Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Transit Plans a Moving Target

Quick Synopsis of Ward 18 Town Hall on Transit

Tuesday evening,  March 29, ward 18 Davenport City Councillor Ana Bailao held a town hall on TRANSIT. (The first city councillor I believe to do so)

In attendance were only about 30-40 citizens, but very engaged ones at that.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz attended and answered tough questions and concerns from the audience, after an introductory slide presentation from the Pembina Institute (Graham Haines), a non profit sustainable energy think tank that did a lot of analysis of the various iterations of Toronto's transit planning.


Chair Stintz explained that "Transit City", declared dead by Mayor Ford - yet never actually voted on by the entire city council * had become a subset of "The Big Move" a provincial REGIONAL transit planning exercise led by Metrolinx, and became "Transportation City" - a new brand that referred to the city of Toronto pieces.

Essentially the plan always was (and supposedly still is) to ensure connectivity to the 4 corners of the city, with the intent of moving people quickly downtown to work. An audience member pointed out that perhaps ensuring local community transit, where people actually lkived and worked, was more sustainable (Why assume someone in Scarborough must transit to downtown Toronto? Why not build incentives for businesses to exist in Scarborough? ... there was no real answer on that)

Moving into detail, the 'Transit City" plan was too ambitious with numerous routes and connections.
Chair Stintz explained that priorities had to be decided upon, even though the federal government had (and presumably still will) dedicate $333 million to extending the Sheppard subway, while the province had committed $8.2 BILLION to the rest of transit structure.

To put it in perspective, last year's total city budget was $9.28 billion, so the funding is enormous.

Priorites, Stintz explained, were the Eglinton crosstown LRT (to be put underground where possible, as promised by Mayor Ford), followed by the Sheppard subway/LRT... with the Finch West LRT last.

Curious, but predictable, since Ms Stintz' ward is Eglinton, yet statistics show the Finch transit is in great need of expansion and development. (Councillor Maria Augimeri will not be pleased by that). Is there a conflict of interest here? (I point out there would not be, if we had a separate, elected position for TTC Chair)

A question was asked as to whether in the planning there was some sort of template or consideration about how do you value a rider in Finch versus on Eglinton? Is it development/economics driven or what? ie. Many low income people need transit on Finch West to access low paid jobs in the city core, yet the Eglinton crosstown riders would be higher in the financial status realm.... No real answer, "all riders are important."

Audience also questioned plan comparisons (transit city vs new plans) why lose 25 km above ground transit just to bury 7km underground? Again, no real answer. I suspect it's 'just because Rob Ford wants that'),

Overall it appeared to me that full analysis had not really been done as yet, and I was saddened to hear that there wouldn't really be any full public consultation on next steps. The city and the province have been doing a lot of planning in the back rooms, with the non elected Metrolinx board seeming to have a lot of power over what happens within the city of Toronto's transit structure.

Scary and undemocratic it appears.

* Ana Bailao clarified that the full city council never really approved or voted on "Transit City", but rather on the Environmental Assessments that allowed Transit City to become a plan. When I asked TTC Chair Stintz if full council would vote on any new plan, she said 'probably' but noted that if any citizens wanted input, they needed to make representations to Metrolinx.... weird arms-length manoeuvering that essentially prevents Torontonians from having a say in their own city's systems... Why?

Because he that has the Gold makes the Rules - Wizard of Id

(ie. The other levels of govt are puttting in the lion's share of money so it's their ball game, not the city's)

Update:  Leaked advances about Thursday, March 31st big announcement indicates that:
Losers in the New Transit Plan: ?  Finch Bus Riders (Toronto Star)

Update: Critics Slam Transit Plan

Update: I spoke with someone knowledgaeble about transit who told me that the numbers of stops covered by any plan nis really irrelevant. If you want to move large masses quickly, it's the speed. Rapid Transit is anything over 30km/hr - anything less will not help and certainly won't get people out of their cars to switch to transit.

The ideal would be to use the current railway corridor: the Georgetown-Pearson-Union Station linkage to put in rapid transit, he says.  Worth exploring - but did anyone bother to? In my fantasy I envisage an underground subway. rail and deidcated rlocalbus lanes above, and cycling paths.... But I guess transit planning IS a fantasy - at least in our city.