HOV Lanes: Navigating the Pan Am Traffic Jam

Along with the excitement of the Pan Am Games coming to the GTA comes the dread of the effect that an anticipated 250,000 visitors flooding into the city will have on our daily commute. In response to these concerns, the city will implement changes to the road and transit systems which promise to reduce congestion and improve safety.

One of the main changes will be the creation of temporary High Occupancy Vehicle (“HOV”) lanes along predetermined routes leading to various venues where the games will be held. The effectiveness of the HOV lanes is yet to be seen as they are put to the test in the coming weeks.  The Pan / Parapan American Games run from July 7th until August 15th (the schedule can be found here). However, the HOV lanes have already been in use since the end of June to give drivers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the newly designated lanes and the restrictions that apply to their use.

Only emergency vehicles, buses, taxis, and vehicles with 3 or more passengers are permitted to use HOV lanes. The “3 or more” passenger requirement (implemented specifically for the Games) has stirred the most controversy as it requires an additional passenger over and above the usual HOV requirement of 2 or more passengers to use the lanes.

Drivers who violate the HOV restrictions can be fined up to $110 and face a penalty of three demerit points. OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told the CBC last week that there has been “pretty good compliance” and noted that drivers “aren’t happy, but they know the rules”.

Other drivers reported frustration with the heavy traffic and noted that vehicles were weaving in and out of HOV lanes whenever they get the chance. With tempers on the rise from being stuck in traffic, drivers are more likely to make dangerous manoeuvers to avoid the gridlock such as cutting into lanes or driving on the shoulder.

A recent O.P.P. Press Release confirms that 27 people have died as a result of collisions between June 1st and June 21st. The cause of most of these accidents has been poor driving behavior and police urge drivers to take traffic laws seriously. Drivers are reminded that obeying the rules of the road can prevent many of these collisions and save lives. We all are encouraged to make safety a priority.

In addition to the general displeasure (and some defiance) of commuters, the “test phase” has come along with other issues.  The white diamond markings used to label the HOV lanes have attracted some negative attention. Shortly after these lanes were ready for use, the diamond decals began peeling from the road surface. These markings were originally applied with a type of adhesive rather than painted on the surface of the road as the HOV lanes are intended to be temporary (solely for use during the Pan Am Games). An adhesive marking was used so that the white diamonds could be easily removed from the road once the Games were over.  A painted marking would need to be covered or more aggressively removed which would likely permanently mark the road surface.  Fortunately the contractor was quickly notified and called to rectify the issue before the Games commence.

While frustration, weaving traffic and peeling decals could not have been the anticipated result, not everyone views the HOV lanes as problematic. Some recognize that using HOV lanes will make the commute considerably faster… and are looking to capitalize on the opportunity.

Uber, a private ridesharing company, has seen a spike in registrants as the Games draw near much to the dismay of the taxi industry – but that’s another story.

A more creative approach are those offering themselves as passengers to ride along in your vehicle. These “passengers for hire” will help you satisfy the “3 or more passenger rule” so you can take advantage of the HOV lanes and shorten the length of your commute. While this may seem strange, at least it is a legal alternative to those drivers who choose to place a mannequin in their vehicles instead and “pretend they are carpooling“.

However you decide to get around the city over the next six weeks remember to be safe and leave yourself extra time whether you are on your way to work or headed out to enjoy the Games while they are in town. Let the Games begin!

Michael Giordano
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Michael Giordano is a founding partner of Avanessy Giordano LLP. Prior to establishing his own practice, he was a partner of a prominent Mississauga personal injury firm.

He completed his law degree at the University of Ottawa. Prior to law school, Michael studied English and Law & Society at York University.

Michael is an active member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and is the current Vice-Chair of the New Lawyers Division. He is a regular contributor to the OTLA blog and has also written for The Litigator.