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Subways good, Sheppard bad: Granatstein

Mayor Rob Ford can go underground if he’d like,
but do it where we get the best bang for our buck

by Rob Granatstein

If Transit City is dead on Rob Ford’s arrival, then Rob Ford needs a new plan.

Making a subway under Sheppard Ave. E., all the way to Scarborough Town Centre a priority, as Ford proposed in the election, is the wrong move for Toronto.

But, just maybe, Mayor Ford has left himself some wiggle room with his demand for a new transportation plan for the city to be delivered to him by the end of January.

And I know what you’re thinking — gee, another transportation plan for Toronto. Add it to the pile of nice drawings and graphs never completed.

Ford’s plan will be different, of course, than anything we’ve seen in the past seven years. It’s not a transit plan.

“The war on the car is over,” he said. “For too long the city has focused on transit only.”

New tracks will not be built down the centre of roads but will be built underground and drivers will not be nailed with a $60 fee for having a driver’s licence and Toronto address.

“I just told (TTC Chief GM Gary Webster) whatever we’re doing is going underground, so we’re going to build subways,” Ford told the media Wednesday. “I was elected on that mandate, and I’m going to deliver my promises to the taxpayers that subways will be built in the city.”

Webster now has the task of designing the new blueprint.

“The mayor clearly refers to his plan as a subway plan, but the mayor’s sensitivity is operating LRT on the surface,” said Webster. “So we did have discussions about running the LRT underground and he seems receptive to that.”

That could avoid the costly embarrassment of killing the Metrolinx deal to buy 182 light rail vehicles from Bombardier for $770 million.

So, if we’re looking underground, the most pressing need for a new subway is not on Sheppard Ave., heading east 8 km to the Scarborough Town Centre. Yes, Ford’s priority is a loop linking the Scarborough RT (eventually an extended Bloor-Danforth line, if you believe past Ford promises) with the Sheppard line.

For what reason, it’s not really clear.

The density along Sheppard Ave., even for the next few decades, would be far overserved by Transit City LRT cars on the surface. Why would you bury that line first, at a cost far greater than the $1.1-billion estimated in Transit City?

From the moment he unveiled it, Ford’s plan has sounded like the same plague that has always hampered this city’s progress — transit planning by people with a crayon drawing lines on a map.

Add to that the starting and stopping of transit lines — such as the Eglinton subway by Mike Harris and now, apparently, the Sheppard LRT — and you have a city stuck in the mud on transit.

But if Ford is going to build subways and can likely only afford one underground line, the need is far greater for the Eglinton Crosstown route.

Metrolinx has said it. The TTC has said it. Burying the line through the centre of the city was even part of the Transit City plan. Eglinton is a subway.

Eglinton has a $4.6-billion budget, and tunnel boring machines are ordered.

But Ford is pushing hard to get Scarborough in the ground and done by the Pan Am Games in 2015. That was his promise. It’s unattainable, but with Ford that’s beside the point.

Even if it makes no sense, Ford fights to keep his promises.

But will he listen to other opinions? Will he build where the need is greater?

We may have to wait until his second day, or second month, to know the answer to that question.