A group of pro-subway residents who gathered at the corner of Victoria Park and Sheppard yesterday afternoon got a boost when Mayor Rob Ford showed up at their rush-hour rally.
Ford joined councillor Norm Kelly and members of the group Subways Are For Everyone at the dividing line between North York and Scarborough in a last-ditch bid to sway public support in favour of subways and announce a town hall meeting on Monday.
Cars honked as the mayor waved and greeted passersby, but it was hard to tell if they were honking to catch the mayor’s attention or show their support for subways.
Resident Carol Sherman said she joined the demonstrators in an effort to save her neighbourhood from light rail, one of the possible transit options for Sheppard East being debated at city hall.
She and her neighbours want subways and are willing to wait for rapid transit even if it takes a generation to build, she said.
Sherman is ardently opposed to light rail, which she said would be detrimental to the neighbourhood, as construction would cause further gridlock, and in the end make it harder for traffic to move along the street, she said.
“I’d rather have nothing. I’d rather have our buses,” she said.
The 37-year local resident said she travels by public transit to get downtown only a few times a month, but adds a subway would let other residents have better access to the city. She’ll push for subways, even if she doesn’t end up benefitting from them, says Sherman, who is in her 70s.
“Let my granddaughters enjoy it, because I know I never will,” she said. “By the time it’s finished, it’s going to be of no use to me. I’ll be in a seniors home.”
The demonstration comes less than a week before council is set to vote on what mode of public transit is to be built along Sheppard – light rail or subways.
Ford, who backs subways, has support in this area.
Passenger J.R. Perez, who was on his way home from Seneca College at Don Mills and Finch, said he supports Ford’s quest for subways in his Sheppard East neighbourhood.
“Everybody prefers a subway as far as I know because it gets you downtown and that’s where everyone wants to be,” he told the Town Crier. “If the subway connects to downtown, then everyone’s for it, at least I am.”
Later at an outdoor press conference, with the mayor by his side, Carol Sherman’s husband Patrick told a larger group of reporters gathered that to build light rail would deny Scarborough residents real access to rapid transit. He also said that historically, density has followed subway builds.
“No subway in Toronto has been built on immediately surrounded density,” he said.
He also said residents here had no desire to see Sheppard be a repeat of St. Clair Avenue, where businesses have been forced to close and traffic is a nightmare following construction of construction of dedicated streetcar lanes.
Wendy Baskerville, who lives not far from Sheppard and Victoria Park, watched the press conference with dismay.
Baskerville, the sister of the local councillor Shelley Carroll, says there is local appetite for light rail along Sheppard.
She said on Sunday she and Carroll rode the Sheppard subway, and almost everyone they spoke with told them they’d prefer light rail.
“We found one person in four hours who wanted subways,” she said, adding it’s taxpayers who will end up footing the bill for subway.
“I want an LRT, I don’t want a subway because I don’t want to pay for it,” she said, adding later: “In a generation there’s going to be another million or so people. It’s going to cost that much more. The price just keeps going up.”
She also disputed the claim made by Sherman that St. Clair Avenue with dedicated streetcars is a disaster.
“I work down there, I drive it every day — it’s the best street in town. Christ, I’d rather drive there than Bloor.”
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