The St. Clair streetcar right-of-way is open. At last, the 512 is running its full length between Yonge and Keele streets. The ride can now be as quick and uncomplicated as the construction process was slow and difficult.
What should have been done differently? It might have been simpler to replace the old, worn out tracks and forget the raised concrete median — and riders today would still be caught in traffic, making bunching and delays that much worse.
Instead, St. Clair Avenue changed significantly. The streetcar lanes are now protected, but some road and sidewalk space was cut to permit that. Hydro lines were buried and the street has a facelift.
The city agencies and utilities involved did not follow an efficient construction schedule and, together with delays from a lawsuit, the project placed shopkeepers and residents in limbo for too long.
Some businesses are gone, and the rest surely hope this upgraded transit service can deliver new customers. Busy streetcar lines do bring economic activity, but it’s going to take time for St. Clair to recover.
The city’s ability to stage construction will be tested soon as similar work begins along Sheppard Avenue East in Scarborough.
The St. Clair experience has a lot of people longing for subways instead of on-street transit lanes, but fiscal reality means underground lines can be built along only a few of the TTC’s clogged bus corridors.
With municipal elections in October, transit riders ought to be asking city council candidates about speeding up commutes — in the short term.
Some political hopefuls are promising a massive subway expansion that will take decades to build and lack realistic funding plans.
For me, this election is about projects that help transit users well before the next municipal vote in 2014. Building for future generations is great, but it ignores the huge growth on urban bus corridors during the last two decades.
Yes, continue extending our below-ground network, but bus riders across Toronto deserve relief now.
Pragmatic politicos will acknowledge the mistakes of St. Clair and at the same time push for exclusive transit lanes across Toronto.
Done correctly, they can be built faster and cheaper than subways.