Councillor Josh Matlow

Eglinton line something we can all agree on

Soon after I was elected to city council, a reporter called me to find out whether I support subways or streetcars. I responded by inquiring into what route I was being asked about.

“I just want to know what side of the debate you’re on,” the reporter replied.

I explained that I wasn’t aware of anyone arguing for an expansion of streetcar networks in Toronto and that a reasonable combination of subways and light rail vehicles (LRVs) would be my preferred choice.

My comment, perhaps not fitting into the story the reporter was seeking to write, never appeared in print.

I’ve found that our city’s recent transit debate has taken most attempts at informed or thoughtful discussion off the tracks.

We all know subways are certainly fast. They take traffic off the roads and many Toronto residents, including myself, are envious of the vast underground networks that have served world-class cities such as New York, London and Paris for decades. In fact, even Montreal, with a population only two-thirds the size of ours, has a more extensive subway system than we do.

However, subways are expensive. They can easily be multi-billion dollar projects and no level of government has committed to fund any new line. Moreover, their routes should have, or be projected to have, enough density of population to merit ongoing operating costs.

But what about the question I was asked, “Do you support subways or street cars?”

To be clear, LRVs are not streetcars. They’re modern, multi-unit trains that are faster than streetcars and have more passenger capacity.

LRVs cost about a third of the price of subways and, although championed by many on the “left” on city council, they may truly be the more fiscally conservative proposal. In other North American cities, subway proponents would hardly be considered “right wing.” It is clear, though, that many Torontonians don’t want car lanes replaced by LRVs.

The Eglinton Crosstown, a rapid transit line planned to be completely underground between Leslie and Keele Sts., could be a project that council’s “left” and “right” could agree on and build now.

Eglinton Ave. between Yonge St. and Allen Rd. is congested. Ask anyone who regularly squeezes into the Yonge subway line’s crowded trains during rush hour if a midtown connection between the Yonge and Spadina subway lines makes sense; they might tell you they’d help dig the tunnel if it would come any sooner.

In fact, the Eglinton Crosstown’s underground line is the only rapid transit portion of Transit City that is actually supported by Queen’s Park, Metrolinx and, yes, Mayor Ford. The line is underground and its tunnel can be retrofitted for a future subway as ridership grows. Everybody wins.

I very much hope that as a city council, no matter what side of the transit debate one is on, we don’t allow narrow political bickering, or misinformation, to derail a much-needed expansion of Toronto’s public transit system for our city’s residents.

Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s

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