Cities and Roads

While I obviously don’t live in Toronto anymore, I still follow the local planning politics. The Ontario provincial budget came down yesterday and was filled with huge sums of money for infrastructure. It was not clear how this aligned with Toronto’s plans for vast transit expansion as no specific projects in Toronto were mentioned except the York subway extension (though this project had previously approved funding so it seemed a case of double counting). Transit City, what Toronto is calling its plans to develop a network of mainly surface-based light rail as an alternative to very expensive subway construction, is still expected to cost in the range of $6 or $7 billion. It will also come of the expense of much lost road lanes, which is something I generally support on the basis that good transit service can carry many times more people than a lane of road, or even expressway. That being said, I think rarely cases can be made for road expansion, if there are external factors such as network/efficiency improvements or reducing the impacts of traffic volumes on an adjacent road. The now cancelled Front Street Extension in downtown Toronto was one such project I approved of because it was conceived to take traffic off the much busier Gardiner Expwy which goes through the central waterfront, an area now being expensively redeveloped by the agency Waterfront Toronto. While its (successful) detractors, including a number of lefty Toronto Councillors, portrayed the project, bizarrely, as a form of reckless 1960s style “expressway” building, the truth is that the project itself was meant to facilitate the demolition of an actual elevated expressway, the Gardiner. Maybe they will realize at some point how silly their “victory” was.
More generally, I posted this comment on another site, on the whole roads vs. transit debate; as I state, one can favour both since the serve different purposes though this nuance is lost on the practitioners of “aha” politics:

Although I do have a soft spot in my heart for the ultimate function over form of elevated highways, to me just another example of mid-century chic, I get that many people seem to believe that automobiles are a superfluous bobble and that fine cities ought not to sacrifice anything at all to them. It’s funny that no one seems to say this about the FDR in Manhattan, much of which is elevated but I digress. Cities can accommodate people and cars; there are many examples, especially in Europe where excellent transit and roads complement each other. In Toronto, its morphed into this bizarre zero sum game where for transit to win, cars must lose and we get the absurdity the the Front St Ext, battle where apparently the “good guys” won (over a few hundred yards of 4 lane road and some ramps curiously referred to as an “expressway”) but now has basically precluded ever taking down the Gardiner from the Ex to Yonge St. Transit and roads do not serve the same needs; one moves people, the other people and goods (as well as emergency vehicles etc); the roadless/carless city, which I guess is an official policy objective in TO now, has not been made to work anywhere. But in their drive for holier than thou ideological purity, I doubt the Adam Vaughans [a City of Toronto Councillor] etc of this world even care.

Similar such battles have been waged in Calgary over road projects, though I think the City has struck the right balance over the last 30 years, and in fact the greater focus on transit in Plan It and the City’s Transportation Department, in developing the West LRT and future SE LRT are good signs of a city trying to be more sustainable. At the same time the Ring Road will help with goods movement and improve the overall network, functions that transit would be hard pressed to play.


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