With Rob Ford no longer mayor and the Gardiner debate temporarily settled, there’s now officially nothing in Toronto politics more divisive than the idea of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway through Scarborough Centre. Transit experts say building heavy rail in a lightly populated part of the city is wasteful; Scarborough residents counter that a subway is the only adequate compensation for decades spent riding buses and the increasingly rickety Scarborough RT. Here’s something we can all agree on, though: the subway extension is going to be really, really expensive. During June’s public consultations on the project, the city’s most optimistic cost estimate was $3.5 billion. We asked transit riders at Kennedy station whether they think the extension will be worth the cost.
— Ian MacIntyre (@MrIanMacIntyre) March 24, 2015
You may be wondering about the the oily mystery liquid currently leaking onto subway tracks at College Station and preventing trains from running on the Yonge Line. What is it? Is it harmful? Where is it coming from? Will subway service be restored before the evening commute? These are the wrong questions. What we need from officials is a clear, unequivocal answer to the following: this unknown substance—is it like the music-loving subway-tunnel ectoplasm from Ghostbusters 2, or does it bear more of a resemblance to the mutagenic sewer ooze from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Twitter, so far, is evenly divided between the two.
If Doug Ford’s transit plan has one thing going for it, it’s simplicity. He wants to do one thing, and one thing only: build subways. In the first phase of his Toronto Subway Expansion Plan, a scheme originally advanced by his brother, he proposes not only following through with the Scarborough subway, but also building a Sheppard extension connecting Don Mills to McCowan, a downtown relief line from Queen to Pape, and a Finch West line, to Humber College. He also wants to bury the rest of the Eglinton Crosstown (or however you spell it). Then, in the second phase of the plan, he says he’ll extend the Sheppard line west to Downsview, lengthen the relief line on both ends, burrow the Eglinton line farther west of Mount Dennis and connect Kipling to Humber College with a north-south line. Altogether, the plan would create 32 new kilometres of subway. Ford claims the price tag for the first phase would be $9 billion—an amount he says he’ll raise using a series of measures that would include reallocating existing LRT funding (and, in the process, cancelling approved LRT lines), forging public-private partnerships, instituting development charges, using tax increment financing and selling air rights above stations.
IF FORD IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?
As a map, Ford’s plan is far superior to any other transit platform. “From a point of view of coverage, he’s got a big network that covers the whole city,” says transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. “The problem is there’s no way we can afford to build the damn thing.”
Doug Ford, like his brother Rob before him, is busy promoting a $9-billion, 32-kilometre subway plan that, according to him, would come at no extra cost to taxpayers—even though experts agree that the scheme is, for a huge number of reasons, completely unrealistic. Late last month, Doug offered the public a glimpse into how he hopes to finance the ambitious transit platform. Among other revenue measures, he intends to earmark $540 million of expected revenue from Build Toronto, the organization that sells city-owned real estate, for the sole purpose of building subways. “We want to take the underutilized property in Toronto, sell it at a premium, and make sure that it goes directly to subways,” said Ford, “not the general coffers, where the councillors can get their hands on it and spend it.”
WOULD IT WORK?
Though we wouldn’t put it past him to be, er, “disingenuous” with his numbers, it’s probably fair to assume that, as vice-chair of Build Toronto, Ford is in a position to communicate how much revenue the agency can expect to pull in from its current collection of properties. The first question, then, is whether Build can sell its land and generate $540 million within Ford’s promised timeline: five years.
At a press conference this afternoon, according to the Star, Doug Ford made a major adjustment to the transit plan he inherited when Rob Ford dropped out of the mayoral race last month. Rob had promised to prioritize subway lines on Sheppard and Finch avenues—a crowd-pleasing pledge, but one he had no workable way of paying for. Doug is now saying that he will instead prioritize the downtown relief line—a possibly even-more-crowd-pleasing pledge that he still has no workable way of paying for. Both Fords have said that they can get all these subway lines built for the bargain price of $9 billion, and at no additional cost to taxpayers, but experts have long agreed that some form of taxation would be needed to jump-start the tunnelling.
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.
This Globe and Mail video of Rob Ford riding the Sheppard subway during his public-transit photo-op on Monday is curious for a few reasons. For one, it shows the mayor bobbing and weaving a little more violently than the average train passenger. For another, the 57-second video was quietly uploaded by someone at the Globe to YouTube yesterday with little context beyond the title—”Rob Ford rides the subway, pushes subway plan”—even though Ford says nothing about that plan, and talks instead about Richard Pryor and some upcoming football games. So what’s up? Over on Reddit and Twitter, people have some ideas.
Considering all the political chicanery that went into getting Scarborough’s subway extension approved in the first place, it’s easy to take grim satisfaction in the project’s setbacks. Speaking of which, here’s one: the Globe reports that the city’s planning division is taking a more assertive role in the new subway line’s environmental assessment.
For most commuters, the fact that the TTC’s subway trains don’t collide with one another is good enough—no additional explanations are required. Recently, though, the TTC has been shutting down portions of the Yonge-University-Spadina line on weekends so workers can upgrade the signalling systems responsible for the daily no-deaths-or-maimings miracle, leading to some curiosity about the system’s workings. The video above, released yesterday on the TTC’s YouTube channel, goes into quite a bit of detail about how signals prevent trains from crashing into one another, why the signalling systems need to be upgraded and why it’s necessary to shut down subway tunnels to perform those upgrades. Yes, it’s propaganda, but snappy animations and an informative voiceover make it edutainment of the highest order. Enjoy.
QUOTED: Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi on Toronto’s decision to build a Scarborough subway instead of light rail
“I, for the life of me, cannot understand the decision on the Scarborough subway and maybe I’m missing something. I don’t understand why you’d not spend less to serve more people…Clearly I’m missing something, I’m not that bright.”
—Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, speaking during a Toronto Region Board of Trade luncheon. In October, city council approved the idea of replacing the Scarborough RT with a two- or three-stop subway extension, despite earlier plans to install a longer (but less expensive) above-ground light-rail line. The subway has the enthusiastic backing of local politicians like Rob Ford and Karen Stintz, but it remains controversial among people who see it as an overpriced sop to Scarborough voters. Former councillor David Soknacki has made bringing back the light-rail plan a central tenet of his mayoral campaign.
Mayoral candidate David Soknacki says he’ll reverse the city’s course on the Scarborough subway, again
Well, that didn’t take long. Two weeks in, the 2014 mayoral election has already produced its first sweeping policy announcement, and it’s this: former city budget chief David Soknacki says that, if elected, he’ll scrap Rob Ford‘s beloved two-or-three-stop Scarborough subway extension in favour of the seven-stop light-rail line that was originally planned for the corridor.
In an audaciously misleading rhetorical flourish worthy of Ford himself, Soknacki’s press release claims that the move would “cancel Mayor Rob Ford’s $1 billion property tax increase needed to pay for the subway option, delivering the largest tax cut in Toronto’s history.”
Here’s a phrase you never want to hear from TTC CEO Andy Byford: “The project is facing a serious schedule challenge.”
Byford, known for his level-headedness and his willingness to admit his agency’s mistakes, wrote those words in December’s edition of his monthly report to the TTC board. He was talking about the Spadina Subway Extension, a tunnelling project that will extend the Spadina subway line to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, adding six new stations in the process. It’s scheduled to open in fall 2016.
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TTC spokesman Brad Ross posted a pair of images last night showing the Bloor-Yonge station’s current signage (top), and a spiffy mock-up of a new design featuring numbered subway lines. At a meeting today, the transit agency’s board will consider a report
suggesting that the Yonge-University-Spadina line become “line 1” and the Bloor-Danforth, “line 2”—an idea that has transit nerds and graphic designers pretty worked up.
After four years, countless political squabbles and at least six competing proposals, Rob Ford’s Scarborough subway dream is finally coming true. The mayor fist-pumped heartily yesterday evening after the crucial vote for a three-stop subway extension to replace the Scarborough SRT. Queen’s Park and Ottawa will contribute $1.48 billion and $660 million, respectively, which leaves Toronto taxpayers on the hook for about $1 billion over the next 30 years (a sum that will be raised by a 1.6-per-cent property tax levy and a development charge hike). Given the bitter, years-long fight over Toronto transit, we weren’t surprised that the debate was heated. We were, however, a little taken aback by the oddly vivid metaphors favoured by several councillors. Below, the day’s five strangest similes.
In two weeks, the TTC board will consider
replacing the names of Toronto subway lines with numbers to make things less confusing for tourists and occasional users. If the proposal is accepted, the awkwardly named Yonge–University–Spadina Line will become 1; the Bloor-Danforth Line will be 2; the Scarborough RT will be 3; the Sheppard Line will be 4; and some future line will be 5 (a system that conveniently eliminates the Downtown Relief Line’s nomenclature issues). Unsurprisingly, TTC users and transit enthusiasts feel strongly about the idea. Here, the six main reactions, from tentative enthusiasm to outright mockery.