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Gridlock should be election issue, mayors say

Westbound traffic on the Gardiner Expressway leaving Toronto.

Fred Lum/ The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/ The Globe and Mail

If you've ever been stuck in a traffic jam and felt powerless to escape the gridlock, a civic advocacy group has come up with a new way to express your road rage: tweet about it.

In an attempt to capitalize on the growing role of social media in the federal election, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is launching an online campaign aimed at forcing federal parties to address long commute times for Canadians living or working in cities.

The group hopes the Cut My Commute campaign will urge people fed up with lengthy commutes to voice their concerns via social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

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"So far these issues have been conspicuous in their absence," said Carl Zehr, mayor of Kitchener, Ont. He's also the chair of the Big City Mayors Caucus, a group within the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Mr. Zehr said the #CUTMYCOMMUTE campaign website will allow users to view real-time estimates of how much traffic gridlock is costing both in dollars and in hours lost by Canadians travelling to and from work.

Rising gas prices mean longer commutes are costing Canadians even more money, and a recent Royal Bank report shows that 45 per cent of Canadians have seen their budgets significantly hit by the increases.

The website also allows commuters to send tweets and Facebook messages directly to candidates to let them know how much gridlock costs.

A 2006 Statistics Canada report concluded that traffic jams cost Canada between $2.3-billion and $3.7-billion per year. The report was based on recurrent congestion, which is the congestion caused by excessive traffic volumes at peak periods.

A different study in 2011 by the Toronto Board of Trade placed Montreal and Toronto at the bottom of a list of 21 global cities ranked by average commute times.

The group hopes the campaign could spur the development of a national transportation strategy, something Canada has never had.

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On this front, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has found common ground with environmentalists.

"The main parties in this election haven't really paid much attention to transportation as a whole and urban issues in particular seem to be off the agenda," said John Bennett, executive-director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

"The Conservatives don't even talk about it and the Liberals don't seem to be talking about it, while the NDP has shown some support for municipalities," he added.

The issue has also touched a nerve with city-dwellers more generally, many of whom feel the needs of cities are neglected time and again in federal election campaigns.

"Cities tend to be occupied more by young people and by immigrants, both of whom don't vote as much," said Kevin Stolarick, research director at the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute and one of the authors of Who Cares About 15 Million Votes, a study on the role cities play in driving Canada's economy.

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