By this time, anyone who has looked around the LRT Information pages and this blog has likely concluded that I am very pro-LRT. I am not exclusively pro-LRT to the exclusion of all other possibilities, like some pro-subway expansion people and groups are - I do support extending Yonge as far as Steeles as this is one location where an extension makes sense.
There was a time that I would have thrown my support behind just about any subway expansion plan. Especially after trying the subway systems in New York and Paris and seeing for myself the benefits of a true network of lines that virtually provide an anywhere to anywhere service with a network that provides alternative routes if problems arise. I would love to see this sort of system in Toronto, but the reality is that it is extremely expensive. This expense is made worse when you add the fact that subways provide a level of capacity that far exceeds the needs of practically all of Toronto that is not currently served by subway.
Then a few years ago my work began taking me to a number of other cities and gave me the opportunity to see and use LRT systems.
St. Louis is perhaps the city that converted me to being pro-LRT. Not only did it have a good, easy to use, LRT system and were in the process of further expansion, but their system served the airport. On my first arrival at Lambert Airport, I had the choice of taxi or LRT and I decided to try the LRT as there was a downtown stop about two blocks from my hotel. I was hooked from then, but I did have the opportunity on a later trip to compare it with taxi service. I just happen to have lucked in on a flight that an exec from my company was taking for a meeting, so I tagged along in the cab he was taking. The ride took exactly the same amount of time as the LRT would have but cost $40 instead of $3.50!
In visiting other cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, San Francisco, Denver, and Dallas, I could see how the infrastructure of LRT would be less costly than subway. Just think how much less it would cost to build a right of way that did not require total isolation from the surrounding properties. Some portions of some systems are somewhat more expensive than the typical LRT installation, but even with elaborate elevated or underground sections, LRT is far less expensive than subway to build and can be up an running in less time.
The lobby group pushing for the Yonge expansion to highway 7 feel that most of the work will be underground, so there will be almost no disruptions. Does anyone recall the Sheppard line construction? While I support LRT on Yonge north of Steeles, I would concede that this section up to a little south of the 407 could be built underground. Even though that adds to the cost, it will not cost as much as subway construction. Its cost will be more in line with the level of capacity that the line will use. Only one out of every two rush hour subways on Yonge will continue north of Steeles, so why pay for the infrastructure with the excessive capacity and cost?
Over the next week or so, I intend to have a chat with each of the candidates in the two ridings that touch this stretch of Yonge Street. I will report here what I find out about their positions on transit. I am interested in seeing who is not only pro-transit, but is open to and favourable to ideas that make the most of the money spent. That is to say, not just someone looking to get the photo opportunities at a ground breaking or opening ceremony for some gold-plated expensive project that everyone will say “oooh” and “ahhh” over.
I would also like to know who is interested in supporting transit operations, not just headline-grabbing capital projects. It’s one thing to support building an LRT line, but a whole other thing to support its ongoing operations.
While I personally would like to see VIVA phase 3 on Yonge and Highway 7 break ground in 2008, the politicians need to have “LRT” planted in their heads first.