URGENT: We Need to Fix the Crack in Our Kitchen Table, Toronto

Caitlin Cassie

The dire state of Greater Toronto Area’s transportation situation is well known to most. And while I’m far more interested in seeing actual change be implemented on the ground, or under the ground, than ranting about the critical conditions we are facing, I’m taking this opportunity to re-emphasize the problem (as I think it needs to be re-emphasized about 50 million times a day until something actually happens).

Let me put it bluntly: People don’t want to live here because “the TTC barely functions” and “the traffic is frankly unreal,” wrote Toronto Life reporter Michelle Dean. People are leaving. People don’t want to move here. Toronto is becoming a less attractive as destination to live, work, and play because of our transit and transportation woes.

The Toronto Board of Trade’s 2011 Scorecard on Prosperity, which ranked cities based on their economic and labour attractiveness, highlighted Toronto’s “crippling congestion” as one of the main reasons why the Toronto CMA dropped from 4th place to 8th place when compared to 23 other metropolises worldwide.

Many statistics provide information about the consistently rising billions of dollars wasted on congestion costs in Toronto every year. In fact, it is predicted that by 2031, the cost of congestion will be $15 billion per year. That’s a lot of money to lose.

Even so, I have yet to read statistics about the amount of money the city is losing due to people leaving (or not coming in the first place) because the traffic is so horrendous and the public transportation system has not been enhanced quickly enough. I know those are hypothetical statistics, but so is the cost of congestion – my understanding is that the cost of congestion is calculated by figuring out how many productive hours are lost each year to gridlock.

We talk about Toronto being a global city. We talk about international economic competitiveness. Well, we also need to openly admit that we are not winning the transportation game. We are losing. Hard.

I’m aware that subway extensions are in the works. I’m aware that $8.2 billion has been committed from the Province to the Eglinton underground LRT line. But it’s not good enough. Everything transit related in this city is piecemeal and squabbled over. It is frustrating – there is no vision and there is no agreement. Toronto may be one of the only cities in the world where holes have been dug and then filled in again!

I am not taking this opportunity to sing the praises of the failed transit plan, Transit City, nor those of the former Mayor of Toronto David Miller. I’m less concerned with whose specific vision is put into action, it just needs to get done. Fast.

Luckily, there are really smart people (who are still) living in the city, and it would be nice to see good ideas become reality (and not subways being built in parts of the city that are not densely populated enough to warrant that type of infrastructure).

For example, Dr. Eric J. Miller of the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto recently published an article in the Toronto Star that unpacks this issue into language that anyone can understand. I encourage those who are interested in an easy-to-understand expert opinion to take a look – it may help to clear up some of the confusion revolving around the costs and benefits of LRT, BRT, streetcars and subways.

Again, I’m not saying that this is the only way forward. But we do need something that people can rally behind, which will only be possible if people have a clear understanding of where their tax dollars are going. And as Dr. Miller explained, transit is not just for transit enthusiasts,

“The best friend that a car driver has is a high-quality comprehensive transit system that ensures that not everyone must use their car for every trip.”

I know transportation infrastructure is very expensive and the economy is not doing great. I know it involves negotiation and collaboration between three orders of government, which is very, very difficult. I get it. But I refuse to accept that this is the best we can do.

Mayor Ford, Premier McGuinty, and Prime Minister Harper need to get their act together. Now.

We have to stop talking about our transportation and transit issues like it’s that crack in the kitchen table that we’ve grown accustomed to. We know it’s there, and although it’s bothersome and we don’t like it, most of the time we try to ignore it because it’s just too difficult to deal with. Sometimes it’s a good conversation starter when there’s an awkward silence. Unfortunately now, people are refusing to come over because of that crack. It cannot be ignored or avoided any longer.

According to statistics in a recently published Spacing Magazine article, 28.8 per cent of Torontonians use public transit, cycle, or walk to work. That 28.8 per cent compared to 15.9 per cent of Chicagoans who use transit, cycle or walk to work. Nevertheless, the average commute time in Toronto is 80 minutes per day, while the average commute time in Chicago is 61.4 minutes per day. And there are about 200,000 more people living in Chicago than Toronto. So more people are using transit in Toronto, and there are less Torontonians, but it still, it takes us longer to get to work in TO than Chitown.

Something is not right. That crack in the kitchen table is only getting bigger, and the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to fix.

Caitlin Cassie graduated from the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto in 2011.

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