Sunday, March 4, 2012

Flame in the Dark

It's been ages since I've posted, but I've had some thoughts about what I'd like to write about on this blog. I'll get to that in a moment.

On Tuesday at 1pm I will learn what I'm fated to do for the next five years. The Canadian Resident Matching Services ("CaRMS") website will then reopen and I will learn where I have matched among the six programs I ranked. In general, I have at least a 95% chance of matching in the first round, so I shouldn't worry too much. Not that that means I will be completely at ease until I know one way or the other.

But that's not really what I want to talk about here. For the past several weeks at least I've been absorbed by the ongoing battle over transit in Toronto and the direction of the city more generally. Rob Ford is - without question - the worst mayor of Toronto in history, and quite possibly one of the worst most ineffectual politicians in the country. He is, at present, still pushing for "subways" and/or exclusively underground transit expansion in the city, namely for a Sheppard subway extension east to Scarborough Town Centre and west to Downsview and for a wholly-underground Eglinton LRT. The latter was to be funded with $8.4 billion in provincial money originally intended for the Transit City plan developed before Ford was elected and which he declared "cancelled" on his first day in office.

I haven't mentioned how the Sheppard subway extension was to paid for because no such funding plan exists. Ford has variously claimed that it could be done with (possible) money leftover from the Eglinton line, along with considerable private money (air-rights, "expected" development charges, and other measures which do not actually exist or provide sufficient funds). This week he appeared to be open to parking taxes and some other revenue instruments that would be absolutely necessary, but later backtracked. In any case, it really doesn't matter because Ford has no plan to fund any subway expansion anywhere, and he has now once again ruled out additional taxes to finance not only the construction but the considerable operational and maintenance capital costs such an extension would impose. And that's really not a debatable point. While Rob Ford's idea of transit planning is drawing lines on a map and claiming the private sector will pay for it, we cannot have new subways without new taxes. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying, stupid, or - most likely - both.

Otherwise, I should mention that despite Ford's unilateral and never-ratified "cancellation" of Transit City, on Feb 8th City Council voted to restore most of the original Transit City plan was restored: an Eglinton LRT underground through the centre of the city only, a Finch West LRT, and (probably) a Sheppard LRT, though this is still to be decided by Council on March 15 following an "expert panel" review of subway vs. LRT options. In the meantime, TTC Chair and (former) Ford ally Karen Stintz has moved to reconstitute the TTC board and - one hopes - purge it of Ford's sycophantic cronies.

In any case, I think the strength of Ford's argument is best shown by the video below:

Yes, he did say subways get people "out of their cards" around 1:45. His argument amounts to this:

1. Surface transit does not help gridlock and makes it worse.
2. Gridlock/traffic congestion is bad.
3. Only underground transit is fast.
4. People want transit that is fast.

Therefore, since subways (or "LRT-style" underground trains) are underground, they are fast and don't make gridlock worse. As a consequence, people want subways.

That's about as far as Ford's thinking goes, and one wonders why we don't extend this logic to buses. Subways for everyone! On your doorstop!! I suppose he also opposes the fact that substantial portion of the existing TTC Subway travels above ground:

Anyway, I suppose we'll see what happens. I quite like surface LRTs as are planned for Finch West and much of Eglinton. I wish we could have something similar in Halifax (though I'd settle for the resumption of bus service from our month-long strike... topic for another post!). Comments like these from Rob Ford suggesting that streetcars (his usual term for LRT) would "ruin" the city angers me to no end, not least because areas of downtown with said streetcar lines are among the most attractive and liveable neighbourhoods in the country much less the city.

So if you haven't guessed yet, I'm planning to reorient this blog toward urban affairs and transit which, it seems, are my main interests lately. I'd like to talk about development in Halifax (primarily on the peninsula) especially, but I'll be keeping a close eye on goings-on in Toronto, the city of my birth.

For more information on the transit debate, check out these links:

Transit Timeline
Christopher Hume
- Toronto Star columnist on urban affairs
Royson James
- Toronto Star columnist on city hall politics
Steve Munro
- Prominent blogger and Toronto transit activist - excellent resource for all things TTC-related

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