The Ford Factor
In an end-of-year interview, Mayor Rob Ford made it clear that his transit priority is extending the Sheppard subway line. It’s not a crazy idea. The question is whether it represents the best bang for the transit buck.
Given the amount of discussion here on a similar issue – the next rapid transit extension in this region and the choice of technology – I think this is a good comparison. Marcus Gee also makes the main point.
Subways are faster, carry more people and don’t interfere with traffic. [emphasis added]
The reason Ford wants subways, not surface LRT, is that it keeps the the transit away from the cars. Ford thinks that the existing streetcar system is the cause of congestion in Toronto.
What he doesn’t want to consider is that people in cars waste huge amounts of resources to get where they want to go: perhaps the most significant from the point of view of this debate is street space at peak periods. The most that a ~3m wide strip of road (i.e. one lane) can move is 1,000 vehicles per hour (2,000 if its a freeway: it’s the intersections that cause the difference). At average 1.3 persons per vehicle occupancy that means 1,300 persons per hour per direction. Rapid transit can easily move ten times that number without any grade separation. And at the sort of densities that most North American urban regions are built to, that’s plenty for most applications. And far more than are currently being moved on the Sheppard subway.
It is also important to note that rapid transit is only part of the issue. It is more important that we build urban areas to reduce the need for motorised transportation. The Transit City plan was part of a much bigger idea – that land use density along transit corridors should be increased. This would have been a major change in Toronto. After the Yonge Street line was built, with towers popping up near the stations, the Bloor Street line only got built once the neighbourhoood activists were satisfied that no land use change would be permitted along the line. Again, almost the same outcome as seen in east Vancouver along the Expo line with the one exception of Joyce-Collingwood. “Denser development” did not mean high rises at widely spaced stations, but mid rise (four storeys or so) along the arterials – as we already see on parts of Broadway – and even 4th Avenue. This kind of area also means mixed land use (retail underneath apartments for instance) and produces a lot more walk and cycle trips.
Which brings me to the other reason I decided to get into this. Gordon Price on his blog takes a fair swing at Don Cherry
a sports jock in a florid pink jacket is the star of a mayoral inauguration in Canada’s largest city.
Thanks to Don Cherry’s boisterous performance, there’s now a new standard of civility at Toronto City Hall.
“I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.”
Why do some sports jocks hate cyclists?
Cherry’s bon mots not only branded the Rob Ford mayoralty but also doubtless gave licence to radio-ranters across this land looking to source civic politics for some testosterone-filled rhetoric. Sports talk is one of the permitted places in Canadian media where Fox-style hyperbole plays well. Since American role models from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have refined the scripts on how to fight the culture wars (first, target something vulnerable – oh look, cyclists), these dudes are ready for their cue. The Cherry performance brought trash talk into city hall as the new rhetoric.
Characterizing an entire community as left-wing kooks polarizes the debate Fox-style.
The old left – right paradigm in politics is increasingly irrelevant. What matters now is the difference between the ‘business as usual’ crowd (which includes the large union dominated NDP as well as the business friendly parties) and those who see the need for our civilization to change direction, avoid imminent collapse, and start thinking about how to survive on a rapidly heating planet. We are past peak oil which means not only that we cannot afford to operate internal combustion engined vehicles for every trip, we will also have huge challenges in building replacement technologies. Even if switching to electric cars could be considered, we do not have the resources available to achieve that. Nor would it resolve any of the problems we are now facing. The choice of rapid transit technology is not just one of cost – though that ought to register even in a mind as befuddled as Ford’s. It is also very much about what sort of planet we can hope to inhabit in the future.
What worries me is that we keep on voting for people like Ford – and cheering on Don Cherry.