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Much maligned St. Clair line not so bad after all

City Clerk Ulli Watkiss leans in to talk to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a council meeting Feb. 6, 2012. Earlier a group of councillors led by TTC chair Karen Stintz presented Ms. Watkiss with a petition calling for a special meeting dealing with transit issues.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

It's a phrase that's become something of a slogan for LRT opponents in recent years – don't approve "another St. Clair." As Mayor Rob Ford put it at a news conference last spring to unveil his below-grade transportation strategy up for debate Wednesday: "Our new plan will not add to the gridlock faced by Toronto drivers every day, like we see on St. Clair Avenue West."

The numbers, however, tell a starkly different tale. Since the June, 2010, completion of the right-of-way from Yonge Street to Gunns Loop, overall traffic and peak-period volumes have fallen sharply; transit ridership has jumped 13 per cent, while service frequency has improved; and collisions and personal injuries have plummeted by a third, according to city and TTC data compiled by The Globe and Mail. The St. Clair line now ranks eighth for productivity (boardings per hour) among the TTC's 150 surface routes (the top spot belongs to the Spadina LRT), according to Mitch Stambler, the TTC's manager of service planning.

Transit watchers note that the surface LRTs proposed for Eglinton, Sheppard East and Finch West would function very differently than St. Clair because they don't require lane reductions and will operate in lower-density suburban settings.

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City officials have never conducted a thorough before-and-after analysis of St. Clair that would provide empirical data about how the corridor now functions. The TTC had planned to hire a consultant to do an econometric study, said Mr. Stambler, but the funding was cut due to budget constraints.

However, a transit expert reviewed St. Clair's cost overruns in 2009. Many of them were the result of "project creep" – council-approved add-ons such as burying hydro wires and replacing lead pipes – and a lengthy delay triggered by a lawsuit that was dismissed. The final cost for the St. Clair LRT was $106-million, up from the budgeted $65-million.

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