Royson James: GTA subway dreamers should be careful what they wish for
Had a chuckle over the headline, “GO bus petition tops 11,000 names,” in the Thursday GTA section of the Star. The signatories were pleading for a return of their bus service and protesting a new protocol that forces them to ride the new Line 1 subway extension to get to the York University campus.
While many are ecstatic with the new subway service, others are negatively impacted, “frustrated,” and describe their reality as “inconvenient” and “really unfortunate.”
The subway, as a silver bullet solution to all commuter transportation woes, is a discredited notion.
Commuters believe in its efficacy. Voters subscribe to the doctrine. And politicians, either because of, or as a result of this persistent dogma, propagate it almost as an article of faith.
Therefore, if you are running for elected office in north Scarborough, or Richmond Hill, or, heaven help us, Pickering, your platform will undoubtedly include a promise to move heaven and earth to bring a subway to your constituents’ door. Because, “what are we, chopped liver? If Vaughan deserves a subway, so do we in Scarborough, and Richmond Hill, and . . .”
Meanwhile, a subway may be exactly what you don’t need to get to work or school in a reasonably fast and cost-effective way. It may just slow you down. Or price you out of the market. Imagine that.
At a time when we should be advocating for multiple options on multiple platforms using the technology and mode of transit that best suits the route and the traveller, we are poised to again descend into a spat over LRT versus subway versus bus versus car.
And it doesn’t help that so many are so tired of the debate that they have adopted the posture that amounts to, “We don’t care. Just build something.”
The fear behind Premier Doug Ford’s pronouncement that the province will take over subway construction in the GTA is that he is motivated by a stubborn, unrealistic, untested notion that subways are best. Worse is the corollary, stating: LRTs clog up our roads and get in the way of the car.
By now you would think that a GTA resident would be wise enough to subscribe to the principle of subways where necessary, but not necessarily subways. We could have had a fully funded rapid transit line on its own right of way, unimpeded by car traffic, linking Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre. For $1 billion. Brand spanking new. Operating like the Canada Line in Vancouver. And more than sufficient for the needs of the Scarborough RT corridor until 2050.
Instead, we have messed it up royally, fighting over LRTs versus subways versus SmartTrack.
Just in case you forget, the TTC filed a document saying that a modernized RT was the best way to go. The David Miller regime opted instead for an LRT, paid for by the province. The Rob Ford regime scrapped that in favour of a subway. The John Tory regime got elected on a platform to increase GO transit service right next to the corridor and call it SmartTrack.
But SmartTrack and the subway would cannibalize each other. So Tory moved the subway line further east to McCowan Rd. and reduced the number of stops from three to one, at a price tag that could reach $4 billion or more.
And now Premier Ford is poised to turn that into a three-stop subway and if it costs less than $6 billion you will be lucky.
The Sheppard subway saga is just as distressing, so let’s skip it.
Full disclosure here. Ever since I started writing about transit needs in Toronto and reported on the grand plans for four rapid transit lines — Spadina subway extension, Eglinton subway, Sheppard subway and the Scarborough RT extension to Malvern — the Sheppard subway has been a gleam in my eye. What’s more, I still dream that instead of stopping at Yonge and Sheppard, the line would continue west to link with the Spadina line and complete the loop at the top end of the city, like it does downtown.
Now, I understand mine is a long-term dream that will be realized long after I’m gone. I’m prepared to even pay for it now, through tolls and higher taxes, so my offspring can realize its benefits. And I accept that my pet subway must be weighed and analyzed and compared to other competing projects.
The fact that I have zero confidence in the politicians making the decisions has dulled my expectation that thoughtful inquiry and examination will determine what is built and where, but hope springs, y’know . . .
So Ford is likely to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway northeast to the Scarborough Town Centre to link with an eastern extension of the Sheppard subway from Don Mills. The masses will be happy. Who looks a gift subway in the mouth?
But years hence the actual commuters, going where the subway doesn’t go, and bereft of wise, simple transit options that take them where they need to go, will sign petitions and remonstrate.
By then the subway-only evangelists will be long gone.