Friday, 15 January 2016

How SmartTrack will Never Do Toronto Justice

Courtesy of Oliver Moore, we are learning that SmartTrack is finally going in a direction that many observers  here in Toronto have longed for: resembling plans already proposed by the province. But the people of Toronto should hold back any feelings of satisfaction.

From Kennedy to Mount Dennis, SmartTrack will have fewer stations. Potential conflicts with a Scarborough Subway Extension north of Kennedy (or whatever the hell gets built) are being pushed back, and Eglinton will see light rail instead of heavy rail. In summary, SmartTrack is starting to become what the province has proposed all along: Regional Express Rail on GO Transit's existing corridors, and the completion of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport.

This is good. The cost is going down, and it is starting to heed to some common sense. I mean, how did a heavy rail corridor along Eglinton ever make any sense? At any time? But I will never be satisfied, nor should anyone else be, for a very important reason: the constant focus on SmartTrack has never done and will never do Toronto any justice for its long outstanding transit needs.

For all the time and resources that have gone into it, there is a long list of planned transit projects that have long been on the books, been desparately needed to reduce travel times and relieve congestion, but not afforded any attention by the Mayor's office.

For starters, the Relief Line. This is a project that Toronto has literally had on the books for over 50 years. And it is arguably the most redundant with what John Tory has stated as his goal in proposing SmartTrack: reducing congestion. Even recent numbers from Metrolinx have supported extending the Relief Line north of Bloor, to Sheppard at Don Mills. It also mimiced the cost of SmartTrack, estimated to require $7.8 billion. How John Tory couldn't will himself to rally behind a brand new sexy subway line that would provide such effective relief for the TTC is beyond me.

Then there's the original set of forgotten Transit City LRT lines: Jane, Scarborough-Malvern, Sheppard East, and Waterfront West. Jane was never completed by the time Rob Ford killed Transit City. Scarborough-Malvern was approved by city and the province, and had the green light to go in 2008. The environmental assessment for Waterfront West was done in 1993, but has never been acted upon. Sheppard East has been pushed back by the province to the 2020s. After Eglinton and Finch West were revived (in part) by Toronto city council in November 2012, these projects seemed to be forgotten. And that's a shame given the density and need of the areas they would serve: Liberty Villiage, Etobicoke South, Mt Dennis, Jane & Finch, York U, Scarborough Village, West Hill, UTS, Agincourt and Malvern are examples.

And then there's others in Metrolinx's The Big Move: the Yonge line extension to Richmond Hill, the Don Mills LRT to Highway 7, as well as BRT on Highway 427. Metrolinx drafted The Big Move in 2006, with the objective of completing all of the above transit projects within 15 years (except Scarborough-Malvern, which is in the 25 year plan). That means in order to start reducing the billions of dollars Toronto and the region lose in congestion costs, we need to complete these projects in 5 years. I don't think we're going to make it guys.

For being Canada's largest city, in the centre of Canada's largest metropolitan area, and connected to so many large urban centres, its sad to see such a lack of progress. WrongTrack, Ontario, an incubator of ongoing planning and replanning with little built to show for it. Where some of us have the privilege to sardine onto an aging rapid transit system, while the less fortunate are left  in a wilderness of inequality. That is the amalgamated City of Toronto leadership void that John Tory and our collective municipal representation have failed to fill. And that's why SmartTrack or any other crayon-to-paper transit plan will never do this city justice.