Transit City Toronto 2012

Will 2012 mark the return of Transit City?

First things first, that's a serious question. Despite the fact that Transit City was thought lost shortly after Rob Ford took his position as mayor of Toronto, more and more signs point to the possibility that, at the very minimum, there will be a significant public push to revive the former LRT-based transit plan. Speculation that it might be possible to restore the initial plans for LRT on Sheppard and Finch ramped up when David Miller, speaking with Newstalk's 1010's John Moore in September, indicated that you could just turn Transit City back on "like a switch." While that was a provocative statement, few believed that such a thing was actually possible.

Many still don't. There are, however, others out there who point toward the resistance — both from the public and on city council — to the Fords' attempted takeover of the Port Lands redevelopment as a potentially watershed moment in this mayoralty. Prior to the kickback on this issue, Ford (be it Doug or Rob) tended to get what he wanted. Could a similar campaign to revive Transit City have the same effect?

In a timely and intelligent post on his mayoral watchdog site, Ford for Toronto, Matt Elliott does a good job establishing why there might be room for cautious optimism from Transit City supporters:

"Is a Port Lands-style consensus possible with these transit plans? Early indications are good. Aside from Ford, very few councillors expressed strong objections to the on-street operation of Eglinton and other Transit City routes when they were first proposed. And there's certainly an appetite for more transit in more places, which is what we'd get if council rejected Ford's all-underground scheme for Eglinton and reverted to something resembling the Transit City plan."

Elliott is careful to note, however, that the best strategy for critics of Ford's transit "plan" will be to frame a campaign for change under the guise of compromise, a move that might encourage the mayor to cop a less stubborn approach to new transit options without the risk of full-scale embarrassment. This is smart thinking — not just because, as Elliott notes, it might "leave room for the mayor to save face," but because it would also allow his allies on council to vote for a new transit plan without completely alienating Ford.

So how does the matter get before council given that Ford ditched the transit plan he inherited without taking it to a vote? Last week, the Grid's Edward Keenan pointed out that the punitive costs associated with the cancellation of the original Transit City plans — which have been estimated at $65-million — could prove the impetus for a councillor to pass a motion asking Metrolinx to revert to the initial and only plan that was actually approved by city council back in 2009. The big question is whether or not there's the political will to vote in favour of such a call.

Some councillors who initially aligned themselves with Ford on transit have since reconsidered. Upon news that Scarborough will be without rapid transit until 2019 (and quite possibly a lot longer), Councillor Chin Lee (ward 41) had some regret-laden advice for his constituents who supported a subway extension plan that very well be dead in the water. "It's just be careful what you ask for and think of all the implications," he said. Raymond Cho (Ward 42), Keenan notes, has also done an about face since seeing what's in store for Scarberians over the next few years.

Add to this the possibility of more and more public pressure via websites like Save Transit City and a #CodeBlueTO-type campaign, and you can expect to hear the words Transit City uttered more and more often in 2012. The longer that Ford's Sheppard subway extension remains stalled, and the more complicated and expensive that it gets to bury the entirety of the Eglinton LRT, the more likely it is that something's got to give. Will this result in the restoration of the city's former transist plan? That remains to be seen. But the betting is good that a very serious movement to restore viable transit options in under-served areas is on the horizon.

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