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September 2010
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You Only Get One Vote…Use it Wisely

On October 25th all of Ontario goes to vote their municipal leaders. Here in Toronto the race for mayor seems to be cooling down. While candidates continue to campaign, Rob Ford seems to be storming ahead with the lead.

What? Rob Ford? The man who has insulted at least half of the city’s population; he announced he was opposed to gay marriage and does not support immigrants coming to Toronto. He’s been arrested for impaired driving. But this blog is not meant to be about bashing Ford (I’ll save that for another day).

When we go to the polls on October 25th we will all be voting for the future of our cities and towns. Toronto is at a cross-roads. With construction having started on the Spadina Subway extension and the current transit system somewhat in limbo the city needs a mayor that will revitalize transit and make it a priority of their term.

What does the city need for Transit?

Last week I vented about Rossi’s proposal to tunnel the Allen expressway down to the Gardiner. My theme with transit is similar; Toronto needs to work with what it has before unrolling expensive, ostentatious, impossible transit.

Currently Toronto is serviced by 3 subways, a Rapid Transit line (an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line), 11 streetcars and (≈) 144 daily bus routes. Wow, sounds pretty robust. But it’s still inefficient and people opt for their car over transit.

In addition each of the suburban communities has a transit system, Mississauga, Brampton, Viva (servicing York Region), as well as, GO Transit and VIA Rail (servicing a variety of communities). And while the transit operations are starting to ‘work’ together (under PRESTO) there is no seamless system for transit riders to move between the systems (something else to take into consideration when voting).

What can we do better?

  1. Work with what we’ve got: When you look at the system map it’s clear that Toronto has the means to have a great transit system, it just needs some tweaks (see suggestions below). London, UK drastically improved reliability when it introduced a congestion charging scheme. First people chose transit over cars due to the cost savings. With fewer cars on the road and dedicated bus lanes, transit was more efficient, even faster than your personal automobile so people switched to transit for efficiency.
  2. Dedicated streetcar and bus lanes: Not only do they improve transit times, they also improve transit reliability
  3. Signal Priority: As a bus approaches an intersection the lights change in favour for the bus. This is necessary with dedicated lanes to keep transit vehicles moving on schedule
  4. Add to the system: Not new routes, just more vehicles on the routes. People opt for their personal vehicle in off-peak hours because their bus runs every 30mins to hour. Reduce that to ten minutes and more people will choose transit over their vehicles.
  5. Permit bicycles on subways during peak hours: The new buses and street cars are equipped with bicycle racks, but you’re still not permitted to bring on the subway during peak hours. People would be much more inclined to switch out of their cars given the means to travel efficiently through the city, which means bringing your bike on the subway any time of the day.

Aside from suggestion 4 all of these examples are very low cost to implement and can improve the reliability of the TTC. But what would cost more having more buses in a dedicated transit lane with signal priority or constructing dedicated streetcar and subway lines?

What are the Candidates Saying

Rob Ford: Ford wants to see more streetcar lines, but as the Transit Toronto blog argues this will only increase congestion. He also wants to see an additional 12km of subway lines along Sheppard Avenue. His final comittment was to for 100km of bike trails (rumour has it these are not to be on Toronto roads). His transit plan was released on youtube and just like the quality of the video, his plan is lackluster.

George Smitherman: Smitherman’s plan is called the Integrated Transit Plan. At the heart of the plan is customer service; including free service for seniors between 1oam and 2pm, a transit charter, and a promise to keep vehicles clean and maintained. Looking at a longer term horizon (10- and 20-years out) Smitherman is committed to extending subway lines and adding more LRT lines.

Rocco Rossi: Rossi has a 5 priorities for improving transit in Toronto, #1 being to build more subways. He also recognizes that Toronto cannot continue to operate as a silo, under priority #2 Rossi recommends a stronger partnership with Metrolinx. While this will improve regional transportation, Rossi ignores a massive part of our current local system, buses.

Sarah Thomson: Again she sees subways as queen bee. She’s going all-out, stating that the city needs another 58km of subway lines (the current system is 70km so she’s trying to almost double it). Thomson does have the most aggressive cycling plan with more than 1000km on-road and 40km off-road through utility corridors.

None of them look to our existing system and how to make it better. Instead they’re promising unrealistic, expensive systems. Smitherman’s plan seems best, work on the small things before tackling the big ones, create a better sense of ‘community’ our transit system and while he spells out big ticket plans, he understands that Toronto needs to keep moving – ‘faster, better, easier and safer’.

Over the next few weeks I’ll look at some of the other relevant issues for Toronto’s Mayoral campaign including municipal taxes, city roads and anything else relevant to sustainable cities and transportation.


Comment from Henery Schaffer
Time September 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
Very interesting posts and well written.
I will put your site on my blogroll.

Comment from Ian
Time September 22, 2010 at 9:32 am

Just a clarification, Rob Ford does NOT want to add more streetcar lines. He wants to take the money the province has earmarked for Transit City (plus $800 million from York Region) and put it towards subways.

He also wants to REMOVE street car lines, replace them with buses that would need to be purchased (and need garages to store) and hire hundreds more drivers just to provide equivalent level of service. Sounds like a pro-union guy.

You also neglect to mention Pantalone’s plan which is basically to continue with the status quo, to complete projects that are already funded and have started construction or just about finished their design.

It’s the others who want to throw away the money and work that has been done the past few years and start from scratch.

Given no substantial transit plan can be completed in one, or even two electoral cycles, this whole concept of trashing the existing plans and going at it with a clean slate is for the birds.

Just look at how much time and development was lost due to Harris filling in the hole dug to start the Eglinton subway way back in 1995.

Comment from Sasha
Time September 22, 2010 at 11:44 am

I’ve read it also cost upwards of $40mil to fill in the Eglinton subway hole.

Politics is frustrating that way – politicians think in 4 year cycles; it’s why the infrastructure gap grew so drastically.