The Challenge of Waterfront Geography

George Smitherman’s campaign has just released its platform for city services, including parks.  Buried in this document is the following:

George supports constructing the Waterfront LRT by 2015 which will enable Torontonians to get to Cherry/Clark beaches and enjoy themselves.

I hate to tell the campaign folks, but the Waterfront LRT ain’t going near Cherry Beach for a very, very long time.  The Cherry Street extension will run initially from King south to the rail corridor, and the Waterfront east line will go from Union to Parliament.  Both of these will be joined up as part of the Lower Don Lands revitalization that restructures many roads and improves connections under the railway.

Much, much later, the Port Lands service will come in, but it won’t likely make it to Cherry Beach for a few decades, if ever.

Meanwhile, the Waterfront West line is in Transit City limbo with no funding, and an implementation date off in the late 2020s.  The route will not, if the TTC has its way, serve the western beach, but will muscle its way through the Queen and Roncesvalles intersection, and proceed out via The Queensway.  The route along Lake Shore to Colbourne Lodge Road is so much better, but that’s a “Miller” plan and therefore not likely to be found in Smitherman’s platform.

Rob Ford Campaign Disavows Policy Advisor’s Transit Blog

The Toronto Star reported today that an article (Only a Radical Approach Will Fix Toronto’s Transit Woes) written by Rob Ford’s Director of Policy, Mark Towhey, back in February does not represent the Ford campaign’s position on transit.

For the record, I attempted to get the campaign to react to this article by writing to the ever chatty candidate on June 17, but heard nothing in return.  The Star was a bit luckier.  Ford and Towhey don’t have much use for the media, or anyone whose political leanings could be described as left-leaning, and so I may not be one of the people who “count” in Ford’s political analysis.

Ford’s official position seems to consist of little more than scrapping anything that even vaguely resembles a streetcar, building subways, and having the TTC declared an essential service.

I will not do Towhey the honour of dismembering his drivel at length, and leave it to readers to peruse his attitudes.  They show a profound disrespect for people who use transit and for spending on anything other than the most obviously money-making ventures.  The idea that transit is a both a service and an investment in the city is utterly foreign.

Just a few points deserve mention:

In an election year, the exclusively left-wing political elite on the TTC board are [sic] ducking for cover.

If Towhey had done the most basic homework, he would know that the TTC board includes such flaming lefties as Peter Milczyn and Bill Saundercook.  They may be in a minority, but that’s also the makeup of Council.  An “exclusive left-wing” board it is not.  They argue strongly, and sometimes successfully, for their positions.

Apparently, there is a General Manager (a position that was high profile a number of years ago, but has since subsided into irrelevance,) however I can’t find anyone who knows who this person is, nor what he (or she?) does.

Gary Webster, who is frequently quoted in the media, will be surprised to learn that he is unknown.  He is hardly irrelevant.

In fact, 16 per cent of the $9.2 Billion (yes that’s Billion with a ‘B’) 2010 operating budget of the City of Toronto goes to keeping the TTC rolling.

Well, in fact, that number is the gross cost of running the TTC, not the net cost after you include the farebox revenue (which also shows up in the City’s books along with property taxes and all of the other fees, subsidies, contracts, what-have-you).  In fact the net cost of running the TTC is considerably lower than the cost of running the police force which gets almost no subsidies from anywhere.

This information is easily available in the City’s budget background information online, and one would hope a “director of policy” might be somewhat familiar with how the budget works even if his boss isn’t.

On the capital side, City Hall will spend $1.33 Billion this year alone to purchase new buses, streetcars and make other capital investments in TTC infrastructure. These are real dollars and they are driving out-of-control increases in property taxes that are forcing Toronto residents, and especially its small businesses, to begin planning an exodus to the outer suburbs.

Yes, the Capital Budget for TTC this year is $1.33-billion, but that’s the gross number.  Over half of this will come from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, some via the transit share of the gas tax, some via project-specific funding (such as the Spadina Subway), and some through a grab-bag of other funding schemes (see TTC Capital Budget for details).

Towhey proposes that all funding for the TTC be cut off on April 1, 2011.  I am not making up this date.  He would sell the TTC and use the proceeds to pay down various municipal debts.  The fact that these debts and liabilities include many related to the TTC itself seems to have escaped him.  Moreover, he forgets that large chunks of the TTC were paid for by other governments who might ask for a share of the proceeds.

But how will people get to and from work, shopping, school, etc? Good question. I imagine more people may drive — so some of the billions the city saves should go to improving its roads. Others will be forced to use bicycles, hire more taxis, join car pools, etc. Apparently, that’s good for the environment, even. Bonus.

What is utterly missed is that the idea that transit might be a general benefit like water, or a fire department, or even roads.  Taxis are a prohibitively expensive way to get around, especially for long trips.  Car pooling has its limitations, especially for non-commuting trips, and we all know what Ford’s attitude to cyclists is — put them anywhere but on a road that might go someplace useful.

Towhey has a vision for transit:

I want a fast, convenient and affordable way of getting from the door of my home to the doorway of my workplace, shopping centre, school, theatre, friends’ houses, etc. That’s what the TTC should be providing: door to door solutions. The subway has value only when it’s delivering this. Ditto buses. Ditto streetcars.

Door-to-door service will not be provided by transit, ever.  If Towhey had wanted this, he might have at least advocated for land use controls that would make it possible, or at least cheaper.  Of course, in his world, all of this will be provided by the private sector.

Many bus routes, however, would be abandoned. They’re not profitable. Such is life. The TTC should have dumped these routes long ago. But what about the people who need them? Well, life’s tough. Instead of being the only three people on a 60 passenger bus, perhaps these people will have to introduce themselves, get to know their neighbours and share a taxi.

Yes, life is tough, and it my profound hope that the citizens of Toronto dump Rob Ford and his Director of Policy for whom large chunks of the population don’t warrant their attention or public spending.