Opinion

I had a dream the COVID-19 pandemic, whenever it started to recede, would reinvent our approach to urban transportation.

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I had a dream the COVID-19 pandemic, whenever it started to recede, would reinvent our approach to urban transportation.

I dreamt of a world in which our morning and afternoon commutes were not choked with single-passenger vehicles. A world where hybrid working arrangements slashed rush-hour vehicle volume and reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the ravages of climate change.

It would be a world where more Winnipeggers would use the southwest corridor bus rapid transit line that extends to the University of Manitoba and, in so doing, create a clear and compelling case for more BRT development.

And, perhaps, a world where Winnipeg’s notoriously aggressive and discourteous drivers simply took their foot off the gas pedal and waved the car in front of them to change lanes with no recrimination.

Dare to dream has always seemed like a good way to live life. Lamentably, my dreams have largely been dashed.

Although there does appear to be fewer cars on the roads on some days, it is impossible to predict which days and which roads.

Although there does appear to be fewer cars on the roads on some days, it is impossible to predict which days and which roads. As for Winnipeg Transit ridership, continuing concern about the pandemic (you know, the one still raging through Manitoba) has kept a lot of people off buses.

As for a change in driving attitude, well, that’s still a work in progress.

Regular readers will know I do not believe "data" is the plural of "anecdote." Even so, I will say driving in Winnipeg right now is even a less enjoyable experience than it was prior to the arrival of COVID-19.

Aggressive driving certainly seems to have survived the onset of the novel coronavirus. Changing lanes remains a sign of weakness aggressive drivers exploit by speeding up to eliminate gaps in traffic.

As for a less-intense commute, I don’t know many people who think it’s easier now to get from A to B than it was in the early months of 2020.

<p>WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
If more Winnipeggers would use the southwest corridor bus rapid transit line it could create a clear and compelling case for more BRT development.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

If more Winnipeggers would use the southwest corridor bus rapid transit line it could create a clear and compelling case for more BRT development.

How fiercely has community traffic re-established itself? Studies in Canada are harder to find, but in general, Canadian cities are bigger and busier than before the pandemic. That means any reduction in traffic we may see with hybrid working is being replaced by population growth.

In the United States, traffic volumes have not only returned to pre-pandemic levels but traffic patterns have become more unpredictable.

Although hybrid working has made the morning and afternoon commutes lighter, big U.S. cities have noticed a significant uptick in midday traffic as all those homebound workers dash out to run errands. At the end of the day, there are still just as many people on the road but at different times than pre-pandemic.

The problem for municipal officials and even traffic management apps such as Waze is as hybrid work takes hold, and thus the days we stay home and go into the office vary, midday traffic soars along with the overall unpredictability of traffic volumes.

You can organize your day to avoid morning and evening rush hours, but how can you predict the flow of traffic — and thus the best route to take — at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday? How many people are working in the office on Tuesdays and when will they leave for work?

Public education campaigns are always in vogue but, overall, academic studies into the impact of safe driving ads are not promising.

Nobody knows — and that’s making traffic patterns even more volatile.

So, if traffic volume is going to be different but still heavy, what can we do to improve the overall driving experience? If there was a guaranteed way to make drivers in Winnipeg more courteous, you would think it would have been tried — and with some success. I mean, how could things get any worse?

Public education campaigns are always in vogue but, overall, academic studies into the impact of safe driving ads are not promising.

First, very few truly horrible drivers make the connection between the message of the advertisement and their own driving habits. Most assume the ads are directed at someone else.

Second, and this one’s hilarious, if driver inattention and distraction are two of the biggest causes of traffic accidents (they are) then asking drivers to take time out from driving to study a roadside billboard is a bit counterproductive.

We need more and better information on who is going into the office and when, so we can do a better job of plotting traffic surges.

Finally, research studies have shown the shock-and-gore advertisements — ones that show the bloody aftermath of aggressive or distracted driving — do not produce sustainable changes in driving behaviour.

It really comes down to enforcement. Research has consistently shown increased ticketing, fines and — for those who keep clean driving records — incentives such as lower insurance rates do work.

Where does this leave us at the late stages of the global pandemic? We need more and better information on who is going into the office and when, so we can do a better job of plotting traffic surges. There are studies that suggest better crowd-sourced traffic apps could be a huge boon to overall traffic management.

And we need enhanced enforcement to curb Winnipeg’s chronic tendency to drive like selfish bats out of hell.

Funny, but the more things have been changed by the pandemic, the more they stay the same.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

 

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.