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Fire chief says St. Clair is safe

Critics accuse Stewart of backpedalling on report on emergency services, TTC right-of-way

Jun 21, 2008 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Critics of the St. Clair W. streetcar right-of-way are accusing the fire department of backtracking on its report that claimed the dedicated transit lane is unsafe for fire trucks.

Fire Chief Bill Stewart held a press conference with TTC officials yesterday to stress that St. Clair residents are safe in the event of a fire.

Stewart’s comments came two days after the release of a report saying fire trucks are in danger of crashing into streetcar power poles in the middle of the right-of-way, damaging tires, snagging equipment, even crashing into streetcars.

His comments suggest “a huge whitewash of what was … an unambiguous, extremely thorough report,” Councillor Cesar Palacio (Davenport) said in a release. “Obviously political direction has been given for staff to change their tune.”

Palacio is asking council next week for a work stoppage on St. Clair and a legal report on whether the city has breached terms of the environmental assessment. He’s also asking the auditor general to review the fire department report.

“We are talking about a delay in response time and that’s extremely important to all of us,” as the TTC plans to build seven new Transit City streetcar lines, he said.

But there’s plenty of time to make sure those lines are designed with emergency vehicles in mind, said TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, who walked with Stewart on St. Clair yesterday. Meantime, the TTC will tweak St. Clair to fix variances in the curb heights.

“We have a list of areas (on St. Clair) we are going to take a look at. They’re not going to cost a lot of money,” he said, adding repaving in 2010 will address many problems.

Stewart denied that his comments were at odds with the report.

“I’m not backpedalling. We’ve said right along St. Clair was safe,” he said.

“In fairness, that report was written in April. There’s alterations that are going to occur with TTC and we’ll make a plan work for Toronto. The issue for us is we’ll operate on the curb as we have and will continue to do so.”

The report was a surprise to senior TTC officials, though Stewart said his department had been in discussions with TTC planners.

But one St. Clair area resident said the TTC and city have long failed to listen to the concerns of emergency service providers and residents.

“How is it that we’re here in 2008 and the fire department is so frustrated at getting nowhere with the TTC they write this report?” said St. Clair opponent Margaret Smith. “It’s now public and (the TTC is) saying, `We’ll make some minor modifications, we can do some curb cuts, it’s safe.’ Is it?

“Public transit trumps public safety. We’re not saying they should rip up the right-of-way…We’re saying they should build the design they promised and committed to and they should make the modifications necessary to satisfy all the emergency response folks.”




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