When a politician unveils another map of what Toronto’s mass-transit network will look like in some ideal future, the people of Toronto respond the way parents do when a second-grader brings home her latest work of art from school. “Well, isn’t that lovely, dear.” They might stick the picture on the refrigerator, but they know a lot more like it will be coming their way soon.
This week, Doug Ford became the latest to show off his finger painting. Assembling the Toronto media for an announcement, the Ontario Premier positively glowed as he announced that “we are making the biggest, the largest investment in new subways in Canadian history” – $28.5-billion in all.
He said he would finish and improve the planned subway into the eastern suburb of Scarborough that his late brother promoted when he was Toronto mayor (“This one is for you, Rob”). He said he would start planning for a second Scarborough subway, extending the truncated Sheppard “stubway” east. He said he would push a crosstown light-rail line west into the suburb of Etobicoke, the Ford brothers’ home turf. He said he would extend the busy Yonge Street subway beyond the city limits all the way north to Richmond Hill.
Most important and, at more than $10-billion, most expensive, he said he would expand the biggest project on Toronto’s transit blueprints, the long-awaited Downtown Relief Line, taking it north to the Ontario Science Centre at Eglinton Avenue and southwest to Ontario Place on the city’s waterfront. This, he said, would be the “crown jewel” of the subway plan, a line connecting two places with the word Ontario in them and called – wait for it – the Ontario Line. This “historic” project, he said, would be twice as long as the original proposed relief line and yet, thanks to new technology, cost the same. What’s more, it would bring visitors down to a new “world-class” destination at Ontario Place. The man-made islands in the lake have been shuttered for years, but Mr. Ford has big plans for them, just as he once had big plans (a Ferris wheel, a monorail) for another part of the waterfront.
Toronto straphangers can be forgiven for looking on all this with a parent’s jaded eye. Time after time, Toronto politicians have flourished colour-coded maps of tomorrow’s transit, from mayor David Miller’s Transit City network of light-rail lines to mayor Rob Ford’s “subways, subways, subways.” Over and over, those maps have been revised, redrawn or simply scrapped.
To give Doug Ford his due, it is good to see the leader of the provincial government so jazzed about mass transit in a city that has lagged many others in building out its commuter network. But much of his plan is unfunded. He is setting aside $11-billion of the $28.5-billion. The rest is supposed to come from Ottawa and city hall, both of them strapped for cash.
Even if he finds the money, much of his plan is either impractical or whimsical. Why put most of the Etobicoke line in tunnels, a vastly expensive and unnecessary exercise in a low-density suburb? Why build a second subway to Scarborough, even if it allows commuters to ride a nifty loop? And why build a subway to, of all places, Ontario Place? Like so many transit schemes, this one seems to have sprung not from any expert analysis but from the imagination of its champion – in this case, a premier with a liking for whizbang ideas. Hey, you could go to the planetarium at the Science Centre in the morning and ride a roller-coaster on the Exhibition grounds, next to Ontario Place, in the afternoon!
It would have been far more thrilling if Mr. Ford had simply committed himself to funding and completing the projects already in the pipeline. Toronto had a pretty good transit plan before he came along, even if the city was way behind in getting shovels in the ground. What the city needs is someone with the seriousness and commitment to see that plan through.
Instead it got another pretty picture for the fridge.