Monday, February 26, 2007

City's future rides on better transit -Toronto Star

City's future rides on better transit
February 26, 2007

Few areas of public policy are more important, on so many fronts, than transit and transportation. Yet few issues have been so poorly addressed, especially in the Greater Toronto Area. The fast and efficient movement of people and goods represents the lifeblood of the region's economy. And that vital circulation is being steadily squeezed by traffic gridlock. It is estimated that congestion robs the economy of more than $2 billion yearly through late deliveries and lost work time.

Better public transit is also key to advancing an environmental agenda. Cars and light trucks generate 12.5 per cent of the country's greenhouse gases. Convincing more drivers to leave their vehicles at home and ride public transit would promote a green agenda while easing gridlock.

Finally, transit and transportation networks play a major role in determining our quality of life. Ever-lengthening commutes can undermine an individual's health and well-being, yet people across the GTA are spending more time than ever travelling between home and work.

Problems in transit and transportation are approaching crisis proportions because population growth in the GTA has far outstripped the expansion of vital highways, streets, subways, bus routes and streetcar lines.

And it will only get worse, with an additional 3 million people expected in the area over the next 25 years.

Thus it is with good reason that this challenge is an important focus of Toronto Summit 2007, a two-day meeting starting today that will bring together 400 civic leaders from business, labour, government and the non-profit sector. The goal of the meetings, organized by the Toronto City Summit Alliance, is to study issues ranging from poverty, waterfront redevelopment, housing, culture, taxation, diversity and education with the aim of developing an updated action plan for the Toronto region.

Transit and transportation are to be addressed tomorrow, with a focus on what must be done to get the GTA moving.

Fundamentally, it is a question of money. Capital funding for the Toronto Transit Commission has increased, but only enough to replace old buses and subway cars and undertake modest expansions, such as the streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair Ave. W. The first leg of this controversial line opened just last week, and Toronto should move aggressively to create more of these sections of dedicated track throughout the city.

Dramatic transit expansion is needed if Toronto is to come close to meeting its needs. That means major spending on subway construction.

The provincial government has already set aside $670 million for expansion of the Spadina subway line to York University and beyond in Vaughan. To get construction started as quickly as possible, it is important that the March 19 federal budget include at least a similar amount in support of this project. Ottawa must also take steps to create a National Transit Strategy, detailing long-term federal support, and funding, for Canada's public transit systems. Stable, predictable financing is vital to any orderly, steady expansion of public transit and highway systems.

To that end, Ottawa and Queen's Park should give large urban areas a one-cent share of the sales-related taxes collected within their borders.

Finally, the province should give the new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority wide latitude to plan and develop transit networks throughout the area. This agency should be granted the clout, plus the funding, needed to undertake new construction and expanded services.

Cities in the GTA, including Toronto, should yield much of their planning power in transit matters to the new agency. Only then will a comprehensive commuter system emerge. That would mean, for example, the TTC would be responsible for planning and operating only those lines that ran within the city, such as a streetcar line on, say, Parliament Street. The GTTA would be responsible for transit between the various jurisdictions. Provincial funding would then flow to each agency accordingly.

Hopefully, the Toronto Summit 2007 leaders will succeed in advancing this agenda. A prosperous economy, a cleaner, greener environment and a healthy populace over the coming decades all very much depend on it.
It's foolish to think that people will voluntarily give up their cars. In my opinion, the only way we can get people out of cars is to let gridlock progress to unimaginable levels, while building a transit system under the 10-20-20 principle (10 minute maximum walk, 20 minute maximum wait, 20 minute maximum ride to rapid transit).

It's foolish to think it can happen overnight, and its also foolish to think we can do it without a national transit strategy. But, we have to get away form the defeatist attitude that so many notable community members have. It cannot be subways or nothing, and it should not be funding or nothing.

We may be restricted without federal funding, but we are not and must not become impotent without it.



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