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2013 Villain: Transit Trolls

Nominated for: letting pandering trump policy.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

2013 villains trolls

If there is one article of conventional wisdom that unites Torontonians of all political stripes, it is this: the most urgent challenge we face as a city is the state of our transportation. Our roads are clogged; our buses and streetcars and subways are clogged; as cyclists, we don’t have enough room to manoeuvre; and as pedestrians, we just want someone to please pretty please shovel the sidewalks properly. The diagnoses differ wildly, as do the proposed remedies, but at least we have reached consensus on what problem we should be addressing. And this isn’t just a top-down initiative: it’s residents who are pushing their leaders to take this issue on. Torontonians are ready—eager, desperate even—to have everyone buckle down and agree on some real, substantial transit goals.

And that’s what made it all the more dispiriting that in 2013, politicians with the requisite sense and spine were not readily available.

Having decided that it was going to reinstate plans for a funded, researched, and designed network of light rail lines during contentious council battles in 2012, council reversed course again a few months later and reopened the whole debate for the sake of supposedly forsaken Scarborough residents. The cheerleading from councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) and TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) was both wild and wildly cynical. In defiance of just about every expert who has studied the issue and every report that has analyzed the alternatives, they proclaimed that Scarborough was being left out, left behind—some sort of orphan stepchild stuck with second-class light rail while downtowners rode their extra-cushy new subways into the shiny future. The arguments were couched in precisely those terms: they didn’t consider what would be an efficient use of money, or which neighbourhoods the various transit options might reach, or how many people might ride in each case, but instead relied on this visceral appeal to martyrdom and pity. A whole city and billions of dollars were thus held hostage by the asserted disenfranchisement of one region. (This, too: the argument relied on a sense that Scarborough is Scarborough, right? No matter if only small portions of it are served by a subway—”Scarborough” will finally have gotten its fair share.)

Soon after, we were in the throes of a provincial by-election in Scarborough, and candidates tripped over themselves in their haste to declare themselves devotees of the new subway gospel—including those who had previously championed LRT. And let us also recall the astonishing contortions of one Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister of transportation, who met council’s subway vote with an “Oh yeah? Well I have a different subway, so there!”

What none of them, somehow, seems to have noticed is that nobody had actually asked Scarborough residents what they wanted, and on the rare occasions when someone did ask, those residents’ answers were ignored. In the few polls conducted specifically on the subway vs. LRT question, Scarborough residents did not choose a subway with wild enthusiasm, and they did not reject LRT as some sort of insult. They acted entirely sensibly, weighing the costs and relative length of the routes, and they were divided: about a third wanted LRT, a third wanted a subway, and a third wasn’t sure and wanted to learn more.

Rob Ford, in some obvious sense, provided a lot of the pro-subway momentum: it was his mantra for years. But councillors have rejected Rob Ford’s mantras more than they’ve accepted them, and found the experience liberating. They have remade his policies, revised his priorities, and rejected his assumptions. Politicians across the spectrum failed, spectacularly, to do so in this case. Ford instilled in them some sort of atavistic fear of LRT, on the basis of nothing more than stridently repeating things at an ever-increasing decibel level. That is what Ford tries to do. But why on earth did anyone let him succeed? Neither policy nor political strategy required it.

Torontonians were ready for a real debate on transit, and in that they showed far greater leadership than the elected officials who purportedly represent them.



  • Gary

    This is it. This is the biggest “villain”. We’re going to be so stuck with this complete mess of pathetic childish bad decision making to the detriment of the whole city long after the Fords are gone. Waste of money. Huge waste of money for very little if any improvement in services. Transit should NOT be planned by politicians who know nothing about transit.

  • spicygarage

    Rob Ford’s mayoral term will remain the stuff of legends, but have little tangible effect after his departure. The unwarranted Scarborough subway will affect us for decades.

    It will affect every Scarborough commuter who will be stuck taking the same horrible buses to get to the subway from North/east Scarborough. (The same total money could have paid for two LRT lines: the Bloor-Danforth LRT extension and the Malvern LRT.)

    Alternately, it will affect every commuter on Finch West, freezing January as they see countless crammed buses pass them by until there’s one they can shoehorn themselves on. (The extra money spent on a gold-plated Scarborough subway would have been handy for a Finch West LRT.) That pain is much greater than the indignity of a 3-minute indoor transfer between the BD LRT extension and Kennedy subway, but wounded Scarborough feelings won over actual Finch West pain.

    And it will affect every Torontonian, who will pay higher taxes starting now, for marginally-higher ridership (16%) that won’t be warranted for decades to come.

    Finally, by giving subways-at-all-costs advocates (pun intended) a boost, this decision actively interferes with the measured, appropriate-mode-for-appropriate-area approach that would most effectively affect gridlock.

    There are many other villains worthy of your vote, but I would warrant that subway trolls are the ones who will have the largest destructive impact on us and our city for decades to come.

    • nevilleross

      It will affect every Scarborough commuter who will be stuck taking the same horrible buses to get to the subway from North/east Scarborough. (The same total money could have paid for two LRT lines: the Bloor-Danforth LRT extension and the Malvern LRT.)

      Alternately, it will affect every commuter on Finch West, freezing January as they see countless crammed buses pass them by until there’s one they can shoehorn themselves on.

      Plus even if they use those new articulated buses in the routes that you mentioned, there will still be gridlock aplenty as well as overcrowding on said buses (as a young man riding these buses back in the 1980′s on the Finch route, there was very little difference-to me-between a normal bus and an articulated bus.) The blame has to be equally shared between the politicians and the voters in Scarborough for this whole fracking mess (seriously, nobody can take some time to go to the library and do some research on the Internet about LRT’s?) What’s going to happen to us, I have no idea.

      • spicygarage

        Actually, people didn’t even need to do their own research, just read the numerous articles on the pros and cons of LRT vs. subway.

        But there is none so blind as those who will not see. The single strongest determinant of Ford support is commuting by car. We know that car transportation doesn’t scale, but I would venture that drivers don’t realize that — or don’t want to admin it — and, consequently, do not want anything to interfere with their usage of pavement.

        I believe that, even if each LRT seat came with a free puppy, a large proportion of drivers would still consider them the devil incarnate.

  • dsmithhfx

    We’ve got a badly-broken decision making (aka political) process, which is a legacy of a lot of things that occurred over several decades if not centuries (maybe Canada was just set up wrong for the 21st century, eh?).

    The transit file is a symptom, as are many, many other things that have gone off the rails in the wake of the financial meltdown, with no spare cash to mollify middle-class voters (all of it having been hoovered up by the purveyors of the aforementioned meltdown), but plenty of hot air to divide and anger them into collective haymaker swings at perceived antagonists — unions, downtown elites, scientists, etc.

    So that’s a lot for simple minds to digest… I guess “transit trolls” must suffice.

  • Jordan

    Living downtown is the better way, where walking and bicycling everywhere is a breeze. No amount of spending will cure the pain of suburban living. The boom of housing high rise construction downtown will only keep marching on, more will be drawn to the inner core. Those outside can keep hating on us, in the end sustainability will prevail.

    • nevilleross

      Unfortunately, living downtown isn’t for everybody, as most can’t afford the rent of the buildings that are there; that’s why we need Transit City back, with full funding, and with all of the lines built (even the Jane one.)