ben­e­fits.

“I do see the pos­i­tive of app­based rout­ing be­cause it re­ally could in­crease the ef­fi­ciency and op­ti­mal­ity of our trans­porta­tion sys­tem with­out spend­ing money on new in­fra­struc­ture. That’s a ma­jor win,” he said.

“Then it is about fig­ur­ing out whether or not it is fair [to lo­cal res­i­dents].”

Clockwise from left: Map­ping apps are a com­mon ad­di­tion to in­te­rior car wind­shields and dash­boards, Lea­side coun­cil­lor Jon Burn­side, and neigh­bour­hood safety signs pop­ping up on res­i­den­tial streets across the city

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