I really don’t want to be writing this. Like the Toronto Star’s Ed Keenan, I’m tired of it, of the Scarborough subway debate. Just as likely, you’re sick of it too. There’s gathered a great storm of ennui, a wave of yawn. Just Get On With It has now become the default position. Build Something!
But…but…There’s always the but.
In Keenan’s article today he points to a recent Forum Research poll that shows, given the full options of what Scarborough would get if we spent $3+ billion on transit there, 61% of Torontonians would pick the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A healthy majority of those living in Scarborough too favoured the LRT option given to them.
Just yesterday, as I was railing about the $75-85 million the city is in the midst of handing over to the province via Metrolinx for the work already underway on the Scarborough LRT that council cancelled, I cited a Leger poll from back in February 2014 that showed similar numbers. 61% of respondents preferred the Scarborough LRT option over the subway. 56% of those living in Scarborough leaned that way also.
So why the fuck are we here, spending billions of dollars building something the majority of Torontonians don’t want?
Public enemy number 1, of course, is Rob Ford. Subways, subways, subways, am I right? The people want subways.
Not to diminish his role in the mess but let me say this. At the very least, Rob Ford and to a lesser extent, his brother Doug, truly believed that subways were the way to go. As committed car drivers, public transit was something of a puzzle to them. They hated streetcars that blocked up the middle of the roads. Buses they tolerated because they were easier to get around. But underground transit? Out of sight, out mind, out of the way.
Because the folks voted for him, giving him a mandate, they too wanted subways. Subways, subways, subways! Like the classic bullshitter that he is, Rob Ford (and again, to a lesser extent his brother) actually believed the bullshit he spouted. He didn’t need no stinkin’ polls to tell him what he knew in his heart, heard every day from the folks he met in line at Tim Horton’s.
This is not to excuse him. He served as the bullhorn for the subway cause. The self-appointed guardian of the taxpayers’ nickels and dimes stubbornly contributed to throwing away of billions of dollars of their money to further a cause he willfully knew nothing about.
The larger question though is, how, with these numbers, 4+ years after the debate started, 4+ years after the People Want Subways campaign slogan metastasized into a corrupted conventional wisdom, we’re determined to plunge ahead into this madness? The villainous list is long. Rob Ford becomes little more than the inciting incident in this story, a preening, comic foil Malvolio.
The true monsters in this sorry-assed tale sit up at Queen’s Park. First in the form of the skittish Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, seemingly dead in the polls and facing an election in 2011. In the face of the first (and only true surge) of Ford Nation, they quickly buckled when the newly elected mayor unilaterally declared Transit City dead. Hey. If you say so. Whatever. They would survive the initial assault, holding on to power but reduced to a minority government.
But imagine if instead they had stood their ground, stood up in the face of what was little more than a noise-making machine. Was subway support really ever as strong as the mayor and other Scarborough politicians came to claim it was? Certainly Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker didn’t think so in 2012 when city council wrestled the transit file from the mayor and re-instated Transit City.
At this point of time, it seemed cooler heads had prevailed. Subways, subways, subways had been revealed to be little more than the dying bluster of a mayor who’d soon be sidelined to little more than a cranky observer. Pheee-ew, right? We narrowly dodged that bullet.
What the hell happened?
Well, here’s where the story gets nothing short of clusterfuckery.
New leader of the provincial Liberals, new premier, new beginning, we’re told. They start to get their sea legs, win a by-election or two including one in Scarborough-Guildwood with Mitzie “The Subway Champion” Hunter. A by-election where, curiously, her NDP opponent, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, an early Transit City advocate, docilely nods in a similar subway support direction.
Suddenly everybody loves subways! Egged on by Scarborough MPPs, city council lurches once more, agreeing to scrap the Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway. A subway the city will now have to contribute to building and maintaining. Scarborough deserves nothing less than a subway, we are told.
Except, still, with the options laid out for them, residents would opt for the LRT.
Despite that, here we are. The Liberals are back as a majority government. They now have both the city and federal government pitching in to build a Scarborough subway. They have a new mayor who, despite his claim to prudent fiscal management, campaigned on a pledge not to reopen the subway debate and is perfectly content to just piss away 10s of millions of dollars in order for that not to happen. In addition to which, his signature transit plan, SmartTrack, is offering even more city money to help the provincial government build their regional transit system.
And all the Scarborough pro-subway city councillors who ran for re-election last year are back. (Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.) The debate is over. The people have spoken. They want subways.
Except, apparently, they don’t. Or more precisely, if given an option, they’d take LRTs. It’s the politicians who want subways.
If there’s a more salient example of why we’ve become so cynical and disengaged, I can’t immediately think of one. It’s little wonder we’re bored of this debate. Our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. What’s the use of continued talking?
— repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr
[Typo…?] “Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-subway Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.”
That should be “very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.” – right…?
Paul also had Soknacki’s back when he was trying to talk sense in the 2015 Mayoral elections…..but….People…IS…Dumb…and want to be “Lied To” instead.
…and if we are going to post VIDEO – we should give Ainsle his Due and post this one…
I’m not sure why S-CAR-Borough Councillors are so Head-Bangingly Data-Phobic on this issue…?
Councillor Ainsle is from Scarborough, and has been CLEARLY pro-LRT for years…and was easily re-elected in 2014.
The “People of Scarborough” are clearly NOT the “Subways or Pitchforks” Mob that their Elected-Reps seem to think they are…
Dear Mr. Richardson,
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke clearly had subways, subways, subways on the brain.
Yes. Most certainly should’ve read ‘… very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie…” Now fixed.
You’d think all the politicians would be clever enough to use the pro-LRT, pro-save money research to support their reversals on building subways – citing a consistent super majority of taxpayer surveys favouring LRTs since the first 2010 poll, and baby thereafter. It’s a safe, no-brainer, no balls needed reversal. But no. It’s easier to keep lying, keep ignoring, keep denying and keep hoping calamity that this issue gets buried somewhere along with muck from the new subway tunnelling construction. But it won’t. This is our city’s Jacob Marley, our resurrecting Phoenix, our three headed hydra dragon and our Zombie ghost that keeps returning and resurfacing – taunting and haunting politicians, media and voters alike until its wrong is righted. Until a LRT rail stake is driven into the heart of the subway monster once and forever. This is the one time and the one issue that the majority of taxpayers would support a mass political flip-flopping – and a return to common sense and saving money and building transit that serves more people sooner, faster, cheaper. Ideally, and preferably, Council should vote on this to prove they listened to research more than their egos. Technically, legally, Tory can cancel the Scarborough subway single-handedly like Ford cancelled Transit City. It would take guts. No, sorry, I mean it would take common sense. My bet is that Tory will have an electoral epiphany, and come around on his stubborn stance, before his 100th day in office on March 3rd. This tiresome issue will only go away when the lies go away – when the truth (and some intelligent decision-making) prevails. And for the record, and as the facts and history books will prove, yes, this was utterly and unmistakably all Rob and Doug Ford’s fault. I only hope that Tory doesn’t join these liar clowns in the history books as a co-conspirator of wasteful spending by sticking with his current posture.
I’ve been refraining from commenting lately, as you’ve eased off quite a bit with the motorist/suburbanite-bashing. Much appreciated, btw.
I both understand and agree with (to a point) your opposition to the Scarborough subway. A subway is a much less cost-effective solution for a less dense region of the city. But the issue seems to have taken on a symbolic significance for you, much like the Spadina Expressway was for John Sewell or the Island Airport Bridge for David Miller. It doesn’t seem to be just about dollars and cents to you.
You suggest that the preference that Rob Ford and his supporters have for subways is driven solely (or at least mainly) by the desire to keep public transit out of the way of automobiles on the surface streets. I’m sure that’s a big part of it. But is it possible that it goes the other way too? Does your preference for certain forms of surface-based transit (streetcars, LRTs) over subways, especially when it comes to communities like Scarborough that you seem to have a few beefs with, come at least a little bit from the possibility that they could in fact impede the movement of private vehicles?
Let’s pretend that subways and LRTs cost exactly the same. Would you still prefer LRTs for Scarborough over subways? And if so, why?
Dear Mr GW,
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke could fill up the space with words in response to your question but instead we’ll just leave you with this:
Do our cities still work?
First of all, thank you for providing me a more practical alternative to reading Montgomery’s entire book, as you had previously suggested. And speaking of practicality, I did admire his willingness to leave older suburban communities more or less alone and focus on how to to design new suburbs.
One rhetorical trick Montgomery shares with Jennifer Keesmaat is his framing of the urban design principles he espouses as being about giving greater choice to people – making it easier to choose to bike, take transit, walk, etc. It sounds all nice and inclusive and win-win. But in both their cases, there’s a subtext of “We think x (socializing, exercising, etc.) is good for you, so we’re going to make it easier to do x and (and here’s the important part) make it much harder for you to choose not to do x.”
While this is certainly preferable to Christopher Hume and his greater comfort with bald-faced coercion when it comes to making people behave as he’d like, it’s still a bit paternalistic for my taste.
I don’t find the prospect of being forced to run a gauntlet of chatty strangers just to pick up some milk and eggs terribly appealing, and I find it even less so if I’ve been manipulated into that situation by some master planner who “knows what’s best for me.”
You have Charles Montgomery, and I have C.S. Lewis.
Unlike the Fords (or at least their public rhetoric), I expect that most bloggers and posters understand that the LRT option would not run on roads and in fact would very likely have less construction impact on automobiles than the subway, depending on route chosen.
Even if it were to be extended to Malvern Town Centre one day, the overzealous engineers at the TTC ensured that it would run in its own completely separate right of way and cross streets above or below grade. This created additional costs that led to the latest cancelation of the Malvern extension, which was underway decades ago before the expensive SRT was invented.
Bombardier’s SRT/Sky-train tech keeps finding new victims.
In a PPP in North Korea, Bombardier is accused of corruption after building an SRT for 3 billion+ that carries just 20,000 daily riders. They projected 185,000.
In Montreal, Bombardier wrote the studies for Montreal’s AMT, which unsurprisingly recommend Sky-Train instead of the proposed LRT. Bombardier claims Sky-Train is LRT and would be very cheap $800 million.
The Province studied the reports and said phase one would cost more than 2 billion and found their ridership projections implausible, noting the ridership predicted, would require that 100% of Champlain Bridge’s road users would need to switch to riding its proposed Sky-Train by 2061. The numbers were used to justify Sky-Train from Montreal’s airport to downtown and then across the St. Lawrence to Longeuil.
Let’s hope the TTC doesn’t contract Bombardier to figure out which tech Toronto should buy.