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Rumblings of discontent run down the track to suburbs

By Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

They say they’re being railroaded - and it’s not just the urbanites living along the Georgetown GO corridor who are complaining.

Objections to the region’s galloping transit expansion have spread to the typically more passive suburbs.

Resistance is popping up from Etobicoke to Scarborough where some residents fear light rail lines along Eglinton and Sheppard will create traffic chaos with delayed left turns and less room for cars, dividing communities down the middle with dedicated streetcar rights-of-way.

They want transit. But they want subways.

Governments should find a way to make development pay for them, say the members of a community group called Save Our Sheppard.

Many of its concerns echo those published in a recent TTC report on the disastrous management and cost overruns on the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way.

But when they’ve talked to politicians and transit officials, group members say they have been ignored.

Save Our Sheppard’s Denis Lanoue is a seasoned community activist, who attended one of the TTC’s public consultations on the Sheppard West LRT.

He said no one there would listen to his concerns about St. Clair.

“They just wanted to have input on whether it should be in-ground or above ground for the connection with the Sheppard subway. The other issue was whether we should have an overpass or underpass for the GO train. This was the only input they were asking for. I had the feeling this thing was shoved down our throat.”

“These public consultation meetings are information-out meetings and they don’t want your feedback. It’s just a farce,” said Patricia Sinclair of SOS.

She says LRT is too slow to entice drivers onto transit.

“You get in the car and you go 60 kilometres per hour and you get on the streetcar and you go 12 kilometres per hour,” said Sinclair. “If you’re trying to pull people on (transit) and you’re trying to get less traffic you’ve got to give them transit they will use. Where is the analysis of not just the costs, but the benefits?”

Ontario’s new transportation minister knows that, with more than a decade of transit construction on the books, communication will be as challenging as project management in the years ahead as the heavy machines roar into established neighbourhoods.

“I will be in conversation with both the people trying to get those projects done and the communities so that we can find the common good in this,” said Kathleen Wynne. This (transit expansion) is about building for now and for the future. As the minister I take a lot of responsibility for working with communities so that they know what it is we’re trying to do and we can make common cause.”

But there’s no sign the province is going to reconsider its support for GO’s regional expansion or the TTC’s light rail plan.

“I really think we need to keep going,” she said. “Metrolinx has really worked hard over the last months and years, the city of Toronto has worked very hard and we’ve committed billions of dollars. We need to keep going. There will be ongoing discussion always,” she said.

Meantime Metrolinx, the province’s transportation agency for the Toronto region, is still challenging the West Toronto Diamond Community Group in court a year after residents in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood began protesting over GO Transit’s piledriving on that rail crossing.

Metrolinx wants the court to give it leave to appeal a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling forcing it to use quieter construction, something that has slowed the work to an unreasonable level, according to Metrolinx chief executive officer Rob Prichard.

The CTA must be challenged because the order comes under a new legal provision and has the potential to impact future projects, he said.

The agency has offered West Diamond residents everything from movie passes to hotel rooms so they can escape the bone-rattling noise and vibration from the pile driving. There’s even a handyman on-site to be dispatched to repair any damage to nearby homes and businesses a result of the vibration.

“We have to communicate to residents, offer every kind of mitigation we can (to the noise and vibration levels) but we have to remain determined to get the projects built,” said Prichard.

But as one resident muttered in court: “They’re still using my tax dollars to lower my property values.”

And as the group’s pro-bono lawyer David Baker pointed out to the court that day, the bill is rising, and the province has deeper pockets than the residents.

Also sitting behind him in the courtroom was a lawyer representing the City of Toronto, which finds itself siding with slower progress on a transit expansion it actually wants because the West Diamond rail crossing work will also help accommodate a high speed rail link between Union Station and the airport.

Both downtown and suburban residents say their complaints and concerns have nothing to do with NIMBYism.

“We’re not talking about our own backyards. We’re talking about neighbourhoods,” said Patrick Sherman of Save Our Sheppard. “I’ve been living in that same house for over 30 years. I didn’t know until 18 months ago that we were actually classified as a priority neighbourhood. I’m very much in support of helping those who have difficulty helping themselves. I’m a social activist as much as I am a neighbourhood activist. Everybody deserves a shot at a fair life. We went to TTC meetings where we were just dismissed.”