Suburban residents confronted midtown councillors in heated debate in North Toronto on Tuesday night over their dismantling of Mayor Rob Ford’s proposal for underground transit.
Council’s current plan for surface-level transit is short-sighted, is unfair to the suburbs and will create a mess, councillors Josh Matlow and Karen Stintz were told at the packed meeting by speakers identifying themselves as being from Scarborough and North York.
The councillors had called the event months ago to update midtowners on construction plans for the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line.
“We thought it was going to be just a status update and events as they unfolded turned this into a somewhat different meeting,” TTC chair Stintz said in her opening remarks at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre.
Applause from the hundreds of people at the meeting showed them nearly evenly split on the transit issue, but Matlow and Stintz were forced onto the defensive a few times during the question-and-answer period as the council-backed plan to bring Eglinton light rail at-grade east of Brentcliffe Road was attacked.
Scarborough has already suffered from the poor planning of the existing Scarborough RT and the proposed LRT could make it worse, former Scarborough councillor Kurt Christensen said.
“Eglinton and Victoria Park is one of the busiest intersections … in all of Toronto, and if you take out two lanes of traffic in there, you’re going to have a real mess,” he said.
Subways could be built incrementally over a few years to serve Scarborough better, Christensen said.
Another resident said light rail operating on a raised track bed will impede traffic, as cars trying to access non-signalized minor intersections will be forced to make U-turns, similar to those on St. Clair Avenue West.
“What you’re asking us to accept is 10–20 percent more gridlock than we’ve already got.” he said. “Where is the fairness in that?”
Stintz stressed light rail was the best option given the resources available to the city.
With $8.4 billion of dedicated provincial funds, the current plan to go aboveground east of Brentcliffe Road would save about $1.9 billion for other transit projects.
“We can’t build a subway to Scarborough Town Centre for a billion dollars — it’s not going to happen,” she said. “The most we can do is extend the subway somewhat or we could actually build transit into Scarborough and that will be the choice council makes with the Scarborough councillors.”
She noted other cities in the world comparable with Toronto are either already running light rail or building it.
On March 15, an expert panel struck by Stintz will present a plan to council for future transit along Sheppard East.
The mayor has stated subways could be built with revenue from parking levies, road tolls and development charges.
But rather than delay building transit, Matlow said the city can use funds currently available from the province to extend two rail lines into Scarborough — one along Sheppard, another on Eglinton — with dedicated light rail to serve suburban communities without seeking extra revenue.
Expected ridership would not be enough for the city to avoid having to pay for it with tax money, Matlow said.
“What I do not want to see — and I’m sure the mayor would agree with this — is we need to raise your taxes more and more and more to subsidize subways.
“That would be inefficient. That would be gravy.”
Other more local concerns addressed at the meeting included the impacts of extensive roadwork on Eglinton residents. Work on the Eglinton Crosstown has already begun in the west end.
Anna Pace of the TTC’s planning department said staff are working on a long-term plan that includes community consultation, minimal road closures and development of a shop-local campaign to reduce impacts to businesses along Eglinton.
“We’re committed to having contractors that will keep two lanes open at all times around the construction,” she said. “We’re committed to maintaining access to all the businesses and residences and institutions along the way.”
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