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Christopher MacKechnie

Election Results: Foreboding News for Transit Even in Transit Friendly Cities

By December 6, 2010

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I am hardly the first person who has commented that the massive victory by Republicans is bad news for transit. I refer you to reports about what the election loss of Minnesota Representative Jim Oberstar, a true transit champion, will mean for efforts to get transit better representation in the next transportation bill. I also refer to Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, whose cancellation of a new commuter rail Hudson River crossing means that the state will have to return $271 million awarded to them by the federal government to build the project (of course, those of us not in New Jersey may welcome the cancellation - other states will now get the money).

Gone unnoticed in the United States, even among public transit circles, is the election of new Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford. Rob Ford has made it his goal to destroy the Transit City program. The Transit City program is an ambitious effort to provide quality transit service to all parts of Toronto, not just near subway stations, by constructing a number of light rail lines along major streets. Funding for the Transit City program is coming from a collaboration with the federal government of Canada, the provincial government of Ontario, and the city of Toronto. Ford does not like light rail lines, because he says they are taking away lanes of traffic from cars. Instead, he would like to take all of the money and build subways instead, primarily to keep cars moving on the road. He also attempted, before learning of how much it would cost, to destroy Toronto's streetcar network and replace it with buses. Of course, while subways are nice they are much more expensive than building other kinds of rapid transit, which would mean that instead of a network of light rail lines across Toronto he, if successful, will divert the money to build at most one new subway line.

Rob Ford believes he has the mandate from voters to pursue this approach. As part of his campaign, he promised to end the "war on cars" that he claimed Transit City represents. What should cause transit professionals to take note that here is a majority of people in Toronto, a city with less than half the population of Los Angeles county but with transit patronage equal to that of Los Angeles's transit systems, seemingly saying that they do not want to become a European city where transit is everywhere and automobile usage is actively discouraged. If we cannot take traffic lanes from the automobile and give them to transit in Toronto, then where will be able to do it?

If Rob Ford is successful, and it is unsure if he will be since he will need the City Council's approval to go ahead, then transit professionals should be prepared to go lightly on transit only lanes; instead, they should focus on other, more politically palatable methods to improve transit speed such as signal priority and bus stop consolidation.

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