Here’s a short-term goal: With a little self-discipline, and a bit of focus on the part of the media, maybe we can get back to talking about the things that matter at City Hall, as opposed to the things that titillate and scandalize and polarize, which is to say, what everyone (including your’s truly) spent the summer obsessing over. But the crispness in the air should bring our thoughts back to the one conversation that must trump all the other phony wars that play out on the second floor of 100 Queen.
And of course, I’m talking about transit.
The season finale, you’ll recall, culminated with the ritual slaughter of the latest and greatest idea for solving Toronto’s transit woes. “One City,” the brainchild of TTC chair Karen Stintz and Scarborough councillor Glen de Baeremaeker, crumbled in June in the face of multiple obstacles. But council nevertheless voted to bring together the funding question and the transit planning question into one all-encompassing conversation, to begin this fall as Metrolinx begins its push for a funding strategy.
Yet as Stintz revealed last week in a Q&A with Spacing, even that idea appears to have vanished.
Spacing: What happens next on the transit file?
Stintz: There will be a report coming to Executive Committee [in October] recommending funding options for transit and that is something that is independent of the overall plan. Councillor de Baeraemaker and I are attempting to bring the two together but it appears that they won’t come together in the fall. There will be a discussion on how to fund transit, and then there will be a framework discussion on how to consult the public.
Spacing: What’s involved in the consultation?
Stintz: It will be a city-wide consultation process and [the City] will not be presenting a plan to the public to comment on. We will be seeking their input on the kind of plan they’d like to see.
Spacing: Why not present a proposal for people to comment on?
Stintz: That was the genesis of what Glen de Baeremaeker and I were hoping to achieve. We would not only bring together funding with the plan, but also bring forward a conceptual plan that would form the basis of the discussion with the public. Council was not willing to grapple with all of those issues at one time so those issues have now been parsed off. I believe we would have better public discussion if we actually had a proposed plan.
Spacing: How long with this consultation process last?
Stintz: My expectation is that it will begin in January and I believe that it needs to conclude in the spring. By the fall [of 2013], we do need to have an idea of where we want to go as a city.
Spacing: How will the city do the technical analysis? Will it happen simultaneously with the consultation?
Stintz: My objective and what I will be pushing is that we do that technical work and embed it within the official plan. The work-around [is] for what is our demand for transit and where in the city does it need to be, and then there are the specific EAs that have to get done. I do think the vision needs to include a more thorough analysis of where the demand is and what sort of transit do we need to meet the demand, and how are going to make sure it gets embedded in the official plan.
Spacing: How do you deal with the issue of prioritizing projects?
Stintz: Council needs to wrestle with those decisions and then we can begin to discuss with Metrolinx where the priorities are. We know Metrolinx is spending $8.4 billion on four light rail lines in Toronto and those projects are going to take us past 2022. So we have some time to sit down and talk about what the next phase of investment looks like. But we also know that Toronto needs to contribute, and we know that we can’t extend the Yonge subway line [to Richmond Hill] until we have a way to reduce the [demands] on the existing line. We need to be thinking about a downtown relief line before we even begin the discussion about extending the Yonge Street subway.
Spacing: What are the time horizons? Is there anything that would limit the duration of the consultation process so there is actually a target?
Stintz: I think council needs to set that time line. I believe if we’re going to be successful with the [Metrolinx’ proposed] funding model [due to be tabled next spring], it needs to be linked to something tangible. We need to be able to have those pieces in place and explain that vision to the public. We know the public wants it, because poll after poll after poll is showing that Torontonians and the Greater Toronto Area believe that traffic congestion and gridlock is the most important issue that we need to tackle. We need to be able to say, by 2013, 2014 at the latest, here’s the plan, here are the priorities within the plan, and here’s the way we’re going to fund it.
Spacing: What about the Queen’s Quay LRT? Will that go into the maw of this consultation or will you do that separately, with an eye to having it ready by the 2015 PanAm Games?
Stintz: That project has been deemed a priority by council. We know that project is moving forward, subject to funding. But I think from a long-term perspective of the city, we need to think about an overall plan. You can’t just look at projects. You have to think about an overall plan and fund an overall plan, and it has to be beyond four years or six years. It has to be a 30-year plan. But [the East Bayfront] will proceed independently of the consultation process.
Spacing: When would you like to see council make a funding decision for East Bayfront?
Stintz: We’re going to need to be taking that decision in the 2013 year, if we’re going to have it built.
Spacing: Is it feasible to build that LRT in time for the Games?
Stintz: It will be extremely challenging. I don’t want to say it can’t happen, but it will be extremely challenging.
Spacing: When is it too late?
Stintz: If we can’t get it in the 2013 capital budget, it’s not going to go.
photo by Danielle Scott