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Transit: It’s all about politics

“Let them do their work,” pleaded Toronto Mayor John Tory early Tuesday morning when City Council first sat down to discuss budgets and transit.

And thankfully, most of those councillors listened.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city council voted to approve the transit network plan as proposed by staff — including the controversial single-stop express subway in Scarborough.

A few amendments were tacked on to the motion, including a promise to study alignments and associated costs of the corridor. Staff will also be looking at a Sheppard subway extension and the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.

But even with these unexpected add-ons, the approval of the transit network plan is a win for both the mayor and the golden horseshoe area.

“Following this vote we must now put an end to years of inaction and delay and move ahead with a comprehensive plan to serve our city’s needs.” Mayor Tory said in a statement

And there’s the rub. Despite the positive results of the city council meeting, progress was nearly delayed because a handful of councillors were pretending to be transit experts in their attempt to garner media attention.

In every municipal government, there are elected officials — who often have a variety of skills, including some experience in management, customer service, and politics— and then there are city staff, who are hired based on their particular expertise.

This week’s city council transit kerfuffle is indicative of a lifelong politicians working the issue for media attention to gain recognition for the next election. A handful of councillors ignored recommendations provided by Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (who has a Master’s in Environment and Planning), City Manager Peter Wallace (who served as the provincial Deputy Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury Board), and Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford (with over 15 years of Transit operations), among others.

There are certain city councilors who have been pushing their own transit agendas, ignoring the sound advice from staff. Councilor’s like Josh Matlow have gone as far as recommending council revert to the original transit plan proposed before former Mayor Rob Ford was elected  — citing high costs and new polls that indicate residents want an LRT instead.

Matlow (whose extremely thin resume has school board trustee, and co-director of an environmental non-profit) put forward a motion to return to the 24-stop LRT plan, saying that someone needs to think about the taxpayers and how best to invest funds.

Other councillors used the opportunity to try and promote projects for their voters, like the Sheppard subway extension. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti even suggested diverting funds from the Finch LRT — which is already in its procurement stage — to fund the Scarborough subway.

The problem? Consistently changing plans costs tax payers a fortune and would have resulted in a two-year delay, leading up to another election in which a new council may have different ideas.  Essentially, Toronto would be forced to start from scratch. “It would be problematic to pull apart this optimized network,” Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat reminded council.

At the end of the day, the experts were able to argue their case and explain the high-costs and the severe consequences of changing the transit plan yet again.  If there is one thing that should be taken away from Wednesday’s exchange, it’s that there are a few councillors focused on only one thing: re-election. Councillors are pretending to be more knowledgeable than the experts because it makes them look good to their constituents.

City staff work year after year trying to hold together a broad transit plan they understand that Toronto needs to start building now or else it will take another 50 years before residents see any relief on the Yonge Line.

The experts did their job — now it’s time for council to just sit back and listen.

TTC to tackle safety using ‘gender-specific lens’

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) discussed safety at Monday’s board meeting, with a special focus on women.

City Council requested that the TTC “apply a full safety audit using a gender-specific lens…to address safety concerns of women and women with disabilities.” Suggestions included adequate lighting, clear sightline design for stations, more security, and more women employed in the transit process.

The board, however, chose to focus on an app that would allow a TTC rider to take a photo of a person who is harassing or assaulting someone and report it. The hope is that it will draw less attention than pushing the yellow emergency strip and stopping traffic. The app should be ready to launch by the end of the year.

As a woman who takes public transportation at least twice a day — if not more — I understand the type harassment that can take place on an enclosed streetcar or subway car. But, I’m not sure this app is the solution.

As with a lot of Toronto’s safety plans, it puts the onus on bystanders to help out. Bystanders are notorious for…well…being bystanders. There is no guarantee that someone will capture the moment on film, and if that person did take time to take a photo of the harassment, I hope they would also step up and stop it.

The idea is that the app will automatically turn off flash and sound so that those making the report won’t have to worry about drawing attention to themselves. But, with the size of cell phones nowadays, it’s almost impossible to be conspicuous when taking a photograph in a small space. And has anyone thought about the many false accusations that will have to be filtered through to find the legitimate complaints?

I also don’t think that silent reporting is enough — anyone who assaults or harasses another person should be afraid to do it again. They should be worried they won’t get away with it. They should be made to seriously consider their actions. Pushing the yellow emergency strip and forcing them to wait for the authorities is exactly what people should be doing, and encouraging them to do otherwise is just another way to say “don’t worry about it, the authorities will deal with it the situation…maybe.”

If someone is harassing a woman (or a man for that matter), someone should speak up and tell them to get lost. People should rally around victims of assault and let it be known that it’s not okay. Women should also feel comfortable telling the driver of the bus or streetcar about the incident, which means that all drivers, toll operators, and TTC workers should be trained on how to deal with harassment and assault.

It is imperative that future designs of stations, streetcars, and subways take public safety into account — better lighting, a more secure waiting area, and a bigger authority presence after sunset are all integral to the safety of women and women with disabilities. But, let’s not diminish this importance by creating silly apps that allow us to spy and report people to authorities.

Let’s focus on what really matters: making people safe and training staff do handle numerous types of emergency scenarios, including harassment and assault. If you have to make an app, I would rather an app that allows me to reload my PRESTO card on my phone – thank you very much!

GALLERY: Discussing Toronto’s Regional Vision

The Transit Alliance held its annual Toronto Region Vision Summit earlier this month, and the discussion was truly fruitful. Low-carbon living, transit, city building, and housing were all brought up by various participants with differing perspectives. This is how a region grows — by listening to the experts, introducing new ideas, and making adjustments to plans that have been in the works for years to better reflect current-day challenges.

Here are a few photos of the hundreds of participants in the TRV 2016.

Edits I would make to Mayor John Tory’s Op Ed

Toronto Mayor John Tory wrote an op-ed Tuesday defending his transit plan. His writing was balanced and to the point — but I feel like there were some things that he really needed to say. 

Edits – Delete what’s between [ ]’s and add  in CAPS

“Throughout my time in office, I have tried to be completely honest with the people of Toronto so I will make this admission: The extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is an issue [THAT OVER AMBITIOUS COUNCILLORS WANT TO USE AS A WEDGE ISSUE FOR THEIR 2018 MAYORAL RUN [with which I’ve struggled].

We are a city that likes to draw lines and take sides, especially when it comes to transit, and it’s easy to characterize people as either “for the subway” or “against.”

But this does a disservice to me and to everyone who cares about our city and its long-term success. WE CAN BUILD WITH IMMEDIACY TO SATISFY VOTERS TODAY, THE LRT WILL DO THIS — OR WE CAN DO THE HARD JOB OF ADDING TO OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM AND HAVING A MUCH MORE SIGNIFICANT  LONG-TERM IMPACT ON TRANSIT FOR OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

There is no doubt the original decision to cancel a planned LRT in Scarborough and extend the subway instead was made without enough information or process, but I cannot let the mistakes of the past cloud my judgment on what Toronto needs for the future.

We are decades behind when it comes to [transit] EXPANDING OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM and as mayor I’m driven by one principle: to move this city forward, productively, responsibly and collaboratively.

There are those (IDIOT COUNCILLORS POSTURING FOR MEDIA ATTENTION) who argue we should cancel the planned subway extension into Scarborough because of its projected cost,  even as our city clearly requires a major SUBWAY network expansion to improve service and connectivity throughout the city.

I have considered the Scarborough extension with an open mind and have found compelling reasons to proceed.

Opponents of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension seem to take for granted that cancelling the subway would result in the immediate construction of an LRT. OPPONENTS OF SUBWAY EXPANSION COMPLETELY RELY ON THE JUDGEMENT OF TRANSIT PLANNERS, IGNORING THAT OUR PLANNERS ARE DUTY BOUND TO BASE THEIR VISION ON EXTREMELY LIMITED FINANCIAL PROJECTIONS. LONG-TERM VISION HAS TO STEP BEYOND 20 YEARS TO LOOK AT THE NEXT 50 TO 100 YEARS FOR OUR CITY. TRUE LEADERS COUNT THE PLANNERS AS ONLY ONE PART OF THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS.

There is no discussion of what the real aftermath of another about-face would be, whether the LRT remains feasible, or would have the support of Metrolinx and our government partners. THE IDIOTS OPPOSING SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY DON’T REALIZE THAT TORONTO MAY LOSE THE FUNDING PROMISED BY OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT IF WE FUCK AROUND WITH THIS ISSUE.

There would be sunk costs from three years of planning and engineering work, on top of the $85 million incurred by the city after cancelling the LRT.

The proposed LRT corridor is now also shared by SmartTrack, which proposes to provide local commuter service on the Regional Express Rail network, with Scarborough SmartTrack stops at Lawrence and Finch East. WHY SPEND TORONTO FUNDS BUILDING AN LRT WHEN SMART TRACK, PRIMARILY FUNDED BY THE PROVINCE, WILL PROVIDE SERVICE IN THE SAME CORRIDOR?

Multiple lines in this corridor would require further study and would likely delay both projects, while cancelling local service on the SRT for years.  ME THINKS THAT SELF SERVING COUNCILLORS LIKE JOSH MATLOW (WHO REFUSED TO HELP AN ASSAULTED WOMAN — BY VOUCHING TO THE DRUNKEN STATE OF A CERTAIN GROPER) ARE USING THE SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY ISSUE AS A WAY TO GAIN MEDIA ATTENTION — PERHAPS THE COUNCILLOR COULD  LEARN TO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS  RIGHT INSTEAD OF POSTURING?

Trust and credibility

[The council-approved extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway has committed funding from our provincial and federal partners, both of whom continue to support the extension. With a change of plans, there is no guarantee their contributions would remain committed to Scarborough transit, and you couldn’t blame them for taking their investment elsewhere.] CITY COUNCIL HAS A FEW COUNCILLORS WHO ARE NOW REBUFFING THE COUNCIL-APPROVED BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY EXTENSION. THEY PRETEND TO WANT TO  “SAVE THE LRT”, IGNORING THE FACT THAT THEY RISK JEOPARDIZING THE TRANSIT FUNDING COMMITMENTS WE HAVE FROM OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT, THESE SELFISH FOOLS PUT THEIR AMBITION BEFORE TORONTO’S NEED FOR AN EXPANDED SUBWAY SYSTEM.

Toronto is at a critical juncture, preparing to receive up to $840-million from the federal government over the next three years to make unprecedented investments in the reliability and performance of our transit system and advance the planning of our major transit projects.

With so much at stake, we cannot afford to deliver a self-inflicted blow to our credibility, resources and timelines. OR ALLOW COUNCILLORS WHO LACK VISION TO LIMIT TORONTO WITH EMPTY PROMISES OF IMMEDIATE TRANSIT.

It’s what people need

Earlier this year, Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came forward with her department’s analysis of what good transit looks like in Scarborough.

They found most people taking transit downtown from Scarborough are students who want to connect directly into the core, which makes multiple stops along the way unnecessary — on an LRT or a subway. The analysis favoured an express subway extension above the original light rail. THERE ARE ONLY A HANDFUL OF PLANNERS WHO CAN THINK BIG – JENNIFER KEESMAAT IS ONE OF THEM, AND IGNORING HER IN FAVOUR OF THE LIMITED PROJECTIONS OF LRT-SUPPORTING PLANNERS IS EITHER A JUNIOR LEVEL MISTAKE THAT SHOWS AN INABILITY TO LEAD, OR A CALCULATED ATTEMPT TO SECURE LEFT-LEANING VOTES.

Transit ridership in Scarborough is also much lower than the rest of the city and greater high-speed connectivity from the Scarborough Town Centre will help get people out of cars and promote social equity and employment opportunities.

Development and investment in the region has stalled, a problem we cannot give up on considering our rapid growth and affordable housing challenges.

As an architect recently noted on Twitter in relation to the project, “Amalgamation was a deal for equality of conditions. Connect all City Centres.”

Of course, we will work with the TTC to bring down the $3 billion price tag for the extension. And yes, we need to talk seriously about how we will pay for transit projects, a process that is already underway. AND ONE WHICH I HAVE DEDICATED THE PAST DECADE TO WORKING ON!

But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada. When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city. COUNCILLORS TREAT THEIR WARDS AS FIEFDOMS AND THIS HAS LED TO INACTION ON BIG PROJECTS LIKE SUBWAY EXPANSION, PROJECTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE ENTIRE CITY. THOSE OPPOSING THE SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH ARE DOING SO BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DIRECT FUNDING INTO THEIR WARD, TO GET RE-ELECTED BECAUSE THEY CAN’T GET A JOB ANYWHERE ELSE. THEIR THINKING IS SMALL-MINDED AND LIMITED – BUT WHAT CAN WE  EXPECT FROM COUNCILLORS WHO LACK REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE? WITH WORK HISTORY SO SCANT IT AMOUNTS TO WORKING AT A COUPLE OF NOT-FOR-PROFITS AND AS A SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEE?  THE ONLY FOUNDATION THEY HAVE FOR THEIR JUDGMENTS IS LIMITED TO WHAT THE EXPERTS OF THE DAY TELL HIM TO THINK.

The optimized Scarborough transit plan is part of a proposed 15-year network expansion, one that finally presents projects, including the Relief Line, SmartTrack and Waterfront LRT as an interconnected network, rather than a zero sum game of competing priorities.

For those reasons and more, changing tracks on Scarborough is not the answer. It will delay transit for those who need it, introduce new problems, new costs and a weakened position for our city.

I will continue my work to find the best path forward for the people of Toronto. I WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD CONSENSUS; I WILL HAVE THE PATIENCE TO LISTEN TO THE BLATHERING OF FOOLS; AND CONTINUE TO BE OPEN TO IDEAS FROM DISRUPTERS WHO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO. Those who fight to move backwards must ask themselves where that journey ends.

John Tory is the mayor of Toronto.

Toronto city council approves 2016 budget

Toronto’s city council approved the 2016 budget Wednesday with little debate or discussion.

The 2016 operating budget of $10.1 billion and the $21 billion 10-year capital budget includes a number of plans for transit, alleviation of traffic congestion, public safety, poverty reduction, and child care subsidies, among other things.

It is rare that council only takes one day to discuss and debate a budget in session — two days were scheduled for this item, with a possibility of a third.

Council addressed the issue of property and residential taxes before approving the budget itself, two items that are usually adopted together as a package. Deputy city manager, Giuliana Carbone, said the 2016 budget was a challenge. City staff had to balance instruction about keeping spending low while committing to a number of long-term capital projects.

“Those are not compatible,” he said.

Taxes are always a controversial topic — certain city councillors felt like the suggested overall tax increase of 0.88 per cent was too low, while others recommended the city not increase taxes at all. Instead, they suggested, the city should consider other forms of revenue.

Council eventually adopted the original recommendation, which included the following:

Property tax increase: 1.3 per cent
Non-residential tax increase: o.43 per cent
Overall tax increase: o.88 per cent

An additional 0.6 per cent was also added on for the development of the Scarborough subway and 0.78 per cent for residential properties, bringing the total tax increase to 2.69 per cent. The tax increase is well below the rate of inflation, and remains the lowest residential property taxes in the GTHA.

The budget greatly depends on municipal land transfer taxes. The city is making an assumption that the tax will not be reduced or softened — essentially that it will hold constant. If the municipal land transfer tax wavers, Toronto could be left with a large hole in the budget going forward.

“At this point, we are able to expand the service level in 2016. Going forward, unless we have an increase in land transfer tax, that clearly becomes unsustainable” said Peter Wallace, city manager for Toronto, to council Wednesday afternoon.

The budget itself includes $8 million geared towards poverty reduction, $5.5 million to support the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing, and funds to help with improved streetcar reliability, Sunday morning subway service, and the hiring of additional seasonal inspectors of municipal construction to alleviate traffic disruption. It also includes $1.25 million for child-care subsidies, which was not in the original recommendations.

Screenshot 2016-02-18 14.19.44
Toronto city budget presentation

At the end of the day, council didn’t really consider changing or altering the budget, which is why it only took a day to pass. Important projects like the Yonge Relief Line, SmartTrack, and the revitalization of Toronto Community Housing are not being funded this year, despite the city’s insistence of their priority status. The budget is a very political process, and the mayor couldn’t be seen supporting a tax increase that was higher then inflation, despite the blatantly obvious positive effects it would have, because a) the status of the City’s labour negotiations and b) it’s not popular for re-election.

Council’s decision to not match tax increases to inflation will, ultimately, come back to haunt them. If taxes don’t match up to the rate of inflation, there will always be debt. In fact, the gap will continue to grow. So, Toronto needs to make a decision. It won’t be long until the budget planning process happens all over again. Let’s not make the same mistake next year — as the city manager said, Toronto just can’t afford to.

Ontario raises over $700 million for green transit

Tuesday, the Ontario government announced $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which is dedicated to transit in the GHTA.

Proceeds from the bond will help fund eight projects that will improve transit, education, health care, and employment across the province.

“Effectively combating climate change requires smart investments in environmentally friendly infrastructure projects such as improving energy efficiency and building more public transit,” Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement. “Green bonds give all Ontarians the opportunity to invest in climate actions that will protect the environment, strengthen the economy and improve everyday life.”

The funding will go to the following projects:

  1. Eglinton Crosstown LRT: $402 million for things like constructing electric powered transit vehicles that produce near-zero emissions.
  2. York VivaNEXT Bus Rapid Transit Expansion: $100 million to improve access to public transit.
  3. Go Transit Regional Express Rail: $200 million to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using electricity instead of diesel in trains. The funds will also be used for LEED gold-level certification for all Regional Express Rail stations and facilities

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 as a tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits. The government guarantees a return for each investor. The maturity date for paying back the bond is also quite slow — Ontario priced a $750 million bond with a maturity date of January 27, 2023.

This is the second green bond Ontario has issued. The first bond was issued on Oct. 2, 2014 in the amount of $500 million.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to issue green bonds.

Mayor Tory creates a win for Scarborough transit

When it comes to transit in Toronto the Scarborough subway line has been the most contentious issue over the past decade. Ridership numbers barely supported the need for a four stop subway, and the lack of transit further west left a gap in the transit map that shamed many.

The plan brought forward today by Mayor Tory and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat is one that will fill in the transit gap west of McCowan. Not only does it rely on well thought out research by transit experts in the form of the Eglinton LRT extension east to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, but it also allows a high-speed subway extension from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Creating a one-stop subway line will free up funds (subway stations cost approximately $200 million) to allow the addition of a 17-stop extension of the Eglinton LRT east to connect five high-priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough.

The new plan will bring rail transit to 64,000 people in Scarborough who currently aren’t using it. And the plan unites those wanting subway with those wanting LRT on council. It is a transit plan founded on informed, good judgement from transit experts that was designed to build consensus rather than create division at city hall.
With this plan for Scarborough transit, Mayor Tory might accomplish what no other mayor in the past few decades has — unite the city around a transit plan that everyone can support. His plan is the right, reasonable, and responsible approach to building the transit Toronto so desperately needs.

Dealing with sprawl in the Greenbelt, the Crombie Report

“Sprawl begets sprawl,” director of engagement and digital strategy, Megan Hunter from Friends of the Greenbelt said when questioned about the immediate concerns of transit, housing, and community within the Greater Toronto Area.

Urban sprawl is a concern that has persisted in Toronto and its surrounding areas for generations, and the need for sustainable transit planning is imperative. Luckily, the province is taking charge  through a careful assessment of four land protection plans including the the Niagara Escarpment Plan (1985), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2001), the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) to develop a better planning strategy for transit and community planning.

In December 2015, the government report entitled Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2015-2041 was released. The report was led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, and it has popularly been dubbed the Crombie Report since then. This 171-page document has 87 recommendations on how to protect important lands and plan future communities, while considering important factors such as transit and housing. The report predicts the population across the GHTA will increase from nine million residents to 13.5 million by 2041. In order to create more high-density and transit savvy communities, planning strategies must be implemented to ensure sustainable building practices.

The Friends of a Greenbelt is a non-profit foundation that has been advocating on behalf of the Greenbelt since its inception in 2005. “The report achieves the vision for growth planning,” Hunter said. “It preserves ecological areas and prime farmlands and it doesn’t entertain dividing parcels of land or making the Greenbelt smaller.”

The report targets specific objectives to help implement better transit strategies including intensification and density building, developing infrastructure near transit corridors, and abolishing leap-frog developments.

The Crombie Report focused heavily on the importance of intensification and density targets in the GHTA. Currently, the minimum requirement for developers is to meet a 40 per cent intensification target when building. This indicates that 40 per cent of building in a specific municipality must have mixed-use development (that focuses on building upwards) to help create high-density communities. Five out of 15 municipalities on the outliers of the region under the Greenbelt do not currently follow the trend, including the Kawartha Lakes, Simcoe, Wellington, Brant, and Holimand counties.

The report emphasizes that 60 per cent intensification would be more effective for sustainable transit planning. It also advocates to use incentives to ensure municipalities follow the minimum requirements. “Intensification targets aren’t being met yet. These communities have been allowed to do that when they don’t need to do that,” Hunter said.

In addition to intensification targets, the report also touches upon density requirements. As of 2006, according to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the municipality must ensure developers build for 50 people and jobs per hectare. Currently, eight regions do not comply with these standards. Despite this, the Crombie Report suggests raising the density requirement to 60 people and jobs per hectare. Interestingly, Toronto exceeds the standard and meets 100 per cent intensification and density targets.

The same standards can be applied to transit. Research from the Crombie report indicate that running a bus needs about 50 people and jobs per hectare to avoid putting strenuous financial strain on each municipality.

“Density looks different for different types of communities. Planning can create a local character that matches commercial and residential needs,” Hunter said.

Building around transit corridors and focusing on density and intensification targets also avoids “leap-frog development”. This type of building causes housing projects to pop up along the Greenbelt boundaries that leave residents isolated, without any alternatives to transportation. It furthers sprawl and draws away from sustainable development practices.

By implementing mixed-use neighbourhoods, building high-density and well planned communities, and building near transit corridors, the Greenbelt can continue to exist and transit can become the primary mode of transportation in the GHTA.

“The whole idea with the big house with three cars has a lot of repercussions that weren’t considered,” Hunter said. “It isn’t good for health, you don’t have a cultural, vital community and there is a lack of transit. People are starting to see that.”

Trudeaumania takes over Toronto

Photo taken by Katherine DeClerq

Trudeaumania is real.

Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to Toronto’s city hall to meet with Mayor John Tory. It was the first time in 18 years a prime minister visited the institution, but that wasn’t why people were so excited. It was because they had the opportunity to get close to the celebrity politician.

The media struggled to stay up with Trudeau and Tory as they walked from Queen St. up to city hall. People sporting bright unicorn Trudeau sweatshirts were running through the crowd, trying to get a selfie with the sexiest head of state in the world, while scores of young women stood in his path screaming his name.

One cameraman made a wrong step and slipped on the skating rink in the square. Reporters ran — and I mean sprinted — around the crowd to get better view of the prime minister, just to run face-first into a father holding his kid, trying to get a glimpse of the people at the center of the spectacle. Personally, I was elbowed in the head and shoved into a snow bank.

“Oh my god, it’s Justin Trudeau!” screamed two jumping girls as he made his way into city hall. I have to say I was impressed with the strength of the prime minister’s security force, dawning the stereotypical sunglasses and earpieces, trying to keep everyone at bay. What a job.

After the screaming died down and the swooning stopped, the prime minister got up on stage with the mayor and opened his mouth to talk. And talk he did — although he didn’t say much. In fact, he hardly said anything worthwhile.

It was obvious the prime minister didn’t want to make any promises during this visit, despite the mayor’s attempts to indicate otherwise. There was no mention of a commitment to the SmartTrack or the Yonge Relief Line, and he didn’t even touch on the $2.6 billion promised to the city for transit.

“We are in the middle of pre-budget consultations.” Trudeau said when a reporter asked when we could expect a cheque for infrastructure. “The infrastructure investments that the mayor is counting on are not a problem, they are part of the solution that Canada is facing.” What that means…no one knows.

Really, the only thing Justin Trudeau reiterated was his government’s pledge of $60 billion over the next 10 years towards green and social infrastructure, and public transit. There was no elaboration. Where will the money go? What are the government’s priorities? All are excellent questions that remained unanswered. The rest of the 10-minute question period included the Prime Minister dancing masterfully around each media inquiry, citing what seemed to be election promises and vaguely mentioning the Liberal’s commitment to job creation, economic growth, and international relations.

But, that didn’t matter to the fans. As one grown man standing behind me in the crowd said: “Wow, his hair really is great!”

And I guess that’s all that mattered.

Photo by Katherine DeClerq

Is SmartTrack a quick solution to a long-term problem?

The plan for SmartTrack tackles the need for a fast track solution to congestion in Toronto. The goal is to provide a quick solution for the hundreds of thousands of people trying to get across the city on a daily basis.

The key to SmartTrack is that is uses existing Regional Express Rail (RER) lines to provide service within Toronto, from Stouffville to the Airport Corporate Centre. Currently, the plan includes 22 new stations and is projected to be ready within seven years. The line will take over two existing GO routes and 90 per cent of its track will be on existing GO transit lines primarily the Kitchener and Stouffville Go lines.

SmartTrack is actively being pursued by the City of Toronto to help with congestion on the Yonge line by providing alternative options. Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner and executive director for the City of Toronto, says in video for the relief line campaign: “In order for the network to be effective, we need to increase choice.” The Toronto Transit Commission currently has 535 million customers annually and this number is steadily growing. The hope is that by re-purposing exiting GO express lines SmartTrack  will provide relief for the over-capacity issue on the Yonge line and relocate 35 per cent of streetcar customers, clearing the way for a smoother commute.

But SmartTrack is still in the planning stages. Access to the airport corporate centre is essential for Torontonians who utilize transit, yet the cost of accessibility to this area could run extremely high. There is limited space for a transit station at the airport centre and steps are being taken to ensure the best plan is developed for this specific location. Metrolinx has approved a plan to extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Mount Dennis to the centre. The City of Toronto has yet to approve this plan.

The city is conducting a feasibility review of the Eglinton Avenue West Corridor and waiting for the results of ridership modelling to further aide the analysis. The modelling is being conducted by the University of Toronto. The city has also met with Metrolinx over the last week to discuss the new stations across the RER network.

SmartTrack provides Torontonians with choice.  Is it the right choice? Mayor Tory , the city of Toronto and Metrolinx  are waiting for the results of these studies. With all wanting to deliver the right transit, not only for Toronto but for the entire region.