Let Them Ride Buses

In case anyone missed the latest word from City Hall, here is Mayor Ford talking about transit to Rexdale in today’s Globe:

“Eventually, I’m sure we can build the subways. It’s more expensive, but that’s what the people want. People in North York and Scarborough, they want that line connected to the Scarborough Town Centre. If I heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.”

Even if that means cancelling or postponing indefinitely rapid transit in his own former ward of Etobicoke North?

“They have transit,” he laughed. “It sounds like we’re – we have transit. People get to the slots, they get to Woodbine racetrack, people get to Humber College. There are buses that run up there.

“Eventually, I’d like to have subways running through the whole city. But what we can afford realistically, right now, is just Sheppard, right?

People will wait a long time for their pet transit lines, and all those fine words about the importance of transit to Toronto’s economy are just so much hot air.

Cake, anyone?

Metrolinx Muses About Elevated Railways

A strange twist of journalistic coincidence saw two articles with almost identical content in The Star and in The National Post about technology alternatives for Transit City.

Toronto Star:  Elevated transit among Metrolinx alternatives

Toronto Star:  Beauty in the eye of the rider

National Post:  Elevated trains:  Metrolinx offers subway alternative

When this sort of thing happens, and especially when some of the reference material is supplied by a public agency, I can’t help thinking someone wants to get “a message” out.  Whether it’s the appropriate message, or one that has been approved by the Board of the agency pushing the story, is another matter.

I can’t help thinking of the shell game perpetrated by the TTC and Queen’s Park to get an elevated through Scarborough Town Centre.  The politicians didn’t want it, but the decision for an el was forced on them before the technology change to Skytrain.  “Streetcars” would isolate land south of the Town Centre and an el was the only solution.  Scarborough Council held its nose and agreed.  With this decision out of the way, an elevated Skytrain line was a much easier sell.

We now see lovely photos of Vancouver’s Skytrain, some courtesy of the head of Metrolinx, in local media.  Do we see the view from underneath the structures?  Do we see neighbourhoods where buildings are close to the road, or suburban lines with roads surrounded by parking?  Does anyone talk about the road space occupied by support structures and stations?  Does anyone acknowledge how much of Vancouver’s Skytrain does not run down the middle of arterial roads, but underground or along old rail corridors?  Dishonest presentations of elevated proposals for Toronto go right back to the days of the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation, and little seems to be changing.

Those of us who watched the tug of war over Transit City know that there was a big fight between Metrolinx and Toronto about the technology choice and, as usual, Bombardier had an inside track as a proponent of a turnkey project to build new transit lines.  This scheme was eventually scotched and, for a time, LRT won out with the expectation that David Miller and his successors would keep Transit City alive long enough to ensure it didn’t revert to a Skytrain network.

That was a nice idea, but political events didn’t work out as planned, and we now have a Mayor for whom LRT is a very bad word.  This plays right into the hands of those at Metrolinx who never wanted an LRT system in the first place.  Oddly enough, this seems to be happening without public debate, precisely the concern levelled at Transit City for its choice of technology.

If we are to revisit the technology choice and the network design, then this needs to be an open and fair discussion, not something cooked up in a Metrolinx back room and leaked out through the media.

Meanwhile, transit planning continues its journey into fantasyland.  MPP David Caplan wants to set up a development company to market land around potential subway station sites as a way to pay for construction.  The former Minister responsible for Infrastructure Ontario  touts the success of “alternative financing procurement” used for projects like hospitals and court houses as a sample of what might happen with subways.  Caplan ignores the fact that subways cost vastly more than hospitals, and that the land around stations is generally not in the public sector.

Is Caplan freelancing (not a great comment on the cohesion of McGuinty’s government) or is he floating a trial balloon of possible government policy?  Has he considered the reaction of neighbourhoods to the possibility that they can get a subway, but only at the cost of their established lower densities?

Meanwhile unnamed transit planners say it’s too soon to decide on specifics of a new network, and claim that they trying to respect Mayor Ford’s desire to preserve surface road capacity without necessarily putting everything underground.  This directly contradicts the Mayor’s love for a Sheppard subway — if we don’t have the money, other lines can just wait.  Ford dismisses elevated structures as cavalierly as streetcars.

This is not transit planning, it’s the hubris of a Mayor who won’t discuss anything, who would rather make announcements than involve his Council, his Transit Commission, in a real discussion of what is possible and desirable.  We hear how important a change in the TTC board’s makeup will be, how we need experts and business-minded people running the show rather than politicians.  Why would any true “expert” lend their name to an agency whose only function is to rubber stamp the Mayor’s narrow view of transit’s role?

Metrolinx may try to counter Mayor Ford’s position with selective discussions through the media, but at best this only exposes the Mayor’s intransigence to any consideration of alternative schemes.  At worst, this tactic replaces considered studies and consultation with seat-of-the-pants planning aimed at getting something, anything, approved by Council early in 2011.