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Selley: "Transit City is over." Stay tuned for details...

by Chris Selley

I can’t say I really see the point in Rob Ford’s subways-not-light rail announcement today. Meeting with the TTC General Manager to state his preference for, and his steadfast intention to build, subways made perfect sense. It’s his mandate to pursue, as he says. Good to lay down a few markers.

But he seems to be raising public expectations, and establishing very specific ones, at a time when he really doesn’t have to — and confusing people to boot. “We will not build any more rail tracks down the middle of our streets,” he said at this afternoon’s press conference. That seems clear enough. But his statement that “Transit City is over” is less clear, because Transit City hasn’t really started in a way your average Torontonian can see.

Aside from the planned Sheppard and Eglinton lines, Transit City is just studies and plans and lines on paper, backed by monetary commitments of varying degrees of solidity. For that matter, Sheppard is only some preliminary construction and Eglinton is just some bought and paid-for tunnel-boring machines. So is it all over? Could the underground portion of Eglinton still be built? (Presumptive incoming TTC chair Karen Stintz, whose ward borders on 1.6 km of it, must be hoping so.) Could it all be underground? Light rail vehicles underground, or only subway cars? We are left to wonder and worry.

Transit City as it currently exists cost a crap ton of effort and money, of course — $140-million or thereabouts. But I suppose someone like Mr. Ford, who legitimately believes at-grade light rail lines are an inferior form of transit to buses, could argue it was David Miller and Adam Giambrone who wasted that money, not him.

Despite his no-new-tracks-at-grade pledge, we know he hasn’t specifically ordered a stop to the Sheppard line — likely because he can’t, not unilaterally. Indeed, he can’t really guarantee anything at this point. He hasn’t even met with the Premier. However “productive” his transition team’s conversations with the Premier’s office were, however likely he thinks it is that he can achieve his primary goal, which is the Sheppard and Danforth subway extensions, or his secondary goal, which is the pre-Transit City status quo, all he really had to do today was restate his preferences from the Mayor’s office instead of the campaign trail. Instead he restated them as iron-clad pledges.

Asked how he’d convince city councillors to go along with his plan, he responded, obliquely, “That’s up to the councillors.” The chances of four years of harmonious democracy were slim yesterday. They’re considerably slimmer today. Are you ready to rumble?