The Tussle over Transit

So I heard all about last week’s city council session, to discuss the fate of the previous council’s transit plan.

I would have spent my commute reading the paper for all the juicy details.

But I was too busy holding my tote bag between my feet, and holding a subway pole to keep from falling over.

Ah, the joys of living close to the downtown core. The commute’s only a third of the time. Occasionally, though, I do miss those times living in the east end, when I could score a seat at Kennedy or Finch, before other passengers started to fill the aisles of the subway trains.

But, you can’t always get what you want.

Perhaps that’s a phrase Mayor Rob Ford should consider.

He seems mighty determined to spend lots of money our city doesn’t really have, to scrap a plan that would bring more routes to the city relatively faster than putting the money into years, possibly decades, of putting subways underground.

And he’s donned his superhero outfit as Champion of Scarborough (and Other Suburbs).

Full disclosure: When I first heard about the previous council’s plans to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit with streetcars, I wasn’t happy. I was also still living in northern Scarborough, where I had to ride a bus for 20 minutes, so I could reach the closest point on the rapid transit/subway line, and sometimes cram myself into crowded cars in hopes of making it to work on time.

I’ve moved closer to the core. But I still rely on the system to take me into Scarborough to see family. And the subways are just as crowded, if not more so. Something needs to be done. And soon, because I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to wait years and years for it to be completed. (Hello, Dufferin Street, anyone?)

Do I think Scarborough is in dire need of a better transit situation? Totally. But so do other parts of the city.

Would I prefer to see a subway built? Absolutely. But frankly, I think we’re 27 years too late. The transit unveiling at Kennedy Station in Scarborough on that spring day in March 1985 should have been for new subway stops, not rapid transit.

But due to the events that led the city council of the day to its decision, that’s not what played out.  The city could have already been well on their way to building the transit system of every urban planning nerd’s dream. But I kind of think they blew it.

Times have changed. Things are even more expensive. Cities like ours are struggling to stay afloat financially.

And considering our mayor and his allies have just spent the previous year in office trying to convince residents (or fight them, depending on your perspective), that there’s fat to be trimmed, services to be done away with, that they can’t afford frivolous things … The last thing they should be doing is taking our money, and flinging it at something that a model that – in this current context – doesn’t make sense.

Unless he’s got a tin box with billions buried under some old tree in a country field, below-ground transit is an unrealistic luxury Mayor Ford cannot afford.

And he also needs to stop using Scarborough as the angry sidekick to bolster his case. As a Scarberian, I’d like that part of the city to receive less vitriol and scorn from the rest of Toronto, for a change.

In any case, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out from here. And whether this time, things will be different … or if bureaucracy and politics will, once again, keep things from moving forward.

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2 thoughts on “The Tussle over Transit

  1. I’ve been following the debate somewhat and I find it all a bit disheartening. I am no fan of Rob Ford’s. I do, however, see a great deal of misinformation being spread on this subject, and, surprisingly, most of it is coming from the “left” (where I normally belong).

    If I see this picture one more time I’m gonna puke:
    http://www.blogto.com/city/2011/01/transit_city_map_propaganda_comes_under_criticism/

    Kudos to blogTO for not buying into it. Anyone with even a microcosm of knowledge on the subject can tell right away that the chart is false. First of all, the debate last week had to do with whether or not to bury the Eglinton RT the WHOLE way, or just PART of the way. But it will be built. But I don’t see the Eglinton line on the Rob Ford side of the equation. So it’s fair to say that the comparison is out of date and therefore moot.

    Second, the vision on the left that serves more people also COSTS MORE. Remember that money we don’t have?

    Oh, and the part about serving more people? That sure sounds nice, but let’s remember that these places are all already served by the TTC in various forms. These aren’t NEW customers. They’re just CHANGING the service by putting in rails where right now there are buses, etc. Is that a good thing? Not in my mind. A subway is a vast improvement on a bus route. Lots more people moving much faster over greater distances. Streetcars? Not so much. Streetcars are NOT faster than traffic. In fact, they slow traffic down. Ever been picked up by a bus on a streetcar route? I smile every time that I do – ’cause I know I’m gonna get to my destination with time to spare. If you’re going to invest in rail, you have to go whole hog and make it a full-fledged subway (not a buried LRT) or your corridor probably isn’t worth the trouble. St Clair West is a MESS now thanks to the streetcar right of way.

    And, honestly, I find it hard to believe that anyone living on Eglinton thinks this is a good idea (I live along that stretch myself). If you live west of the DVP you’ll be looking at fewer access points. If you live east of the DVP, you probably take a bus down to Danforth anyway – taking Eglinton will mean a longer trip. All this is going to do is clog a major vehicle artery. Cars and trucks have to get around the city SOMEHOW.

    Any way I look at it I can’t make sense of this plan. This is money wasted.

    Money we don’t have.

    (maybe I should just blog about this, huh?)

  2. dicampbell says:

    Hey Phil,

    I think you SHOULD (if you haven’t already).

    Either way, this city will be waiting years for something that should have been taken care of, years ago.

    And I wasn’t inferring that more transit lines would bring new customers to use transit. Once a motorist, always a motorist, I say.

    I thought that perhaps it might aid in slightly alleviating the crush of people on buses/streetcars, a la the Sheppard line (which, yes, is an actual subway. But I’ve been on it at different points of the day, and I can’t recall a time that I’ve been crushed in a Sheppard subway car, bent forward at a 30-degree angle because of someone’s big purse or backpack). Perhaps it won’t.

    But someone HAS to do something. Given Tuesday’s firing of Gary Webster, I’m now concerned about what the direction might be, and whether it might end up getting that badly-needed transit built.

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