We heard it over and over again in the last municipal election: we need to expand our transit system to get people home from work faster.
While this may be true, it is shortsighted and leads to the ongoing transit mediocrity we have been mired in for decades. We don’t need a transit system that gets people home from work faster. What we need is a transit system that efficiently gets people where they need to go – to destinations!
When you focus just on getting people home, you end up with the Sheppard line (which, despite being called a ‘failure’, is actually quite full, at least at rush hour). When you focus on destinations, on the other hand, and start with high density areas where people actually like taking the subway, you end up with a transit system that works.
It works in several ways. It reduces the need to even own a car, and it makes our large city feel more connected, which adds to our enjoyment and the enjoyment of tourists. It is more economically sustainable since ridership increases (and not just at rush hour), it adds to local economies and yes, it even helps get people home faster from work.
Many people say our biggest strength as a city is our diversity. It makes living here a pleasure, but unfortunately many tourists don’t quite get to experience what we do since many of these diverse neighborhoods are not accessible enough via public transit.
If you’ve ever been to New York City or London you know that one of the greatest things about being a tourist there is how easy it is to explore those cities due to their comprehensive subway systems. Contrast that with Toronto. There are too many great neighborhoods and attractions that aren’t easily accessible via public transit, and it’s to all of our detriment.
Take the Beach for example. Here we have a destination which draws more than a million people per year. Yet how accessible is it via transit? People who live on the west side of downtown – Liberty Village, let’s say – would never think of trying to get here riding transit. So either they don’t come, or they bring their car and take up parking spots. Many tourists don’t even bother trying. And how does our local Beach economy fare? With year after year of stores struggling to survive, that’s how.
I know many people in the Beach are opposed to change and development. They try desperately to cling to the past and to preserve the small town feel of the Beach. But the truth is change is inevitable. We’re a core part of this city and it’s better that we embrace it and move forward in a way that adds to our quality of life.
Imagine you could jump on a subway at Queen and Woodbine that whisked you to one of the other destination neighborhoods in our city. You’d be there within 15 minutes and wouldn’t have to worry about parking. Little Italy, the Distillery, St. Lawrence Market, the CNE, Ontario Place, the Gerrard Street India Bazaar, Leslieville, Sunnyside Beach – these are all very central locations that are under-served by public transit.
There are so many more destinations in this city that are disconnected from the core (the zoo, the Science Centre, Canada’s Wonderland north of the city), but if we focus on building from the core out, and focus on building subways where people would actually use them in greater frequency, we can be on our way to building a transit system that works.
David Toushek is a Beacher passionate about Toronto transit.