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"Transit City's not over", City Council says

When Rob Ford became Mayor of Toronto, the very first thing he did, on his very first day in office, December 1, 2010, was to call the TTC’s General Manager, Gary Webster, to a 7 a.m. meeting at City Hall. Ford let Webster know that he was cancelling the Transit City network of light rail transit lines — a project that Ford and most Torontonians associated with Ford’s predecessor, David Miller.

“Transit City’s over”, Ford had told a reporter at 680 All News Radio even earlier that morning.

Today, City Council overturned that decision by voting 26 to 17 to return, instead, to a version of the Transit City plan. The vote gives a clear signal to Metrolinx that the City wants it to build light rail transit (LRT) lines in Toronto, particularly LRTs on Sheppard and Finch Avenues and on Eglinton Avenue east of Laird Drive.

Some pundits are calling today’s decision a major defeat for the mayor. A chief plank of Ford’s election platform was to build subways, especially extending the 4 Sheppard subway west to Downsview Station and east to Scarborough Centre. He vowed to deliver his subway promise to Scarborough commuters, even though the province had already committed $8.4 billion to fund the first phase of Transit City — and had already started work for the first line along Sheppard Avenue East.

That first phase of the LRT network would have included:

  • the Sheppard East line between Don Mills Station and Morningside Avenue;
  • the Eglinton - Crosstown line between Jane Street and Kennedy Station — this line would have been underground beneath the narrow part of Eglinton Avenue between Black Creek and Laird Drive, and in the centre of Eglinton at its western and eastern ends;
  • the Etobicoke - Finch West line between Humber College’s North Campus and the future Finch West subway station at Finch Avenue West and Keele Street.

The province also agreed to supply funds for converting the 3 Scarborough rapid transit line to light rail transit and extending that line to Sheppard Avenue East, where it would meet the Sheppard East line.

But Ford wanted subways — or at least any form of rapid transit that would not take up space on City roads. So, early in his term he journeyed up to Queen’s Park and met with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to draft a new transit plan. The outcome of that meeting was an agreement for Metrolinx use the entire $8.4 billion to build the Eglinton line entirely underground, to combine it with the Scarborough RT, (but only as far as its current terminal at McCowan Station) and to run light rail transit cars along the entire combined line.

In the second part of the agreement, the City would raise funds to support extending the Sheppard subway, and it would arrange for developers to pay for building the new line from extra development charges.

However, the agreement was contingent on City Council approving the plan, which, today, Council refused to do. Many critics of Ford, including the current chair of the Toronto Transit Commission felt that the light rail transit plan provided “more bang for the buck” and allowed the City to provide more rapid transit to more residents of the City. Stintz believed that, by returning to the original plan to run parts of the Eglinton line on the street, instead of in a tunnel, the project would no longer consume the entire provincial $8.2 billion provincial fund, to the benefit of all transit riders, not just Scarboroughites.

After today’s vote, some Councillors who had supported the Ford plan hoped that the province would ignore council and continue to build Eglinton underground. But Ontario’s Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli probably dashed those hopes this evening when he issued a statement supporting the City Council’s plan.

(Chiarelli should be no stranger to debates over transit and over light rail transit in particular. As Transit Toronto’s webmaster, James Bow, recently posted on his own blog, when Chiarelli was mayor of Ottawa he pushed a light rail transit plan for that city that operated on City streets in downtown Ottawa. Larry O’Brien mostly campaigned for mayor by speaking out against that plan and eventually defeated Chiarelli. Shortly after taking office, O’Brien introduced a new light rail plan that would see the trains running underground downtown.)

Nothing is entirely set in stone for this plan, either, though — at least, not for now. The Toronto Star reports tonight that “in an olive branch to the mayor, Stintz has amended her proposal slightly to defer a decision on Sheppard to an outside panel of experts to recommend the mode of transit best suited to that corridor.”

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Welcome to Transit Toronto! This is an information site dedicated to public transportation in Toronto, maintained by transit enthusiasts for transit enthuasiasts. This is NOT the official website of the Toronto Transit Commission, Metrolinx or any other transit provider or government agency. To access the official websites of these agencies, consult this page here.