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.

Toronto’s artificial gridlock

Toronto’s traffic gridlocks are, mostly, artificial, since they are the consequence of two counterproductive planning trends: city overcrowding, and road reductions.

City overcrowding is the result of densification, or “smart growth” urban policies, aimed to increase the number of transit users per area. However, it has been more of an “irresponsible growth”, since the municipalities are getting loads of new income from additional property taxes, and development charges, but are being too slow and inefficient in providing the adequate transportation infrastructure to support this growth.

On the other hand, road capacity reductions are the result of, in part, by the replacement of some road lanes for dedicated transit ways (like the St. Clair West LRT), or new bicycle lanes, (as it was done on Jarvis Street); but most importantly, by lane reductions due to endless periods of road construction, which is by far the most irresponsible act of government incompetence, in this respect.

Why is the public supposed to expect more than a year for a bridge replacement over Highway 401, with its corresponding traffic delays?

Keele Street bridge over Highway 401, under construction in September 2012.

Expected completion: more than a year!

Or, why do hundreds of pedestrians, and thousands of drivers, are supposed to endure over 6 months of delays to have an intersection reconfigured?

6 months expected by the City of Toronto to remodel an intersection.

Daily gridlock on Lawrence Ave. West, from Allen Rd., to beyond Bathurst St., as a consequence.

Who is the one in charge of approving these construction schedules? Can you imagine how long would it take to build those downtown highrises, if they were publicly funded, and managed by the same bureaucrats?

Ryungyong Hotel in North Korea – Under construction for over 25 years.

In many other jurisdictions around the world, the time that it takes to build these kind of road developments is about 1/4 of the time that it takes in Toronto and the GTA. And this is not necessarily due to lack of oversight or low quality controls. As a matter of fact, even within similar GTA jurisdictions, road improvements on the privately managed Highway 407 take less than 1/4 of the time that it typically takes on the publicly managed Highway 401. Everybody knows that the private sector builds at a greater speed compared to publicly funded jobs; but the way that our provincial and municipal governments tackle the construction of transportation infrastructure, is a matter of public abuse.

These days, our city and provincial politicians are trying to find ways to convince us to contribute more of our hard-earned income to fund new transit infrastructure. However, they still don’t make any effort to rationalize their own costs of building that infrastructure. They tell us that they currently have $8.4 billion for only 10 km of underground transit and about 50 km of surface transit, which is the same as saying that the construction of surface transit would cost about $60 million per kilometre, and the underground transit construction a staggering HALF A BILLION DOLLARS per kilometre. However, what they’re not telling us, is that if they rationalize their costs, those same $8.4 billion can be used for 42 kilometres of subways; or, sufficient to build the entire Sheppard subway line (from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre), the entire Eglinton line underground (from Black Creek to Kennedy), plus another 8 km of other subway. Or, use it for 34 kms of subway lines, and other surface transit, plus some road improvement projects. Whatever proportion they choose, they first need to come up clean with their capital budgets and costs.

At the same time, both municipal and provincial governments need to set construction deadlines that reflect actual construction work, and not months of inactivity. If these politicians and bureaucrats want more of our money, they first need to show us that they are using our current resources in a positive, transparent, and efficient way. Otherwise, we will still be left with more overpriced and endless construction projects (like an almost legendary 7-year-old elevator installation on Lawrence West subway station), and very little to show at the end of the day.

Lawrence West subway station elevator under installation – 7 years, and counting…