Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto transit: Kill the half-baked ideas and get some real answers from council

Transit planning in Toronto has gotten pretty messy over the last few years.

An understatement, I know.

A series of elections, a bunch of Rob Ford sloganeering and some meddling from the provincial government has left Toronto with a tangle of competing plans for subways, surface rail and light-rail transit.

But lo, an opportunity approaches. This week’s meeting of Toronto city council has agenda items related to three transit projects. Together they represent a chance for newly elected mayor John Tory and city councillors to start making some sense of the city’s transit future.

Here’s what they should do.

On the Scarborough subway: get some answers.

It’s a common misconception that the Scarborough subway is a done deal. It’s nothing of the sort.

In reality, the project — which would see the Bloor-Danforth line extended further into Scarborough — is still in its earliest stages. The exact route hasn’t even been decided. Costs are up in the air. There are hundreds of questions remaining.

So let’s give Coun. Josh Matlow credit for trying to get some answers. He’s filed a series of inquiries to Toronto’s city manager on both the subway plan and the Scarborough LRT that councillors axed last year. Answers are expected this week.

Even subway-supporting councillors should embrace Matlow’s drive to get this information. It’s a call for transparency on a multi-billion dollar project.

On SmartTrack: move forward, prepare for compromise.

Tory’s signature SmartTrack transit plan is up for debate this week, with councillors deciding whether to approve $1.65-million in studies as part of a larger work plan.

SmartTrack, which calls for repurposing GO Transit lines for local service, is a good idea.

But at this stage, that’s all it is: an idea.

SmartTrack can succeed if Tory accepts that the details need to change. That could include tweaks to things like the expensive Eglinton West section and the Scarborough segment, which looks to run right up against the planned subway.

But if Tory attempts to present his campaign vision as sacrosanct, SmartTrack could easily go off the rails. Councillors should approve the study but they should make sure the mayor shows signs of compromise.

On a supposed Finch Avenue subway plan: dismiss it.

Lastly, Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti is bringing a motion to council that would scrap plans for the funded LRT on Finch West and instead endorse a subway line.

Kill it with fire.

No engineer or planner has identified Finch as a subway corridor. Ridership studies are non-existent. Costs have not been estimated and even if they were, there’s no plan to fund them.

Toronto politicians have spent too much time considering these kinds of half-baked transit ideas. No more. Tory and council should slam the door on this kind of wishful and destructive transit thinking.

This post was originally published at on 2015-02-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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