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Subway vs. surface

A plan to refurbish Scarborough RT and add streetcars running in their own right of way is visionary � but it will never happen

Sep. 25, 2006. 06:40 AM

There are two megaprojects on the TTC’s agenda � the expansion of the Spadina subway line, and the refurbishment of the Scarborough RT coupled with the creation of a streetcar network throughout the eastern suburb.

The subway would be about 6 kilometres long and will cost at least $1.2 billion, although goodness knows what the final dollar figure will be. The Scarborough streetcar network would cover 100 kilometres, and cost about $1 billion.

Given the price tag, only one is likely to be completed. This city will build the wrong one.

All the political tea leaves tell us that the Spadina subway extension is a go. Toronto and York Region have worked out how they’ll share their costs. The provincial Liberals like it, so they will have shovels in the ground prior to the next election.

And the federal Conservatives are mum on the issue only because it doesn’t make any political sense to fund it now. Instead, they’ll make a big splash � they’ll “discover” the urban agenda � sometime in spring.

If they choose not to, the financially flush provincial Liberals go it alone, making political hay for their federal counterparts by saying Conservatives don’t care about the Greater Toronto Region.

The subway has some merit. It will relieve some pressure on the Yonge St. line, which is so overcrowded in mornings, patrons get left behind. A Vaughan stop has the ability to become the transportation hub for an area that is close to being the geographic centre of the GTA.

But truly, development is too sparse there. The money may be seen as a good investment in 50 years, but the money is better spent now on a risky plan endorsed by most of Scarborough’s councillors.

They � very bravely before a municipal election � have abandoned the idea of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the Scarborough Town Centre. Instead, Scarborough will retain its SRT.It would be too devastating to the community to lose four stops. A subway would have only two stops.

But as part of the deal to refurbish the RT, the Scarborough politicians want streetcars running in their own right of way down the major streets and avenues, connecting the farthest reaches of the suburb to the RT, the various GO stations and the subway.

It’s an ambitious plan, even visionary, built on the notion that you can build 100 kilometres of surface rapid transit for the same price as 1 kilometre of subway. You can build it faster and do more good for more people.

It would accommodate the city’s Official Plan by offering transit priority. It would revive moribund neighbourhoods. It would link Toronto public transit with Markham and Pickering, crossing two borders.

It would serve as a model for the rest of the GTA.

But it will never happen. Politicians around these parts are in love with subways. They think subway building equals votes. Voters even buy that.

So, while councillors in Vaughan and northern Toronto are sure to campaign, and maybe even win, on being able to deliver a subway, councillors in Scarborough may be fighting for their political lives for doing the right thing.