Transit Intransigence

Just a quick (here’s hoping) update on the post yesterday re the Brampton city council rejection of the north of Steeles section of the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT, and the ugly horrors the intrusion of parochial interests have on transit planning. columbo1(Still looking at you, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker).

I late linked to a more in-depth article about the Brampton debacle from Sean Marshall at Marshall’s Musings. If you didn’t catch it then, I advise you to do so now. Here’s a snippet.

The Hurontario-Main corridor was selected for LRT simply because it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the Greater Toronto Area outside the City of Toronto; it connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors, it would help urbanize south Brampton and several neighbourhoods in Mississauga. It’s part of a larger regional network, yet six city councillors in Brampton, looking out for narrow, local interests, sunk it.

Earlier in the post, Marshall points out that the line at its proposed southernmost terminus, at the Port Credit waterfront, had been snipped off in a similarly, if less dramatic fashion, due to what he called “community opposition”.

This brought to mind stories our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, told us about the obstacle that city faces in its transit plans, a place called Beverly Hills, swimming pools and movie stars. It is one of 88 municipalities in Los Angeles County, home to 35,000 of the county’s 10 million people, and yet it has the heft to be constantly throwing up road blocks to wider regional projects. Bike lanes? Forget it. Rush hour dedicated bus lanes? No way, José. As for a westward subway extension tunneled under Beverly Hills High? Ummmm…

Yikes!

What often times gets lost in the back-and-forth debate over transit planning and proposed projects, all the wonkery and nerd talk pushing it from polite conversation, is any discussion on class and race. The northern portion up into Brampton of the HMLRT was opposed by that city’s well-heeled living in big houses on Main Street. This group included former Ontario premier Bill Davis. monoclewearingTerms like ‘heritage preservation’ or ‘maintaining neighbourhood character’ get tossed around but it’s hard to avoid looking at the deeper context. Public transit is for other people.

Rarely do you hear those who depend on public transit — many, economically and socially marginalized — complain that the service is too close to where they live. That it negatively impacts the character of their street. That it threatens the heritage of their neighbourhood. How the overhead wires interfere with their view. Those kinds of concerns are for other people.

Equally, just how much say should we be giving to individual communities when it conflicts with wider objectives? Yeah, I’m talking about the greater good here. As Marshall writes in his post, the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT was chosen because it runs along “one of the busiest transit corridors” in the GTA and “connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors”. upyoursAnd it gets tossed aside because a handful of elected officials, listening to a handful of voices, albeit persuasive ones, don’t want it?

It’s a prickly situation, to be sure. I’m advocating for the railroading, so to speak, of local opinion because it’s acting as a detriment to a wider regional transportation plan for no other discernible reason aside from self-interest. But I’m at a loss how else you put the ‘we’ ahead of ‘me’ when it’s the emphasis on the latter that’s got us all bogged down in the first place.

classically submitted by Cityslikr

I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr

How Not To Be A City Councillor, Part 2

Here’s basic transit planning math. Get higher order public transit = Get higher density. That’s the only way it can work out in any sort of realistic economic sense. simplemathYou want subways or at-grade rapid transit? More people just come with that territory.

Or to put it another way, a robust public transit system needs people to function fully. People are attracted to fully functioning public transit. One follows the other. The other follows the other one. Like a Lays potato chip, you can’t have just one.

That basic equation seems to elude a startlingly high number of our city councillors however. Councillors in Scarborough want a subway to travel up a stable, single-family home residential street. When and if (always a big ‘if’) such a project arrives, the same councillors want nothing to do with the density that needs accompany it.

The latest skirmish in this I Want/Don’t You Dare battle has surfaced in the Eglinton-Bayview part of the city. Here comes the LRT, very likely, probably in the next decade, and moves are afoot to start developing along and near it accordingly. holdthephoneIntensification, in other words. Density, yo.

Just hold on a second. Hold on to your horses, pard’ner. Not so fast.

“Councillor Jon Burnside is not happy with Metrolinx officials after recently discovering the government agency had purchased property on Bayview Avenue that may be used for a residential development above an LRT station.”

Residential development above an LRT station? Whoever’s heard of such a travesty. Not if Councillor Burnside has anything to say about it.

Councillor Jon Burnside became aware of the deal when a resident on Bayview notified him that the transit agency had purchased a double duplex immediately adjacent to both the McDonald’s (at 1785 Bayview Ave.) and the property south of that, also owned by Countrywide Homes.

Acccording to Councillor Burnside, the deal could enable the developer to push for a taller development beyond the nine storeys allowed by the official plan.

Meanwhile, residents are already fighting a 19-storey proposal across the street at Sunnybrook plaza.

Not only is the local councillor concerned that new development above the LRT station might contravene the city’s Official Plan, he also suggests that the provincial transit agency has a vested interested in building higher, bigger because it was profit per square foot of development. cllrjonburnsideBeware development. BOO! Beware government agencies. BOO!

Councillor Burnside’s demonization of both Metrolinx and the development industry is on full display in a couple columns he’s written over the last couple months in Leaside Life News on the Eglinton-Bayview LRT station. “Can we trust Metrolinx?” the councillor wonders in the September edition.

The benefits of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to our city have been mentioned many times over, but what is less clear and even less welcome are the consequences to our community. The biggest issue we currently face is intensification along Eglinton, namely, enormous condominium development.

Intensification means consequences, a word wrought with negative connotations. Metrolinx and their development buddies are out to screw with Ward 26 residents, imposing on them ‘enormous condominium development’. How big? No one knows yet (or no one’s saying) but we could be talking ‘upwards of 20 storeys’, the councillor intones. There goes the neighbourhood, sitting as it will be along a major transit hub.

Councillor Burnside even undermines that idea, putting higher order transit in quotations. “Higher order transit”. So says the devious Metrolinx and their sneaky development buddies.

Then in October, the councillor follows up, confirming his suspicions. “I found Metrolinx duplicitous,” he writes. This wasn’t about the agency striking a deal to simply build an LRT station but with “… a clear motivation for maximum density and would likely back it up with the rationale that their job is to promote transit-oriented developmentpitchfork[italics mine] as if that would be the end of Leaside as we know it. Maximum density, transit-oriented development straight to hell in a handbasket! Or, as Metrolinx calls it: “Higher order transit”.

“I will let you decide whether or not you think Metrolinx is a neutral bystander or a government agency that could do irreparable damage to our community,” Councillor Burnside signs off, establishing a poisonous atmosphere between his constituents in the ward he represents and the official body in charge of inflicting “higher order transit-oriented development” on them. Get out the pitchforks, folks! The gubrment’s coming!!

I’m not suggesting that Metrolinx or any official agency be given a free pass and automatic benefit of the doubt as to their motivations and transparency. People much more informed about Metrolinx than I am, and certainly more so than Councillor Burnside, keep constant vigil with a wary eye as to what exactly they’re up on various projects. As it should be.

But this flagrant indulging, encouraging even, of such malice and mistrust is unbecoming, to say the least, of an elected official. protestagainstTo undercut a major transit project, one of the biggest and most important in these parts for decades now, simply to score cheap local political points shows Councillor Jon Burnside to be unfit for public office. But hey. That’s never stopped anyone from occupying space at City Hall before. I mean, Toronto elected someone like that as mayor not that long ago.

There is a good, necessary, spirited debate to be had about the kind of impact that will happen on neighbourhoods and communities as the Eglinton crosstown makes its way across the city. Obviously, Councillor Burnside isn’t prepared to be part of that. Despite his claims to the contrary, he’s not looking out for anyone else’s interest aside from his own.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr