Rob Ford’s Transit Plan

In what I plan to make a continuing series, here are my thoughts on Rob Ford’s transit plan, as he posted on his Youtube channel.

1 ) “Toronto is choking on congested roads. Gridlock creates pollution and keeps you away from your families. Gridlock and poor public transit makes (sic) it harder to connect people with good jobs.” Well, clearly. We do need to find a way to alleviate the gridlock found on our downtown streets, as well as the more suburban streets (e.g. McNicoll Ave.). What remains to be seen is if we as a city can do that.

2 ) He says there are more cars on our streets today, and our city is growing. Well, that does happen. And I know cars are here to stay. But, like it or not, Mr. Ford, that doesn’t mean we can’t still be looking for better ways and cheaper ways to get around our city. Cars have their uses. I call those uses trips outside the city, or shopping trips when you are trying to feed a small army. You should be able to get around this city without a car, and not be disadvantaged because of it.

3 ) War on cars. I hear that constantly. Trust me, if there were an actual war on cars, there would be no cars. Period.

4 ) “My plan takes a sensible approach to improve transportation and reduce congestion in Toronto.” Uh, no it doesn’t.

5 ) He claims his plan will better transit, better roads and a new bike and pedestrian trail network across the city. Or that’s what he wants us to believe. Don’t get me wrong, if he were actually to bring about these things, I would support his ideas. But his plan doesn’t do what he claims it will.

6 ) No taxes, tolls or congestion charges. In other words, no chance of happening. Listen, Rob, I know you’re all for being thrifty and cutting taxes and spending, but you need income to pay for your plans.

7 ) “Rapid transit is important.” Yes, yes it is.

8 ) His video puts up a (crudely-drawn) diagram showing that one can get to more job opportunities with a one-hour subway trip than one can with a one-hour streetcar trip. I beg to differ. One hour on a streetcar brings you past more potential job sites than one hour on the subway does. But, this is not a factor of the distance a subway can cover, but rather a factor of being at street level on the streetcar. Clearly this is not the angle Ford is taking.

9 ) Again, stop calling LRT ‘streetcars.’ Seriously, there is a difference. I am tired of listening to uninformed people say that when you have rails in the street and overhead power lines, you automatically have streetcars. Streetcars run in mixed traffic. LRT runs (more often than not) in segregated rights-of-way. If you don’t know the difference, you do not instill confidence in me. And yes, it has to be said again, calling the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina streetcar routes ‘LRT’ does nothing to inform Torontonians of the true value of LRT. That was a bad marketing move the TTC made, and one that does not impress me.

10 ) Stop. Just stop, Rob. Stop and get your facts straight. Transit City routes will not stop at almost every block. They will, however, stop at major transfer cross streets.

11 ) This one I love. Ford says streetcars slow down car traffic and make congestion worse. Do you know what makes congestion even worse than your hated streetcars do, Rob? Do you really want to know? How about the cars you love. Cars are why there is congestion on our roads. It is the height of arrogance to have the implicit belief that a single-occupancy car has the right to block traffic when trying to a) make a left turn against oncoming traffic, and b) block cross traffic because the driver tried to get through the intersection when there was no space. Another way cars contribute to congestion: when they are parked illegally. This point can also be applied to delivery trucks.

12 ) Toronto needs more subways. I don’t disagree.

13 ) (a) He wants to focus on subways where they are needed most. He wants fewer new lines, but they will be fast. His first planned new subway would be extending the Sheppard line from DOWNSVIEW to SCARBOROUGH CENTRE. Like I said in my analysis of Rocco Rossi’s plans, please pardon my caps: SHEPPARD IS NOT A PRIORITY! BUILD A DOWNTOWN RELIEF LINE! The Y-U-S is overburdened from ST. GEORGE to BLOOR. In other words, you can’t keep adding subways in the outer 416 without also building capacity in the core. Additionally, Ford’s second planned new subway is to convert the SRT to subway from KENNEDY to SCARBOROUGH CENTRE. For why this won’t work (assuming he wants to follow the same alignment as exists today, I borrow a few words from Toronto transit advocate Steve Munro:

«That SRT conversion has appeared in other candidates’ platforms, and it suffers from problems with assumptions about recycling the existing infrastructure and route. Kennedy Station faces east, and an alignment up the SRT corridor would require a new subway station. . . . Further north on the SRT there are narrow sections, a tight curve at Ellesmere, and stations that were not designed for full subway service.»

This plan will create a closed loop, Ford claims. This is just me being pedantic, but a closed loop would mean one could travel from DOWNSVIEW to KIPLING without changing trains, whereas Ford’s map does not make this seem to be possible.

14 ) (continued from (13)) Money for the subway plan is to come from reallocating the money the Province is giving for the (soon-to-be) cancelled Transit City plan. Call me naïve, but I don’t think the Province is going to look too kindly on Toronto deciding to change what the money is for.

15 ) “Subways move ten times as many people as streetcars.” I debate the exact numbers, but I believe he is overestimating the carrying capacity of the subway. Now, if he is referring to mixed-traffic streetcars, then he is close. If he is referring to LRT, he is off by nearly four times. [To wit, IIRC: LRT – max 10 000 pph, subway – 35 000 pph; these numbers can be debated depending on who is doing the analysis.]

16 ) “With a subway you can live in north Scarborough and work downtown. With a streetcar network, that’s impossible.” No, it’s not impossible, it just takes longer. But, again, a properly expansive LRT network would make the trip quicker than it is now.

17 ) (continued from (13)) Both lines will be completed and operational by 2015, in times for the Pan-Am Games? Ha! Surely you jest. Toronto hasn’t built a subway line in five years since the original Yonge line. And even that’s pushing it. There is no way Ford’s two new (really expanded) subway lines will be up and running by 2015, especially considering ABSOLUTELY NO WORK has been started on them yet. Not going to happen.

18 ) “Where we can’t afford to build subways today, like Eglinton Ave. for example, we’ll introduce new express buses using clean technology.” No, where we can’t afford to build subways and where the demand is insufficient to require subways, we’re going to build an underground LRT, like Eglinton Ave. Rob, have you seen Eglinton Ave. W. between Allen Rd. and Dufferin St.? Half the time there’s on-street parking taking up two of four lanes. At other times, I call them rush hour, that stretch is still slow because all the buses that are already there take up space. I know buses are useful and have their place, but ramming more buses through where they already are not moving at speed is a recipe for increased, not decreased, congestion.

19 ) “Buses are cheaper, faster and safer than streetcars.” Per unit, yes, they are cheaper. Faster and safer? That’s debatable. More on this in point (28)

20 ) Cost of Ford’s subway expansion plan? 4 $ billion. Or so he claims. Now, factor in inflation and tell me what you get.

21 ) At this point Ford refers to a 250 $ million backlog in road repairs. I am not up-to-speed on this issue, so I will refrain from commenting. However, I do know there are people who have already refuted the severity of that backlog. But that is not something on which I can comment, so I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. The same for comments on upgrading and synchronizing our traffic signals/lights. The same for comments on connecting disjointed arterial roads.

22 ) Colour-coded curb painting vis-à-vis parking. I think it’s a good idea.

23 ) He plans to seek to coordinate roadwork projects. I wholehearted agree. My neighbourhood got a new sidewalk ~4 years ago. Then Toronto Hydro came around ~2 years ago to install new hydro vaults and upgrade their wiring. Result: we have a black strip of asphalt down the middle of our new sidewalk. It’s not a roadwork issue, but it does speak to the need to coordinate public works projects.

24 ) “Toronto cyclists and pedestrians deserve safe and enjoyable choices whether they are commuting to work or riding, running or walking for recreation or pleasure.” No argument there. But what I will argue is that putting cyclists, et al. in trails off the roads is wrong. Some of these trails, in fact I would argue most of them, do nothing to help cyclists commute to work. Or, they help cyclists get closer to work, while leaving them still needing to ride the roads to complete the trip. People like Ford need to get it into their heads that cyclists have a right to the road, the same way drivers do. It’s not an ‘either/or’ situation, it’s an ‘and’ situation. Some drivers, no doubt, would prefer to cycle to work, but don’t because the roads are too dangerous. Making them use your specially-designed trails to get to work is only going to cause them to take their cars because the alternative is now more of a hassle than it used to be.

25 ) The above having been said, more bike paths that are looked after and maintained would be appreciated by the cycling community. But these trails need to be in addition to proper bike lanes, not as a substitute for.

26 ) And I spoke too soon. Ford is planning to add bike lanes where they make sense and don’t increase congestion. A laudable plan, but one I think is being too naïve. See (24) for why I think that.

27 ) He speaks to selling development rights above the (soon-to-be-built) subway lines. I do not know economics well enough to say if Toronto could actually get the 1 $ billion Ford says can be raised through those fees. But it just seems like a pie-in-the-sky number to me.

The following points are derived from reading Rob Ford’s transportation plan that accompanies his Youtube video, and includes some things not discussed in the video.

28 ) “We will improve traffic flow downtown by removing some streetcars. Streetcars on downtown arterial streets will be replaced with clean buses that provide the same capacity on the same routes. This will make the system safer and more accessible for all users. It will also improve traffic flow. Zero net cost. Cost to purchase and operate new buses will be offset by savings from reduced purchase of streetcars, sale of existing streetcars and reduced streetcar system maintenance.” Where to begin? The order has already been placed with Bombardier for the new streetcar fleet for use on the downtown routes. While, yes, on a per-unit basis buses are cheaper that streetcars, it will take 2-3 buses to replace the capacity of a single streetcar. This will increase congestion, not reduce it. Buses need to pull into the curb to pick up and drop off passengers. With on-street parking, buses often are only able to pull their noses into the curb, leaving the rest of the vehicle blocking traffic. Last time I checked, this leads to long lineups of cars, increasing congestion. Further to the number of buses needed to replace the capacity lost through removing the streetcars, there is a corresponding increase in the number of TTC operators required. Thus, another increase in City expenditures.

I think that should sum up my analysis of Rob Ford’s transit and transportation plan. Needless to say, I don’t like it and I don’t believe Ford knows what he is talking about.

As a refresher, please feel free to read my comments on Rocco Rossi’s subway plans. As I find the time, I will attempt to discuss the other major candidates’ transit plans. This means I expect to post three more analyses: Sarah Thomson, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone.