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What's good for TTC is good for Games

Commuter Corner
Joseph Hall

The TTC claimed an Olympic victory last week when it forced the city to throw a couple of bones for transit into Toronto’s official Games bid plan.

But it was a bronze-medal performance at best.

There was a promise to twin the system’s single Union Station platform and a vague commitment to add 80 new subway cars before 2008. But this is a far cry from what the commission actually will need should Toronto win its bid to host the Games.

Even transit commission chair Howard Moscoe, who initially crowed about the victory, admitted the move to renew the TTC’s Olympic support was wanting.

“But in the face of all the jingoism (for the Olympics), do you think I could go in and convince my colleagues on the TTC to hang any tougher?” said Moscoe, who had withdrawn the commission’s support for the Olympic bid the previous week.

What the TTC must do if it is to avoid the transportation debacle that afflicted the 1996 Atlanta Games is get enough good-quality buses on the road for the 18-day spectacle.

Buses were Atlanta’s Achilles heel. Even with a federal order forcing other municipal systems to lend the city transit vehicles, Atlanta could not collect enough extra buses - and enough in good working order - to service the crowds properly.

With far fewer Canadian transit systems to collect from and no hope of a federal order forcing other cities to contribute vehicles anyway, Toronto has no choice but to expand its own fleet for the Games.

Thankfully, the TTC, which effectively would double its daily passenger loads during the Olympics to about 2.8 million, has the ability to do this at little extra capital cost.

The plan proposed by TTC staff, but ignored in the revised bid document, is to advance the purchase of 365 buses that the commission is scheduled to buy between 2008 and 2010.

By bringing these on line before the Olympics and delaying the retirement of 435 existing buses, the TTC could add 800 vehicles to its fleet of 1,500.

While the city would likely need to import several hundred more, that job would no longer be a virtual impossibility.

Atlanta’s ruptured Olympic reputation was based largely on its poor transportation plan - one that left the gathered world press corps stranded, steaming and stuffing their reports with horror stories about the Georgia capital.

Toronto’s Olympic legacy will also be fashioned in large part by our ability to move people around the city.

With our roadways already jammed with vehicles, transit is the only way to move Games visitors without embarrassment.

Last week’s vote by Richmond Hill council to delay for three weeks an official plan amendment that would put 17,000 homes on the Oak Ridges Moraine should not be cheered as an end to development in the area.

More optimistically, it might be seen as the beginning of a new type of transit-friendly development along the 905 region’s main arterial corridors.

If the decision holds and is followed in other moraine municipalities, developers may be forced to rethink their myopic strategy of adding to the low-density sprawl in the GTA’s dwindling rural areas.

Instead, they may be coerced into “backfilling” the areas that already have been built on - creating more compact urban projects to complement existing sprawl.

In York Region, this would occur mainly along Yonge St. and the area between Highway 407 and Steeles Ave. along the top of Toronto.

By intensifying development along these corridors, municipalities would be able to deploy much larger transit fleets, which are dependent on high densities to run efficiently.

More transit, in turn, could encourage even higher-density building, with buyers and businesses being lured by the promise of a cheap and efficient alternative to crawling highway traffic.