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Doug Ford on Transit City

The mayor’s brother, righthand man and fellow city councillor
talks transit

by Lisa Aldridge

At a wine and cheese social with Toronto’s newest rookie city councilors, hosted by the University of Toronto’s Political Alumni Association, I had a chance to interact with city councilors, like Mike Layton and Sarah Doucette, on their very first day in office.

But I spent most of the evening speaking with Doug Ford Jr., Rob Ford’s older brother and newly-elected city councilor for Rob’s former riding of Ward 2 in Etobicoke.

Ford and I chatted about bike paths and detachable Olympic pools, but the hot topic that night was the future of Transit City, since earlier that day Mayor Ford publicly announced the death of the above-ground transit project.

Although the decision still needs to be approved by council, Ford is confident that they have the votes. Ford calls the new project, Transportation City, a plan to build subways or underground LRTs (light rail transit) in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke.

If completed, the new project will bring subways to Sheppard Avenue, and either a subway or an underground LRT on Eglinton Avenue.

Ford believes that although expensive, the subway plan has a clear mandate from voters.

“We live in a democracy, if the people in Toronto did not want Rob’s transportation plan…he wouldn’t have won with more votes than any politician in the history of Canada.”

“We want to be a world-class city. I’ve traveled 10 years in North America, to every single city…every day I was on the plane, from our Chicago office, New Jersey or Toronto, I went to these great cities in North America, and to be a world-class city you don’t have streetcars you have subways. And 80 per cent, every poll we took during the election, 80 per cent were saying we want subways,” he said.

He emphasized that his priority was to make it easier for people living in Scarborough to get downtown in a timely fashion via transit.

“We want the money allocated with the folks in Scarborough that have been ignored 15 years, 20 years, I door-knocked out by the zoo, and until people actually go out there and talk to these folks that have been ignored, that they can’t work downtown…it takes them two hours to get down by the TTC,” said Ford.

Ford cited the St. Clair right-of-way lane as an example of why streetcar construction is problematic. He claims that the project was out of control, taking far too long to complete, inconveniencing residents and business owners and going way over budget.

“They started off with $40 million, and it ended up costing over $120 million to put those streetcars down St. Clair… You know it was totally mismanaged,” he said.

“The St Clair nightmare, there isn’t one person, one business owner that’s happy about it. There isn’t one resident that’s happy about it. And we are not going to take the middle lanes of Eglinton Avenue, in Etobicoke and out in Scarborough, and run a streetcar.”

Although nothing is official yet, Ford was confident that it wouldn’t be a problem to renegotiate the current $153 million streetcar contract the city has with Bombardier.

“The streetcars have not been built. Let’s be clear about this. We have not done anything. There’s a $100 million contract. We’re going to [Bombardier] with the approval of council, and saying…can you rip this contract up? Because we have a $3 billion contract sitting here for you. You know how quickly that would be ripped up?” asked Ford.

The other big issue in the streetcar vs. subway debate is cost, since subways are much more expensive. But Ford claims that prior cost estimates for the subway project have been inaccurate.

“They put in the Spadina line. Guess what it cost? $165 million/km. So we covered ourselves, we said $250 million. But the question is, why does it cost $165 million, and you’re quoting $300 million? Well, [Gary Webster] quickly changed his mind today, down to $250 million. By the time we’re done it will be $200 million.”

“The other thing is the land rates [along Sheppard]. The air rates. We estimated at $1 billion. We’ve talked to some of the largest developers in the city, who are saying you’re underestimating, it’s actually $2 billion. And you can develop it into everything from parks to businesses, to residential…” said Ford.

Although nothing is official yet, Ford was confident that it wouldn’t be a problem to transfer provincial funds allocated for Transit City to the new subway project. He claimed that the province, the TTC and other parties were already on board with the subway plan.

“You know we can’t make a decision without council’s approval, which Rob said today. He was very clear. He needs council’s approval. On top of it we need the province’s approval which came onside, Metrolinx, we need the TTC. It’s funny that everyone’s coming onside, including the Premier, and Gary Webster. We live in a democracy.”

Ford also mentioned that Transportation City includes a proposal for city-wide bike paths. Bike paths are separated, boulevard lanes which are safer than bike lanes.

“We’re going to focus on underground LRTs, we’re going to focus on subways, we’re going to focus on 100 km of bike paths, not lanes, out by Eglinton in Etobicoke, they have those nice safe bike paths, we’re going to connect Etobicoke, all through downtown, all the way up to Scarborough.”

Other plans include detachable pools which can actually be taken apart and reassembled in different locations across city. The pools will give residents an opportunity to watch Pan Am events city-wide.

“These pool are put together like Lego sets…You take them apart, and you can move them, one to Downsview, one to Scarborough, one to Etobicoke, after they’re built,” said Ford.

The goal is to have the subways ready to go before Toronto hosts the Pan Am games in 2015.

“At the end of the day, I gotta tell you. You can’t have streetcars. We aren’t a third-world nation. We want to be a world-class city,” he said.