There are two basic issues that are caused by mega project planning and debates –
1- It sucks all the oxygen out of the room for the basic questions around service – which should be what transit and its planning are about
2- It sucks up all the money to make incremental improvements.
Mega projects should be the last resort – not the first. The moment you resort to a mega project you are committing all of your resources to a single bet, and having to build more than is likely required in the short or even medium term. The other problem is that they are far too immersed in politics, and grand visions that relate only poorly to real requirements.
The construction of the TYSSE has created massive controversy in the GTA, and is frankly a poorly considered project. If a subway extension was required – a much shorter one would have been better. The extension beyond York U – defies logic and results in a large long term operating cost, not to mention massive construction costs – that are not required. It also makes it harder for York Region to take over the planning and construction of their own network in the longer term. The York Region investment should have been in a much longer, and more appropriate LRT. York would have been in a position to build to and beyond Vaughan City Centre, and then take up construction again – in reasonable and affordable chunks.
Planning around Scarborough feels very similar. The province would only commit 2.7 billion to provide 2 LRTs to Scarborough – until suddenly we can find between 3 levels of government 3.8 billion ++ for a subway – and well still the 1.3 billion for a Sheppard East LRT. Yes the plan to spend 5.1 billion is more attractive to the area, than a plan to spend 2.7 billion. However, if we are prepared to spend 5.1 billion – gee could we not build a lot more coverage if the province had stuck with LRT? You want to get downtown – well that would be better on GO anyway – and the LRT network and GO should be fully integrated – not just with the subway.
Having said that – why are we always focusing on large single commitments – and why do we as the public go for it? This does not represent good governance – just good politics, which it would appear are extremely hard on the well being of the province.
We should be making a commitment to building a flexible, effective and efficient transit system, that serves as many riders for as many trips as possible, by making moderate affordable investments, and committing to a system that we can operate effectively, and can easily afford to do so. Scarborough would be better served by building a network, not a single line, and building something that can grow and serve local and regional trips well, the regional ones by delivering people to GO.
Downtown suffers from a similar issue – in reverse. Downtown itself does not need a mega project, but a couple of large projects would go a long ways, along with better planning and staging. Union Station was ripped apart, well we should have worked in a substantial addition to the streetcar loop, or better still another one – to support the East Bay Front and some form of support for an eventual for a Water Front West line.
We should have reserved space to run something through the rail lands, before all the construction was completed, it should now be a question of laying tracks to hugely improve service to the west end, and western downtown areas. Now we will likely need to run those cars on Queens Quay – and hope there is space there and in Union Station, and unless something is changed radically at Union – there is no way to support this level of service – strikes me that this could have been better supported – if it had been part of a small incremental plan – instead of one that will now require very substantial spending – some of which could have been avoided – if we had supported a long term plan. As it is – if we have to use Queens Quay, it would mean Spadina, East Bayfront and Waterfront West would all have to share a space. Seems a stretch, as does the idea of running a substantial service along Bremmer with changing how traffic works now.
Unfortunately there is a single place where the idea of incrementalism fails now and another where it will fail soon. The city cannot realistically get around the need for more capacity into the core, and it is hard to see from where growth seems headed, how you can avoid having an additional link into the core, to support growth, and provide a point of connection for a greatly improved local network elsewhere in the city. The other eventually is Union Station. Toronto largely faces many of its current problems because it has chosen not to develop incrementally – and put transit development on the back burner for decades.