This month’s feature on the outrageous political pandering, incompetence and inertia that feeds Toronto’s gridlock problem has seemingly tapped into a deep well of commuter rage (that is, if the online commentary is anything to go by). On Friday, the author of that article, Toronto Life contributing editor Philip Preville, went on Newstalk 1010 to chat with host Jerry Agar about the many, many ways transit planning in this town has gone terribly wrong. “The only cash businesses left in this city are the TTC and pawn shops,” Preville says at one point during a tirade about the long-delayed implementation of Presto. Click the “play” button, above, to listen to the rest.
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.
At a press conference this morning, hours after his subway-expansion annoucment had already leaked online, Rob Ford told reporters all about his proposal to build 32 kilometres of new underground transit connections, and all without raising property taxes, somehow. The mayor’s plan, such as it is, calls for a tunnelling spree on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch avenues, and also between Pape and Queen stations downtown. And that’s just phase one. Sound good? Of course it does—but, as with all Ford promises, there’s a hitch: the proposed funding scheme relies on a number of improbable money sources, including the very same private-sector investment that failed to materialize the last time the mayor tried to build a subway all by himself. Part of the money would come from the outright cancellation of two planned LRT lines. Also, the cost of construction is crudely estimated and the timelines are totally unclear. Details!
With only a little more than a week to go before the first of the TTC’s next-generation streetcars goes into service on Spadina Avenue, it’s natural to be a little curious about what’s in store. There are many important questions: How do the doors work, and what if you’re in a wheelchair or have difficulty climbing stairs? What’s the deal with air conditioning? How many different kinds of flashing lights will there be? What new buttons do we get to push? As the latest in its series of surprisingly enjoyable propaganda videos, the TTC has put together a brief explainer of all that and more. Let the soothing sound of TTC CEO Andy Byford’s British accent carry you away to a land where riding surface rail is more reliably enjoyable.
Rob Ford announces support for proposed TTC improvements, including some that would reverse his own cuts
At a campaign press conference this morning, Rob Ford announced his support for most of the items on a list of proposed improvements to public-transit service being considered by the TTC board at its meeting today. Almost all of the mayor’s competitors in this year’s election have come out in support of similar bunches of service improvements, but in Ford’s case there’s a catch. Among the specific tweaks he endorsed were proposals to reverse 2011’s cuts to bus service, which were implemented largely because of his own budget policy. Ford plans to pay for the service improvements using efficiencies, which is something he likely won’t be able to do. (The expert consensus is that the city’s budget is pretty much as lean as it’s going to get.)
There are some things in life that never stop being annoying: getting rained on, or forgetting to pack your lunch again, or that truck that won’t stop parking in the bike lane near your house—that sort of thing. Luckily, there are apps that can help make the frustrations of living in this city at least a little more bearable. Here, our suggestions for some you may not have heard of.
At a rambling campaign press conference on Tuesday, Rob Ford made a comment that, even by his standards, was pretty bizarre: “If you haven’t got a job, you won’t need transit,” he said, according to the Sun. “If you cannot leave your house to go to or look for a job, what’s the sense in having transit?” The suggestion that unemployed people (meaning seniors and students, among others) don’t need TTC access is an odd one coming from a candidate who has constantly relied on subway promises to woo suburban voters. This and other comments Ford made during the same appearance are being interpreted as an attempt to downplay transit as an election issue in favour of economic policy, which the mayor may consider to be his real point of strength (even though it isn’t).
The official opening of Adelaide Street’s new separated bike lane should have been a moment worth celebrating for Toronto’s two-wheeled commuters, who had waited almost three years for the project to wind its way from city hall’s drawing boards to downtown pavement. And yet, judging by the reaction in the media and elsewhere online, the only thing worse than no bike lane at all is a bike lane that isn’t perfect.
The controversy stems from the fact that the lane has no physical separation from the rest of the street—just the usual lines of white paint. Because of the wording of a June city council decision, everyone was expecting, at minimum, a row of flexible bollards to protect the new lane from Adelaide’s heavy auto traffic.
The reason the bollards have failed to materialize isn’t entirely clear. Stephen Buckley, the city’s transportation manager, has told the Star that, because the new lane is part of a pilot project, the city has some latitude to experiment with different lane configurations if it wants. In other words, there are no bollards because bureaucrats don’t want them there.
For obvious reasons, this hasn’t gone over well with bike advocates. Cycle Toronto is in full-on publicity mode and Now Magazine has taken up the cause. Meanwhile, at street level, every motorist incursion into the Adelaide bike lane is being documented by cell-phone-wielding cyclists, who have been posting their pictures on Twitter and eliciting the kind of collective outrage usually reserved for war crimes. Here’s a small sample.
The mayor was in classic form on Thursday, as he told reporters that he still intends to make good on his age-old promise to rid Toronto of streetcars. “We cannot be purchasing new streetcars and I guarantee you when I’m reelected we’re not buying new streetcars,” Ford said, according to the Sun. (This despite the fact that the city has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to a fleet of new streetcars and associated track improvements.) Today, in an op-ed published in the Sun, Ford doubled down, calling for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to be buried along its entire length—a battle he lost in 2012. So, if reelected, Rob Ford promises to deliver on all the promises he has already proven himself incapable of fulfilling. That’s quite a rhetorical pretzel, but, if recent polls are accurate, his base will eat it up.
The King streetcar is the busiest of the TTC’s surface routes. Every weekday, some 60,000 passengers use the line, making it more crowded than the Scarborough RT and Sheppard subway combined. Despite transit riders drastically outnumbering motorists—approximately 20,000 private vehicles use the street on a typical weekday—the route during rush hour is a dispiriting, slow-moving, overcrowded mess.
So what’s the holdup? A newly released city staff report, commissioned in October to examine the feasibility of separated transit lanes on King, has some interesting answers.
When a TTC worker makes a bad decision, it’s annoying, and sometimes dangerous. When a TTC worker makes a bad decision while somebody is shooting pictures or video, though, it’s news. The latest example of the latter came just last week, when a dash-cam video showing a TTC bus blowing a red light and having an apparent near-miss with a pedestrian sparked a media furor, ultimately resulting in the driver being fired. Somehow, though, these stories always take a turn for the sad. (Remember George Robitaille, the TTC collector who was caught on camera napping with his mouth hilariously agape, only to die a few months later because, it turned out, he had medical issues?)
And so here’s the depressing twist in the red-light-runner story: in a letter written by the now-jobless driver—reportedly a single mother of two—and released by the TTC workers’ union, she makes a heartrending apology for what she calls “an unacceptable lack of judgment.” She explains that she ran the light because she was momentarily confused by what sounds like an unlucky combination of road conditions (a roadside distraction at a bus stop, plus traffic movement that made it seem, at first glance, as though the light hadn’t turned) and that she “never once took her eyes off” the pedestrian, who was unharmed. Because of the way the story broke, we’ll probably never know if her dismissal was a case of real, everyday accountability, or if the TTC was simply embarrassed into reacting more severely than it normally would have.
Hyperbole is often a weapon of choice in disputes over neighbourhood development, and a group known the Coalition Against McNicoll Bus Garage may just have out-hyperbolized them all. The Star reports that the coalition, which formed to oppose the construction of a new TTC bus garage near McNicoll and Kennedy roads in Scarborough, is worried that the facility’s biodiesel tanks will cause a conflagration.
According to the Star, the group’s presentation, during a press conference on Monday, included slides with images of famous fuel-related disasters, like the Lac Megantic explosion—which, notably, was triggered by an improperly secured freight train, not a stationary holding tank in a garage. Neighbourhood concerns also include pollution and traffic congestion, and it’s all exacerbated by the fact that the TTC’s now-vacant plot of land is near a church and a long-term care home.
“Only in Toronto would a transit agency be allowed to put a bus garage on prime real estate to the detriment of vulnerable seniors while exposing the environment and neighbourhood to unconscionable risk,” said resident Patricia Sinclair, who told CBC that she is “pro-transit.” To review: riding buses is good, but building a place to store and service them is basically like beating up an elderly person. For what it’s worth, the TTC is saying noise and air pollution should be minimal.