Posts Tagged: Rob Ford



The Trouble With Ford’s Plan

As any Torontonian knows, Toronto’s transit plans are seriously in flux. After what seems like an eternity of planning a network of Light Rail lines, new mayor Rob Ford has decided to unilaterally nix that idea and build a new subway under the auspice that the “war on the car is over.”

Yet amidst all the hand-wringing, protesting and name-calling, no one seems to have actually scrutinized Ford’s plan. Which is good for Ford because his plan doesn’t look good.

Arguably, the single most important purpose of transit is to get people from where they live to where they work in the most efficient way possible. Connect lots of people to lots of jobs, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re doing your job right.

By that measure, Ford’s plan makes little sense:

The Toronto Subway network - simplified.

The above is a very simplified portrait of Toronto’s subway network. A few features for those not from Toronto:

  • The eastern half (right side) of the yellow line is the Yonge line. It’s either at capacity or over it – depending upon whom you asked.
  • The station that allows transfers between the Yonge line and the green Bloor-Danforth line is overcapacity.
  • The purple (Sheppard) subway line has only 5 stations and is underutilized since it opened in the early part of 2000’s. The system is so poorly used, there has been talk of shuttering it to save cost.

Rob Ford’s plan is this:

Rob Ford's plan to extend the purple Sheppard subway line.

So Ford’s plan amounts to extending a subway line that no one uses into an area where there aren’t many jobs and not that many people (relative to the rest of the city):

Population Density of Toronto - Source: Statistics Canada.

Worker Density in Toronto - Source: Statistics Canada

Overlay the two maps together and you get an even clearer picture of the problem:

Overlay: Population Density and Worker Density in Toronto

Essentially the Ford plan moves suburbanites from one mall (Scarborough Town Centre) to another mall (Fairview / Don Mills). Given that it’s Christmas season, I can see the appeal of that, but after the gifts have been unwrapped and the credit card bills have (hopefully) been paid, whose going to use this line? Doesn’t every mall offer basically the same thing anyways?

Oh, and it will only cost three-and-a-half billion to do it.

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When Is A Road Not A Road?

Toronto’s grand LRT scheme, Transit City, appears headed for a premature grave. Almost immediately after assuming his new role as Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford declared to the province his intention to kill Transit City and replace it with subway lines.

Toronto media has been ablaze with the story since it hit yesterday, but no one seems to know what to make of it. Does Mr. Ford have the power to unilaterally declare dead a plan that was 8 years in the making? What will the province’s response be? What of Metrolinx, the regional transit planning authority? What of all the money spent on contracts, plans and new Light Rail vehicles?

No one seems to know.

Even staunchly pro-LRT advocate and Toronto transit buff Steve Munro seems lost for words. Says Steve: “Readers who know me well will appreciate that today is not the brightest day in my history of transit advocacy.  It would be easy just to write a bitter rant against the incoming regime.  That would be a waste of time — they won’t read it anyhow.”

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve never been a fan of Transit City, but let’s put that aside. Let’s put the mode choice/technology debate aside for a second.

Ford’s actions concern me. Maybe it’s just for political showmanship, but Ford unilaterally declaring the “war on cars” to be over is ridiculous and dangerous theatre. Whether such a war actually exists or not is besides the point. In Mr. Ford’s world, roads are for cars not people. (This assertion of Ford’s is so universally known in Toronto, it’s almost pointless to link to it, but just in case, check here and here).

So let’s put Transit City, LRT and subway lines to the side and agree on one thing: Roads are most certainly, 100% not just for cars. Maybe it’s just a matter of definition, but roads are also for people, too. People and roads existed for thousands of years before cars did.

History makes clear that roads aren’t just for cars. Roads are also for…

. . . eating . . .

A Chip Wagon Outside Toronto City Hall. Image by flickr user Danielle Scott.

. . . walking . . .

Barcelona's famed pedestrianized Las Ramblas. Image by flickr user Carlos Lorenzo.

. . . playing hockey . . .

Street hockey in Montreal. Image by caribb.

. . . boating . . .

Venice's Grand Canal. Image by flickr user gnuckx.

. . . relaxing . . .

Car Free Day in Vancouver. Image by flickr user thirteencentpinball.

. . . Christmas shopping . . .

Zürich's Bahnhofstrasse. Image by flickr user meckert75.

. . . and anything else you can think of.

Rob Ford had best be careful. Announcing the end of a war that never existed might just start the war he claimed was already over.

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Privatized Public Transit: A Sacred Cow?

Toronto's Mayor Elect, Rob Ford. On a Subway.

Yesterday in my hometown of Toronto, former city councillor Rob Ford was elected Mayor.

Rob Ford, to say the least is a divisive character. He’s more a rorschach diagram than a candidate. How you feel about Ford, I suspect, says more about you than it does about him. He fanatically rants against things the city can’t afford, yet wants more subways. He’s a fiscal conservative yet none of his numbers appear to add up. He’s anti-bike and anti-streetcar but wants to see more buses on the road everywhere.

He’s a hard one to get your mind around. Over the weekend, Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic had an excellent analysis of Toronto’s Rob Ford conundrum.

(Note: I intentionally did not vote in this election. While I am normally a conscientious and regular voter, I chose to abstain from this election. Some may say that is irresponsible. I see it as exercising my democratic right not to choose between a group of candidates none of whom resonated with myself and my values.)

The reason for Mr. Ford’s election – at least according to most commentators – is that he tapped into voter outrage over city spending. In the past 7 years, the city’s budget almost doubled while service (particularly transit) levels appeared to decrease.

Originally a fringe councillor and candidate, Mr. Ford gained his public profile from an ingenious stunt whereby he diligently refused to spend a single dollar of the $50,000 budget his office was allocated annually for expenses. As a private business owner, he could afford to do so and year-after-year lorded the fact over enraged rival councillors who routinely spent the maximum.

During a garbage collectors strike during the summer of 2009, Ford’s ward was one of the few unaffected. The reason? Unlike the rest of the city that relied upon the city for garbage collection, Ford’s ward had outsourced the task to the private sector. This was a key story in the Rob Ford mythos.

Quickly, with the garbage strike tale in tow, privatizing public services became a key plank in Mr. Ford’s campaign. And it seemed to resonate with voters remarkably well. Interestingly, however, Ford never suggested privatizing public transit; one of the single largest expenditures in the Toronto budget.

The idea of public transit was treated as a sacred cow; touch it at your own peril. Why is that?

Personally, I have no opinion on the public transit vs. privatized public transit debate. I don’t know enough about it except to know both sides of the debate have a tendency to cherry-pick whatever cases best support their cause. What I want to know is why the question of privatizing public transit is so touchy?

After all, most of North America’s public transit systems were originated by the private sector. Routes were laid, solidified and commercialized by private interests long before the public sector took over. One could make a fairly convincing argument that without the influx of private money decades ago, public transit never would’ve gotten off the ground. Furthermore, the work done by the private sector was essential in building our cities during their infancy and adolescence. So why then are we so hostile to the idea?

Again, this isn’t an endorsement of one perspective over another. It’s a legitimate question:

Is public transit a sacred cow? And if so, why? Does that need to change? Is there a third way – neither private nor public?

I don’t know.

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