The Ford brothers are on the warpath over Eglinton Connects, the plan to redesign Eglinton Avenue as the Crosstown light-rail transit line goes in.
Councillor Doug Ford told city council last week that “this is going to be a complete – mark my words, complete – disaster” that will run over budget, kill business and cause traffic congestion “out the gazoo.” Dusting off a favourite old phrase, he even called it part of the “war on the car.”
Mayor Rob Ford, meanwhile, called the plan “a complete waste of taxpayers’ money” that would cause “traffic chaos.” He told reporters that he likes subways, not LRTs, and that, in the current election campaign, he is the only one “fighting for underground transit.”
It can often be hard to follow Ford logic, but this time their reasoning truly bewilders. The Crosstown project, for the greater part of its length, is underground transit. For 11 of its 19 kilometres it will travel in a tunnel, just like a subway, staying safely out of the way of motorists. Only on its eastern and western ends, where the densities are lower and the roadway wider, will it rise above ground and run on dedicated lanes along the street.
So this is hardly “St. Clair Part 2,” as the mayor calls it. That streetcar line, which he loves to loathe, runs exclusively above ground.
In fact, when the Crosstown line opens in 2020, most of the bus traffic that clogs Eglinton today will disappear. Travellers will take the LRT instead. How can removing scores of heavy buses from the street constitute a war on the car?
Under the Eglinton Connects plan, 92 per cent of the LRT route will have at least four traffic lanes on the surface. There will be on-street parking outside of peak hours on most of that stretch. Only on the 1.5-kilometre central stretch between Avenue Road and Mount Pleasant will the number of lanes go down to three – one each way for traffic and one for left turns. City planners argue that traffic volumes are lower in this central stretch and pedestrian traffic higher. To prevent snarls, an amendment passed at city council last week calls for adding right-turn lanes at key intersections.
Reconfiguring Eglinton will allow for wider sidewalks for walkers, protected bike lanes for cyclists, and more trees, landscaping and street furniture for everyone. The result should be what planners call a “complete street,” accommodating the needs of all its users.
Although the Fords seem taken aback by the plan, the city can hardly be accused of springing it on an unsuspecting public. Officials consulted with residents in more than 60 meetings over two years.
The city managed to calm most of their fears. No, it will not be reducing Eglinton to one lane each way through the whole length of the Crosstown. No, it will not be expropriating houses to make way for new lane ways off Eglinton (new and wider lane ways will be created only when new development goes in). No, lane ways are not to be used for through traffic (they are intended for service vehicles and local access instead).
Now along come the Fords to fan the fames of local anxiety again. “This is completely backwards to what people are frustrated every day with,” the worked-up mayor told city council. The city should abandon its grand plans for Eglinton, he said, and “keep it as it is.”
But surely that would be a big mistake. Given the vast effort going into the $5-billion Crosstown project, it only makes sense to seize the opportunity and improve the road it runs along. Eglinton is the principal avenue of midtown Toronto. Now that it is finally getting a rapid transit line, it is ripe for more development. Planners foresee new office and residential buildings in the nodes around the main Crosstown stops and more mid-rise development in between.
The aim of Eglinton Connects is to make it a livelier, denser, greener and altogether more urban street. Everyone should be able to applaud that, despite the Fords.