Doing The Traffic Math

Municipal politicians in Ottawa frequently complain that the provincial government in Toronto has no idea how to find Ottawa on a map. This week the province’s premier proved that in dramatic fashion.

Rob Ford announced new COVID restriction measures, including checkpoints at provincial borders. No-one is allowed to enter the province without a good reason. The definition of good is up to the police officers manning the checkpoints.

That such actions are clearly unconstitutional is irrelevant. There’s a pandemic, and the government must be seen to act – even if there is no proof COVID cases are entering the province using the highways. Better to look like you are doing something than have people think you are clueless.

So Monday morning checkpoints went up on the bridges leading from Ottawa to Gatineau, the city on the other side of the Ottawa River. The two communities, despite being in different provinces, are interconnected. It is quite common for people to live in one and go to work or school in the other. Apparently they don’t realize that in Toronto.

There are five road bridges (and a couple of rail bridges) between the two cities. In an average day about 180,000 vehicles travel one way or another over them. Guess what happened Monday?

Police were supposed to stop each vehicle and ask the driver if the interprovincial trip was really essential. Apparently nobody in Toronto realized hat might take a bit of time. Traffic was backed up 7-10 kilometres (4-6 miles).

I crunched the numbers. If each traffic check took 10 seconds (as unlikely as the relevant questions could be asked and answered in that time), then querying all the drivers would take 1,800,000 seconds. That’s 30,000 minutes, or 500 hours, if there were no glitches.

That’s 100 hours per bridge, or 50 hours for each direction. Do you see the problems? There aren’t enough hours in the day to spend 10 seconds with each driver as they cross.

No wonder people who had been waiting for a couple of hours for what is normally a 15-minute commute discovered that police were not stopping anyone, just waving all the vehicles through. They’d figured out they would never get through the backlog otherwise.

My math is probably too generous. To properly assess a driver’s intent in crossing the bridge would seem to me to take at least 30 seconds. So, if the checkpoints were to work as intended by the people in Toronto, people who left for work Monday morning might, if they were lucky, arrive at their destination by Friday.

Do you think anyone in Toronto could figure that out?

I understand that governments are doing their best in unusual circumstances in trying to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Situations like these though show that their best isn’t good enough.

When will the voters say “enough” and use the ballot box to try and find people who, if not more competent, can figure out a simple math problem?

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