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.

Subway Pet Peeves (or, how to keep from getting stabbed)

I have been wanting, nay, waiting to write this post. I almost didn’t ’cause it’s not exactly original. But in light of the stabbings in New York (two were subway-related) and the long trek home today (damn police investigation at St. George), it seemed almost fitting.

As an increasingly-seasoned commuter, I’m used to the subway and most of its quirks. But as someone who’s admittedly neurotic, there are just some things that, on top of delays and suddenly out-of-service trains, can turn the TTC into the Crankypants Express.

So if you don’t fancy getting attacked by a crazy commuter at her wit’s end, wielding a nail file or Swiss Army knife she stole from a fellow passenger, then I suggest maybe NOT doing any of the following:

1 Mouth noises. The sub-categories:

a) Loudly smacking, cracking and/or popping gum.
My biggest pet peeve. Ever. It’s the ultimate aural assault. I’m not sure who exactly thought it was a cool idea to use chewing gum to demonstrate their impression of a Christmas cracker, but it needs to stop. Okay, okay. Hearing you chew your gum when I’m four metres away or less? Almost understood. Hearing you half a subway car away? Oh, hell no. Why do I have to listen to the oral percussion? Do you know how many 15-minute naps I’ve missed out on ’cause of you guys? Oh, if there was a way to put all the gum-poppers in designated cars so the rest of us could have some relative peace, man, I would. But since I don’t have that power … I. Don’t. Want. To. HEAR. You.

b) Open-mouthed gum chewing.
Sometimes accompanies a), but just as annoying as hell on its own. Maybe you think you’re just chewing gum. But in actuality, you look like a COW. It’s. NOT. Attractive. I saw a young woman early the other morning on the subway doing this. She’s probably quite pretty, but you wouldn’t have known, since she looked like she was preparing her cud for her second stomach. I don’t care if you think smacking your lips together and rolling the wad around inside your mouth gives you more attitude or whatever. It doesn’t. And I’m sure it gives you premature age lines ’round your mouth.

c) Open-mouthed food chewing.
Like b), only worse. Also saw – or rather, heard – this on the subway the other morning, and was glad I only had to endure it for a few stops. But MAN was it painful. I didn’t know this man two seats away had just unwrapped his morning meat sandwich until he started eating it. Smack-mack-smackety-smack … gaaaaah! Makes me want to smackety-smack you! Listen, I understand the life of a commuter. If the trip is long, we all need to eat, whether on the way down to work, or to tide us over until we get home. But you don’t need to let me know! Quit it with the slack-jawed mastication.

d) Phlegm-fighting (a.k.a. guttural noises, horking, etc.).
It’s disgusting. If it’s in your nasal passages, use a tissue and blow it out.

2 – Nosepicking.

How old are you, six? What’s next, eating school paste? How is it possible that grown adults are digging for gold while sitting or standing in what’s essentially a public venue, and they don’t for a minute think they’re being watched? And then the same folks will hold on to the subway poles as they’re standing to leave the train. It’s like SARS never happened. Psst … hey. People are watching. No, I’m for serious. They’re watching, and then going to work or home and talking about you and how disgusting you are. If you do it ’cause you fidget, then find a hobby for those idle digits! Learn to knit! Do a puzzle! Finger yoga? I’m sure they have some special exercises for that. Scratch your nose if you must. But please don’t pick.

3 – Loud talking/cellphone conversations. It’s a given – everyone’s gotta talk. Sometimes, you need to communicate on your phone. But hello?! Why the hell do I need to hear you on the other side of the subway car? Or bus? Or streetcar? What you have to say to your friend(s) or girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse is none of my business. And I’m sure if I was turned your way, attentively listening to your conversation, you’d either give me cut-eye or ask me what the hell my problem is. Bottom line: if you can’t have a conversation without shouting, you shouldn’t be having it. Either wait for a period of peace and quiet when you can hear – and talk – properly or take it elsewhere.

4 – Rushing subway doors as they’re closing. I admit, I’ve done this. But I’m reformed. I’ve learned that rushing the doors slows the train down. Worse: if you get a Crankypants Conductor, you get The Lecture. Translation: 30 extra seconds of your life is wasted, because you have to listen to someone who dislikes his job, telling you that you’re wasting his time. It’s so counterproductive. Sometimes, it’s kinda dangerous. I once saw this dude rush the doors at Kennedy Station. He almost made it. He was stuck in the straps of his teal knapsack, which was wedged between the doors, and had to wait until the train reached Warden for him to free himself. He looked like an ass. (Man, I wish I had a camera.) Just wait for the next train.

Honourable mentions:

Singing/Whistling/Loud music listening. These are my personal neuroses. But somedays I don’t want to hear any of it. In the case of loud music listening: I shouldn’t be able to know exactly what you’re listening to. Either get earphones that don’t leak or get your hearing checked. There’s nothing that’s going to be sadder than a generation of 30-somethings who can’t hear ’cause they punished their eardrums.

Farting. I know. Disgusting. But if you don’t want someone pulling the emergency alarm, either fart in your seat when you’re sitting down, or lean up against something. Don’t be holding a pole near bucket seats and think no one’s going to notice if you let one rip.

All that aside: I’m not actually saying that any of this will get you stabbed like the two poor dudes did in New York. But they literally were stabbed for no reason at all. They were minding their own business. I can’t think of what would be a good reason to stab someone. Can you?

So here’s my public service announcement: If someone asks you for your money, cellphone, whatever. Don’t fight them. Just give them what they want.

Unless you’re bigger than your attacker and think you can take him no problem. In that case … I don’t advise dudes high on machismo. You’re on your own, sucka.