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Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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Roger Collier writes for the Ottawa Citizen. For more of his articles and insights, he's on the web at

Traffic congestion is the bane of urban existence. Every city suffers from it. Every city dweller abhors it. Nobody knows what to do about it.

Many smart people, and some politicians, do their best to unclog their cities. Some enjoy moderate success. Most fail miserably.

But there is a solution -- a solution so simple, so inexpensive and easy to implement, that municipal governments would be foolish not to consider it. I'm surprised more haven't considered it already. To cure traffic congestion, cities must forbid drivers to turn left.

The left turn is the plaque in a city's arteries, the hair in its drain. Wherever two main routes meet, left turns necessitate advanced green lights. Commuters who are considerate enough to be travelling straight must wait as left-turners lollygag through the intersection. On smaller roads, it's even worse.

Picture this: You're driving home after a 10-hour day of memo writing and handshaking and PowerPointing and whatever else people who work in tall buildings do. After escaping from the city's core, you find yourself on a two-lane road. Traffic is heavy, but moving, and you're making good time. Then, minutes from your house, it happens -- the left-turn signal on the car ahead starts blinking.

You stomp on the brakes. The oncoming lane is a river of sedans and SUVs. The trail of headlights stretches into infinity with no break in sight. The car ahead just sits there, spewing exhaust, its turn signal taunting you: blink, blink, blink. Meanwhile, vehicles are gathering on your rear like two-tonne hemorrhoids.

You wait. The muscles in your neck tighten. You wait. Your blood pressures rises. You wait. Finally, the left-turner sneaks through a seam in traffic. You continue on, arriving home late -- to a cold dinner, an angry spouse and children long gone to bed.

Sound familiar? It shouldn't. Left-turners are choking our streets, increasing air pollution, giving us hypertension and destroying our families. They must be stopped.

Prohibiting left turns may seem like a crazy idea, impossible to implement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first step in eliminating left turns is simple: Eliminate the need to turn left.

To accomplish this, any facility that provides a vital service - a school, a hospital, a Tim Hortons - would be relocated to the right side of its street if not already so located. To the left of roads, we can place institutions that people rarely visit, such as gyms and libraries. People who need to cross the street can do so via pedestrian overpasses or, as they do in Europe, in hot air balloons.

Delivery trucks or other vehicles that require access to left-side buildings could reach them through underground tunnels. Some might argue that tunnelling beneath roads would be obscenely expensive. I might argue that it wouldn't be. So there.

As more businesses set up shop to the right of roads, the land freed on the left could be converted into parks. The parks might be difficult to access but would look lovely from across the street.

Of course, there are bound to be some who oppose a no-left-turn road system. People more proficient at turning left (those who wear right-eye patches, for example) would be unhappy. Companies that make turn signals might eventually lose half their business and would no doubt cry foul. And the NDP would be outraged if citizens weren't permitted to go left.

But the benefits would be too great to refute. According to my calculations, which I performed twice, a ban on left turns would reduce commute times by as much as 35.5 per cent. Or as little as 3.55 per cent, depending on where you put the decimal point.

Eighty per cent of Canadians now live in cities, a percentage that will only increase in coming decades. That means more traffic congestion, which will extend commute times beyond the hour or so Canadians already spend on the road each day.

Many cities have planned or completed projects intended to relieve gridlock. Toronto poured millions into new expressways, to little effect. Ottawa's plans to extend its light rail system never got off the ground. And who could forget Vancouver's disastrous public hovercraft system?

Cities won't solve their traffic woes with trains or extra lanes or a fleet of giant amphibious vehicles. The problem may be complex but the solution is anything but. To make things right, we have to stop going left. = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
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