Sunday, December 19, 2004

More North Pork

The new amalgamated Toronto is a primarily suburban city. The hinterlands of North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke all blossomed in those heady modernist days of separated land-use and car friendly design. As the metropolis continues to bloat, these former peripheral colonies are quickly evolving from exurb to inner suburb. Coupled with this changing social dynamic, development pressures mean that the old suburbs will have to absorb most of the additional million projected to move to Toronto proper over the next twenty years.

In order to adapt, planners have brought forward the notion of the 'Avenue'. An idea which serves as the hallmark of the new Official Plan. These mixed-use corridors are designed to transform arterial 10-lane roads rife with declining strip malls into a liveable mix of residential, recreational and commercial uses. The intent is to increase densities, promote good urban form and decrease reliance on the automobile. By and large a good idea.

But it one thing to toss around a good idea, and yet another entirely to follow it up. Increasing density and decreasing car dependency means one thing - providing comprehensive transit - and recently there has been absolutely no rational discussion on the subject. Back in 2002 when the Official Plan was being developed and the Avenues cited as the backbone of development policy in the City, politicians took the occasion to mouth the virtues of improved, integrated transit in facilitating the success of these corridors. However - as is true of all things Toronto - politics takes over when the rubber hits the road. Instead of discussing ways to alleviate existing and foreseen traffic congestion on future avenues such as Eglinton Avenue or Kingston Road, current discussion now centres around spending 1.5 billion precious transit dollars on yet another riderless stubway to nowhere. As if the Sheppard fiasco wasn't enough, now we're talking about slopping down an even less viable line to York University when a busway would suffice quite nicely at 1/60th the cost.

Even the TTC and City Council profess the gold-plated York subway extension as the top priority. $1.5 billion buys a lot of transit in this era of deficits and efficiency and it's time we started looking at ways of spending these sparse dollars a little more productively. Sure buses and streetcars don't make for fantastic photo-op ribbon cutting ceremonies - and you aren't going to get the Minister of Finance worked up enough to rob the Teachers Pension Fund - but they do sometimes make more city-building sense.

The avenue concept is a great idea and I'd hate to see it die on the delivery table. Cause of death... pork-barreling.


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