Fri, Jan
22
2016

Making the Best of a Bad Decision

Fri, Jan 22, 2016

scarborough-subway-plan.jpg

This week I learned that Toronto city planners have come up with refinements to City Council’s extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. After suggesting to voters that the line could be extended via Eglinton Avenue, Danforth Road and McCowan Road to Sheppard (with stops at Lawrence, Ellesmere (Scarborough Town Centre) and Sheppard), the revision promises to shave a billion off of ballooning costs by reducing the number of stations by two. The Bloor-Danforth subway would instead be extended by a five-kilometer-long tunnel serving a single station at the Scarborough Town Centre.

I confess that when I heard this, I had a bit of a meltdown on Twitter. The Scarborough subway extension, after all, ranked as one of the stupidest political mistakes in the Toronto transit file in the city’s history — and that’s the head of a very long list. The extension, pushed by councillors Stintz and Debaeremaeker to get ahead of former mayor Rob Ford’s “Subways! Subways! Subways!” mantra canned a planned conversion of the Scarborough RT line into a proper LRT — a project that was fully funded by the province and ready to go. Instead, because Ford has conspired to make streetcars and light rail transit the boogeyman of Toronto politics, and has played alienating tactics by claiming Scarborough hasn’t got it’s “fair share” of rapid transit, the fully-funded, seven-station LRT was replaced by a three-station subway that cost $1 billion more and served fewer people.

But that was okay, said subway fanatics, because we eliminated the (admittedly arduous) transfer with the subway at Kennedy and thus everything was golden.

Now, when I heard that the three station subway extension had become a one-station extension, essentially closing four rapid transit stops, I wanted to find these fanatics and give them a shake. Was it worth it? We have an embarrassment of a stub in place of a formerly fully-funded, useful piece of LRT infrastructure. Six years ago, we were on the verge of decent rapid transit for Scarborough, and you guys lost it because you were the dog with the bone looking at your reflection in the water, not realizing that the benefits of the second bone were illusionary.

I calmed down when I heard more of the details of the plan. Toronto planners suggest (and mayor Tory appears to be on board with this) using the $1 billion saved by turning the subway extension into a long shuttle to extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT along Eglinton, Kingston Road and Morningside to the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus. This move would extend light rail transit along major avenues and improve service to a major destination in eastern Scarborough. The loss of a rapid transit station at Lawrence might be regrettable, but perhaps it could be salved by a station on Tory’s SmartTrack system (or maybe added later to the subway extension as funds permit).

That’s a lot more sensible. Putting aside my flaming anger at having a decent LRT plan wrecked by uninformed politicians, I have to acknowledge that Toronto city planners have made the best of some very bad decisions and created a proposal that is backed by key decision makers and actually makes sense for transit users. I still say that the original Scarborough LRT plan was a better idea, but I can live with this solution.

And this coupled with John Tory’s willingness to acknowledge reality and cut his vaunted Smarttrack proposal at the west end (extending service to the airport with the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT) gives me some hope that we actually have some pragmatic thinkers here on Toronto city council, and that things might finally get done. For all my frustration, I do have to remember that we still have a lot of mess to clean up from the Ford administration. It will never be 2009 again, but maybe there’s hope for the future.


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