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The long weekend is finally here and all that stands in the way of you and your long weekend destination is the trip itself. Unfortunately, many others in Ontario seem to have the same plan. The traffic quickly becomes terrible and the drive takes hours longer than expected.

If only you could beat it. While traffic on the long weekend can’t always be avoided, there are things that can be done to help you better prepare and cope with it. Read on to learn more.

Southern Ontario is home to just over 35 percent of Canada’s population, which is approximately 12,000,000 people.  More than half of southern Ontario is bordered by water, which means there are many getaway destinations. The routes to these destinations can become congested very quickly.  On an average weekend, the traffic can be extremely heavy without any accident related delays, but on a long weekend the volume of travellers using those main routes increases exponentially. According to a recent article published in the Globe and Mail in May, traffic volume on Ontario highways increases by up to 25 percent on Hwy 400, and 50 percent on Hwy 35/115 through Haliburton and the Kawarthas on long weekends.

The secret to beating the southern Ontario long weekend traffic is unfortunately not very simple. Although there are tips and tricks to help ease your travel plans, there is no one answer that will address all situations. However, if you understand what causes traffic congestion and the dreaded slowdowns, you have a better chance of spending more time sitting on the beach than in your car.

The first step is to understand what generally contributes to traffic delays. Some of the easily identifiable factors include:

  1. A consistent influx of additional vehicles without an equal or adequate outflow. Chances are the majority of drivers around you have a similar route or destination as you. As more vehicles are added to the road, people behind need to slow down to accommodate the increased volume.
  2. Aggressive and defensive drivers are both responsible for reactionary braking and delays. When one driver is required to brake, there is a slight delay before the driver behind can brake so they often need to brake faster, which continues backwards to the driver behind them and so on. This creates a “traffic shockwave” that moves backwards at an estimated rate of 20 km per hour. Click here for a video that effectively illustrates how this happens.
  3. Construction will slow things down. Because of the number of drivers on southern Ontario roads, the weather and limited number of months to complete construction, roadwork is part of almost every summer drive. Fortunately it is very predictable and scheduled, so you can plan for it ahead of time.
  4. Unfortunate and unpredictable, traffic accidents will also slow down your commute. In most cases, traffic accidents will be reported in the media, so again, you can plan accordingly.
  5. Weather changes the speed at which traffic moves, but also has a significant effect on peak travel and congestion times.

There are specific times, such as the upcoming long weekend, when we know there will be traffic delays on most major routes and highways. By considering the factors above and taking into account some additional causes of long weekend traffic, you should be able to better predict and accommodate any delays to your travel plans. Here are a few examples:

  1.  Timing is key. According to the experts quoted in the Globe and Mail article discussed above, the peak times to leave the city are Friday afternoon to early evening, and Saturday morning. Leaving after 8 p.m. on Friday night or before 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning is your best bet.
  2. Aggressive drivers are an unfortunate part of Ontario driving, and if there is such a thing as karma or effective traffic policing, it will eventually catch up with them. If you pay attention to what is happening all around you while driving, there is less of a chance of an aggressive driver surprising you causing you to brake or swerve. The Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) offers a wealth of information, including info on safe summer driving, as well as aggressive driving and road rage.
  3. As mentioned above, construction and the associated delays are quite predictable. When planning your departure and route, take a quick look at the MTO’s interactive road portal.
  4. As traffic builds there are ways to stay informed so you can re-route if necessary. If you are tech savvy, CTV recently released their new Cottage Traffic App, which is compatible with all Smartphones. Alternately, tune in to 680 News Radio, which provides traffic updates every 10 minutes.
  5. Weather will affect the speed at which traffic flows, the potential for traffic accidents and the time or duration of peak traffic periods. For example, poor weather tends to mean people aren’t in as much of a rush to get on the road. Make sure you factor this into your plan.

The second step is to plan for any potential or known delays. As the trip gets longer, the need to stop will increase. Since each stop increases the time your trip is going to take, it is always a good idea to keep them to a minimum. With the exception of bathroom breaks, unnecessary stops are avoidable by doing the following:

  1. Pack a variety of snacks so there is something to please even the most unruly of passengers, and try to avoid eating salty food that will increase thirst and the need to visit the bathroom.
  2. Younger passengers will inevitably become bored and restless quickly. To keep them entertained, plan a few different options. Click here for some great road trip games ideas that can be played on the fly. If you are tech savvy, here is a great list of road trip games that can be downloaded and ready for you when you need them.
  3. Download the appropriate traffic apps and check for major construction projects that may impede your progress or require you to re-route.
  4. On departure day, check your local news station (radio or television) for potential traffic-related accidents affecting your route.
  5. Check the weather a few days before and time your drive so that it coincides with traffic patterns, and any windows for you to get away without facing backed-up routes.

If you are interested in the science of traffic or queuing, here are a few links that you may find interesting:

http://www.wheels.ca/news/the-science-behind-traffic-jams-1617/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_flow
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_congestion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queueing_theory

We have written this based on content found online. If you have any more suggestions, tips or insights, please share with us.

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