Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Don’t let the Big Move overshadow needed small moves on transportation

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Thu Mar 28 2013

Don’t get me wrong: I really like that Metrolinx's Big Move transit plan has forced the GTA to finally have a real conversation about large-scale transportation planning and how to fund it. It’s way overdue.

But let’s not let talk of downtown relief lines and electrified GO corridors distract from some of the smaller, more easily realized transportation projects that are just begging for a little attention. There are things we can do in Toronto that can significantly improve mobility that don’t come with billion-dollar price tags and pointed debates about whether we should implement transit taxes.

Here are three examples of affordable small moves on transportation that could quickly supplement the more expensive Big Move.

1. Implement timed transfers everywhere

I'd bet that history will ultimately validate the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way as a good thing, even with incessant claims that it’s nothing but a crazy expensive disaster that murders small business and make children cry. But my favourite part of the St. Clair streetcar experience these days doesn’t have anything to do with the changes to the street. Instead, I’m in love with the timed transfer.

Unlike transfers elsewhere on the TTC that are only valid as long as you’re making a contiguous trip, St. Clair transfers are good for two hours after they’re issued. This means you can jump on the streetcar for an errand, grab what you need from wherever, then use the same transfer for the return trip. You can even make multiple stops, as long as they all fall within the two hour window.

Implementing timed transfers across the whole system would immediately make using the TTC for short trips far more attractive. It likely wouldn’t change commuting patterns much, but for seniors and parents who need to make mid-day grocery runs, being able to make the trip on a single fare would be a significant improvement. And for the TTC, it'd work as a low-cost way to build off-peak ridership across the city.

One of the worst things about this past winter’s blizzard was the transit experience in the days following, when seemingly every streetcar faced major delays because drivers couldn’t seem to avoid parking in ways that blocked the tracks.

I don’t blame the drivers much — mistakes happen and parallel parking is tricky, especially next to huge snowbanks — but the lengths the TTC had to go to get these cars moved out of the way was ridiculous. Streetcars were routinely stopped for more than 20 minutes as requests were sent through various city departments to get a tow truck in place to clear the way. One empty car should never hold up a transit vehicle carrying dozens.

The TTC desperately needs some more powers to deal with these kinds of situations. There should be a fleet of tow trucks waiting to spring into action at the TTC’s request. And cameras on buses and streetcars should snap photos of license plates and send giant bills to anyone who dares impede the flow of transit.

And, hey, let’s go even further and really look into the larger issue of everyday parking on streetcar routes. How much faster would everyone — streetcars, passenger vehicles and bikes — move on Queen Street or King Street if we removed all on-street parking?

It's worth weighing the economic benefits of on-street parking versus thousands of people getting to work on time.

3. Expand BIXI now

When it comes to bike sharing, Minneapolis is beating Toronto. And that’s shameful.

Toronto is set to go into another summer with no expansion of its BIXI bike sharing system, despite what appears to be very good usage numbers — even in winter — and continued high demand for more stations. BIXI only maintain 80 stations while, Minneapolis — a much smaller city with similar weather patterns — boasts 116 stations across their own system.

We need to fix that. It's a matter of civic pride. And there’s no doubt in my mind that an expanded BIXI area would convince more people to cycle in this city.

The biggest problem with the current BIXI zone — which extends from roughly Spadina to Sherbourne, south of Bloor — is that it just misses a lot of major downtown residential areas. Extending the zone to include the likes of Parkdale, Cabbagetown, High Park, Riverdale and Leslieville would make for a dramatic improvement.

The benefits of cycling are clear. With cycling (and walking) working as the only forms of transportation that don't require operating subsidies, anyone who chooses to take a trip by bike represents net savings for the city. That should be reason enough to do whatever we can to get people travelling on two wheels.

That also means the city needs to get better at building infrastructure — lanes, signals, parking — that supports cyclists. In other words, Toronto has to ditch its reputation as the only major city on the planet actively removing bike lanes.

Sure, it’d be a small move — maybe the smallest move of all — but small moves add up.

This post was originally published at on 2013-03-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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