Tuesday, December 21, 2010


One constant in Toronto's transit politics is that if you have three people in a board room planning the next transit line, you will get four routes.
So prepare for confusion, stupidity and zany politics as councillors, TTC officials and provincial transit experts (supposed) plot future expansion.
Let me offer bits of wisdom to guide this debate from two people who knew a lot more than these guys.
I was standing at a urinal in the old City Hall when I was aware that next to me, in an unguarded moment, was one of the mightiest politicians then in Ontario, Frederick Goldwyn Gardiner.
Before Gardiner was just a name on an expressway, he dominated urban politics as the Metro chairman who in his spare time helped decide who would be the next Tory premier. He was formidable. You called him Mister. There was a whispered nickname of Bullmoose. Yet he tolerated the press and even routinely gave us rides to meetings in his limousine.
His office and the office shared by the three newspapers shared an air duct. After the week's work ended one Friday, we were having a noisy party. Gardiner's faithful secretary appeared and read from her steno pad: "I am trying to borrow $100 million for the city from some New York money boys and because of the racket from you mongoloid apes, I can't hear them." So we shut up. Ten minutes later, she came back."Mr. Gardiner said he's got the money and you can start your damn drunken noise again."
As the kid on the City Hall beat, I didn't get many chances to talk to such a power house. So I took advantage of our washroom encounter. "Tell me, sir," I got out, "why did you just say at the planning meeting that Eglinton was the most important street in the city?" "Because young man," he rumbled, "no major street goes through more suburbs and the city. Just look at the map. You can just see how important it is."
Now let's recall the old and interminable debate about the routing of the Spadina subway and whether it should have been tunneled under the ravine near Bathurst and St. Clair or just run through it.
I was more impressed than the politicians were by the argument of Hans Blumenfeld, then the deputy planning commissioner and an intriguing gnome. (He would have been the top man except he came with a communist tinge as one of the chief planners of Moscow and Philadelphia.) Blumenfeld argued that it didn't make a lot of sense for the TTC to keep burying its transit because not only was it more costly, transit riders had as much right as anyone else to look around at trees and grass and sky.
Except, of course, the NIMBY zealots wanted to have as much of the municipal infrastructure as possible where they couldn't see it. It didn't matter if thousands of TTC riders could enjoy looking at the leafy escape of a ravine. It would hurt the hikers, and, oh yes, some homeowners. I thought of Blumenfeld every time I argued that the workhorse Gardiner expressway should not be torn down and replaced just because the downtown condo industry thought it was an eyesore. The drivers have just as much of a right to enjoy the view as the officer workers, tenants and owners crammed into the buildings shoehorned beside the expressway which is one of the city's most important roads.
Now the idea is being floated about elevated transit. Since Mayor Rob Ford properly wants to reduce the amount of roadway devoured by new transit, you can either go under or over.
And before the predictable crap starts flying about eyesores, remember that Els are hardly radical innovations but have been around for a century or more. Except now both the elevated tracks and the trains can look more graceful because of all the advances in construction and technology.
An Eglinton Crosstown makes a lot of sense. It made sense in Gardiner's day, and it makes sense today instead of extending that stupid expensive stub of a subway on Sheppard.
Ironically, Torontonians smugly consider themselves as living in a superior city when there are cities throughout the world that make our roads and transit look like we are mired in a horse-and-buggy pothole. And elevated roads and transit are part of their cities.
Once again, this should be a case of taking the high road. Not only is it superior, it has a better view.

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