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St. Clair LRT Concerns
22/04/2004

I came across an article today in the Tandem News that has a lot of surprising quotes about the St. Clair LRT proposal.

Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and TTC Chair Howard Moscoe make some hard-core comments about the certainty of moving ahead with the dedicated right of way. Now, there is nothing wrong with this per se -- elected politicians have no requirement to be neutral during the environmental assessment process -- but the strength of their determination in the face of local resistance is somewhat shocking.

Also quoted in John Sewell, former mayor, who seems to be against the project:

Sewell, still a faithful supporter of Toronto, told the [anti-DROW rally] participants, "the reduction of streetcar runs on St. Clair is due to a reduction in the number of streetcars, not to problems caused by cars."

"In 1976," insisted Sewell, "there were 40,000 runs a day with 29 streetcars. Nowadays, the number of runs has come down to 30,000, and the number of streetcars has shrunk to 19."

Which I think misses the point. (There's a lot of that going around.) The most cost-effective way and impactful way for the TTC to improve service on St. Clair is to build the right-of-way, not buy ten new streetcars.

Since we're on the topic of the St. Clair streetcar, there are a couple other things I'd like to address.

One is to point you to a letter to the editor in Now, that responds to that bad article last week that I wrote about in an earlier posting. James Bow didn't get his letter printed, and I didn't get around to writing mine, but the letter they chose is good too.

Also, in comments to that earlier post, Brett Lamb raises some concerns about the St. Clair LRT project.

I'm not sure that I agree with Brett's specific comments -- I can't compare Spadina with what it was, but the redevelopment there doesn't feel like a failure to me -- but I do have some worries about what they're planning for St. Clair West. This seems like a good moment to consider them.

  • Sidewalks -- One of the great things about St. Clair Avenue West is the wide sidewalks. There is lots of room there for strolling crowds, and I feel that it makes walking along the street more enjoyable. There are no specific plans yet for the redevelopment, but the idea of giving up some of that space is not a happy one for me.
  • The parking barrier -- Parked cars can offer pedestrians a feeling of protection from the flow on the street. When I consider alternatives where the sidewalk is adjacent to a busy thoroughfare, I'm not pleased (Avenue Road, in the worst case). On the other hand, it is less of a problem on some streets where the traffic isn't as fast. I was out walking all over Toronto on Sunday and I can't remember very well which streets had parked cars and which didn't.
  • Parking -- This is less my concern, and more the merchants' worry. They think that reduced parking will hurt their business. I don't know if this is true or not. The only major purchase that I made on St. Clair was a very heavy cast iron grille and I used the streetcar to go get it. But I don't think I'm normal. The bottom line here is that while hard-core anti-car people might not give a rat about whether or not parking is preserved, I'd actually support the merchants' hope that the City find a way to replace any parking that's lost.
  • Trees -- There have been claims that some trees may be lost. I don't know how this can be known, since designs have not been put forward yet. Nevertheless, it's simple -- trees: good, loss of trees: bad.
  • Blow-through travellers -- I don't know what to call it, but here I'm referring to building an LRT through the heart of St. Clair West that mainly benefits those who are further upstream and just use the LRT to conveniently pass by. I'm not very concerned that this will happen -- St. Clair isn't very long, and it isn't conveniently downstream for anyone else -- but I was imagining an analogy with neighbourhoods that get ignored when a freeway gets built through it, allowing commuters to pass from the outer suburbs through to downtown. I don't think this will be the case, but neither do I think we should exempt transit infrastructure from the insights we've had about road transportation.
  • Traffic restraint -- One of the concerns that Brett mentions is the inability of streetcars in their own right-of-way to set the pace for traffic on the road, and hold cars to a reasonable speed. I certainly agree that this is what happens on Queen Street and King Street. I don't know if it happens on St. Clair right now, however, since traffic islands already exist that allow cars to continue past streetcars that are unloading passengers. In fact, I think one of the main concerns on St. Clair for people outside of the transit set is that traffic will be restrained too much.

There might be others, but those are the worst that I could think of right now. Some of these do worry me, but I will have to wait until specific designs are put forward. Even then, the problems would have to outweigh the considerable benefits that I feel the right-of-way can bring.


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