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43 years ago, Kingston Rd. traffic lights were in sync

Published July 31, 2014

In 1971, we bought our first house. It was on Meadowvale Rd. in eastern Scarborough. The most direct route downtown was along Kingston Rd. to Woodbine, then south to Lake Shore Blvd. E.

Although you would hit a red light at some point early in the journey — I can recall having to stop at Morningside about a million times — if you drove a steady 40 m.p.h. (64 km/h) after that, you could go all the way to Woodbine without ever having to stop again.

Everybody knew this and everybody drove 40 and you could be downtown in half an hour (although you had to watch it on Lake Shore because the police were always hiding behind those big cement pillars with their radar).

How could you do this? How could you go from the eastern reaches of Scarborough to the Upper Beaches of east end Toronto and never have to stop for a light (except, as mentioned, the one red early in the run)?

Because the traffic lights were synchronized.

Some traffic engineer of the day figured out — perhaps he had the help of an early computer, who knows? — how to get all those lights to stay green so the traffic could pass through unimpeded for miles if everybody drove at a steady 40 m.p.h.

And I’m sure there were all sorts of other long stretches in the city where the lights were synchronized as well. I just knew about the ones along Kingston Road because that was my route.

In any event, to great fanfare, the city this week unveiled a $3 million renovation of its traffic control centre where, among other things, it plans to synchronize traffic lights.

I think this is swell. But how come they are starting to do all over again today what had already been done in the early 1970s? How did it get to the point, in the intervening years, that no matter what direction you were driving in Toronto, you could only go from red light to red light?

Here’s something else. They are putting up traffic cameras all over the city and they will be monitored at this centre. Crews or cops will be dispatched, traffic will be diverted and traffic lights retimed on alternative routes to handle the overflow if there is trouble at an intersection.

Again, I’m impressed. But look at what they do in Montreal,

They have police officers directing traffic at major intersections during rush hour, thus being proactive rather than reactive. As well as ticketing drivers who snarl traffic deliberately by driving into intersections when lights are yellow, only to be trapped when the lights turn red (sound familiar?), these Montreal police can override the signals depending on conditions. If, for instance, there are 80 cars waiting on Rue Notre-Dame O (one-way east) and only a half-dozen vehicles waiting to go north or south on Rue Peel, the officer will hold the light on green for the Notre-Dame traffic. You know, it’s always refreshing for a guy with an eye out for these things to visit Montreal or New York and see police actually directing traffic as a matter of course. It is something you never see in Toronto (unless a set of signals isn’t working and the police have to intervene).

But if this new traffic control centre is everything it’s cracked up to be, we won’t have to worry about any of this any more, will we?

Will we?

Lots going on in these days:

Don’t forget the celebration this weekend at Ford of Canada’s HQ in Oakville. Fifty years of the Mustang. Today and Sunday. Special surprise — a 2015 pre-production Mustang will be on display.

Meantime, on Sunday, the Niagara Corvette Club will host its annual Car Show at Fort George, 26 Queen’s Parade in Niagara-on-the-Lake, starting at 9 a.m. Net proceeds go to the Niagara Children’s Centre, serving more than 3,000 disabled and disadvantaged children. Over 40 years, $375,380 has been raised. That’s incredible! More than 250 collector, muscle and race cars will be on display. I hope to see you there.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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