This post was written by Brenda Thompson, Chair, STA. It does not reflect an approved position of TTCriders.
When I first heard about Mayor Tory’s proposal to build a one-stop subway and a 17-stop Crosstown East LRT, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. Up until that announcement, political meddling and misinformation had replaced a viable LRT network with an ill- conceived three-stop subway. Rapid transit to our underserved neighbourhoods and campuses in Scarborough, was as likely as a snowball’s chance in hell.
We are not completely out of the political woods yet. But at least this compromise acknowledges the much needed improvement in transit to east-west Scarborough and not just north-south service improvements that might be gained from Smart Track and the Scarborough Subway Extension.
There is still the suggestion in the City’s planning report that more jobs and redevelopment would be created around the Scarborough Town Centre with the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) than with the 7- stop Scarborough LRT when in fact, this is not the case. According to the the U of T Scarborough report, Choices for Scarborough, LRT would create four thousand more jobs and almost twice as much redevelopment.
So perhaps a more nuanced response to the mayor’s proposal might be that I support his plan to provide a subway build-out that is based on cost effective transit planning principles prioritizing access, jobs and redevelopment to the largest number of transit riders. But if the Crosstown East LRT is conditional on a one-stop subway, so be it.
And why the suspicion that unless there is a subway, the possibility of expanding LRT service to our outer neighbourhoods is tenuous at best? There seems to be deep resistance to the transportation mode that most contemporary city planners believe is the best of all options for the low-carbon, climate-constrained future that awaits us.
Resistance to LRTs
Flip flopping over the past six years has shown that shovel-ready, fully-funded LRT projects can wither and die at the whim of a pusillanimous politician.
In 2011, the Crosstown East LRT, originally the Malvern LRT, was defunded by McGuinty government.
In 2013, Scarborough RT replacement with a 7 – stop LRT to Centennial College and Sheppard East was replaced with a three-stop subway by City Council.
Construction of the Sheppard East LRT – which had begun in 2009, was cancelled by Mayor Ford in 2011 and then delayed indefinitely by the Wynne government in 2015.
We went from three LRTs to no LRTs because they are perceived by local drivers as a direct challenge to the dominant mode of transportation in Scarborough: the automobile.
They believe that sacrificing a small amount of road space in order to reduce congestion along our public road system is not worth it if it takes away space for cars. For decades cars have done extremely well (at the expense of public transportation) and this has developed into a full blown sense of entitlement.
Since the 1950s, roads in Scarborough have been expanded and widened several times to optimize the unimpeded flow of cars and trucks. Meanwhile the increasing number of people walking or standing at bus stops go unnoticed. Apparently they are hard to see from your car stalled in traffic.
Until Mayor Tory developed his recent plan, it seemed as if drivers were winning, and transit riders, the majority of whom happen to be women, would be expected to make do with three subway stations when they could have had an LRT network of 30 stops at roughly the same cost. Not much appreciation for the people who are part of the solution to reducing congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and smog, 38% of which is due to cars and trucks.
But the real misunderstanding is about how much social good LRT will contribute to our lives. It is much more efficient at moving people around than private automobiles. Now that the negative consequences of car dominance can no longer be ignored, it turns out that above ground Light Rail Transit is much more cost efficient than tunnelling subways, and its carrying capacity is well suited to Scarborough’s suburban residential areas and six-lane commercial strips. Ironically, the abundance of traffic lanes, will be the exact reason why the Crosstown East LRT is likely to be met with opposition.
Resistance to Sharing Public Space
The argument that Scarborough’s roads “have always and will always be for cars,” or “ if no subway, then buses” will be brought forward. But let’s be honest. If we go ahead with the Scarborough Subway Extension it won’t be for the benefit of transit riders. It will be to make peace with drivers who claim the convenience of pulling up to a subway station parking lot, to take a subway downtown or up to Scarborough Town Centre. Let’s admit that we are fixated with subways not just because we think we deserve them, but because, unlike streetcars or LRTs, they don’t take up a traffic lane and therefore they don’t have the potential to get in our way.
But whether or not LRT inhibits the flow of traffic depends mainly on whether you are on it. LRTs can be synchronized with traffic lights, so they don’t bunch up the way buses do, during rush hour. But if you won’t even consider getting anywhere in Scarborough by anything other than automobile or subway, this will hardly matter. And the fact that more people choosing to take the LRT, means less traffic congestion on the roads getting in the way of your commute, won’t matter either.
Neither will the fact that with the redevelopment LRT brings, you will have more services and amenities within walking distance of where you live or work. Which, might be very important when you are too old to drive and your doctor tells you all those years sitting in your car, have given you heart disease or diabetes and you need to walk more. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Why do LRT critics assume that a private automobile, with an average average 1.11 occupants deserves the right of way over an LRT with 280 riders per vehicle? Why do they assume that a driver, all alone in his car, is entitled to all six traffic lanes to the exclusion of other modes of transit, for no other reason than, that’s the way it has been for the last sixty years?
This trite, car-centric mindset is exactly what created the traffic congestion mess we are in, in the first place! And if we allow it to cloud our thinking, we eliminate the possibility of a more pedestrian friendly, healthy, youthful, vibrant, community oriented, urban existence in Scarborough. A Scarborough where streets are for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and cars. In that order.
And if we want to have the choice to not have to own a car now, not ten or twenty years from now, Scarborough needs to get with the plan and start building street level rapid transit. It is long past time. You can have your damn subway. Just don’t get in the way of the Crosstown East LRT.