York subway line ‘seemed like a good idea’
On the upside, the federal government is set to become a real player in urban development by investing in several major GTA transit projects. If reports from the Toronto Star are right, Ottawa will contribute around $1 billion to the Spadina subway extension plus new rapid bus routes in York Region, Brampton and Mississauga. The major drawback is that these projects were developed without assuring they fit together and actually help the GTA transit riders most in need.
The Brampton and York Region bus lines are slated for corridors where local commuters already travel, and seem to connect well with adjoining transit systems. However, the list of proposed routes includes transit lanes along Highway 403 in Mississauga — a location that doesn’t aid most local transit patrons in that city. Why isn’t Mississauga more concerned with improving travel on busy Hurontario Street, or between Square One and Kipling TTC station?
The Spadina subway extension to York University and Vaughan is even more of a misplaced priority. While bus and streetcar routes across Toronto are overcrowded right now, this subway — at around $2.4 billion — will run far below capacity for decades.
The subway to York is what I call a "good-idea" project, as in: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
I estimate that the majority of transportation experts in Toronto now believe the extension does not represent good transit planning. Even the TTC and Toronto council view it as lower on the priority list than rapid bus and light rail lines throughout the city. But this extension has political momentum, especially among those who rarely use transit.
Few want to dwell on the fact that every rider on the subway to York will cost a great deal, compared to other practical alternatives. The extension has support because it would spur development in a sparsely populated corridor. Nonetheless, the line should not be built unless nearby neighbourhoods become dense enough to put thousands of riders onto subway trains.
The federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper may gain plenty of votes by supporting these projects, and by finally accepting its responsibility to aid mobility in Canadian cities.
But can we please turn the corner on such disjointed and politicized planning?
Greater Toronto needs to be able to rationally design its transport network, and plan for the long term.
To do that, Ottawa and Queen’s Park must agree to a funding program that gives us cost-effective transit where and when we need it.