Q&A with Councillor Mike Colle

Image: Ward 8’s City Councillor Mike ColleImage Credit: toronto.ca
A number of local residents’ associations, including SEDRA, have come together to bring you a series of short informational pieces that are designed to build context and stay informed about decisions and conversations that have an impact on our local neighbourhoods. Today’s feature is the last of three articles by freelance journalist Maryam Siddiqi – We hope that this short Q&A with Councillor Colle inspires you to learn more about important things happening in our city.
Interview by Maryam Siddiqi

With a growing population and intense housing and transit construction, traffic congestion is one of Toronto’s most pressing issues. The City recently updated its Congestion Management Plan for 2023-2026. Deputy Mayor and Ward 8 Councillor Mike Colle, Vice Chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, which is responsible for traffic management, answers questions about the updated plan and where some of the major challenges still lie.

What do you think are the biggest congestion issues facing the city? And can the current congestion management plan effectively address them as it stands right now?
Well, the congestion management plan is really focused on managing the unprecedented amount of construction that’s going on in the city. That’s the main focus of it, it’s not to deal with the macro congestion issues that are to be found, like the 401. It’s the most congested highway in North America, and it runs right through the middle of the city and spills over into all of our neighbourhoods. The other main factor is that Toronto is the construction capital of North America. As a result of that, you’ve got all these construction trucks and construction equipment in the middle of the city nonstop.

At Yonge and Eglinton, we have a construction safety hub that’s been in operation now for about three years, where all the condo builders, all the construction companies that work with the Eglinton Forever Crosstown, have to report in terms of when they are on the roads when, they unload, when they assemble, so we manage that as best we can. There are full-time people assigned to monitor and oversee that area. Now there are three others throughout the city in wards 13, 18 and 19.

That’s one effective way of managing congestion and ensures safe practices in a construction area because certain parts of the city are overrun with traffic, aggravated by the construction that’s going on not only because of condos but we have $100 billion worth of transit construction going on. Again, more than all North American cities combined. That’s what we’re facing and I don’t think people realize. It’s amazing actually that traffic moves as well as it does in the city of Toronto considering those factors.

The City recently introduced Traffic Agents to increase safety and keep traffic moving. How many Traffic Agents do you expect to be deployed?
This Traffic Agent program is a very good initiative, and the first traffic agents in Toronto were at Yonge and Eglinton. The problem is that the provincial government has to approve them and it is so painfully slow. These people have to go through the training, they have to get licensed, and so on. I think we’ve got about 20 in the city right now. We need a minimum of 50. It’s a permanent program, but we have had a hard time getting them approved.

A congestion charge puts a price on bringing a vehicle to the downtown core. It reduces the volume of traffic on our streets and helps pay for road maintenance. It’s been successful in London, Stockholm and Milan and is under consideration in New York. Do you think that there would be any support for a congestion charge now or in the near future in Toronto?
No. Zero support. We’ve got a provincial government that’s subsidizing drivers to billions of dollars a year. They took away the licence fee and reduced the price of gas. There’s no way we could ever get a congestion charge ever approved.

What’s happening on the street level in the city is very different from the world that the provincial government is supporting or choosing to fund. How do you reconcile that with policies at the city level?
The philosophy of the provincial government goes back to the Ford brothers at City Hall. They hate streetcars, buses, bicycles. They just want subways to the cost of billions of dollars. Cars are king. People think magically if you build subways, you’re going to get rid of traffic, but it’s not true. The only way you get rid of congestion is to have alternative ways of transportation, like walking, cycling, public transit.

There’s a silver lining in that a lot of young people have made a different choice – they car share, they cycle. But on the other hand, there’s such opposition to bike lanes. It’s like this war against cycling. I try to tell people, if you see a cyclist, you should thank them because that means one less car on the road. It’s going to be an ongoing struggle to get people to realize that when they complain about being stuck in traffic they are the traffic.

One last question. Can you describe the City’s official traffic management plan for when the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup?
Basically, we have none because we don’t think they will ever win. The good thing is, there’s hope with William Nylander spotted on the subway. We need more people doing what he’s doing.