A better way to York University

It’s going to cost almost $40 million to save thousands of York University students seven minutes on their bus trip from Downsview station, reported the Toronto Star July 26. With the planned subway to York University not expected for years, politicians Friday showcased plans for a new express busway route to the campus that should open next August.  

The 6-kilometre, $37.8 million route will give buses a high-occupancy vehicle lane on Allen Road and Dufferin Street, then let them continue west on a dedicated busway along the Finch hydro corridor before crossing Keele Street onto the campus. The busway is viewed as an interim step to alleviate traffic congestion in the area until the Spadina subway is extended to the University and beyond, likely in 2015. Work on the subway is expected to begin in September, once paperwork for funding is finalized.  

Politicians from all three levels of government arrived on a hybrid-electric TTC bus yesterday to make the announcement in a campus parking lot. Soil was trucked in so federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, provincial Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman and Mayor David Miller could do a symbolic groundbreaking.  

The federal and provincial governments are each contributing $9.7 million and the city, $18.4 million. TTC officials estimate it will take about 13 minutes to travel from the University to Downsview – shaving seven minutes off the typical 20-minute rush-hour trip.  

Though it seems a small improvement, the politicians touted the move as a significant step toward building a rapid transit network in the northwest corner of the city. Miller expressed some disappointment that the busway won’t be ready this fall, as first planned.

"Frankly, I wish we had been able to announce it a year ago, so we’re actually opening it today," he told reporters. The holdup is blamed on delays in signing agreements with the senior governments as well as waiting for environmental approvals.  

The subway project will go ahead, he said, but it’s been waiting for the infrastructure agreement between Queen’s Park and Ottawa, which was signed Thursday. "The ball’s in their court. We’re anxious to get going," he said. 

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Ottawa will be happy to pay its $697 million share for the subway extension when the time comes. A York law school grad, he recalled that bus service was poor when he was a student there.  

Ontario officials took advantage of the busway announcement to pressure Ottawa to contribute $6 billion to the province’s ambitious $17.5 billion MoveOntario 2020 transit plan, which includes 52 projects in the GTA and Hamilton, such as electrifying GO’s Lakeshore West rail line. "We need their continued support," Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said as Flaherty stood nearby.  

Toronto-area television and radio stations broadcast news of the announcement and major Toronto dailies published news stories and commentary:

  • Citing Richard Soberman, one of this city’s veteran transportation experts, The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray suggested in a July 26 column that the ministry of transportation should be called the ministry of announcements because that’s all it does. Governments need to scrap the chaotic funding model and instead provide regular, guaranteed streams of money for public transit, he argued, again citing Soberman. All you need to know about the Byzantine transit-funding world can be summed up by the story of the dedicated bus lanes from Downsview subway station to York University, which got the full ministry-of-announcements treatment on Friday. The lanes are a stopgap measure before the $2.6-billion subway extension – itself subject to political infighting and delays and now due to be completed in 2015 – materializes. But these measly six kilometres of bus lanes, worth $40-million, have now practically taken as long as a subway to build. Recommended in 2001 and promised by the mayor in 2003, the lanes were included in a $1-billion transit- funding deal promised by all three governments in 2004 but never finalized until earlier this year.
  • Even as provincial and federal politicians congratulate themselves this week on breaking the perennial funding logjam that slows a project like the subway extension to York University, some municipal officials have their eyes on the big prize, wrote the Toronto Star’s Royson James in a July 26 column. When will the province of Ontario take back the huge funding burdens it dropped on municipalities in the 1990s? How much will it take back? And why is Premier Dalton McGuinty dragging his feet way past the target date he himself set? asked James.
  • Ontario Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman said it is about time construction got under way for the new bus lanes, which were initially proposed in 2004, reported The Globe and Mail July 26 in its coverage of Friday’s announcement. York University is at the heart of the Ontario government’s strategy to build a strong economy with a highly skilled and educated work force, he said. "But if the people can’t get to the place that does the teaching because of the inadequacy of infrastructure, that’s a serious problem."
  • Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty touted his government’s commitment to Toronto public transit, including subway infrastructure and bus rapid transit links in the northwest end of the city, reported The Toronto Sun July 26. "We have announced the extension of the Spadina subway through York University to Vaughan Centre in York Region," Flaherty said. "This is big. This is the largest transit project ever funded by the federal government, that is by Canadian taxpayers, including Ontario taxpayers and Canadian taxpayers from coast to coast to coast."
  • The next big transit announcement for Toronto is expected in a few months when Ottawa will deliver on its long-promised $697 million towards the building of the $2-billion extension to the Spadina line, reported CBC.ca July 28. The Spadina extension proposed building six more subway stops connecting the existing subway line with the city of Vaughan, northwest of Toronto. The new line will also bring a long-awaited stop to York University. That announcement is expected to be made in September with construction starting in 2009.  

Subway to York is needed, say Star readers 

In letters published July 26, Toronto Star readers said:  

  • York University is the only university in Toronto not connected to a subway line. The amount of riders coming from Toronto AND York Region will justify its expansion. As well, this subway will alleviate traffic on the 400, getting people off the road and onto the underused Spadina line into the city. Next: Yonge line north of Finch and bring back the Eglinton subway! – Posted by mikenits  
  • What really would be ideal is to bring the Sheppard line west to Downsview and have that line also run into the Spadina extension. That way people leaving York can either go south or east. – Posted by Matias  
  • Anyone who’s ACTUALLY driven south on the 400 series would understand why there is a need for this subway line to be extended. – Posted by unlimitedNRG  
  • Seems like this will serve the 905 area as well. But how much does the 905 contribute to the GTA infrastructure? If Mayor David Miller can impose more taxes on the GTA, why can’t he impose taxes for people coming in from the 905 on the DVP or Gardiner Expressway? – Posted by Lee  
  • I understand building an extension to York U, but beyond? A waste of money. How about building relevant subway lines that require it, such as Eglinton or Queen. Even a Finch line would be better than extending up to Highway 7! – Posted by Cavan  

Flaherty lectures Ontario again

The mounting challenges to Ontario’s economy mean Premier Dalton McGuinty can no longer ignore federal calls for more business tax cuts and a harmonized GST, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says, reported the Toronto Star July 26. Both changes would make it easier to attract investment and boost economic growth, Flaherty told reporters after announcing $9.7 million in federal funding for a new rapid bus route to York University in Toronto Friday.

  • Before the federal government released news Friday that it had started the new fiscal year in a deficit position, Flaherty suggested he is not worried about the country’s financial position, reported Canadian Press July 26. "The Canadian economy is on track, our budget is on track," he told reporters at York University. "We’re watching the economic figures closely."  

On air

  • Environmental studies Professor Justin Podur discussed global warming on the Nadia Khan Show, a breakfast talk show produced by Pakistan’s Geo TV, July 14.