Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Wikipedian Candidate

If the Toronto municipal election thus far has taught me anything, it's the degree to which people feel as if they're qualified to talk about anything under the sun for the simple reason that they're going to have their name on the ballot. There are most likely a boatload of municipal issues that I lack a deep understanding of - but for me, to talk and act as if I know them as thoroughly as an expert on the matter would be disingenuous at best.

This strain of political action is particularly visible in terms of transit. It's probably the single most important issue in this election, and everyone has their take on it. What gets me about this is that it all sounds like a bunch of posturing and the drawing of lines on maps. I may be the only car-free candidate for Mayor, and I'll be the first to admit that I only have a hobbyist's familiarity with the TTC system. What would surprise me is if the other candidates know as much about the system as they purport to.

Case in point: "Furious" George Smitherman released his new transit plan on Friday. He is - get this, because this will shock and awe you - promising new subways. The Sun's coverage was eminently predictable. I first heard about it via transit guru Steve Munro's careful, detailed, point-by-point criticism of it. Here's the meat of what he'd do as Mayor, if you're unfamiliar:

- Extend the Sheppard Line west from Sheppard-Yonge to Downsview.
- Replace the Scarborough RT with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth Line from Kennedy to Scarborough Centre.
- Extend the Bloor-Danforth Line from its western terminus at Kipling to Sherway Gardens, a stone's throw from the Toronto-Mississauga border.
- Extend the Eglinton LRT tunnel to Weston Road.
- Extend the Sheppard East LRT to U of T's Scarborough campus, in preparation for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

He also includes the Spadina subway extension, the Finch West LRT to Humber College, and the Waterfront LRT in his plan as well - though this is disingenuous at best, I think, since those projects are either already under construction or well on the way to being realized.

While on the bus to and from furthest Etobicoke today, I had plenty of time to reflect on this plan - and something hit me. It seemed disturbingly familiar. It didn't take long for me to realize why: his subway plans are taken directly from Wikipedia. Check the revision for the Bloor-Danforth article from May 21, and that of the Sheppard Line from May 13. The westward extension of the Sheppard line is a particularly common meme, it seems, in the Toronto subway community. Granted, it would make that line a lot more pleasant, and it would slightly increase the crosstown utility of the Sheppard Line, but to champion these things of all things suggests to me that Smitherman is looking for solutions that "make sense" or are potentially popular, regardless of whether or not they will be worthwhile additions to the transit network.

Smitherman's plan is particularly teeth-grinding to me because it makes no mention at all of the Downtown Relief Line. The fact of the matter is that the subway network is dealing with serious capacity issues, and I'm surprised it's not hemmorhaging riders because of the sardine-like experience that is the subway downtown at rush hour. To talk about extending the lines further into the outer city while excess capacity is needed now in the downtown core - to my mind, transit-oriented it ain't.

The Downtown Relief Line is, I believe, an absolutely necessary component of Toronto's transit network. While I have no problem with the idea of extending the Sheppard subway west, or taking Bloor-Danforth further out into Scarborough and Etobicoke, these should not be priority projects. The proper time to start building the DRL was 1985. If we need any subway, it is that subway.

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