Recently, the Ontario government approved $8.2 billion for the construction of the Eglinton LRT and Scarborough LRT. Making huge amendments to a previous proposal under the Transit City plan, the Eglinton light rail line will provide 33km of track serviced fully underground connecting the city east-west. The Scarborough LRT is set to replace the now aging Scarborough RT. While this sounds appealing, the original plan called for the Eglinton line to cost $4.15 billion burying only 11.5km of the track underground, with the rest of the funding used to construct three more (Scarborough, Finch West, and Sheppard East) above-ground lines. The new proposal is much more costly and reaches far less citizens.
Since the beginning of his term, Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, has made it clear that cars are a priority in his vision for Toronto. So far, he has vehemently opposed above-ground LRT and has managed to scrap Transit City, a transit plan spearheaded by former mayor, David Miller. The plan would have mandated for the construction of seven LRT lines, creating an interconnected network of the city’s neighborhoods reaching as far out as the suburbs. Instead, Ford’s new proposal calls for expensive underground lines that only benefit a small proportion of Torontonians with the rationale that underground lines will not disturb car traffic. One CBC commenter had it right when they wrote, “Toronto now has the only public transit plan in the world that is designed around the needs of automobiles!”
Considering Toronto is the largest city in Canada and the 5th largest in North America, it is disappointing to see how car-centric the city still is. With congestion and emissions on the rise, it feels so backwards to see the way public transit is treated by its own municipal government. It is unfortunate that Toronto is so hesitant to build any type of rapid surface transit, which can add so much to a city’s streetscape and provide economic benefits such as transit-induced development. Looking to other cities in Canada, we see great interest in mixing modes. Vancouver shows us how elevated rail, commuter buses/rail, ferries, bus rapid transit (BRT), diesel buses, and trolley buses can work together. Montreal shows us how supportive a government can be in implementing a public bike sharing system to supplement its already extensive subway network. Even just north of Toronto, we see York Region investing in BRT to provide for it the backbone of its system. So why is Toronto so afraid to explore its options? A world-class city deserves world-class infrastructure. Hopefully in the future, we will see Toronto step up, but for now I am less than optimistic.