Like Columbus, Toronto, Ontario in Canada is a community that is part of the Great Lakes and North American rust belt, having been negatively impacted by massive manufacturing decline in the later 1900’s. Like Columbus, Toronto has leveraged education, enlightened civic institutions and private sector innovation to transform its city core, waterfront and now its entire Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for the digital era.
Its smart mobility efforts are also more holistic in nature. Having learned from a 25-year transportation deployment drought, which has resulted in one of the worst congested regions in North America, the city and its neighbouring communities that make up the GTA developed a Regional Transportation Plan, “The Big Move”, in September 2008. This strategy resulted in the launch of Metrolinx, a 25 year, $50 Billion initiative and governing organization aimed at improving the coordination and integration of all modes of transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Its mission is to champion, develop and implement an integrated transportation system for the Toronto region that enhances prosperity, sustainability and quality of life. Many new and vastly improved and integrated transportation elements are to come on stream with advanced payment technologies, sensing and monitoring capabilities and related improvements aimed at greater efficiencies and traffic effectiveness.
This is due to the fact that the Toronto area is in serious crisis. The Toronto region has been cited as being among the worst areas for congestion in North America. A report by the Toronto Board of Trade emphasized the extent of the congestion in the region. The average one-way commute is over 32 minutes and over 25% of its citizens spend 1.5 to 2 hours, or more, getting to and from work, giving it the title as a region with one of the longest commutes in North America – costing the city and its citizens 6 Billion dollars a year in lost productivity. Unconstrained, this will lead to a $15 Billion impact by the end of the next decade. A government roundtable was convened to focus on solving congestion gridlock in the city and region, resulting in a Congestion Management Plan and tangible efforts to embrace Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Mobility opportunities. As a result, among other mobility improvements, Toronto is extensively updating its ITS requirements such as traffic control light signals, which should reduce congestion by reducing travel delay by 12%. A study of three corridors representing 112 intersections with these improvements netted savings of 380,000 traffic hours per year that citizens didn’t have to suffer through, it reduced vehicle stops by 33 million annually, saved 2.1 Million litres of fuel per year and reduced gas emissions by 8% or 55 tonnes of CO2 gases.
Among its hard infrastructure focus, Metrolinx extended rail, LRT, BRT and other mobility service solutions across the region, as well as introduced a Smart Commute program to help citizens navigate various alternative smart mobility options such as walking, cycling, transit and carpooling. It admits that the “transportation problems we are facing are big and infrastructure alone won’t fix it. We’re all in this together. Our small individual actions can collectively amount to huge improvements for everyone. Change what you can and encourage others to do the same”. Other elements of Metrolinx’s plans are to create a system of Mobility Hubs that provide travellers with seamless access to the regional transit system, but also support unique land use opportunities for higher density development. They service citizens with digital and physical connectivity where different modes of transportation can come together along with a destination where an intensive concentration of activity from work to sports to entertainment can be accommodated, as well as residential opportunities. Mobility hubs meet public policy needs, help to offer opportunities to physically connect people with a variety of activity options and create the economies of scale to generate opportunities for digital enhancement through wireless communications. Through strategic integration of land use and transportation planning and the involvement of an innovative private sector, a myriad of possibilities will likely emerge including free Wi-Fi in restaurants, in the park or along the street; innovative tech enabled communications for bicycle and automobile traffic; real-time bus and rail arrival information, vibrant signage, lighting and video-based images- all which can now take place economically as part of a concentration of activities at these hubs. In addition to Metrolinx, the Toronto Transit Commission is extending smart mobility opportunities throughout the city, but is also encouraging the use of bikes and walking as an alternative healthy way to get around the city. And special areas like the Toronto Waterfront provide extensive bicycle and pedestrian areas, becoming a haven for the use of high-speed broadband opportunities related to smart mobility in the area.
The Toronto area also has a variety of mobility-focused research through its educational institutions, supported by government and industry. The University of Toronto, Ryerson, York, Waterloo and other regional institutions have developed a number of areas of research related to smart mobility, connected and autonomous vehicles, and ITS. These institutions seek research in ways to bring businesses and academic institutions together to develop and commercialize innovations in these technologies, from green and lighter vehicles to wireless vehicle technologies as well as “self-powered” energy systems using solar energy. The Ontario government also continues to extend the 407 Highway across the top of the GTA, providing ITS technology through its sensor-based traffic payment systems and cameras monitoring for emergency and operational efficiencies. Where there was a crisis, there are now many opportunities for the Toronto region to become a future example of Intelligent Mobility, not only by creating opportunities for hard infrastructure and transportation improvements but also through the development of talent, public policy and involvement of all members of the community to support it. Add the emerging Internet of Things to the opportunities that are possible through Toronto’s Intelligent Transportation Systems, mobility hubs, mobility-based research organizations, as well as new opportunities through massive mobility solution procurement and deployment that Metrolinx will require, the region promises to become a mecca of innovation in Intelligent Mobility. Like Columbus, Toronto was the recipient of the 2014 recognition as the Intelligent Community of the Year.
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