Dismissing Mayor Rob Ford's pledge to bury the entire Eglinton Crosstown LRT as "radically out of sync" with design in leading cities around the world, an influential group of transit and planning experts has released a strongly-worded letter calling on city council to halt the controversial $8.4 billion scheme.
"After several false starts and radical shifts in direction that have disastrously impeded progress, recent events have put the ball squarely back in your court," states the letter, which has been signed by 117 urbanists and is still in circulation online.
At a press conference Sunday, University of Toronto Cities Centre director Eric Miller accused the Ford administration of rejecting "evidence-based planning" in its transit plans and characterized the roiling subway-versus-LRT fight as "a crisis." "We need to make cost-effective decisions, not ideological ones."
The group – which includes former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford, veteran transit expert Richard Soberman, and urbanist Ken Greenberg – proposed a three-point plan that calls on council to reinstate the original Crosstown configuration, which saw the LRT operating in a tunnel through the core but on surface rights-of-way at its east and west ends.
Yet they stopped short of asking council to revert completely to LRTs, as envisioned in the Transit City strategy adopted by council under former mayor David Miller. The letter urges council to fast-track plans for "higher-order" transit on Finch West and Sheppard East, thus leaving the door ajar for bus-rapid transit service along those corridors.
Making the case for surface transit, Mr. Bedford noted that the Spadina LRT, which operates in its own right-of-way, and Finch West bus both carry more riders per day than the Sheppard subway, which cost $1 billion.
Others stressed that council's chronic flip-flops on approved transit strategies have cost taxpayers millions in contract cancellation fees and delay. "There is no 'war on the car,'" added Mr. Greenberg, citing one of Mr. Ford's favourite slogans. "What we are seeing now is a war on common sense based on flawed logic."
The academics are also asking that the provincial Liberals maintain all the funding earmarked for transit capital expansion in the city – an acknowledgment of a growing concern that Queen's Park may dial back costly infrastructure projects in its forthcoming austerity budget.
The move comes on the heels of a week of intense political feuding triggered by TTC chair Karen Stintz's decision to go public with her concerns about the Ford administration's subway-focused transit strategy.
Yet this latest broadside against Mr. Ford shows that opposition to his plan is coalescing in a way that echoes last fall's waterfront fight. Many of the signatories of the current transit letter had previously joined forces with CodeBlue Toronto to demand that council halt Councillor Doug Ford's campaign to tear up the waterfront land development strategy and start from scratch.
The group's third recommendation is that the city get back into the business of detailed long-term transportation and transit planning, as was done in the 1970s by the former Metro following the cancellation of the Spadina expressway and other inner-city highway projects.
"Ad hoc, one-off decisions are no way to build a cost-effective, attractive transit network," the letter states. "A systematic review and analysis of past, current and new plans and ideas is urgently required so that we have a thoughtful, defensible, cost-effective plan for moving forward in the longer term and so that we never again fall into the chaos in which we currently find ourselves."