The TTC released its Transit City plan yesterday, to a predictable mix of hope and FUD (video) from the usual suspects. I freely admit that I’m no TTC expert, nor am I artistically inclined enough to offer alternative fantasy maps. Even most of my comments on the specifics of this plan would simply echo what’s available elsewhere, so I won’t add my voice to the cacophony. But I do have some preliminary thoughts on Transit City.
First, despite the upcoming hysterics of the naysayers — which will no doubt include my own city councillor and notable small-thinker Case Ootes — this plan is easily achievable if accompanied by some political will. Keen transit advocates are right that subways are just not practical or affordable for blanketing the city with transit and that LRT is the way to go. Will this network be expensive? Yes. But unlike the expense of, say, the Sheppard subway or the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Corporate Centre, it will also be extensive.
Money and political issues aside, the two biggest threats to the success of this plan are internal: the city’s transportation department and the TTC itself. The TTC has become notorious in recent years for managing service quite poorly. In particular, they seem to focus too much on easily-graphed and ineffective internal performance targets rather than real-world performance from the customer’s perspective. This singlemindedness absolutely must change.
As for the transportation department, they have to be forced to give the TTC true signal priority along all of these routes. No ifs, ands, or buts. No half-baked priority like they’ve implemented down Spadina. Cars should always stop for an LRT; an LRT should never stop for cars.
Simply put, the city’s directive to the traffic managers should be that a TTC vehicle on a dedicated ROW should only need to stop when picking up or dropping off passengers. If an LRT vehicle is approaching an intersection, the lights should change in its favour, even if that means cutting short the cycle for intersecting traffic. Even if it means preventing cars from turning left until the LRT has passed. Even if it means stranding pedestrians at a traffic island. To be a true transit city, we have to stop treating the TTC in general, and surface routes in particular, like some kind of transportation backwater.
Although a lot of reports are labelling Transit City as more dream or fantasy than realistic plan, I hope that the Transit City network is only the beginning. The details aren’t set in stone and will be quibbled over for years to come, even as construction proceeds. But we finally have a real and achievable vision for a city-wide rapid transit system. We shouldn’t let this one slip away.