The city’s goofy transit plan

A few days ago, I attended the meeting about the new streetcar yards at Leslie and Lakeshore and the route the new cars are expected to take.  As with most public consultations these days, the format was pre-determined to minimize disruption, opposition and effective input.  It’s a veneer of public accountability masking a process that’s alienating and distant.

As a result, the atmosphere was tense.  Every speaker was loudly cheered by the crowd and angry outbursts occurred whenever the presenters avoided or deflected questions, which was routine.  I felt uncomfortable when participants suggested scrapping streetcars entirely and moving to diesel buses, as though this would solve the congestion problem – we’d still need to store vehicles with a comparable capacity, likely on the very same site, they would still need to be moved through the community onto their routes, and then we’d have diesel fumes to contend with – but even that comment got cheers and clapping.  People were angry and emotional and not necessarily thinking through the consequences of all their suggestions.

My comments before have centred on the lack of public consultation.  While I found it dubious that the best site available in the entire city is carved out of a part of the sewage treatment plant site now being used as a park, I was trying to be open, insofar as it’s possible to be open with such a painfully closed process.

But speaking to residents recently, I’ve become convinced that the plan is completely and utterly stupid, not just because it’s unfair to impose more and more public infrastructure on a single community, not just because it tears up parkland, not just because it exposes toxic waste that’s buried beneath, not just because it expropriates land that had been specifically set aside for urgently needed improvements to our water treatment plant, not just because it removes the protective berms installed to protect local residents from potential chlorine gas explosions, not just because the congestion along the proposed routes has not been carefully considered and not just because the intersections involved are all already very dangerous today, although all these factors are also true.

The principle reason I object to this project is that it seems misguided from a transit perspective.  What the plan would do is put 3/4 of the city’s streetcar fleet within a radius of several blocks in one corner of the city, divided between the existing Connaught yards and the proposed new yards, and all of these vehicles would have exactly one way to get to their respective routes – going west along Queen Street at the rate of one every 48 seconds, including the turns each 4-car length vehicle would have to make to get onto Queen.  A slip-up of just a couple of minutes would pile up 3 streetcars behind schedule.  A problem that took 20 minutes to resolve would tie up 1/8 of the city’s fleet.  And an accident that closed traffic on Queen for an hour at 6am would remove nearly half the city’s streetcars from rush hour duty.  And of course, the fact that all these streetcars are off in one corner means that you have to start getting them out much earlier in the morning than you would have to if they were closer to the routes they covered.  So a plan that puts so many streetcars in one place has significantly higher routine labour costs.

After the formal part of the meeting, I expressed this concern to the TTC representative there.  What he answered was breathtaking in its stupidity.  He said that the TTC had done careful analysis, and this was the shortest route to a paid line – only 7 minutes from Lakeshore to Queen.  In other words, the careful analysis that the TTC did, if he is to be believed, didn’t at all calculate how early the streetcars would have to start in the morning nor the additional labour costs involved as a result of this early movement.  And as far as the TTC is concerned, every vehicle on Queen Street is paying for itself.  Apparently, the TTC analysts imagine that 150 vehicles traveling west along Queen Street between 5 and 7 am at the rate of one every 48 seconds earn as much revenue as 150 streetcars spread across the city later in the day.  As soon as the streetcar reaches a paid line, the labour costs will be covered.

The moment that I found the most heartbreaking in the evening was a speech by a gentleman who lives at Leslie and Eastern, where so many accidents have occurred, including fatalities.  He points out that early in the morning, the intersection features commuting cyclists competing with enormous trucks emerging from the postal station down the street to deliver Toronto’s mail.  The curving nature of the street impedes visibility and adds to the danger.  Other drivers, including truckers, arrive at the coffee shop for their morning coffee and suddenly turn off the street to park.  The intersection is very busy early in the morning and just gets busier throughout the day as people arrive for early shifts at Loblaws before it opens, to Canadian Tire, Price Chopper, the fast food shops serving breakfast and so on.  The gentleman was clearly distraught at the thought of attempting to navigate the intersection as is, even without the added challenge of 100 streetcars 4 cars long.

It’s a dumb plan.

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