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The public transit solution

Teaching hazel

Peter Kuitenbrouwer
National Post
Saturday, August 24, 2002

Most days, I ride my bike to the Wellesley subway station, lock it up, then take the Yonge line north and transfer to a bus to get to the office here, in God-forsaken Don Mills. It takes about an hour.

Why? After all, I have a car, and the National Post offers plenty of free parking to the staff.

I like the exercise. And I especially like the few minutes I get alone, away from home, not yet at work, to relax and read a book. I arrive calm, thanks to the Toronto Transit Commission.

Most people in greater Toronto, however, don’t have this luxury. Beguiled by big houses with big garages and wide highways and malls with plenty of parking, they are now perpetually stuck in traffic in Burlington and Brampton and Pickering and Markham.

Transit has not grown with Toronto: In 1986, 22% of morning commutes were by transit; 10 years later it was down to 15%, and God knows how low it is now.

The situation is so bad that even Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga — Toronto’s grand dame of Stupid Growth — is coming around to the splendours of public transit (even if she isn’t prepared to use it herself). The mayor chairs the Central Ontario Smart Growth panel, and earlier this month she released “Interim Advice on Unlocking Gridlock and Promoting Livable Communities.”

The hesitant tone of the report betrays McCallion’s terrible fear of that unknown beast: public transit. Still, Betty Disero, who took over last month as chair of the TTC, is encouraged: “She’s got the ear of the minister and he will listen to what she says, and so it’s our job to teach Hazel.”

Right. With that in mind, I read up on gridlock, consulted Disero and Rod McPhail, Toronto’s director of transportation planning, and finally read the Toronto Board of Trade report: A Strategy for rail-based transit in the GTA Chillingly, it observes that if we don’t do something to encourage population growth in Toronto and get people out of their cars, in 20 years urban sprawl will consume a chunk of farmland the size of Toronto. Here, then, for Hazel’s education, is our bold plan to bring Toronto up to speed with such transit meccas as Barcelona and Boston.

FUND EXISTING SERVICE The TTC needs $3.8-billion over 10 years just to function at its current rate. The province has committed $1-billion for the period. Now the city and the feds must pony up.

New subways Yes, they’re expensive. The new Sheppard subway, which will open in November, cost $1-billion for six kilometres. Still, we need extensions: Right away we should stretch the Spadina line from Downsview to York University and extend the Sheppard line east to Scarborough Town Centre. And while we’re at it, let’s build subways under Eglinton Avenue and Queen Street to speed east-west traffic.

NEW LIGHT RAPID TRANSIT LINES North America, Europe and Asia have strong rail transit systems. Trains go faster, cost less, pollute less and attract more riders.

Calgary chose light rail about the same time Ottawa chose busways (McCallion favours busways). Result: Between 1990 and 1996, Ottawa’s transit use dropped 21% while transit ridership in Calgary jumped 19%.

The TTC says the future lies in LRTs — streetcars running on dedicated tracks so cars turning left can’t block them. They are slower than subways, but cost less. So far, we have the Spadina LRT and the Harbourfront LRT to the Exhibition. We back Disero’s plan to extend the Harbourfront line to Etobicoke, a $50-million project, along with a designated right-of-way for streetcars on St. Clair Avenue.

Kingston Road is another ideal place for an LRT, as outlined in the city’s new Official Plan. It’s wide and it’s straight and a streetcar will bring development to its derelict strip malls.

BUSWAYS Dedicated lanes for busses, the poor man’s rapid transit, aren’t great, but sometimes they make sense. We like the idea of a busway on Dufferin Street, the third-busiest surface route in the city. A busway on Don Mills Road, as proposed in the Official Plan, also makes sense, not least for commuters to the Post itself.

Another smart busway will use the Finch Hydro corridor, owned by Hydro One. That will provide quick links to York University and the Finch subway station. The Board of Trade study proposes an LRT for the Finch corridor: “The cross-GTA LRT could be the spine of a major expansion of rail-based transit explicitly designed to make transit more competitive with automobiles across the region.” That is an obvious next step once the busway proves its worth.

GO TRAINS People love them; they run near capacity. What they need are bigger parking lots, bike parking (as is common in Holland) and, as the Board of Trade suggests, two-car trains running at 20-minute intervals along main routes for non-commuter trips around town.

Toronto’s Official Plan also calls for a new GO Train on the CPR track along Dupont, with a stop at the old station at Yonge and Summerhill avenues, running northeast into Scarborough and west to Etobicoke.

Cities today require developers to pay the cost of roads, sewers, etc. So why not require developers in Greater Toronto to build train lines and train stations into housing projects?

BIKE PATHS AND BIKE LANES Toronto council last year approved a $70-million plan to expand the city’s 166km of bike lanes to 1,000 km over 10 years. Suburbs should adopt similar plans, and require developers to build commuter bike paths in new subdivisions.

Yes, our plan will cost billions. But it will free up the roads, meaning cars will move more quickly. The quid pro quo: Motorists must pay for that privilege. Sorry, but we need a new gas tax, plus tolls on the 401, Don Valley Parkway, the 400, the 403 and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Don’t like it? Take transit.

Transit users need financial incentives, too. Ottawa has been talking tough on Kyoto, climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, blah, blah, blah. Yet federal actions promote car culture, as follows: If employers hand out transit passes to workers, Ottawa calls it a taxable benefit. At the same time, employers are allowed to offer parking spaces, as the National Post does, and Ottawa does not consider them a taxable benefit. Tax policy promotes car culture.

If we ever want clean air and to relieve traffic, clearly we have to reverse this policy.

Even Hazel agrees with us.