The Silent Giant

Mayor Rob Ford’s critics in Toronto’s (and now Mississauga’s) City Hall have come in full force against his will to stop any new taxes imposed on Torontonians for a dubious transit plan from Metrolinx called “The Big Move”. Some people in the media are even calling for a “David” to slay the “biblical Goliath”, as if Ford is a giant who wants to kill and eat us, with his stern opposition to new taxes. However, these people conveniently ignore the Silent Giant that is Metrolinx, which is trying to suffocate the people of the GTA with new $2 Bn taxes per year. This is an average of almost $1,000 on new taxes every year per family, or household. And for what? For a plan that aims to build subways at 3-times the cost of similar ones, and that will put LRTs in the middle of busy streets; oh, and wait for this, that can ONLY be financed with new taxes? Why are they not inviting the private sector to help us finance such plan, as it is done in many other world metropolis, including in Canada? Is that the best Metrolinx could come up with? I’ve been questioning Metrolinx publicly why, but this Giant remains conveniently Silent.

Metrolinx has been unable to explain to us why its Big Move plan costs 3-times its precursor MoveOntario 2020. Besides some changes on GO Transit improvements, the major difference is that the Big Move plan includes the Downtown Relief Line, while MoveOntario 2020 includes the Spadina subway extension. Does this difference explain the change in budget from $17.5 Bn to $50 Bn? Of course, when you propose subways at $570 million per kilometre, vs the existing Sheppard subway that cost a third of it, or $200 million per kilometre – in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation -, the sky is the limit.

This plan seems to be the brain-child of Paul Bedford, the former Chief Planner at Toronto’s City Hall, and a staunch anti-car activist. The idea would be to come up with a plan as expensive as possible, in order to make the case for new taxes, and road tolls. It also includes the last-minute David Miller’s “Transit City” plan to put slow LRTs in the middle of the street, instead of rapid transit underground. That will slow down traffic even more, creating an even bigger urgency for more transit investment, and, guess what: more taxes. It’s a never-ending cycle of worsening quality of life, and worsening cost-of-living, which creates more dependence on power-hungry politicians and its union and corporate backers.

It has been almost half a century of bad transportation planning decisions, where very few rapid transit improvements, and NO new road capacity has been provided to an explosive population in Toronto. What other than increasing congestion can we expect, then? And this is not only causing billions of dollars of wasted productivity, but is also putting our biking and walking children, and seniors in danger, with growing congestion on residential streets. This is not “Smart Growth”, but completely Irresponsible Growth.

The Big Move proponents tell us to look at Los Angeles, or Paris, or San Francisco, as examples of how they implemented the so called “revenue tools”, or how they have included LRTs in the middle of streets, or how they have even reduced road capacity. However, they conveniently neglect to tell us that those continue to be the most congested cities in the US and Europe, respectively. On the contrary, what these cities are showing us is that mediocre transit, no new road capacity, and new taxes, will never alleviate congestion.

So what does the people of Toronto say about this scam? Well, Metrolinx and the City of Toronto called for people’s participation through poorly-attending public forums and website commentary. Few people found out about these, so less than 400 people attended the City of Toronto forums, and less than 7,000 left comments on its website. Metrolinx didn’t get much better participation, either. So, do they now think that they represent the voice of the people? We are talking about less than 0.3% of Toronto’s population on website comments, and less than 0.02% in the public forums. The rest was probably too busy stuck in traffic, or with other concerns, or simply never heard about this plan. Oh, but CivicAction and the Toronto Board of Trade are also telling us that they have a lot of backing from their website comments and some Board of Trade members. However, they don’t tell us that their proposed parking levy will effectively subsidize major retailers to the detriment of small businesses. Wow, talk about democracy! Even this email, will probably have more reach of people than the negligible participation on the above mentioned public forums and website comments. The people of Toronto should, at least, have a say via a referendum, or through a vote on the transportation platforms of political candidates.

The Silent Giant of Metrolinx needs to get back to us and answer these questions; or, get back to work on a credible transportation plan. What they are doing today, is stubbornly insisting on a plan that will only increase our cost of living, destroy small businesses, make congestion worse, and continuing to make our residential neighbourhoods more dangerous. Torontonians would like to see which candidate will continue to pursue new taxes to pay for this destructive plan.

Lawrence-Allen Transportation Challenge & Allen Road Decking Proposal

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Aerial View rendering of new park decked over an expressway in Dallas, TX.

(Below is a proposal that I sent to the City of Toronto during their public consultation for the Allen Road Terms of Reference for Environmental Assessment, on January, 2013)

Background

The three main feeding arterials surrounding the planned Lawrence-Allen revitalization area – Dufferin St., Bathurst St. and Lawrence Ave. – are already suffering of severe traffic congestion during most times of the day, including weekends due to the large commercial presence. With the projected increase of about 20,000 new residents in this area, the amount of new private vehicles can easily be expected to reach well over 5,000 within the same area. A large portion of these new vehicles flooding into the three main arterials, mentioned above, during rush hour will increase the existing congestion and air pollution, even more. This will contribute to a reduction of the quality of life of its immediate neighbours, and Torontonians, in general. Also, but not less important, it will be a cause of grave safety concern, due to the increased traffic pressure on local roads, which are always full of pedestrians, of all ages, and of children biking.

The above is a reflection of a pattern going on for many decades in our city, where we have seen big government efforts to increase the population within this, former low-density, metropolis, but without providing the adequate transportation infrastructure to support the intended, and gained population growth. Some urban planners call this densification as “Smart Growth”, believing that higher densification will help people commute shorter distances, and that would help justify the increase of mass transportation systems. Their ideal is to get commuters off their private vehicle, and into mass transit. Objectionably, I call this situation as “Irresponsible Growth”, since the government is getting a significant increase on development fees and property taxes, but have not given the necessary infrastructure, in return.

For decades, reality has showed us that mass transit growth has not been provided adequately, due to a continuous lack of funding to build an ever more costly public transit system. Additionally, there has been a negligible increase of Toronto’s road network for almost half a century. This latter lack of road growth, has been intentional, in the most part, since there have been a series of government policies aimed to reduce car use, which are ultimately reflected in the transportation vision professed by the current Toronto’s Official Plan. However, despite this 40+ years effort to “reduce car dependency”, the proportion of private vehicle vs. public transit commute has remained fairly unchanged (as reported by the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto). This is mainly due to the speed and comfort advantages that a personal vehicle provides, compared to public transit. Unless commuters get an appreciable time and/or comfort advantage given by transit over their private vehicle, they will not switch their modes of transport. Or, if they manage to live and work within a convenient transit route, something that is becoming increasingly unaffordable in a city that continues to increase its density.

Planners for the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan seem to expect that the additional 20K+ residents will have a minimum impact on local road traffic. These planners believe that the majority will use transit (utilizing the existing Spadina-Yonge subway line), or that they would bike/walk to work, or school. Some planners are even suggesting eliminating the Allen Road’s expressway condition, by converting it into a surface boulevard with traffic-light intersections. However, they don’t seem to realize that these new residents’ place of employment might not be in downtown, or at walking/cycling distance, but in Etobicoke, or Scarborough, or Mississauga, or Richmond Hill, or Ajax, etc. Therefore, where is the mass transit system that will let them commute to those diverse areas in a reasonable time, so they can leave their private vehicle at home? Or, when will that transit system be provided to these residents? With the speed of transit development Toronto, it might not possibly happen during their entire lifetime.

The key in urban transportation planning is, also, to invest in continued road construction and development. It is less expensive, and in many cases more effective than mass transit construction. And, it can be tolled. Privately owned Highway 407, despite all the initial public complains, is widely popular, and is helping Highway 401 to not end in total paralysis. The self-defeatist notion of “we can’t build our way out of congestion”, as if new highway construction would bring even more congestion, is misleading, since its premise is just a reflection of fast densification, with slow provision of new road infrastructure.

Jane Jacobs was an important public figure who came out as a result of insensitive road development in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During those decades, large areas of well-established residential neighbourhoods were razed to give room for new highways. Consequently, this lead to the polarization of the anti-car political movement, which contributed to a stop of any new road development. However, in Toronto we can avoid to make the same mistakes of the past. This city has an extensive network of hydro corridors, as well as highway and railway corridors, where new roads or highways can be laid out on the surface, or elevated above. This way we can protect the existing neighbourhoods, while making them safe from intrusive traffic.

Decking Proposal for the Allen Road

Having said the above, I propose that, in order to provide some adequate road capacity for the additional traffic pressures of the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization Plan area, we need to further utilize the Allen Road corridor with a new road over a deck on top. This new Allen Boulevard will provide an additional exit and access from/to the neighbourhood, with connections into the Allen expressway below, and also directly onto Highway 401.

The new deck over the Allen Rd. also provides the opportunity to lay down a linear park along the new Allen Boulevard, connecting Lawrence Avenue with the Yorkdale Mall. The new park will give ample room for walking, biking and other community-inspired activities, as well as areas for cafes, restaurants, or ice skating trails during the winter season.

Similar deck-over-highways parks have been developed in various cities in North America, like Boston, Phoenix, or Seattle, with construction costs reaching US$500 per square foot (“Dallas Covers Highway With Greenery” – http://www.governing.com/columns/urban-notebook/dallas-covers-highway-greenery.html).

The area proposed for decking over the Allen Road (between Lawrence Avenue and south of Ranee Avenue), is about 500,000 square feet, therefore, its cost can reach $250 million. This cost can be recovered via property taxes on the new residential developments, as well as new commercial real estate developments along the sides of the new Allen Boulevard. In any case, it would be an enormous contribution by the city to the new neighbourhoods. Also, in the future, this decking can be further extended south of Lawrence Avenue, therefore reconnecting the two sides separated by the Allen Road.

The city of Toronto has the challenge to provide adequate transportation infrastructure for the increasing densities of Lawrence-Allen. However, it also has the opportunity to utilize the existing Allen Road corridor for improved road capacity, and to create an iconic park that would attract Torontonians from every corner of this city.

The End of the Crumbling Gardiner Expressway

TWV-skyPATH Logo
The End of the Crumbling Gardiner Expressway
It’s time to revisit an innovative solution that has been ignored for 8 years.
Toronto Waterfront Viaduct:
– a cable-stayed viaduct over the rail corridor barrier
– no “Big Dig” disruptions for the city
– a fraction of the cost of tunneling
– north-south pedestrian connections across the rail corridor (see skyPATH)
– acres of priceless waterfront land reclaimed when the viaduct is complete and the Gardiner is dismantled
– walk, cycle, transit, drive
TWV