Thursday, August 21, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Avoiding World Record Traffic in Toronto

There will always be an argument about what city has the worst traffic. But Highway 401 (officially the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway) running between Windsor, Ontario and the Quebec border is the busiest roadway in North America, and it is arguably the world's busiest, with locally more than 18 lanes of idling cars. If you like superlatives and travel to Guinness-book sites, it's a must-see vacation destination.

When traffic is flowing, it's a poor man's thrill ride.

An office transfer off the direct mass transit routes made taking the GO train system an impossibility for me last year. Heavy city congestion meant a creative commute and work-from-home hours, and I learned from experience that driving from the city during peak rush hours (not shown here!) could make my 42-kilometer commute from Etobicoke (north-western Toronto) to Burlington take over a hundred minutes on the less-heavily trafficked Queen Elizabeth Way. That was on a good day. Google Maps tells me I could cover the distance in 32 minutes without traffic, but there's no sense in waiting for the Apocalypse. Torontonians are aggressive drivers as a whole, and not enough would be taken up in the Rapture.

To use pivot tables and breakdown statistics by weekday or route; that thought makes me weak-kneed. Since I left a regular technical role for Management, I am now absurdly pleased when I have the opportunity to make a chart or X-Y plot of anything, however banal, on personal time, hence my daily commute illustrated here. To decide between a linear trend line or the third order polynomial, that's a moment of near nirvana.

But independent variables like weather, accident, school-year traffic, teenagers, dubious third world driving licenses and sunspots wreak havoc on the best of plans. I modelled my commute in both directions over a calendar year with 3rd-order polynomial regressions, and both have very poor correlation coefficients below 0.35. But I dared not tread the main rush hour waters (4-7 pm) for a better spread of data, particularly in the afternoon, based on the hard lessons I learned before I started plotting.

Now I travel the lonely highways of northern Minnesota, and my commute is a unvarying flat line at any hour. Perhaps the end is nigh?