Howard Levine, a former member of City Council and one of the founding members of Streetcars for Toronto back in 1972, writes in today’s National Post about the St. Clair project. Howard and I sit on opposite sides of the St. Clair fence these days — I still believe in the scheme and wish it were done better, while he sees it as irredeemably flawed. I share his despair that what we fought for in 1972 took so long to achieve and was such a botched piece of design and community relations.
The urban design consultants hired for St. Clair publicly acknowledged their firm had no experience with a similar project. Nonetheless, they concluded the existing streetlighting levels along St. Clair were below standard, although the retired Toronto Hydro chief engineer who designed the system in 1992 strongly disagreed. This arbitrary choice for new streetlights on fewer and higher masts and with higher intensity leads directly to the necessity for a new system of centre poles for the TTC overhead. Centre poles result in a significantly wider transit median because of the clearance required for emergency vehicles. Bad choice.
I sat with then-Councillor Levine on the former City of Toronto’s Street and Lane Lighting subcommittee, and we fought hard and successfully to retain lighting in a style that supports a “streets are for people” philosophy. This included the use of luminaires at a height and spacing that do not overwhelm the street, and a light spectrum that is close to daylight so that colours look natural (unlike the yellow lighting found in so many cities and almost all of the Toronto suburbs).
The new lighting design for St. Clair, complete with its centre poles, was selected and, according to private conversations with Levine, already ordered before the EA was completed. This is one of the reasons why the City and TTC so strongly opposed any design changes. If that is true, it is symptomatic of a process that saw the public as a rubber stamp, not as participants.
Some other statements in Levine’s article don’t hold up to scrutiny. We can debate the vertical undulations in the track, but they are not so precipitous as to lead to unusual braking or wear problems.
As for the traffic control system, we know what happened (or more accurately didn’t happen) on Spadina. We are still waiting for a report for the City traffic engineers about the impementation of transit priority on that street. They had years of head-start on St. Clair, and that might actually give them time to get that route operating properly from day one. Anybody want to bet that nothing will happen until late 2008 after the last of the construction is finished?
The real issue on St. Clair is what it will look like in 10 years, 20 years. If we are still running one car now and then down the middle of a right-of-way, we will have failed the promise of reinvigourating the neighbourhood. All of that infrastructure must be matched by frequent, reliable service.