Wednesday, 1 June 2016

How Scarborough Transit Shenanigans May Go On

The final alignment under consideration for the $2-billion, single-stop Scarborough Subway Extension has been released. It's a step forward in the process, but there's nothing stopping us from going back to square one. It's Scarborough transit planning after all.


Along with it, we have a revised ridership forecast: 7,300 passengers per hour in peak direction (pphpd; the standard ridership measurement unit). This is about HALF the forecasted 14,000 pphpd that city councillors cited in their 2013 vote to build a 3-stop subway, instead of an LRT replacement and extension fully funded by the province.

Now I have previously outlined why I have concerns about the current RT route, and why I am sympathetic to a subway proposal. But now Toronto has managed to take this proposal, remove 2/3 stations to save 28% of the capital cost, and halved the ridership. An already rotten project has become festered with mould. Pulling off such a feat deserves of national award.

On top of all this, there are now residents upset that the subway may require their homes. Once rallying his constituents for the subway, local Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker now faces a potential backlash from it all. Angry and vocal Scarborough subway supporters now have an equal and opposite companion, calling for the cancellation of the project.

The Scarborough LRT was first proposed as part of Transit City in 2007. After nine years of back-and-forth and tons of studies and work, could we really see the subway cancelled? Absolutely, and my main reason for saying so is because I do not believe all the chickens have come home to roost.

When City Council voted on a major transit item on March 31 of this year, there was a motion from Councillor Josh Matlow that subsequently carried:

That:
1. City Council amend Executive Committee Recommendation 3d by adding the words "that includes an update, in consultation with Metrolinx, of Item CC39.5 Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions presented to the October 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2013 meeting of City Council, to determine whether all or portions of the Scarborough Subway Extension could be built at-grade along with the" after the word "alignment", and deleting the words "and" and "for the Scarborough Subway Extension" the so that it now reads as follows:
d. report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee on Part c above, along with a recommended preferred corridor and alignment that includes an update, in consultation with Metrolinx, of Item CC39.5 Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions presented to the October 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2013 meeting of City Council, to determine whether all or portions of the Scarborough Subway Extension could be built at-grade along with the number and location of stations.

With this motion, growing backlash from residents, and worsening ridership forecasts, I can see a few different scenarios playing out at city council:

  1. It plugs its nose, building the subway in its current form;
  2. It votes to re-instate the original 3-stop subway, jeopardizing the Crosstown East extension to UTSC.
  3. It changes its mind again to build the LRT as originally set out, wasting years of time and millions of dollars in studies and accumulated congestion;
  4. It votes to build some or all of it at-grade, potentially requiring even more expropriation of homes and riling up more people; or
  5. Studying some other alternative and kicking the can even further down the (very long) road.
As any transit watcher in this city knows, it's a toss-up.

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