Not sure who to vote for? Unclear on the candidates’ positions? In this series we’ll be examining the major mayoral contenders’ policies on the most important issues facing Toronto in 2010.
Illustration by Sasha Plotnikova/Torontoist.
Human beings are nomadic by nature, so if you can’t hop onto or into a car, bike, subway, or Segway and go somewhere you’re fighting a million years of evolution and eventually you’ll have a stroke or get eaten by a woolly mammoth. For this and other reasons, transportation is among the most important issues facing this year’s crop of candidates.
The introduction to Rob Ford’s transportation plan [PDF] is a marvel of idiot spin, managing in a scant 241 words to use the phrases “battle between cyclists and motorists,” “war between drivers and cyclists,” and “war on cars” (twice!). Even before the sloganeering dies down, we can see what Ford is all about: driving cars, preferably into cyclists.
In the meat of the thing that follows, it’s clear that Ford also likes subways, and lots of them. He says he’ll drop $3 billion to extend the Sheppard subway from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre, and another billion to extend the Bloor line in the same direction. All this is to be completed by 2015, which is impossible (the far less ambitious York U subway extension was approved in 2008, broke ground this year, and still won’t be done until late 2015). Not to mention that while the plan’s great if you’re going to or from Scarborough Town Centre, there’s still a whole lot of the city without rapid transit.
Streetcars, which are an annoyance to motorists, will be removed from major arterials and replaced with “clean” buses. Road upgrades will cost the city $700 million, more than half of it on “connecting disjointed roadways making other changes to reduce congestion,” whatever that means. Cyclists will be relegated to a network of paths in parks and ravines, which if they’re lucky will take them to a taxi stand so they can catch a cab to their destination.
To fund his internal combustion vision, Ford will take the hard-won $3.7 billion committed to Transit City and somehow convince the province to reallocate it. The remaining billion will come from selling development rights along the new subway corridor to as-yet unidentified private interests. The cost of streetcar removal is said to be a wash since buses are notionally cheaper, notwithstanding potentially huge ($100 million) penalties for cancelling the existing $1.2 billion streetcar contract. In summary, Ford’s plan doesn’t make sense, and we’ll piss away a lot of time and money pretending that it does.
Not surprisingly, Joe Pantalone supports Transit City, the Miller-negotiated plan that would see Light Rapid Transit lines deployed throughout the city at about a third of the cost of equivalent subway lines. The key thing that Transit City has going for it, besides being the thrifty alternative, is that it’s already been approved by the sugar moms and dads at Queen’s Park, so it lives in the realm of reality. However, this spring the recession-addled McGuinty government “deferred” $4 billion in promised cash, resulting in the scaling back of some of the planned routes. Pantalone is pledging to get the province to reverse course and release the extra dollars, an unlikely eventuality since Miller’s already had that conversation and been slapped down like a puppy at the dinner table.
Not himself a cyclist (although he would look adorable on training wheels), Pantalone is the most fervent bike booster among the three candidates. He’s promoting a comprehensive set of bike lanes around the city, and on his site puzzlingly lists “dedicated bike lanes” as a value. (Torontoist’s granddaddy taught us that a man has to live by a strong set of values, including honesty, courage, and dedicated bike lanes.)
There are no surprises here. Joe’s transportation platform is more of what Miller has been working on for years, so if you liked that you’ll like this. That said, the former got through the vision and negotiation phases while a Joe mayoralty would be saddled with the execution. Which is usually the tough part.
George Smitherman released his “Integrated Transit Plan” way back in May, and was greeted with a resounding “meh.” He plays it safe in the near term, with Phase 1 (pre-2015) of his plan revolving around initiatives that are largely planned and/or funded, like the Spadina subway extension to York and LRT lines for Sheppard and Eglinton. Post-2015, Smitherman will make it “more possible to get across town” by, among other things, replacing the Scarborough LRT with a subway and extending the Bloor subway out to Sherway Gardens mall. Oh, and he’s also promising free rides for seniors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays, because seniors vote.
Smitherman likes bikes, sort of. Echoing chief rival Ford, he’s suggesting bike-ways through hydro corridors and ravines, and while he says he wants fully separated bike lanes, he’d avoid putting new ones on major roads and focus on making existing lanes “safer and better maintained.” Don’t get too excited, though—it’s not clear how that end state is being defined, nor how we’re going to get there.
Motorists get a set of happy promises to give them a warm and fuzzy feeling: traffic laws will be better enforced, roadwork will be managed less disruptively, and there will be no road tolls.
Smitherman’s long-term plan has been lambasted for a lack of financial soundness, and rightly so. Assuming his revised estimate that it will cost $5 billion beyond what’s currently budgeted is accurate, we’ll get the money from “[contracting] with the private sector to partner on the construction of additional transit capacity,” which means borrowing the money. Further assuming that someone wants to lend that money, the cost of the subsequent obligation is to be met by sources of funding like gas taxes and Hydro dividends that are already being spent on other things.
Ford’s transit plan would fail, for the reasons noted above and because given the time and effort it would take to get all the approvals and funding needed to build subways, the best we could hope for is that Ford pulls the plug on Transit City and spends the next four years trying to get permission to do something else. Smitherman is cautious, not promising much that’s new in the near term and having uncertain funding for the more adventurous five-year-plus plan. Still, at least we get new transit, which is a win. Finally, unless you really have a hate-on for Transit City, Pantalone’s plan is pretty attractive right now, since it’s planned and (sort of) funded.
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