"You Can Live Without The Car"
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“You Can Live Without The Car”

Photo of the T3 Tramway from *** Fanch The System !!! ***.
On Friday evening at City Hall, two representatives of the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP)—Vice-President Philippe Martin and Director of Open Spaces and Heritage Remi Feredj—gave a public presentation on Paris’s T3 LRT system to share lessons for Toronto to learn from. Their appearance seemed perfectly timed to reignite the debate over subways versus light rapid transit, most notably along the Eglinton corridor. David Miller and the city have long propounded that LRT lines are the best and most feasible option, but a confidential Metrolinx report leaked to the press last week showed that the provincial transportation agency’s plans emphasize subways. The major fear is, of course, that the higher price tag of a subway line along Eglinton—costing between $6 and $10 billion versus $2.2 billion for LRT—would divert scarce resources from other potential transit projects.
The experience of developing the T3 tramway in Paris shows why the debate shouldn’t just be about dollars and cents. Traffic along the route where the T3 was built, where articulated buses served 50,000 passengers per day along an orbital ring in south Paris, didn’t justify the cost of a full Metro line—something which TTC Chair Adam Giambrone has reiterated time and again about Eglinton. Since being opened in December 2003, the T3 now carries double the passenger load—100,000 riders per day—along a line with 17 stations and connections to two regional commuter trains, five Metro lines, and 37 bus routes. Of that increased ridership, 14 per cent were new transit users. Parisians already have a transit-friendly mentality but, as Friday’s audience was told, they’re learning more and more that “you can live without the car.”

Photo of the Public Presentation (with Philippe Martin and Remi Feredj in the top right) by Kevin Plummer.
In addition to increasing mobility, the T3 was also built with the dual goal of redeveloping and enhancing the urban environment in a declining part of the city. Being buried out of sight, subways don’t offer the same opportunity to remake the streetscape that LRT lines provide. More connected to the street, LRT lines can fundamentally change the roadway’s character for the better, and, as Paris has learned, trams can even work as a beautification project. Except at crossings and stations, the T3’s entire track is lined with grass, like the tram system in Nice that Torontoist swooned over recently. In Paris, trees are also planted in T3 stations. It’s hard to over-state the mental benefit of a little extra well-maintained greenery in the city.
The trams are quieter and produce less pollution than the cars they are replacing. In fact, with the loss of one lane in each direction, vehicular traffic has decreased by 50 per cent along the main road and dropped by 20 per cent on neighbouring streets. The addition of trams has also slowed the pace of the remaining traffic. Clearly all of this adds up to significant improvements toward making the urban environment much friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists. The most evocative part of Friday’s presentation was a series of before and after photos showing just how much the streetscape had been transformed—from a major thoroughfare with three lanes in each direction into a much more hospitable, greenery-lined boulevard.
Photo of the T3 Tramway from Wikipedia.
The construction of the dedicated tram track, however, had its critics. Sacrificing one lane in each direction meant the loss of parking for local businesses. Given Toronto’s recent experience with building a dedicated streetcar line along St. Clair, the crowd on Friday was a little shocked at the apparent ease with which the loss of parking was accepted when the Parisian mayor demonstrated resolve to force the issue. To minimize outcry, liaisons from the RATP and the city of Paris held discussions with the public, transit users, and local business owners throughout the tram’s development. The monthly monitoring of sales, which began right at the outset of T3 planning, still continues in an effort to accurately assess the tram’s long-term impact on business. As one would expect, sales declined while the heavy-duty construction was underway, so the RATP set up an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to hear grievances and offer compensation if sales dropped by 8 per cent, or the disruption to the business lasted more than three months. Now, over a year since the tram opened, the RATP reports show that sales are higher than before the tram’s construction. Even the Parisians admit that it’s still too early to conclude definitively, but the introduction of added public transit appears to have boosted local businesses.
With the T3 trams taking priority at signals and crossings, there are obviously a couple snarls with vehicular traffic. Most notably, the RATP presenters admitted that traffic management personnel are always needed at Porte d’Orleans, a major entrance into downtown Paris, to ensure that cars keep the tram tracks clear and obey the signals. But the tram has been such an overwhelming success that Paris and the RATP are already conducting initial studies on a proposed extension.