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 this morning 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.
—An unnamed TTC streetcar driver, talking to the Post about some of the not-so-great aspects of his job. On the upside, he says he makes $90,000 a year.
—Approximate percentage of respondents to a Heritage Toronto survey who were opposed to a proposal that Union Station be renamed after John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. City council’s executive committee will vote next week on whether to press ahead with the renaming anyway. City staff are recommending that a plaza in front of Union Station be named after Macdonald, instead.
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.
What’s ruining Toronto this week? No, not condo developers or heritage coach houses. This time, the culprit is grass.
The Toronto Sun reports that Scarborough Southwest councillor Michelle Berardinetti is getting ready to ask city council to join her in opposition to a plan to plant grass on a section of the new street-level light-rail tracks that will eventually be laid on Eglinton Avenue as part of the Eglinton Crosstown project. The idea, which Berardinetti calls “absolutely ridiculous,” first made news in April. Essentially, transit planners want to use some combination of grass and sedum to give the tracks a “green ribbon” appearance. The Crosstown will run underground for about half of its length, so the treatment would be applied only to the aboveground portion of the line, which will run through Scarborough.
What does Berardinetti have against grass? “It’s all about safety,” she told the Sun. “If the green grass is gone, the emergency vehicles can access the trackway.” In other words, if anyone dies waiting for an ambulance in Scarborough, that grass will have blood on its hands (blades?). The idea of allowing emergency responders to use the tracks is an interesting one (the tracks will run in a separated median, sort of like the ones on Spadina Avenue), but it’s not clear that it would be practical, considering the fact that the right-of-way will ideally be full of fast-moving light-rail vehicles. See, this is what happens when Rob Ford leaves town for a while. City hall goes back to worrying about things like killer landscaping.
Five things we learned from Spacing’s investigation into the shady politicking behind the Scarborough subway
Over at Spacing, journalist John Lorinc has just published part four in an epic, five-part investigation into why, exactly, the city and the province got together last year to overturn years of transit planning in Scarborough. The now-infamous policy reversal resulted in the breaking of a signed, sealed agreement to replace the Scarborough RT with a seven-stop light-rail line. Instead, for reasons that Lorinc’s investigation makes significantly clearer, former TTC chair (and current mayoral candidate) Karen Stintz and provincial transportation minister Glen Murray teamed up to scrap the light-rail plan in favour of a three-stop subway that will cost significantly more to build.
Here, five things we learned from Lorinc’s piece, the first part of which is here.