Transit City (7) Thirty-Five Years

After spending the whole day at City Hall and the evening writing about Transit City and responding to many, many comments, a few personal words.

Back in 1972, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee fought to preserve Toronto’s streetcar system and with it, the basis for an expansion of low-cost rapid transit into suburbs that were still farmland.  I have walked along Finch Avenue East when it was a dirt road with sheep grazing on one side and apples ripening on the trees on the other.

We almost got the start of that network with the Scarborough LRT line, but Queen’s Park had a better idea and GO Urban was born.  That boondoggle led eventually to the RT and in the process convinced everyone that low-cost transit was impossible and subways were the answer.

Only one problem:  we couldn’t afford them, and that’s over two decades ago.  Endless wrangles on where to build one subway route wasted huge amounts of time and reinforced the idea that transit was not going to serve the suburbs.  What has become the gridlocked 905 follows directly from the folly, from the abdication by planners and politicians to make a good, working transit system in the outer 416 as a model for what could grow into the 905.

Megamayor Mel’s contribution was “downtown North York”, an oxymoron if ever there was one, and the Sheppard Subway.  I remember Mel saying “real cities don’t use streetcars”.  This is the same person who called in the army to shovel snow, and who sold out his opposition to the Harris amalgamation plan in return for a guaranteed shot at the Mayor’s job.

I remember the long dry years when the contempt for public input and transit advocacy was palpable.  No point in wasting my time on carefully researched deputations.

Today was an event I’ve been waiting for although I never really expected to see it.  This is an LRT plan on a scale and with the political support we should have had 30 years ago.

And so my deep thanks to many who have supported my transit advocacy over the years, to the politicians and press who have listened to my incessant rants about LRT and transit in general, to the professional staff at the City and TTC who against the odds have kept up a belief in transit, and to the growing and lively activist community who bring new hope that people actually care about what happens to our city.