Tracking Traffic Over Toronto
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Tracking Traffic Over Toronto

Where every lane's an HOV lane

Photo by {a href=""}wvs{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

It’s no secret the daily commute in and out of Toronto is dreadful. No one needs reminding—our city’s traffic congestion ranks among the world’s worst.

Don’t despair. There’s a place right here in, or rather, above Toronto, where on average 90,000 commuters regularly enter and leave the city, yet traffic flow continues interrupted.

Orderly, organized, and exceedingly safe, on this highway in the sky, every lane is an HOV lane.

At first glance, the red and blue interconnected circuit board–like contours appear as nothing more than a tangle of lines superimposed over a map of the Greater Toronto Region. But trace each line to its source and you’ll discover all lead back to one of Pearson International Airport’s five runways.

Flight control masterminds at NAV CANADA, the corporation responsible for air navigation within Canada, gave Torontoist two intriguing maps, each showing a four-hour window into flight activity in and out of Pearson.

Arrival and departure routes for runways 23, 24 right, and 24 left.

Ranking 18th in the world for aircraft volume, the single YYZ control tower, manned by NAV CANADA staff, handles approximately 1,200 flights per day. Between cargo and passenger flights, air traffic flow at Pearson is constant.

There’s even a jumbo jet rush hour. Coincidentally, sky traffic peaks around the same time it does down here on the ground, during the afternoon drive.

YYZ’s most frequently used runways are 23, 24 right, and 24 left. That means the majority of approach and departure routes over the city have an east-west trajectory.

Judging by the interwoven departure and arrival routes on the map, though, it’s not as straightforward as this.

In their gradual descent or sharp ascent, airplanes zigzag over Toronto. Consider an airplane that’s cleared to land on 24 left. Advancing toward the Lake Ontario shoreline around the Humber River, the plane is actually flying perpendicular to its intended runway. To compensate, the pilot banks northeast, traversing central Toronto. Next, in an area roughly above the 401 and Yonge Street, the plane hangs a left, heading due north, performing a wide, 180-degree arch. From here, the plane manoeuvres into position for its final approach.

Judging from NAV CANADA’s map routes, on final approach, all air traffic enters a kind of airplane chute. Flights approaching Pearson from the north are funnelled along a parallel course.

Arrival and departure routes for runways 05, 06 right, and 06 left.

Note how NAV CANADA staggers flight routes. Successive airplanes banking into their final approach do so by venturing farther east into airspace above Scarborough.

The afternoon these NAV CANADA images were created, wind and weather patterns favoured Pearson’s second busiest airstrips—05, 06 right, and 06 left. These runways mirror 23, 24 right, and 24 left.

Departing planes using 05, 06 right, and 06 left ascend quickly, gaining altitude over the communities of Rexdale, Downsview, and North York. Once at their designated ceiling, they fan out over the city.

Considering how well NAV CANADA keeps traffic moving above Toronto, maybe they could be convinced to construct a few control towers in Toronto. That might be the solution to getting traffic down here moving again.