Ford Pharaoh’s decree stalls Finch transit

The Toronto Star - Royson JamesYou think politicians drive you crazy? Imagine what they do to the bureaucrats.You are responsible for planning transit projects in the city. You pour your heart and soul into the task and, after the miraculous alignment of political interests and dollars, work begins on a project you feel you’ll one day tell your grandchildren, proudly, that you had a hand in developing.Then, a new Pharaoh takes the throne and years of work and progress is tossed aside.Such is the case with plans to improve transit service, west along Finch Ave., the second-busiest bus route in the city, with 42,000 riders a day.When Mitch Stambler and the TTC first presented Transit City as their best stab at excellent transit service, light rail vehicles were to run from the Finch subway station at Yonge, all the way west past Humber College at Hwy 27.Then, Rob Ford became mayor and declared that under his watch no rail lines are running down the centre of Toronto streets. It’s subways, or, grudgingly, buses. Streets are made for cars.It’s a ruinous, short-sighted approach to building a city, though many honking car drivers think the way to get to their destination faster is to remove the nuisance of public transit.TTC recommended a light rail line along Finch West because a LRT has greater capacity than reserved bus lanes or a BRT (bus rapid transit); it is cheaper than a subway; and the LRT capacity matched the ridership projections for Finch, well past 2031.Still, the Finch West LRT has been halted. And Ford has no plan for Finch West, except a promise to look at options to improve service. Any real improvement costs between $46 million and $410 million. And the TTC is already $2 billion short on funds for capital projects.Imagine, then, the slitting of wrists at TTC headquarters when they received a letter from newly-elected Ward 1 Councillor Vincent Crisanti with a first paragraph that reads:“Residents in Toronto’s north-west corner are presently served by transportation that is neither reliable nor efficient. The system serving Wards 1, 7 and 8 produces commute times that are unacceptably long and fall below our city’s standard of excellence.”This, from a councillor who supports the killing of the Finch West LRT in favour of a subway that will not be built this century. And does so, understanding that the province had set aside money for the Finch line, only to see Ford divert the funds to spend on burying the Eglinton line underground, out of the way of cars.So TTC staff Wednesday outlined the list of second-best options and immediately showed why service isn’t about to be fixed any time soon.The best option is a BRT down the centre of Finch. But that’s a non-starter because of Ford Pharaoh’s decree.Next option is reserved bus lanes at the curb. This suffers from the same decree. Share the lanes with cars carrying several passengers and it might pass the Pharaoh test, but HOV lanes require vigilant enforcement and do not provide premium service.Put the buses on the Hydro right-of-way and speed increases greatly, but it moves the service hundreds of metres away from where the commuters want to hop aboard.So, that leaves adding larger buses, signal priority, allowing buses to jump the queue at intersections, improving fare collection to allow quick boarding of buses — all initiatives that should be put in place on most routes.Councillor John Parker, brave man he, suggested staff should just widen the corridor, plan to put a reserved something (bus or light rail) down the centre of the road, because, sooner or later, that’s the solution.“Those of us sitting around the table here know that. It’s just that this option has been taken away from us.” He meant, taken away by the Pharaoh.As the chief magistrate’s word is law, Councillor Norm Kelly was probably wise in saying that any attempt to push towards light rail in this era is “akin to playing air guitar and thinking you are playing music.”Ditto to transit improvements on Finch.

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