Kitchener-Waterloo

Separate truck space could reduce 401 collisions, congestion say experts

A professional tractor trailer driver — turned instructor — says the solution to ongoing collisions on the 401 between transport trucks and passenger vehicles could be as simple as reserving a lane for big rigs.

Idea was studied in 2011, saw only slight improvement for commercial vehicles

Over a two-week period in October, four collisions involving at least one tractor-trailer closed all east or westbound lanes of Highway 401 between Cambridge and Milton for several hours. (CBC)

A professional tractor trailer driver — turned instructor — says the solution to ongoing collisions on the 401 between transport trucks and passenger vehicles could be as simple as reserving a lane for big rigs. 

"I would love to see a dedicated truck lane. I've driven on them in parts of the U.S.," Janet Hewett told CBC News. 

Trucks need almost 300 feet of distance to stop safely- Janet Hewett, instructor and  former truck driver

"To have a dedicated lane for trucks, where cars are not allowed, and you have no need to stop? It would be really nice."

Over a two-week period in October, four collisions involving at least one tractor-trailer closed Highway 401 between Cambridge and Milton for several hours. That prompted Ontario Provincial Police to put out a warning to truck drivers reminding them to leave a safe stopping distance between vehicles. 

"Big trucks do have a tendency at times — especially in heavy traffic — that they're driving closer to vehicles than they should," admitted Hewett, who drove a semi-trailer for 10 years.  

"Trucks need almost 300 feet of distance to stop safely from highway speeds," she said. "So if they're tailgating they're going to cause accidents. The OPP is correct."

Difficult and costly ideas

The blame doesn't lie soley with truck drivers, said Hewett. Erratic driving and unpredictable lane changes by passenger vehicles is dangerous, and a problem that Hewett said could be fixed with dedicated trucking routes. 

But not everyone agrees — not even within Hewett's own industry.
Stephen Laskowski, the president of the Ontario Trucking Alliance, said the diea of dedicated truck lanes has been kicked around for 20 years, and are no closer to reality. (supplied)

"This is a concept that throughout North America for over 20 years," Stephen Laskowski told CBC News. "The issue of dedicated truck lanes is more discussion than reality at this point."

The problem, said Laskowski, is the highway infrastructure currently in place doesn't allow for it, and adding a lane would be difficult and costly.

The idea was studied in 2011 by a team of researchers led by Matthew Roorda at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Clarence Woudsma, director of University of Waterloo's planning department.  

The team ran simulations on the 400-series highways to see if a dedicated truck lane would improve congestion.

It didn't. At least not for passenger vehicles. 

"Taking that lane [exclusively for trucks] on the 401 is problematic because it slightly improves travel for the trucking community — slightly," Woudsma told CBC News. 

"But it makes it far worse for everyone else because you're reducing capacity."

What did work, said Woudsma, was a dedicated trucking highway; a four-lane road separate from the 401. In that case, commercial traffic was able to get to its destinations quicker and minimizing bottlenecks on the 401.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Sharkey is a regional producer supporting CBC bureaus across Ontario. She has been been based in Kitchener since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC radio in Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU.

With files from the CBC's Nathan Swinn

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