Councillor Josh Matlow

Inside Toronto: Transit meeting finds most of crowd favours LRT plan

March 2, 2012


Hundreds of residents attended a standing-room-only transit meeting at North Toronto Memorial Community Centre held by midtown councillors Josh Matlow and Karen Stintz.


The Tuesday, Feb. 28 meeting was held to discuss the current status of the city’s light rapid transit plan after council’s mid-February decision to favour LRT cars over Mayor Rob Ford’s subway plan.


University of Toronto urban geography professor Andre Sorensen and the TTC’s Anna Pace presented various findings at the meeting that backed council’s decision.


While most of the crowd appeared to be in favour of the LRT plan – Stintz got a rousing ovation when she was introduced – there was still a vocal contingent who were pro-subway.


Matlow noted the plan favoured by council, which includes ongoing discussion as to what to do with the Sheppard subway line, was in his opinion the best option based on the evidence at hand.


He said the mayor’s subway plan lacked reasonable funding alternatives and said rapid transit was the right choice in many neighbourhoods, but said Ford seemed intent on spreading rhetoric to get Torontonians to back his vision.


“There’s a concerted effort by some people, including the mayor of Toronto, to candidly tell people something that I believe is based on misinformation,” he said.


Matlow added he would rather see rapid transit that serves more of the city, and eventually a downtown relief line, added as a transit priority than an extension of the Sheppard subway line.


He added he would be more inclined to listen to a subway plan, “if Mayor Ford or anyone will bring forward to council or to the residents of Toronto (subway plans)…and tell us how you can pay for subways.”


Stintz pointed out the city has been given a limited amount of cash with which to work, with the province kicking in $8.4 billion for the Metrolinx plan that was scuttled when Ford took office only to be revived in a somewhat amended form by council.


She said Toronto would be wise to use various forms of transit.


“Modern cities have buses, subways, LRTs,” she said. “That’s how modern cities work.”


Sorensen pointed out the city is losing $6 billion a year in productivity due to traffic congestion and gridlock. He said by adding effective transit options across the city, it would help alleviate some of those problems.


“Whatever (transit) technology you use, people have to be able to decide that taking transit is a better option than going by car,” he said.


He added the Sheppard subway line as it stands is losing money daily due to low ridership, noting the city suburbs were not densely-populated enough to support further subway expansion.


Sorensen pointed out while subway proponents have argued intensification along Sheppard could make a subway viable, “the urban form is not very easy to intensify; much of (Sheppard) is frozen.”


Pace concurred, noting the areas set to be serviced by light rapid transit – along Finch Avenue West, Sheppard East and along Eglinton across much of the city – would be well-served with expandable LRT trains.


“These aren’t high-density areas; they’re mid-density areas,” she said.


She said the cost efficiency of rapid transit made it a far better choice, as well.


“It’s much more affordable than subways, so we can have much more transit coverage,” she said.


Some in the audience expressed various concerns over the plan, including the notion that drivers – in particular emergency vehicle operators – could have a more difficult time reaching their destinations. Pace admitted some drivers could be inconvenienced slightly by the rapid transit lines, but noted emergency services signed off on the plan.


One vocal audience member likened the city’s transit plan to the St. Clair right-of-way, which saw many businesses along St. Clair Avenue West go out of business as construction dragged on.


Stintz said fears over another St. Clair scenario were overblown.


“These projects, light rapid transit, we don’t have in the city right now,” she said. “It’s not the St. Clair right-of-way. We’ve learned from the St. Clair right-of-way.”


While opponents of the current proposal were numerous, there was a definite sense in the room that most were eager to go ahead with the transit plan as it stands, particularly along Eglinton, which has seen proposed improvements to public transit fall by the wayside before.


Council will vote on the Sheppard portion of the plan at a special March 15 meeting.


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