Politicians’ heads buried underground

The city workers’ strike certainly was a distraction in regard to city business.

The city workers’ strike certainly was a distraction in regard to city business.

One issue that slipped under the public radar was the renovation of Union Station. An announcement was made last week that the federal and provincial governments have agreed to contribute almost half of the $640 million allocated to renovate the structure. The city will put in the rest.

Almost half the money is to be spent digging out space under the station for a new underground retail mall. The last thing we need downtown is another place to shop underground. This is a really dumb way to spend public money.

A big chunk of the remaining money will create underground pathways to and from the station and a large area — also underground — where GO Transit riders can wait for their trains to arrive. City Hall seems to think we’re a bunch of moles who don’t like open air.

The Great Hall at Union Station — one of the most impressive spaces in the city — will continue to be an empty place since there’s no reason for anyone to pass through it. Facilities will be built to encourage passengers to avoid it by staying underground.

In Europe, passengers get to walk from attractive transit halls, lit by natural light, right onto platforms where they board trains. We could do that in Toronto by dead-heading three or four tracks to create a common platform on the same level as the Great Hall. Many GO trains that run on these tracks stop here and back out rather than run right through, so it’s not operationally difficult to achieve.

But the new plans don’t allow that to happen.

A new glass roof will be built over the tracks and that’s good, but there won’t be any pedestrian walkways over the tracks, as there are in Europe. City Hall’s motto seems to be: “Keep them all underground.”

What these three levels of government are doing is funding a bad plan for a great building. Union Station and the Great Hall deserve better. There are smarter and more attractive ways to spend good public money.

 
 
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