Can We Have A Conversation About Buses?

January 27, 2014

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

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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


The Calculus Of Crazy

June 20, 2013

So this morning TTC CEO Andy Byford lit the always short fuse of car-loving Ford Nation. uttermadnessIn an interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, he floated the idea of closing King Street to car traffic during the morning rush hour. Reaction from the auto-huggers was swift and sadly predictable.

“Where are the cars supposed to go?” tweets radio talk show guy, Jerry Agar.

WHERE ARE THE CARS SUPPOSED TO GO?!

WAR ON THE CAR!!

Nothing Mr. Byford suggested was new or novel or particularly bold. In fact, King Street has been a problem for the city’s transportation department for over 20 years now. I wrote about this very thing in February. Back in the early-90s, city staff tried banning cars along the route during peak times in the day, using overhead signs and markings on the road.

upyoursGuess what happened?

“… this “passive” system of deterrents didn’t work,” according to a staff report, “motorists did, and continue to, ignore it.”

Motorists ignored the rules of the road. Just said, fuck it. I need to turn left here, I’m turning left here.

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city.

I attended a seminar last night given by Jarrett Walker, author of the book and blog site, Human Transit. He talked about ‘symbolic transit’ and symbolic decisions made about transit based on incomplete information.

For at least two generations now, the Car has been presented as a symbol of freedom. That which will get you wherever you want to go whenever you want to go there. There are car advertisements attesting to it. carcommercialSleek machines blowing down the open roads, never another car in sight.

I remember that happening with me behind the wheel once. Driving in Montana. When was the last time you experienced that commercial sensation making your way through Toronto or the GTA?

The fact is, the primary source of congestion on our streets now is the over-abundance of private vehicles, and the position where they sit at the top of our transit policy decision making. Streetcars aren’t the problem. Not even the St. Clair disaster. Not bike lanes. Not scrambled pedestrian intersections.

Cars, and our continued catering to those who drive them.

Of course, you can say this until you’re blue in the face, trot out studies to back up the case but those fixated with their cars will simply tighten their grip on the wheel and demand the removal of anything they perceive that impedes their forward motion. redqueen1The Deputy Mayor’s response to the TTC CEO’s thinking? Replace the King streetcars with buses. How would that be better? Who the fuck knows other than they can get out of the way of cars when they pull to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers.

But a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

Who else demands a space to stop their car right in front of the place they’re stopping? I live on a street that neither buses nor streetcars run down. I have to walk to where they are. And then, when I arrive where I’m going, I have to exit at the nearest stop to my destination and walk to it.

Why do drivers expect preferential treatment?

And why do people look around and see congestion on King Street, or Bathurst Street or Dufferin Street, Bloor Street and Finch Avenue, all roads with different modes of public transit, snarled in traffic, and come away saying, get rid of the streetcars/buses/build us a subway? When the one common element is cars and the excess of them on our roads?

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It’s car madness, frankly. A steadfast refusal to admit the obvious and be open to real solutions in alleviating the problem. Problem, what problem? I don’t have a problem.

The first step to dealing with it is to admit you have a problem.

Unfortunately, we still seem not to have hit bottom quite yet.

sanely submitted by Cityslikr