Toronto Doomed to a Leaderless Mayor

The Toronto mayoral race is filled with candidates that all lack leadership. Each and everyone of the candidates of note have kowtowed to the “we need more subways” chant. Not one candidate has the leadership qualities to be able to sell a transit vision that incorporates the appropriate modes where necessary.

Even Rob Ford, known for his fiscal responsible nature is out to lunch when he downplays all LRT plans in favour of subways. Fiscal responsibility should dictate that numerous corridors in this city are far better served with LRT technology over subways. Ford would also focus on buses, which again run counter to the idea of fiscal responsibility as they are far more expensive to operate than LRT trains on a per passenger basis.

Rocco Rossi comes out today with a vision-less idea he calls “Transit City Plus”. It is a plan to sell off certain city assets to pay off the city’s debt, which would free up $450 million per year that the city is currently paying in interest on that debt. Thus, that money could go into transit funding to the tune of $4.5 billion over the next ten years. I call this vision-less because he has no specific vision for what this will build, but he sees 2 km of tunnels and one subway station per year. We all know how well that idea has served us over the past four decades: councillors will fight over who’s constituency will get the next 2 kilometres, and we will end up with NOTHING getting built.

Then there is that wonderful plan of Sarah Thomson who would add a $5 toll on the Toronto-controlled expressways to pay for, wait for it, subway construction. Of course, she fails to realize that a chunk of the traffic on expressways will move to nearby arteries. This in turn slows traffic on those streets and since our subway system works on feeder bus routes, those streets will need more buses in order to provide the current capacity. Not as much of that $5 toll will be available to fund subway lines because more buses will have to be purchased, and their cost of operation will have to come from somewhere.

Numerous candidates have been using the term “Streetcar City” when referring to “Transit City”. For the most part, I find this offensive because Transit City is an LRT plan and not a streetcar plan, but at the same time I do not have complete faith that the TTC has the ability to properly implement a true LRT system. Some of the plans that they appear hard pressed to budge on indicate a very streetcar-oriented frame of mind, particularly with the Eglinton-Crosstown line.

Quite frankly, the Eglinton-Crosstown line must be designed to protect for high capacity all the way from Jane to Don Mills. The tunnelled section is a little short of this length and the design uses only median running for the remainder, when separate right of way options are very viable for these locations.

Though the Don Mills LRT is not part of the first phase of Transit City, what open houses the TTC has held on this line suggests that they insist on shoehorning it onto streets that simply do not have room for an LRT line. With that mindset, is it any wonder why the term “Streetcar City” is being bandied about?

A true leader would take a good look at where new subways are really beneficial to the network as a whole, and where LRT is the best mode, and come up with a plan that would benefit all, and then sell it to the public. If that means cherry-picking parts of the Transit City plan and altering others than so be it. Instead, since Transit City is tainted by David Miller, it must be all bad and must be shunned at every opportunity. Let us all spend billions where it is unnecessary because to do otherwise would be to somehow acknowledge that any of the excess spending under David Miller was somehow acceptable.

4 Responses to “Toronto Doomed to a Leaderless Mayor”

  1. W. K. Lis Says:

    The problem is that Toronto has had streetcars on its downtown streets since the 19th century. The other cities that got rid of streetcars have only light rail from Europe to compare with. Here, most think of light rail as streetcars, when it is not. The auto-oriented suburbanites don’t want streetcars to mess with their precious cars, even though the light-rail will be separated from them.

    However, I seem to always hear commentators say “streetcars”, which turns many of the suburbanites against “light-rail”, which is the term they should be using. I really wish there was a better term to be used.

    Cal’s comment: The fact that Toronto kept its streetcar network when most other cities got rid of theirs is a major reason why this city has not embraced LRT. This is one of the reasons why I started this site, which antedates the announcement of Transit City by a few months.

    Pittsburgh was one city that kept its streetcars, but one line was shutdown while they rebuilt it to LRT standards and introduced the new vehicles. People tend to think this is what happened on St. Clair, but that is not the case.

  2. Matt Fisher Says:

    Not quite every city “got rid of” streetcars in North America, but all others that did turned to what I call “full light rail”. Granted, this is as opposed to European cities, especially in Germany and Switzerland, or in Melbourne.

    Cal’s comment: True, as I mentioned in the above comment about Pittsburgh. A few other cities did as well, but my point was that only Toronto maintained a full “streetcar” system. Others made a full conversion to LRT, or kept only a small portion as a “tourist trolley”.

  3. Zweisystem Says:

    Sounds like you have an electoral slate of Vancouver types running.

    Metro here, metro there, metro everywhere - but the problem remains; “who and how are we going to pay for it?” In the end, metro plans remain stillborn, only to emerge just before every election!

    Cal’s comment: Once the election is over, nothing gets done. A politician who says they are all for more subways, is like someone saying they are all for handing out gold bars - who would say no to that? Just try to implement it, and no one will go for the cost.

    I think the problem in North America is that we are redefining LRT as some sort of mini-metro, which of course drives up the cost of installation. The real difference between a streetcar and light rail is not grade separation, rather than streetcar line reservation or the Reserved rights-of-way (RRoW).

    With the RRoW and priority signaling, one can get almost the same performance than a segregated RRoW at a fraction of the cost.

    Who benefits from the New North American LRT? Engineers, planners, architects, cement companies and alike. Over engineered LRT lines do not benefit the transit consumer, rather the people who plan and build the thing.

    Light Rail at one time was much cheaper to build than metro, now with gold plated over engineering, even the simplest LRT scheme rivals that of a heavy rail metro.

    It’s time to put ‘light’ back into Light Rail.

    I have mixed feelings about some of the over engineering in the Transit City plans. It strikes me as wasteful to encase median ROWs in concrete, but emergency vehicle access would be helpful. At the same time, even though Toronto generally is not suited to side-of-the-road ROWs, every effort should be made to make use of such installations to help keep costs down (both initial capital costs, as well as upkeep costs, since ballasted tie construction is somewhat less costly than concrete encasement).

  4. zweisystem Says:

    In Europe, the lawned rights-of-ways are in a a concrete block matrix, which can handle the weight of emergency vehicles yet still allow grass to grow making the route green. This, in effect, makes the LRT route a linear park. On older street routes, the RRoW, is defined by a hatched or cross lines denoting the reserved route for the tram, which again, is no problem for emergency vehicles.

    Tie and ballast is so, so yesterday and there are many newer and effective ways to lay track.

    Cal’s comment: Well, yes and no. I am thinking more of concrete/steel ties rather than creosote wood ties!

    We seem to be 20 to 30 years behind the times in Canada.