Traffic drivers in Toronto are trapped in a traffic jam that’s getting worse. Is it for the better?

A popular free-flowing, two-lane street in Toronto – Rose Street East – is now broken up into four lanes. And drivers don’t seem to know why.

Business owner Ron Kirshner has long hoped that two of the four lanes at one end of Rose Street East would be reserved for pedestrians while the remaining two be dedicated to the cars and trucks that use it. But Kirshner was surprised this week to learn the four lanes wouldn’t just be kept free to traffic. Instead, Toronto officials decided to combine all four of the lanes into one, forcing traffic to drive in single lanes throughout the 11-block stretch, around the clock.

The decision comes on the heels of an uproar over the clogged downtown streets that connect the city’s core to Port Lands, a waterfront park, bike paths and more.

“Yes, the lanes are a long time coming,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told a local paper, “but it’s important to remember there has been a concerted effort to consolidate the flow of traffic around the Port Lands and, indeed, around the city.”

But the implementation of the new system is so confusing for drivers it is creating confusion.

Emily Gillette, a research fellow at the Ryerson University City-Region Program, spotted the new configuration Wednesday night and wrote about it on Twitter.

“Um — really. This is a confusing mess,” she wrote.

Now drivers are literally bombarded with 40 to 50 cars in a single lane. There’s no idea what to do so you stop and turn in and out. You just don’t know. — Emily Gillette (@emilyvgillette) September 12, 2018

In order to avoid the multi-lane traffic on Rose Street East, drivers are generally slow moving. But Kirshner said this structure creates major issues with people with mobility challenges trying to cross over to get from the sidewalk to the road. And people in wheelchairs are just as likely to be in the middle of the lane sharing it with cars as they are a pedestrian in the middle of the road, he said.

“This is ridiculous and most of the drivers are confused,” Kirshner told the Toronto Star. “They’re in a no-man’s land and they can’t even see the pedestrian ahead of them.”

But officials at Toronto’s Municipal Affairs and Transportation department say things have been smoothed out for the disabled. Officials say all four lanes have been separated from the two reserved for cars – now dividing them up into two lanes each side.

“We have set up signage, which will guide drivers to work around wheelchair users and walkers,” Jordan Sturdy of the Toronto transit commission told the Star.

As reported by the Toronto Star:

The sidewalk is the same, with lanes that run in each direction and separated for two-way traffic, officials said. A cyclist on a fixed-gear bike and a pedestrian on a wheelchair using a mobility device are able to use the highway lanes to access the sidewalks.

The extensive modifications on Rose Street East are part of the next phase of a controversial plan to reduce downtown gridlock that will involve extensive road closures in several neighborhoods, as well as the demolition of several aging bridges and viaducts. The plan was paid for by a 2016 transit fare hike.

In total, the Metrolinx transit agency will spend $843 million on creating what it calls “Metrolinx Park.” This project is expected to launch in 2024, with Toronto transit officials saying the project will pave the way for more “transit-oriented development” along the area’s waterfront.

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