Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lakeshore LRT Public Meeting

Last night's public meeting was very well attended. It's good to see that plenty of people in the area are participating in this process. Kudos to Councillor Mark Grimes for pushing the process back to square one to make sure the community has full opportunity to engage with the project team and make our views known.

There was a presentation, and then the public were invited to go up to a mic and ask questions. There were a lot of concerns raised for the neighbourhoods of Mimico, New Toronto and Longbranch, and there were also a few voices firmly behind the concept an LRT from Humber Loop to Longbranch.

Here are some of the points I took away from the meeting:

The City is firmly committed to rail and firmly committed to right-of-ways. Although this was termed a planning exercise and there is no funding committed for the 2016 LRT plan at this stage, the speakers were not interested in entertaining other possibilities, such as electric trolley-buses.

Some people at the meeting clearly believe that those who oppose a transit right-of-way are simply afraid of change.

To the TTC and the City, transit improvement clearly means fulfilling the Transit City plan for LRTs.

The main tangible benefit our communities could expect from the LRT is a 5 minute time savings travelling from Longbranch to Humber. It was suggested that LRTs = city building and that they would bring positive development to the community, intensification and new businesses. The TTC rep said an LRT would be socially good for the city. However, I do not believe the TTC, planners or anyone really have a clear bead on how a divided rail corridor would change our community.

As one resident suggested, Lakeshore Blvd is not a transportation corridor, it's our main street.

Another long term resident and TTC user pointed out that the period during which the service in our communities was best was during the TTC track rehabilitation when buses were run on Lakeshore. Another resident suggested double-decker trolley buses. Interesting idea. However, buses are not being entertained as a transit improvement solution for our area, with the exception of express buses running to Union Station, which our councillor has been advocating.

One resident pointed out that street cars have no difficulty in the Mimico-New Toronto-Longbranch stretch - they get mired in traffic once the line hits Queen St. It was noted in the presentation that the Longbranch line and the Queen line were amalgamated in 1995. In other words, there used to be dedicated Longbranch cars that ran from Longbranch to Humber Loop. If you wanted to go downtown, you would transfer to a downtown car. Now, street cars run all the way across the city, so if there is a problem due to traffic on Queen West, it affects service west of Humber Loop as well. I wonder if adding back one or two dedicated Longbranch street cars would increase frequency enough to equal the 5 minutes savings which a LRT right-of-way might offer? I would like to see this studied and costed out.

I think that at the core of the discussion is the idea the city has that a network of light rail is the right thing for the city, regardless of what it might do to individual neighbourhoods. It seems that to the City, rail development is the way to improving transit and improving the city. I would be far more comfortable with a plan that suggested looking for solutions that enhanced each neighbourhood instead. There may be areas in which LRT is an excellent solution, and at the same time, areas in which unique solutions such as the double-decker trolley buses suggested last night are the way to go. It is a mistake for the City to impose a homogeneous light rail vision.

In exchange for a 5 minute time savings on the Longbranch to Humber Loop run, we are being asked to endure major construction as well as a big wildcard in terms of what the changes will do to the character of our neighbourhoods. I don't think the LRT proposal is as much about improving transit as it is about imposing a light rail vision consistent with the Transit City plan. I'm also concerned that the planning for Lakeshore LRT is not being coordinated with Go Transit. Consider that Go, our other commuter rail network, already has traffic-free dedicated tracks. Go trains are currently a very fast way to get from Longbranch to downtown. The drawback is frequency of service, which is not great. The question has to be asked, instead of creating a right-of-way for light rail on Lakeshore Blvd, why not concentrate on improving Go Transit for getting downtown, and look at alternative solutions for Lakeshore that might not turn our main street into a transportation corridor.


Candy Minx said...

As one resident suggested, "Lakeshore Blvd is not a transportation corridor, it's our main street."

I remember when Lakeshore Blvd used to be a main street. Unfortunately, at all the meetings I attended to reject the notion of a "megacity" many residents in the Longbranch area (and other affected areas) were more concerned with paying lower taxes (Ie:the same taxes as the downtown core residents) and didn't seem to have an understanding that THEIR neighbourhood would become a via....or thouroughfare once the suburban sprawl transferred from them to a further district.

We tried and tried to explain this to areas like Rexdale, North York and Etobicoke.

But at the time all people cared about was making the city expand it's perimeter to include the suburbs as part of Toronto...without grasping they were turning their areas into highways and traffic corridors.

I highly suggest making a carbon tax for Ontario, with a gas tax exemption for TTC fuel. People will really be able to utilize the carbon tax for road repair and infrastructure repairs while letting it become a finacial and environmental reality how driving cars is the reason behind a prioroty LRT mandate.

When a neighbourhood becomes a thouroughfare and self-interest vehicle usage is clogging traffic flow...implementing right-of-way LRT follows.

A less intrusive option is carbon taxing.

Also, I've taken the Go train many times over the years...not only is it lack of service times an issue, it is expensive. If more service could be added and it subsidized by carbon tax incomes...maybe that would relieve the LRT mandate.

mister anchovy said...

Your points are well-taken Candy, but but a carbon tax is not going to change the debate. The issue is about what kind of neighbourhoods we want in this city.

I think all the players in this debate accept that we will be living with a mix of cars, public transit and bicycles for some time to come. It sounds like you're saying that LRTs are punishment for unenlightened communities. I don't buy that.

I think our character neighbourhoods are worth preserving, whether we organize ourselves as a megacity or not. I agree we have to plan for transit improvements and inevitable intensification, but there are a number of ways of going about this without turning communities on their nose.