By Ben Bull
Published January 10, 2011
If Hamilton thinks the HSR is getting left behind, don't look to Toronto for guidance. What's going on with Toronto's transit? First we had Transit City: an intelligent, affordable, LRT-based transit plan. Now we've got, well, Rob Ford.
Transit advocate Gordon Chong presents an erroneous analysis in the Star in his support of Rob Ford's subway based transit plan. By pulling Transit City off the table and opting for suburban based subways instead of street level LRT, Rob Ford is keeping us all stuck in traffic.
Chong kicks off his inch-deep analysis with a curious assertion:
Mayor Rob Ford does indeed have a significant mandate to move ahead on his promise to take as much public transit off the roads as possible.
Says who? Not the people of Toronto. An election is not a referendum. If Mayor Ford had incorporated a tangible, well-thought-out transit platform into his campaign, perhaps this would be a fairer statement. But the only mode of transit Ford favoured during the election was the car. Oh, and a train loaded with gravy.
Wherever possible, transit should be below ground or elevated above it.
I have a better idea. Why not put it, oh, I don't know, on the street? And put cars underground? The one thing I love about streetcars is that you can see the city around you. You don't have to lug your pushchair down fifty steps and stare at a blank wall. You are integrated into the atmosphere of the city.
Transit should be routed in a manner that is practical and takes into account the constraints of the geography and the built environment. And mass transit should always be given priority over single occupancy vehicles (i.e. cars).
If the street is wide enough and there's no viable need for a subway, LRT is the way to go.
...more than 60 years ago the Yonge subway was started, long before there were the requisite ridership levels to technically justify it.
Nobody disputes that you need vision to build transit, but you can't compare suburban transit to the inner city mode. Toronto's downtown - even in the 1950s - served multiple functions and was uniquely poised for growth. As well as a place to live, the downtown provides employment, entertainment, recreational activities and tourist destinations.
And by all urban indicators 60 years ago, the core was positioned for a dramatic expansion in population and demand - an expansion that has since been borne out. As a consequence, downtown transit needs to be built for all-day use and for growth - hence the subway.
The suburbs, on the other hand, feature low-density housing and not a lot else. Employment and recreational destinations are sparse and there is limited opportunity for growth. So why would we over-supply them with transit? To give us another lane of traffic?
Suburban subways, if we build them, will be packed at rush hour and empty the rest of the day. There is simply no value, or logic, to that.
In his efforts to address the funding concerns for Rob Ford's tunnels to nowhere, Chong contends that we can simply 'steal' money from the government to pay our way.
We should "steal" from those latent pots of money identified by the auditor general to build the Sheppard subway to the future.
As if government waste is a way to get more money! I have a news flash for Mr. Chong: There will always be government waste, one example of which is throwing money underground for no other reason that to save a few minutes on a car commute.
More recently, the Star presents an astute analysis of the relative costs of LRT versus subways. Guess what? Subways lose!
Toronto's four provincially funded Transit City light-rail lines would deliver more than twice as much service for every dollar invested than would the subway expansions proposed by Mayor Rob Ford. That's according to a study by the Pembina Institute, a green energy think-tank.
Back to Mr Chong:
The Finch Ave. West LRT should be scrapped in favour of a bus rapid transit service in the Finch hydro corridor using state-of-the-art highway coaches.
So let me get this straight - In Scarborough we need to be transit 'visionaries' and build subways when there is no business case to do so. And yet for riders along the Finch West corridor...it's OK to take the bus? How so?
The reality, of course, and the reason the Finch folks are bussing it, is that Rob Ford will have spent all the transit cash on his suburban subways. There is no miraculous taxpayer pot to pilfer.
As a result, those of us not served by subways will be left patiently lining up at the bus stop and picking up the slack.
Still, at least all those suburban drivers can get to work a couple of minutes faster - right?
Gordon Chong is the ex-Chair of GO Transit and a former vice-chair of the TTC. He should be qualified to provide an expert an analysis of our transit needs. His one-sided analysis of our transit infrastructure, however, negates the needs of downtown users and pours hard-to-come-by tax dollars, literally, down a hole.
Transit City, meanwhile - a measured, affordable and realistic approach to meeting our future transit needs - is left gathering dust.
If we follow the Rob Ford's subway-centric transit plan, one thing's for sure - we had better get used to being stuck in traffic.
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