In a flight of fancy which even the most ardent conservatives on this blog have never attempted, Lawrence Solomon wrote in yesterday’s National Post about the creation of suburbia. It’s all the fault of megaprojects by governments to build transit to the hinterlands. Really!
He starts off with the Statscan report that more trips are taken by car today than in years gone by, moves on to the BC $14-billion announcement for transit expansion and finally turns his sights on MoveOntario’s $17.5-billion. All of this encourages sprawl according to Solomon.
In Toronto, it’s all the TTC’s fault:
Before the province of Ontario directed the Toronto Transit Commission to service Toronto’s outer suburbs in the early 1950s, the suburbs were largely rural and undeveloped, with densities so uniformly low that they could support but a handful of public transit lines. Only after the province stepped in by creating Metropolitan Toronto as a vehicle for massive infrastructure spending in the suburbs did sprawl on a grand scale unfold. Within a decade, the TTC’s route mileage increased by 75%, almost all of it to accommodate the suburbs and almost all of it uneconomic. In the process, the TTC — until the advent of Metropolitan government a self-sufficient enterprise that helped make Toronto one of the continent’s most compact cities — became a burden for city taxpayers and an arch agent of sprawl.
This convenient rewriting of history ignores the fact that we didn’t even have a subway on Bloor Street until 1966, and then only from Keele to Woodbine. Suburban bus expansion got underway seriously after the subway was extended into Etobicoke, Scarborough and later North York. The real financial crunch for the TTC came in 1972 with the elimination of the zone fares at the insistence of suburbanites whose tax dollars were helping to pay for the TTC. By then, suburban sprawl was well-entrenched.
Solomon’s feet completely leave the ground with this gem:
… when politicians first started promoting a Greater Toronto, they recognized that the city’s transit systems, then privately owned, were a great deterrent to the desire for the rapid outward expansion of the city that was then in vogue. Privately owned public transit companies were interested in providing service to paying customers, not in developing routes that met the development dreams of local politicians.
… Only after the government did, indeed, seize the private transit companies could dreams of a Greater Toronto be realized. With profits from transit diverted from private shareholders to a public purpose — uneconomic routes servicing low-density areas — sprawl made its debut in Toronto.
In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the TTC has in been in public hands since 1921, and it was created because the predecessor Toronto Railway Company refused to extend service in such unprofitable, low-density suburbs as North Toronto, the Danforth, Bloor West Village and St. Clair Avenue West. Moreover, the city system was falling apart thanks to years of disinvestment, a classic problem with a private sector more bent on maximizing profits than on providing service.
With the creation of Metro Toronto in 1954, the TTC took over the small private bus companies serving the old suburbs, but major service improvements would not come until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those companies couldn’t possibly have funded the scale of suburban service expansion we have seen, and even the TTC did a less-than-stellar job. “Leading development with transit” was a phrase heard only in planning seminars, not at Council tables, as the suburbs grew.
The solution to everything would, of course, be an expressway network, not a transit system, and that juggernaut wasn’t stopped until nearly two decades after Metro came into being.
I have no problems debating the merits and faults of public sector investment in transit expansion, but the idea that somehow we wouldn’t have had suburbs sprawling beyond Barrie, Oshawa, Guelph and Burlington without transit is utter nonsense. Sprawl was built by and for the car, and transit has little chance of ever catching up.