Saturday, August 25, 2007

A $100M plan to ease gridlock in 2 years or less - Toronto Star

A $100M plan to ease gridlock in 2 years or less
August 25, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

The region's new transportation authority is urging Queen's Park to put rubber to the road and fund $100 million worth of quick-start transit projects that could be implemented within two years.

Among the proposals:
  • Bike racks on all buses.
  • Installing 1,000 weatherproof bike lockers across the region.
  • A new transit terminal in Markham.
  • Creating an online trip planner service to make it easier to use transit across city borders, plus a "carbon footprint" calculator.
  • Expanded GO train and bus service on the Lakeshore, Milton and Georgetown lines.
With a provincial election looming, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority wants the government to commit to seven such proposals.

Getting them off the ground signals that the GTTA understands the urgency of reducing congestion on Toronto area roads, said chair Rob MacIsaac.

"We really want to show people we're moving quickly. We want to make a difference to people travelling throughout the region," he said in Mississauga yesterday.

The priority projects would all be implemented within two years and represent only a fraction of the Liberal government's $12 billion commitment to regional transit by 2020.

Some of the proposed projects, such as the transit expansion, were already on the books. If Queen's Park funds the GTTA's recommendations, those improvements would move up the list.

Other proposals, such as the plan to install bike lockers, are new.

The lockers could be made compatible with the Presto "smartcard" the GTTA is launching, which will allow users to travel easily across the various regional transit authorities without having to pay an array of fares.

"If this $12 billion is for real, then $100 million can be for real right now," York Region Chair Bill Fisch told the board.

Although it has no capital budget of its own, the GTTA has approved spending $1.5 million out of its $8 million operating budget to design two Web-based tools it says would improve customer service.

The online trip-planner would allow riders to plan the best cross-border routes and connections when they are travelling between the region's various transit services. And a personal carbon footprint calculator would raise their awareness of the impact of their travel choices.

The projects have been designated as priorities following a meeting last month in which transit authorities from around the region presented their individual wish-lists to the GTTA.

But some board members didn't agree entirely with the rushed list.

Durham Region Chair Roger Anderson noted that none of the recommendations extended into his region, and he disagreed with cycling initiatives.

"I understand the quick-win scenario, but if you've got $1.8 million to spend I think you can find something better to spend it on than bike racks," he said.

He added that the expansion of Hamilton municipal bus service to that city's airport does not qualify as a regional initiative.

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion also argued that if the GTTA is going to expedite GO Transit expansions, then more parking at GO stations needs to be part of the plan.

But Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger told the board it was fitting that the GTTA's first outing focus on transit rather than cars.

Several projects that did not make the quick-win list include kickstarting certain bus and rail rapid transit projects that are on the agenda for the coming decade.

The include bus links to Hamilton and GO Transit for the underserved Waterdown area; and new VIVA/GO terminals at Concord and Unionville.

Meanwhile, the GTTA approved studying a proposal to move Toronto's intercity coach terminal from Bay and Dundas Sts. to a Harbour St. site south of Union Station.

Toronto Councillor Norm Kelly has replaced Councillor Brian Ashton as the city's other political representative on the GTTA.
While I'm glad that the GTTA is identifying projects that can be done quickly and inexpensively, rather than holding out for the flashy super-projects, I'm disappointed that they still haven't gotten past regionalism and supporting car culture. Durham Chair Rogers Anderson, and everyone's favorite grandmother, Hazel McCallion do not support cycling projects and are calling for larger parking lots at GO stations.

Mayor McCallion, please walk from the entrance of the Streetsville GO Station parking lot to the station building, and then tell me that larger lots are a good thing. Unless you're planning to build a large multi-use development above those parking lots, then it will only pave more paradise and encourage car use. We need to improve transit connections to GO stations.

Further, the Durham Chair has been complaining about the lack of projects in his region, and has been suggesting that Hamilton should bear sole responsibility for connecting its airport to the transit grid.

Chair Anderson, what ever happened to the greater good? I've always stayed one step short of supporting the amalgamation of all the transit systems into one large system, but unless this squabbling stops, it might be the only overcome the "me first" attitude we've held for so long.

We've got a long way to go, and I hope the destination that the transit network arrives at is the one that will save us from gridlock.

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