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City right on track to never-never land

City staff's best-laid plans for transit will routinely be ignored, massaged and misapplied by the politicians, who do it because it pays rewards.
June 15, 2015
By Royson James

Over the next two weeks, Toronto’s transportation planning staff will be meeting with residents to give them an overview of the breadth of transit options being studied for delivery over the next 30 years.

There is an air of disbelief engulfing the whole process. City staff dutifully weigh the pros and cons of each of the proposed projects. And the politicians dutifully ignore their analysis. Worse, they grab segments of staff’s work, massage it to their liking, misuse the application, and make conclusions no sensible person would.

If you think this is an exaggeration, you did not listen to the Gardiner Expressway debate during which our chief magistrate routinely misapplied statistics staff generated.

Now, politicians are not stupid. Misguided, maybe; self-serving and dangerous to our transportation future, certainly. But they do what they do because they get rewarded for it.

How else to explain the circumstances that have led us to the point where our new mayor is pushing the Scarborough Subway far east into coyote country along leafy Bellamy Rd. just so it doesn’t conflict with his SmartTrack line.

It matters not that the gambit will cost us an extra $1 billion more to build - if we are extremely lucky. (Oh, they can cite calculations that suggest only an extra $400 million, but experience informs how easily millions become billions.)

It matters little that such a lonely Bellamy route would make the grossly underused Sheppard Subway seem like a sardine express by comparison.

It matters not a whit that nobody with a scintilla of transit training would propose such a route. The politics of transit dictates that we end up in this never-never land of alternate reality where all participants sleepwalk to inevitable disaster.

This might seem apocalyptic; it is quite ordinary and familiar in these parts. In fact, we do it so often we no longer recognize the journey. And when a signpost emerges out of the fog ahead, we pretend not to see.

In the mid-1980s Bill Davis forced the Scarborough RT on the city to the east. Then Mayor Gus Harris never took to it. Unappreciated and unloved, the RT has been the TTC’s success story everyone scoffs at. Vancouver and JFK airport adopted the technology to great effect. It’s good for Vancouver, among the world’s most beautiful cities, but it isn’t good enough for Scarborough.

TTC staff recommended that the political masters refurbish the line. New trains and upgraded systems would be perfect for the level of ridership in that corridor. In fact, demands along Sheppard Ave. are consistent with RT carrying capacity. Toronto could link Scarborough and North York with an RT at a fraction of the cost being shoveled at subways that will run empty for decades and drain the TTC.

It’s not too late to change course and do this. When Tory said, during the election, that he didn’t want to re-debate the Scarborough subway, it made sense. It seemed like the city had gone through enough push-and-pull over this transit option: LRT vs subway. But Tory is not against turning other plans upside-down. So, why not this one?

In his compulsion to fulfill his campaign promise of SmartTrack - a heavy rail system using GO tracks from Markham through downtown and out to the Pearson airport corporate area - Tory is prepared to gerrymander anything in his way.

The Gardiner Expressway alignment must be funneled into corridors advantageous to accommodating SmartTrack. And the Scarborough Subway? Move it out of SmartTrack’s way.

Tory’s staff, concerned that SmartTrack is much too close to the subway route as planned - up McCowan Rd., or worse, in the RT corridor - have been pressing city staff to push the subway east. The farther afield they go, the less sense it makes for the transit system and the more sense it makes for SmartTrack.

But Bellamy, people? Seriously?

As Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro puts it, after strolling along the quiet roadway framed by cul-de-sacs, from Ellesmere Rd., “you can walk to Lawrence Rd. and not encounter enough people to start your own rock band.”

Now you know why we are in the mess we are. Scarborough says that if Vaughan can get a subway to its greenfield “corporate centre,” Scarborough qualifies. And if Bellamy Rd. meets the standard, why not Finch Ave. West.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is holding a meeting for Finch West residents this week. He’s licking his chops.