The following article points out why there is such a challenge to local public transit systems that reside outside the borders of Toronto. It’s sad but true.
With all the hand-wringing at City Hall about the creaky, underfunded TTC, we Torontonians can start to feel a little sorry for ourselves. Why can't we have subways lines that snake into every corner of town, like New York or Paris? Why can't we have a cool, iconic transit property like Chicago's El? Why can't our public transit system be — to quote my nominee for beaten-to-death T.O. modifier of 2007 — world class?
I just came from a meeting that snapped me out of my transit self-pity. This afternoon, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority asked staff from the cities that ring Toronto to brief it on their transportation and public transit plans. Although the presenters did their mightiest to put a positive sheen on their dilemmas, the afternoon was sobering. Guess how many buses Milton has for a population of 54,000? Four. Guess what percentage of Durham Region residents take local transit? Three. Even in Hamilton, a larger and more dense city, guess what the share of trips on municipal transit amounts to? Five per cent.
The scary thing about figures like these is that they are almost impossible to improve. The 'burbs and public transit just don't mix. A quick fly-over on Google Maps shows you everything you need to know about why suburbanites will never get out of their cars — and it has nothing to do with their not being as enlightened and green conscious as their hippie urban cousins. It has everything to do with how their sprawling, car-dependent cities were designed, with acre upon acre of cul-de-sac and crescent, few major arterial roads and employment centres spread out all over the city. These are problems a blank cheque for transit could never solve.
That is why Toronto is so lucky. Our roads were built in a grid. Our subdivisions are mostly within walking distance of a major thoroughfare ideal for a streetcar or light train. The bulk of us head to one spot — the downtown core — for work. These are all attributes that make Toronto an ideal place for great transit, even if we're not there yet. So the next time you're cursing Toronto transit, stop and thank your deity of choice that you don't live in Milton, where the only way to build a great transit system would be to bulldoze the whole mess to the ground, and start all over again.