An Unfortunate Interlude

March 14, 2016

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I know I said I wasn’t going to write about politics in Toronto while living down here in Los Angeles in my self-imposed exile. And I know what I’m about to write has already been written about by others, more than just a few others, so I’m just echoing in the echo chamber. But I feel this is something that needs to be said, said often and said by many.

SmartTrack and John Tory.

SmartTrack was always bullshit, right from the very start. It was never a transit plan. It was an election strategy, to elect a candidate who was unprepared to stand up to the ridiculous politicization of transit planning that had overcome the city during the Ford years. SmartTrack was simply just another sharpie line drawn on a magic marker map of vote-getting transit… no, not ideas, that gives them far too much credibility. Schemes. Plots. crayondrawingFlights of pure political calculation.

One penny spent on studying the feasibility of SmartTrack was a penny too many, and Toronto has spent hundreds of millions of pennies already studying SmartTrack. Each new report reveals it to be the sham that it is, shrivelling its desiccated frame even further, to mere whiffs of its former self, fragments, shards. The once vaunted heavy rail Western spur, gone. The 22 new stations now down to 9, then 5, maybe 4.

SmartTrack as a figment of a campaign team’s lack of imagination. We need to do the exact same thing as the other guy except different. Be Bold. Assail your critics. We can fix it later, patch it together in editing.

Now as mayor, with his signature transit platform being picked clean, John Tory wants us to credit him for listening to the experts, gleaning the facts and figures and being willing to change plans, adapt and accommodate, reach a consensus. (Something his immediate predecessor was never able to bring himself to do, Mayor Tory reminds us.) I say, fuck that. cuttothebone1None of these ‘new’ facts or figures now emerging from staff reports are in any way new or unforeseen. SmartTrack’s non-workable components were obvious from the get-go, the timeline dubious, the scope and cost highly suspect. As a candidate, John Tory swatted away these criticisms as little more than a symptom of our culture of ‘No’, a timidity, a lack of Vision.

So, give him no credit for changing his tune. It is nothing more than a cynical ploy, another cynical ploy to add to the mountains of cynical ploys that have plagued transit planning in Toronto for decades now. This is not an example of being reasonable or adaptable. The mayor continues to blow smoke up our asses and wants us to thank him for some sort of colonic treatment.

Besides, SmartTrack is far from being dead and buried, a painful relic. Professor Eric Miller, a SmartTrack champion from the outset, grading it an A+ during the 2014 mayoral campaign and, as director of the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute, hired by the city to assess its feasibility, isn’t backing down on his bold claims. wishfulthinking“The Stouffville (GO) line [the eastern leg on the SmartTrack map] has the potential to become the Yonge St. [subway line] of Scarborough — a strong, north-south spine upon which one can then hang effective east-west lines,” Professor Miller told Tess Kalinowski of the Toronto Star.

That statement comes with plenty of qualifiers. “If it’s operating in a competitive way…”, Miller believes SmartTrack can be as important a component to redefining public transit in Toronto as the long vaunted relief line. If it’s run at subway-like frequency. If there’s rail capacity to do so and capacity at Union Station to handle such an increase. If there’s proper integration with GO fares and SmartTrack service is delivered at a TTC price.

That’s a lot of ifs that have plagued SmartTrack from the very beginning, and have yet, nearly two years on, to be satisfactorily answered. fingerscrossedAs Stefan Novakovic pointed out in Urban Toronto, the continued studying of SmartTrack’s viability may well be negatively affecting actual, honest to god, necessary transit plans like the relief line. Instead of running that line down along the King Street corridor where ridership numbers warrant, plans are brewing to put it under Queen Street instead, in order to avoid overlap with the possible southern swing of SmartTrack if that were to happen which remains in the highly doubtful category. Is SmartTrack stunting the relief line even further, as Steve Munro suggests, by threatening an over-build of rapid transit in Scarborough, with its eastern leg competing with the proposed Scarborough subway extension, combining to squeeze out a more sensible northeast passage of the relief line?

Just more questions to add to the many existing questions that continue to point to SmartTrack as an obstacle to Toronto’s public transit future rather than contributing any sort of positive solution.

So yeah, unless Mayor Tory steps up and admits that his SmartTrack is a terrible idea, was always a terrible idea, and the only reason for its existence was to get him elected mayor of Toronto, he deserves zero credit for his willingness to change course now. californiasunshine3Any iteration of SmartTrack will be a setback for transit building in this city, and if the Toronto Star’s Royson James is right, and what we have on the table now is as good as it’s going to get, then John Tory will have succeeded only in cementing the politicization of transit planning for decades to come, generations even. The mayor deserves no reward for that.

And now, back to our regular scheduled, southern California programming.

re-calmly submitted by Cityslikr