It’s About More Than Subways Vrs. Streetcars

April 3, 2011

A Sunday mea culpa.

In the battle over Transit City, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been as guilty as anyone in just talking about the numbers. We all love subways. In a perfect world, we’d just build subways. But they’re too expensive. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the density to justify spending the money even if we did have the money which we don’t.

This reduced Transit City to little more than a compromise. It suggested we simply settled. Given our druthers, we’d prefer the other thing but this is just going to have to do. Less inspirational and more m’eh.

Easy pickins for mindless demagoguery which now seems to be what passes for a transit plan at City Hall and Queen’s Park. “People want subways not streetcars.” As simple as all that. Build it and they will come. Clap your hands and Tinkerbell won’t die.

On cue, we started yelling about the facts of the numbers and claims. Nothing adds up. Subways would be great but this… and this… and this.

Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto took a different and much more effective approach on Friday. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend that you do. Right now. Seriously. Stop reading this. Click on the link. And read it. I can wait. In fact, I’m going down to heat up some tea…… If the mayor is allowed to carry out this ill-conceived dismantling of Transit City, the city faces much more of a loss than routes and passengers served although neither of those is anything to sneeze out. The simple fact of the matter is Mayor Ford is pitching the idea of less transit for more money. Your new fiscal conservatism at work.

No, if the mayor succeeds in trying to inflict his transit vision on Toronto, we are also passing over the opportunity for inspired neighbourhood revitalization and renewal and a reimagining of streetscapes that can only come from street level transit. That was an integral part of Transit City. Burying transit lines is a different approach. It increases density but not necessarily enhances life on the street above it. Witness vast stretches of Yonge Street and Bloor-Danforth.

Transit City was not only intended to bring better transit to areas of the city that have had none but it also aimed to bring new life to streets like Finch Avenue. A transformation the buses that now run along there simply don’t deliver and not one the vague ‘enhanced’ services appears to factor in either.

Only now are commuters and businesses adversely affected under Mayor Ford’s plan starting to wake up to the sad reality of their situation.  (And I think we’re in for a whole lot of Wait, what? The mayor’s doing what? over the next 4 years.) Much of the blame for this should be placed at the feet of the original proponents of Transit City. They did not sell it to those who were going to benefit, allowing its critics like the mayor to distort and misrepresent it, and cowards like Premier McGuinty to use it as a political football, to be leveraged for his re-election fortunes against the needs of the city’s most transit needy.

A tactical error, for sure, but is that how we really want to develop a transit strategy? Those who plot best decide? An argument could be made that’s how we’ve found ourselves playing catch-up with our transit system over the last 20 years. Politics has trumped good governance again and again.

The result, as Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto so beautifully shows, is not just about subways versus streetcars or whatever it is that’s really at the heart of the mayor’s cockamamie scheme, it’s about transforming a city. Creating new urban spaces and designs that offer more opportunities for those who’ve been long marginalized by outmoded urban thought and planning. It seems too important an issue to let slip through our fingers (again) for no other reason than crass political gamesmanship.

not yet begun to fightily submitted by Cityslikr