On the editorial pages of Toronto's newspapers, there is a great debate about how to pay for the public transit expansion Toronto and the Toronto region desperately needs. The commentary is ernest, debating the merits of tolls, sales taxes, and other so-called revenue tools. But I think the debate is misguided.
Here's a question for you: what's the only G8 country that doesn't have a national transit strategy? The free-wheeling, car-loving U.S., perhaps? Hardly. It's right here in Canada -- where we continue to operate a patchwork system of transit funding that ebbs and flows as political leaders come and go and economic conditions rise and fall.
While having a coffee with a friend at one of the terrific new cafes on St. Clair Avenue West, I decided to do an informal and unscientific survey of people's opinions about the St. Clair Avenue right-of-way. "It's great!" was the common refrain. When I probed a little deeper, people spoke about the wonderful rejuvenation that has occurred on St. Clair.
Considering how much Torontonians cried murder when right-of-ways, bike lanes, and sidewalks have been put in at the expense of roads and parking it does seem like an impossible task to convince ourselves that transit is good for us. No collection of Councillors has been able to give us the leadership to make the tough decision we need to spearhead transit.
Gridlock in the Toronto region costs the economy billions of dollars a year, harms our environment, and leaves lower income people literally sitting on the bus for hours each day. If I were advising the new Premier of Ontario today, my advice would consist of one simple statement: Get the shovels in the ground now. Build the transit lines that we already have funding for -- then speak to the people about how to pay for the remaining lines. We must seize the moment when the funding and political will exist if we are to meet the needs of our residents and businesses and overcome decades of inertia.
There's too much pitting of self-described "drivers" and "cyclists" against each other. Most North American families are actually multi-modal - they drive, walk, and probably take transit and bike in at least certain circumstances, if not routinely. Certainly many who cycle, also drive, and visa versa. We need a more sophisticated discussion about how we get around in cities, and it starts with this -- it's not about loving your bike. It's about loving what biking does for cities.