Car Wars: How an Alumnus is Winning the Battle Against Traffic

Cristiano Vilela

Bad traffic has been good for alumnus Cristiano Vilela, Artsci’04.

The mortgage broker has become well known in the Kingston community as the man behind the popular Make It Home YGK traffic account, which has more than 23,000 followers on Twitter and almost 21,000 likes on Facebook.

Make It Home YGK has become a useful tool for Kingston drivers. People see traffic jams or accidents and tweet about it to @YGKTraffic. Mr. Vilela then retweets so all his followers know what routes to avoid.

For his traffic-busting efforts, Mr. Vilela is being presented with this year’s Jim Bennett Award by the Kingston Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association. He is receiving the honour along with former Kingston Police Media Relations Officer Steven Koopman, Artsci’98, for using social media to help keep Kingston safe.

“It’s really surprising to receive the award. It’s a huge honour, from the perspective of who the past winners have been as well as the person I am winning this with. Steve is a huge pillar in the community,” Mr. Vilela said.

Mr. Vilela is amazed at how popular Make It Home YGK has become since he started it five years ago.  

“I didn’t expect it would ever reach this level,” says Mr. Vilela. “Doctors, nurses, and technicians at hospitals have told me about getting prepared for emergencies even before their pagers go off because they heard about something on YGK Traffic. It’s nice to get the validation that the amount of time I spend on this is showing some benefit to the community.”

Mr. Vilela started the account after a frustrating day in traffic. He thought there should be a way for drivers to warn each other about traffic, so he created the Twitter account that night.

Mr. Vilela estimates he spends 10 to 15 hours a week updating the account. It’s not as simple as hitting the retweet button. Sometimes he receives many messages at once, so he has to do research to find out if people are reporting the same accident or if there is more than one accident.

He also consulted with Kingston Police to come up with some ethical guidelines. If it appears the accident involves a fatality or serious injury, he won’t retweet a photo that easily identifies the car because family members shouldn’t learn about a tragedy from social media. He also doesn’t post information about RIDE program locations, or photos that might affect a police officer’s safety.

The Padre Laverty and Jim Bennett Award Dinner takes place on June 1 in Kingston. 

Past Jim Bennett Award recipients include former Kingston General Hospital CEO Leslee Thompson, NSc’84, United Way KFL&A President and CEO Bhavana Varma, and former Gaels football coach Doug Hargreaves, Arts’55.