Can We Have A Conversation About Buses?

January 27, 2014

“Toronto may need to have an urgent conversation about its bus system.”

humantransit

So said Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker at last Thursday’s transit session, Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Of course, Toronto won’t, at least, not in the near future. Too caught up are we in the bright and shiny lure of technology porn, parochial resentment and world-classism. It’s a subway or no way in every corner of the city. Scarborough. Finch Avenue West. Some ludicrously titled, the North York Relief Line (Councillor James Pasternak Ward 10 York Centre, take a bow!)

Even those who should know so much better like Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre) set the debate back with his own late to the subway conversion, insisting that residents of Scarborough were somehow entitled to a subway. willywonka1Entitled! As if transit planning is based on nothing more than goodie dealing and score settling. For such a poisonous contribution to what Mr. Walker referred to as a ‘transit toxic landscape’, Councillor De Baeremaeker deserves a serious run for his money in this year’s municipal campaign from someone who challenges his misguided transit priorities.

It’s hard to imagine how a segment of the population who sniffed at LRTs as nothing more than glorified streetcars would be open to any talk of enhancing our bus system. Buses have never really had much cache when it comes to being seen as an acceptable transit alternative. Chopped liver in a environment where people are demanding filet mignon.

But as Mr. Walker suggests, a revamped bus system could provide relatively inexpensive, short term relief to some of the congestion woes we’re are currently face. While we tussle with the logistics of financing and building the big ticket items like a subway or the Eglinton Crosstown, solutions for 5, 10, 20 years down the road, we could also be easily implementing quick fixes right now. All it would take is some paint, road signs and a whole bunch of political will.

The public transit renaissance now happening in the least public transit oriented city in popular imagination, Los Angeles, was kick-started by improvements in its bus networks. anotherwayBy providing more frequency and connectivity with less waiting times, enhanced bus service helped create a positive atmosphere for the idea of real public transit in an oppressively car-oriented region. Remove the theoretical by providing the practical. It doesn’t need to take decades and billions and billions of dollars.

Noted public transit advocate, Councillor Doug Ford, suggested a couple weeks back that we replace the crammed packed King Street streetcars with buses. To which I say, fine. Let’s do that along with providing rush hour bus only lanes while removing on-street parking and left turns during that time. Do we have a deal?

How about along Finch Avenue? Why don’t we give over a lane going in each direction over to buses, create an actual rapid transit lane for that well used route(s)? It wouldn’t cost the city very much money and we could have it up and going over night.

The unpleasant but entirely necessary fact of the matter is, much of the suburban core of this city wasn’t built or designed to support higher order of public transit beyond a bus network. brtSo be it. That’s not something we can change with a flick of a switch to power up a subway extension. But we can provide a better bus service. We should provide a better bus service.

That can only be accomplished though if we stop rating modes of public transit based on how fast it goes or the kind of technology it uses to get there. We also need to establish public transit on a par with the private automobile, and accept the fact that, given an equal footing, it could deliver more people to more place more reliably in many neighbourhoods and communities than cars can.

We could start doing it almost immediately and at a fraction of the cost we’re talking about now with subways and LRTs. We’d have to grow up a little bit for that to actually happen, however. Right now I just don’t see it happening.

At a Ward 10 town hall meeting a couple weeks back, the above mentioned Councillor James Pasternak just shook his head at a suggestion by a resident that maybe a lane of traffic be given over to the Bathurst 7 bus during rush hour gifthorseinthemouth(a trip that took me over an hour to make north from the Bathurst subway station during rush hour to get me to the meeting). It wouldn’t happen, the councillor assured his resident. Impractical. Not even worth considering.

But a North York Relief subway? Now, you’re talking.

We can hardly be expected to have an urgent conservation about our bus network when we continue to be distracted and transfixed by pie in the sky transit planning.

bus(t)-a-movely submitted by Cityslikr