Most people don’t care about environmental assessments, or the fact the provincial government is now shortening the length of time it takes to complete one.
However, urban dwellers do care that a proposed transportation project is right for a particular corridor as well as for the larger city. It’s just as important that affected neighbourhoods be consulted meaningfully throughout the process of designing and building any new line.
Environmental assessments may not sound like they are about coming up with the best plan, or guaranteeing lots of public input, but EAs have often been the only way to ensure both these important goals happen.
It’s true the GTA is far behind in building good transit but short, six-month EAs can’t become a means of ignoring necessary criticism. Yes, some people fight anything that may alter their existing neighbourhood, effectively demanding that a planned transit line be watered down to nothing or that a subway be dug to minimize the impact at street level. With just these two options, we fall further behind.
Close-minded opposition must not delay needed projects but there still has to be room in the process for us “non-experts” to make crucial contributions. Transit schemes — even good ones — have flaws that only thorough debate can reveal. Ongoing consultation and flexibility on the part of government officials may actually nourish community support.
Politics have primarily driven GTA transit planning over the last 20 years, and shorter EAs won’t reduce that influence. In fact, it’s likely no legislation can guarantee that politicians and planners will genuinely go to citizens and taxpayers and ask what they want — or consult communities throughout a project.
It’s not enough that people get a chance to voice their opinion during elections — when transit plans are but one part of a larger campaign platform — or during a narrow window after many important decisions have already been made. Municipalities did involve citizens when their official plans were drawn up, but many of the transit projects now on the table were only superficially debated back then — if at all. If the EA process can’t ensure real public input, then what will?
It may be too late for several dubious plans already in the pipeline, such as the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan. And yet there is at least a chance to help ensure the GTA transport grid includes smart new lines.
Go to metrolinx.com and click on “Regional Transportation Plan.”