Now and then, word reaches me that some of the professional transit folk in these parts have their noses out of joint because Transit City wasn’t designed by their elite brotherhood.
Some of them want more subways.
Some of them want more Bus Rapid Transit.
Some of them think the lines are in the wrong place.
Well, I hate to disappoint them, but Transit City didn’t get designed to their liking for some very good reasons.
First off, there’s the small matter of Toronto’s Official Plan. The original idea was to include a transit plan, but the then-head of TTC management would not countenance the City planning where transit lines would go. Therefore, what we got instead was a reproduction of the then-official TTC plan consisting of some surface priority routes and a few subway extensions.
The surface priority routes were not chosen because they made sense from a planning point of view, only because they were routes that already had frequent service. Planning for future development only by looking at past service is a bad idea, and the Official Plan was looking at major changes with the Avenues proposal.
The two subway lines (Sheppard East and York University) were on the TTC’s map because they had been railroaded into the “Ridership Growth Strategy” when some TTC staff and other subway advocates got miffed that RGS might mean the end of a focus on subway construction. The Commission went along with adding these rapid transit lines — whose very premise was contrary to the RGS goal to produce low-cost short term improvements — as a fourth RGS category.
Former TTC chair Howard Moscoe told me “don’t worry, they will never get built because we won’t have the money”. Needless to say, the fact that the TTC endorsed these lines as their next subway projects gave them “legs”. Sadly, these lines did nothing to improve service to the city as a whole.
Some have argued for new transit corridors to be built in available rights of way. The Official Plan wisely designates streets where real people actually will live as areas for intensification, not hydro corridors, rail lines and expressways. Transit should go where people are and if this means taking road space to do so, then so be it.
Some have argued for increased use of BRT over LRT forgetting that the capacity of BRT, in a two-lane, middle-of-the-road operation cannot handle the projected demand for the Transit City corridors. High capacities claimed for BRT are only achieveable with multi-lane stations and infrequent crossings with intersecting streets.
Some have argued for more subways versus LRT forgetting that in the corridors we are considering, an LRT subway can handle the high demand in the central sections while surface operations are quite viable elsewhere.
Some fret that people will not be able to travel the length of the GTA at great speed on Transit City forgetting that it is designed for comparatively shorter trips, not to move large crowds from Malvern to Long Branch.
For my part, I have been waiting since 1972 to see a transit plan that really looks at the system as a network, that doesn’t try to spend a fortune on a subway-in-every-ward approach, that recognizes that there are many ways to provide transit service of which an important component is LRT.
Transit City was a political proposal, but one grounded in reasonable planning principles — put transit where the people are and where we plan for them to be, and scale the infrastructure to the needs of the corridors. Some changes will inevitably be made as the network is fine-tuned, but the basics are sound. If anything, Transit City suffers from not being ambitious enough. It was scaled to be financially within reach (a stretch, but not impossible) and with a construction timeframe where people might actually get to ride the network in their lifetimes.
It fundamentally altered the discussion about transit from “what line will we build next” to “what should the network look like” before Metrolinx drew its first map or Queen’s Park announced MoveOntario. Moreover, it broke the pattern of “more of the same” planning that gave us nothing but ruinously expensive subway proposals.
Operationally, we will have major debates about how streets should be designed, what real “transit priority” will look like at intersections, how far apart stops will be, and how road capacity will have to be sacrificed to transit to make this scheme work. But for once we will look hard at what we can do with something other than subways rather than dismissing this out of hand.
The “professionals” have a long history of throttling debate on alternatives and Toronto, nominally a “transit city”, continued to grow with an auto mentality because the transit schemes were too expensive and workable options to improve the network never saw the light of day.
I as a transit advocate and Toronto as a city waited 35 years to see a transit plan we could actually believe in. We don’t have another 35 years to haggle about what we should build, and those who try to undermine Transit City do us all a disservice. Discussion and debate, yes. But don’t dismiss it just because the “wrong” people drew the map on a napkin over coffee.