Friday, February 24, 2012

A World-Class Hole in the Ground

The recent ups and downs of Toronto politics put me in the mind of an adventure serial from the early 20th century, like Flash Gordon and its precursors; a series of cliffhanger episodes, each one leaving the hero in some kind of dire peril, each time trying to top what happened last time and each time leaving the audience asking how the hero's going to get out of this one. In this particular political adventure, the hero is the city of Toronto and Rob Ford is the peril that keeps outdoing itself when you think things can't get any more ridiculous than they already have. First hizzoner acts like he thinks he's an absolute ruler, calling the will of Council irrelevant; then he gets his snivelling bootlickers on the TTC board to fire chief general manager Gary Webster without cause for having the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to not be a cowardly yes-man and meekly agree with what the mayor wants to do.

Yesterday, Ford took it directly to the people with an article in the Globe and Mail, in which he (or, more likely, someone in his office - I never got the impression that Ford was much of a lit'rary man) spends a few hundred words trying to conjure up a dream world where subways clatter hither and yon. It's something I never considered the possibility of encountering; this is literal subway propaganda.

Even if he didn't actually string these words together, Ford's fingerprint is all over it - the article is suffused with the casual assumptions of someone for whom public transit is not at all a part of their daily life. He leads off bemoaning that the average Toronto commute is twenty-four minutes longer than that in Los Angeles, but somehow I get the impression that that's focusing on vehicular commutes; I doubt it takes into account riders reliant on the 36 Finch West bus, the people who would have been beneficiaries of the Finch West LRT but are again caught in a storm of uncertainty now that Giorgio Mammoliti's insane, delusional Finch subway concept wasn't immediately forgotten. Also very Ford-like is the casual dismissal of the TTC before construction began on the Yonge subway in the 1940s, as if everything that had happened before then was irrelevant. Considering that the TTC and the patchwork of privately-run transit companies it replaced were streetcar operators until then, it's not much of a surprise that Ford wouldn't want to even risk acknowledging a history of surface-running transit.

What do you think you're doing, subway? The surface is for cars! Get back underground!

"The TTC must become a sustainable, world-class transit system... I passionately believe a world-class city builds world-class rapid transit," Ford says, because obviously cities like San Francisco, Vienna, Brussels, Frankfurt, Rome, London, and Los Angeles are on the same level as Indianapolis. "A hundred years from now, Toronto will have more subway lines providing reliable high-speed transportation for millions more people. The only real question is whether we will start building those subways now, or wait another 20 years and build them at 10 times the cost."

First off, Rob Ford is pretty much the last person who I feel is qualified to be expounding on the transportation patterns of the twenty-second century; we can make even fewer hard plans for it than the leadership of 1912 could plan for today, and would the leadership of 1912 have anticipated suburbanization, telecommuting, the ubiquitousness of the automobile, or the new cities that emerged in Scarborough and North York - places which, back in the early twentieth century, were as rural as Garafraxa. Ford's actions as mayor have demonstrated that he doesn't much care about the potential problems of the next decade, let alone the next century.

Nor is he much qualified to talk about cost, either. He claims that a "modest parking levy" could bring in $90 million or more per year, to be used as seed money for a public-private partnership to build the Sheppard subway extension. Now, granted, PPPs aren't unheard of in public transit - Vancouver's Canada Line was built that way, but there is a key difference in the situation. The Canada Line connects downtown Vancouver to Western Canada's busiest airport and a city of 200,000 people; Ford's dream Sheppard Line would connect a mall to North York's Potemkin downtown, about as wide as a fingernail.

This is another part where propaganda comes in, since he doesn't actually bother to justify this; he just states it as a given. That right there is the crux of the problem, and the most likely reason why he can find anyone to use as examples in his constant "people want subways" claims - he treats these projects of his as if the only barriers are political. When people at Eglinton Square tell him they'd rather have a subway than LRT to Scarborough, they probably assume that they're equally valid choices, that Ford would not be putting the question forward if the resources to build the subway didn't exist. But they don't; last year, the TTC's estimate for subway construction cost was $351 million per kilometer. Ford's "modest parking levy" would therefore be able to build maybe four hundred meters of subway per year - not including stations, of course. Those are extra.

Rob Ford may cloak himself in the garb of progress, constantly repeat the mantras of sustainability and a "world-class" Toronto - whatever the hell that means - but his actions have demonstrated that those aren't his interests. His is a mayoralty of fiat and pique, in which ideology is the core consideration. Ford has amply demonstrated over the last year that he's incapable of disassociating his own view with what's good for the city; with Ford, it's his way or the highway, and woe betide any light rail train that gets in his way.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, you have probably seen this before, but I am still shocked at how many arguments about transit infrastructure (Ford’s subways, Surrey’s Skytrain, UBC line, etc.) come down to this:,1434/