I want to talk about transit in Toronto in light of the upcoming municipal election. In particular, I want to discuss the debate revolving LRT versus subways.
So far we have seen several candidates proclaim that, if elected, they will cancel (or postpone) Transit City, and embark on an ambitious subway-building plan. And frankly, I think these people are getting it all wrong.
The prime candidate I will discuss here is Rocco Rossi. Just yesterday, he announced he would enact what he calls ‘Transit City Plus’ if he is elected. The crux of this plan is to sell off Toronto Hydro (I will leave it to people more intelligent than me to debate the merits of that move) and use the money to build two kilometres of subway every year.
Now, to be fair and honest, I did not hear the whole announcement, so I do not know all the details Rossi announced. But suffice it to say, his plan is a terrible, terrible plan.
First of all, the first subway he would build is extending the Sheppard ‘Stubway’ east from DON MILLS to the Scarborough Town Centre. Let’s be clear, the ‘Stubway’ should never have been built. And completing would just compound the mistake. In order for Rossi to get even a modicum of my support for this plan, he would have to commit to building the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) first. Unless no one has noticed, the BLOOR to ST. GEORGE section of the Yonge-University-Spadina (YUS) line is incredibly crowded during rush hour. Building more subways outside the core without addressing core capacity is going to push the system beyond the breaking point it is dangerously close to crossing.
Secondly, there are corridors in this city that will never be dense enough to warrant subways. Well, not never. But not within our lifetimes. But, they will become crowded enough to require something more than the overcrowded buses that already provide transit there. Rossi’s plan essentially ignores these corridors. This city needs improved transit, and focusing solely on subways as the means to that end is folly. Yes, more buses would help. But eventually those buses will be taxed beyond their breaking point, and something will be needed to bridge the gap between buses and subways. Rossi seems to miss this point.
I will be honest, again. I would like to see more subways. But they are prohibitively expensive unless built in an area where the ridership will be strong upon opening, and continue to grow. A subway to Vaughan? From where will the riders come? A subway along Sheppard? It will have more riders than the Vaughan idea, but still it will not support a full-sized subway for many decades. A subway along Eglinton? That is getting closer to being acceptable, but would not be as effective unless coupled with . . . A subway through the downtown core to take stress off the YUS? Now we’re talking: the DRL. It all comes down to the DRL being integral. And Rossi is conveniently ignoring this.
And, one final note. Could we please stop calling LRT streetcars? LRT is an improved descendant of the streetcar. Toronto is disingenuous when it refers to the 510 Spadina streetcar as the Spadina LRT, and the 509 Harbourfront streetcar as the Harbourfront LRT. I know. But unless the proper usage is adhered to, no one is going to support what is the right choice.