Many strap-hangers will like the sound of Doug Ford’s transit plan. The Progressive Conservative Leader says that if he becomes premier after the June 7 election he will spend $5-billion more on transit projects around Ontario. He will cut red tape and get shovels in the ground.
But look more closely at his sketchy plan – really only a press release – and two things become clear. First, much of what he vows to do is already being done. Second, the few other things he proposes make little sense.
The Ford plan makes a big noise about building Toronto’s relief line, which would whisk commuters downtown more quickly, and getting a start on rapid-transit lines in places such as Hamilton and Mississauga. Authorities are already pressing ahead with these projects, as he well knows. Mr. Ford announced grandly that he would build “the first regional transit system” to connect the city to the rest of Greater Toronto – which is precisely what Premier Kathleen Wynne of the Liberals is doing with her massive build-out of the GO Transit network.
The Ford plan also envisions an expanded version of the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project and an extension of the Sheppard subway that runs east from Yonge Street. Sounds great, but hang on a bit. Let’s look at the Crosstown first.
This giant project is creating a new mass transit line through the centre of midtown Toronto. It uses light-rail vehicles, which are something between streetcars and subway trains. At the centre of the line, east and west of Yonge, they will run underground like subways. On the rest they will run on the street like streetcars, but using a dedicated, car-free lane.
When Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto in 2010 and brother Doug was his right-hand man, they wanted to put most of itunderground. They loathed the idea of taking a lane away from drivers on Eglinton Avenue, which would be continuing what they called “the war on the car.”
At a debate among party leaders this week, Mr. Ford said that the premier of the time, Dalton McGuinty, refused to let them bury the Crosstown. Like much of what Mr. Ford says, that is plain wrong. Under pressure from the newly elected Fords, Mr. McGuinty rolled over for them and agreed to spend billions on a tunnelled Crosstown, gobbling up almost all the money dedicated to a broader network of light-rail lines, called Transit City, that the Fords were determined to stop.
That was a ridiculous idea. The far ends of the Crosstown run through miles of low-density suburbs. Tunnelling through all of that for a light-rail line would have been a colossal waste of money. Eventually, city council saw that, rebelled against the Ford plan and went back to something like Transit City, They also voted against a Ford plan to extend the Sheppard subway. An expert panel concluded that light-rail was a better solution on Sheppard.
Now Mr. Ford is plotting his revenge. He says he wants to extend the Crosstown line all the way to Pearson airport in the west and the University of Toronto Scarborough campus in the east. And – get this – just as he and his brother called for burying most of the line when they were at city hall, he would run those extensions through tunnels “ where feasible.”
Think about that. Like an urban roller-coaster, the Crosstown would run through a tunnel at the centre, rise onto the street and then plunge back into tunnels at the ends. It is a crackpot idea, a product of Mr. Ford’s long-standing hostility to above-ground transit on rails – those “damn streetcars blocking up our city,” as Rob Ford put it. It would add billions to the province’s already-dizzying transit bill.
That is not the end of it. Mr. Ford also wants to resurrect his late brother’s pet project, the Sheppard subway extension. He would spend billions pushing the existing Sheppard line all the way to the Scarborough Town Centre, a hub near the 401 highway.
Remember, now: the city is already planning to build a subway to Scarborough, the costly and highly controversial eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. So, under Mr. Ford’s plan, there would be not one but two subways to Scarborough, both terminating at the town centre and creating what Mr. Ford calls a loop. Oh, and for good measure, Mr. Ford would add back a couple of stops on the Bloor-Danforth extension that were taken out under Mayor John Tory’s plan. It seems an awful lot of mass transit for one suburb, given all the city’s other transit needs.
“My message to anyone frustrated by Ontario’s transit crisis is that change is coming and help is on the way,” Mr. Ford said in his transit statement. Don’t bet on it.