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Gridlocked: how incompetence, pandering and baffling inertia have kept Toronto stuck in traffic

Gridlocked: The Botched Union Station Reno

(Image: Peter Andrew)

Getting around the city, by public transit or by car, has become a perpetual nightmare of sardine-tin crowds, endless queues and construction bottlenecks. Gridlock is the lightning-rod issue of this mayoral race, with candidates sparring over which transportation fix—underground subways, surface subways, LRT, more buses, more bike lanes, no bike lanes, more speed bumps, no speed bumps—is best. But to voters, who’ve endured a generation-long succession of false starts, bad decisions and political interference, it’s all empty promises. Toronto’s epic infrastructure fail has put commuters in a fury and brought the city to a halt. Here’s a list of the most egregious scandals in recent memory—and who’s to blame.

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Karen Stintz’s ambitious transit plan is now one subway and one LRT

(Image: City of Toronto)

When announced, the far-reaching OneCity plan seemed full of moxie and momentum, but political realities have forced Karen Stintz to dial it back significantly. Rather than seek a staff study of the entire OneCity plan at this week’s council meeting, the TTC chair will only ask council to designate two priority transit projects (the subway extension to replace the Scarborough RT and a new waterfront east LRT). That leaves out any talk of the other 21 lines and—more importantly—the proposed property tax–based funding model, which had opponents from both sides of the political spectrum. On Metro Morning today, Stintz went on the defensive when host Matt Galloway questioned why she was “peeling back” the project to two lines for now, insisting the vision was “still there” and she’d planned on introducing tomorrow’s motion from the get-go. But delaying a commitment to a funding model until October at the earliest has stolen much of OneCity’s energy—and legitimacy. We’re inclined to agree with Galloway, who compared the downsized version of the plan to Rob Ford’poorly received subway dreams: “transit ideas without a funding model—that’s a movie we’ve seen before.” [Toronto Star]

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Karen Stintz meets with Rob Ford’s staff and brings OneCity back from the brink

(Image: screenshot from onecitytransitplan.com)

Another day, another twist in the OneCity saga. On Wednesday, TTC chair Karen Stintz publicly mused that she didn’t have the council votes to move a study of the blockbuster plan forward, but now she’s sounding more chipper. “I think we will be successful in having a study of OneCity approved,” she said yesterday after a meeting with Rob Ford’s chief of staff, Amir Remtulla, and Earl Provost of councillor relations. However, Stintz refused to say whether she and TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker will keep pushing for the two per cent property tax increase dedicated to transit, an idea that councillors from both the right and the left have attacked (Adam Vaughan recently called it a “half-baked proposition”). Given Stintz’s silence, it’s possible she and De Baeremaeker have agreed to scrap the funding model for something more palatable to council. Or not. At this point, the future of OneCity remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a maroon TTC jacket. [Toronto Star]

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The province doesn’t like OneCity (but Torontonians really, really do)

(Image: screenshot from onecitytransitplan.com)

Now that OneCity, the mega-proposal that promises transit for all, has been ceremoniously unveiled, it turns out the province won’t get behind the project. When it comes to Toronto’s transit, “the train has left the station and we are proceeding with the plan as it is,” says Minister of Transportation (and transit cliché enthusiast) Bob Chiarelli. The minister says he doesn’t want to reignite the debate over already-approved plans, including the toxic quarrel over transit on Sheppard.

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Reaction Roundup: The OneCity proposal sparked lots of chatter and crowned an alternate mayor

With cloak-and-dagger plans, alliance building and power shifts, Toronto politics has veered into epic poem territory of late—and Karen Stintz’s new OneCity transit plan is one of the biggest shockers to date. It’s ambitious. It’s detailed. It looks way out into the future. And it leaves Rob Ford grumbling from the sidelines once again. If there’s one message to be had from the $30-billion kick in Ford’s face, it can be summarized thusly: council’s been futzing around with transit issues long enough and there needs to be a far-reaching plan, with a real funding model, immediately. Now that the covert plan has dropped, here’s the lowdown on what the papers, politicos and pundits are saying about it:

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Karen Stintz created a game-changing $30-billion transit proposal (without consulting Rob Ford)

(Image: screenshot from onecitytransitplan.com)

Transit rogue Karen Stintz has done it again—after spending the winter annihilating all of Rob Ford’s transit ideas, the TTC chair has taken another bold stand without the mayor’s blessing. She and TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker have a shiny new $30-billion transit proposal for Toronto that they’ve dubbed “OneCity.” Altogether, the city would see 170 kilometres of transit expansion meted out over the next 30 years, with Toronto, the province and the feds each contributing an equal share of the money. The priority projects would include six new or expanded subway or train lines, 10 new LRT lines and five new bus and streetcar lines (it’s like a public transit Christmas!). However, at least one part of the plan may cause Ford’s head to explode: the city’s portion of the funding would come through raising property taxes by about 2 per cent each year.

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Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 4, because principle finally trumped ideology at City Hall

Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 4, Because principle finally trumped ideology at City Hall

Remember way back in 2008 when Karen Stintz took public speaking lessons in order to, in her words, not sound so “shrill”? It was at considerable expense—$4,500—and everyone assumed she was preparing for a run at the mayor’s office. But what the voice lessons really revealed was that the 41-year-old city councillor from north Toronto isn’t a natural politician—at least not of the smooth-talking, glad-handing, limelight-loving variety. Stintz is a plain-spoken and pragmatic fiscal conservative whose political MO begins and ends with acting responsibly. When Rob Ford chose her as chair of the TTC, he no doubt thought he was getting an ideologue—a fellow right-wing councillor who had sat on the sidelines during the Miller years and would faithfully toe the new party line. Silly mayor.

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TTC supports Metrolinx’s Eglinton plans—but wants you to know who’s responsible if things go wrong 

Despite ongoing reports of a TTC versus Metrolinx power struggle, TTC brass have grudgingly come out in support of Metrolinx’s aggressive 2020 deadline for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. In a presentation yesterday, senior TTC staff vocally doubted the construction timeline and described the traffic chaos that would result, but TTC commissioners still endorsed the Metrolinx plan. TTC CEO Andy Byford downplayed his staff’s critique. “In our professional opinion there are some issues that need to be aired,” he said, diplomatically, and he denied the agency was using the critiques as a we-told-you-so form of insurance in case the project goes awry. Problem is, Karen Stintz seems to have missed that memo—she told the Globe and Mail that she wants the public to know who to talk to when the disruptions begin: “If it’s not our project and not our accountability, we can’t be held responsible for those answers.” [Globe and Mail]

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TTC versus Metrolinx: can the Eglinton Crosstown be finished by 2020?

(Image: The City of Toronto)

The ongoing power struggle between the TTC and Metrolinx is ramping up over the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Backed up by a panel assembled by the American Public Transportation Association, the TTC says Metrolinx and provincial procurement agency Infrastructure Ontario won’t be able to deliver the Eglinton line by 2020 without huge headaches for residents (think 12 underground stations being dug out at once). TTC staff suggest that a 2022 or 2023 finish date would be more realistic—and that IO lacks transit-building experience. Given that IO is responsible for finding a private partner to design, finance, build and maintain the network while the TTC will simply operate it, it sounds like the latter is still bitter that it’s not the lead agency for the project. However, TTC chair Karen Stintz says the commission has accepted the loss of control and simply wants more information about how the province will deliver on the ambitious timeline. Still, we imagine the fact that Rob Ford remains enthusiastic about IO’s leadership on the project won’t help Stintz and the mayor improve their relationship. [Globe and Mail]

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Reaction Roundup: what the revival of Transit City could mean for Toronto (and Rob Ford)

The whole “war on cars” talking point feels so 2009 (and 2010… and 2011), but now that Metrolinx and city council have pushed through an LRT-based transit plan against Rob Ford’s wishes, it’s back in a big way. Some members of council (well, mostly Doug Ford) are already gnashing their teeth over what the plan means for drivers—especially since tolls could be on the table if Josh Matlow gets his way. Others are looking ahead to the 2014 election and how shifts in power could change the whole project once more.

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Metrolinx’s proposed timeline for building LRTs is inconvenient for Rob Ford 

In a hotly anticipated report that will go to the Metrolinx board tomorrow, Metrolinx staff gives a thumbs-up to city council’s LRT-heavy transit plan. The agency’s staff is recommending that the provincial agency build a whole lot of transit by 2020, beginning with the Sheppard Avenue East LRT in 2014 (to be finished in 2018) and the Finch LRT in 2015 (to be finished by 2019). The report also gives timelines for construction of the Scarborough RT line replacement (finished by 2019) and the continuing work on the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT, which will now run above ground east of Laird Avenue (finished by 2020). Given that Metrolinx had endorsed a virtually identical plan back in 2010, it’s not too surprising that council’s plan got the stamp of approval (though kind of annoying that Toronto took an extra two years to arrive at the same conclusion). Still, the timeline may come as a shock to Rob Ford. After city council reinstated a large chunk and then nearly all of David Miller’s Transit City plan (which Ford had killed during his first hours in office), the mayor vowed to make the fight for subways a central issue in the 2014 election. That might be more difficult, though, if construction has already started by then. [Globe and Mail]

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Now that council has stopped bickering, Metrolinx will finally speak up on Toronto transit 

Since the Sheppard showdown in March, we’ve had a break from transit-planning theatrics, but the next act is fast approaching. On April 25, Metrolinx (the provincial agency actually ponying up the dough for all this glorious transit) will reveal its plans (and we’re sure any number of councillors will weigh in once they do). According to the Toronto Star, the provincial agency will give detailed recommendations for transit on Eglinton, Sheppard East, Finch West and in Scarborough. Though it’ll still be some time before the new vehicles are up and running, it’s nice to see Toronto is starting to move from the angry yelling part of this process into the moving-forward-with-plans stage. Read the entire story [Toronto Star]

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Should the Air Rail Link to Pearson Airport have more stops? 

Forming an unlikely alliance, councillors Mike Layton and Frances Nunziata are asking Metrolinx to add more stops to the line from Union Station to Pearson Airport, which begins construction this spring. The odd couple councillors and local residents want eight more stops on top of the two currently planned for the line, and they also want the trains to be electric, not diesel-powered. It looks like the provincial transit agency won’t consider those requests, though, because the project is on budget and on schedule, and environmental assessments only included the two planned stations, according to the National Post. Metrolinx is, however, open to Nunziata’s suggestion of linking the line to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT—which they’ll get on just as soon as it opens in 2020. Read the entire story [National Post] »

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Downtown relief line could make everything better for everyone (except Rob Ford)

A blissful and uncrowded transit future? (Image: Jay Woodworth)

One of the byproducts of the recent transit debates at city hall (aside from the planned light rail lines) is a discussion of a downtown relief line to ease crowding on the “close to bursting” Yonge subway. Despite the name, the line wouldn’t just be for elitist, latte-sipping downtowners—the Toronto Star reports that hordes of experts believe a DRL could better serve suburbanites than Rob Fords now-dead Sheppard subway, especially if it extends to Scarborough and Etobicoke. After all, many downtown residents live and work in their own neighbourhoods, while commuters from the suburbs have to cram themselves onto the Yonge subway every day. Still, experts acknowledge the line could be a hard sell given the downtown-versus-suburbs rift that the Ford brothers’ rhetoric has only fuelled. The University of Toronto’s Eric Miller thinks a new name could help—may we suggest the “Downtown-Suburban Harmony Line”? Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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Tim Hudak pretends that silly Sheppard council meeting never happened

(Image: Ontario Chamber of Commerce)

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak took some time this week to catch up on his correspondence, sending out 100,000 postcards to Torontonians as a reminder that the PCs love subways and would give the city a Sheppard line if they were in power. Except, they’re not. And council just voted 24-19 in favour of an LRT on Sheppard a week ago. And the PCs killed the Eglinton subway expansion back in 1995. So, the mail-out is really more of a lame (albeit nicely designed) attempt to pander to residents who believe Toronto would be  a world-class city with an extra subway or two—and to score some points with a mayor whose clout is waning. Read the entire story [Torontoist] »

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