There’s been a lot of debate about transit in the city, especially regarding LRT and streetcars vs. subways and underground transit. Each has its advantages, and its detractors. One of the biggest arguments against LRT/streetcar has been an interesting appeal to the “disaster on St. Clair” coming from the right side of the council chamber (the left side if you have to sit with the riff-raff in the council chamber gallery). A lot has been said about the St. Clair construction being overbudget, too long in the making, and a generally bad idea for the people of Toronto.
Recently, however, an effort has been made to debunk this myth. First up, my new home turf councillor (and fellow St. Clair streetcar rider) Joe Mihevc has convinced the TTC to take a look at the financial situation for businesses before and after for the so-called St. Clair Disaster. To my eyes, both literally and reading the newspaper, it doesn’t seem like St. Clair has been “St. Clair-ized” (Doug Ford’s term) at all. From the Globe and Mail (last paragraph of the article):
… there are currently 1,126 condo units in the development pipeline, as well as a 64-unit rental building. Between 2000 and 2011, the total value of all building permits issued [between Yonge and Keele] was $453-million. The value of construction activity also has risen during and since construction, with an average annual total of $41.4-million between 2006 and 2011, compared with $34-million from 2000 to 2005.
Not bad, huh? The Toronto Star did a neat-o trick where they had two reporters start at the west end of the line, at the same time, in rush hour, and had one take the streetcar, while the other drove. The results:
Now, the Star, Globe and Mail and NOW Magazine can prove whatever they want, but that doesn’t really count in the face of personal experience, right? Having recently moved to St. Clair West, near Christie, I can say that the right of way for transit commuters is incredible. The only time I have trouble is just before 8:30am on a weekday, and it’s usually because the streetcar is far too full to let anyone else on. I’ve seen Joe Mihevc waiting at the same time though, so I know that at least it’s not us lowly peasants who have to fight for our space on the TTC.
To be fair, I don’t travel too much in a westerly direction on the streetcar, for a couple of reasons: most of what I need is right there on St. Clair near Christie (fruit stand, coffee shop, grocery store, bike shop), and I usually travel to the subway, which is east of my apartment. The second reason is slightly more painful: the shops west of where I live are not designed with me in mind. There are tons of shops which sell clothing I can’t afford, or isn’t my style. The ones that I might visit are usually closed when I go by, either before 10am or after 6pm. I ran out to get a battery once at a convenience store, and none of the stores were open at 9am. I ended up at a all-night 7-11, which didn’t end up having the battery either.
Last week, at the local fruit store, I took the time to talk to the lady behind the cash. I asked her about the dedicated lane, and what she thought. She said it was one of the worst things for St. Clair. I was surprised at first, but she said she’s been behind the counter there for 20 years (20 years!), and business “post-construction” has been the worst she’s ever seen. In her mind, the culprit is the fact that during rush hour, cars can’t pull over to grab a quick bag of groceries. Fair enough, I thought. She is the eyes and ears of the street, and would know best the people she sees everyday (and the ones she doesn’t see anymore).
There are a lot of factors at work on St. Clair. I’m beginning to think that a changing demographic on the streets around St. Clair have just as much to do with the change in business success as anything. Upscale restaurants are certainly doing quite well (John Lorinc tweeted about being at Noir the other day, and while I’m glad he’s on St. Clair West, I feel that it’s a restaurant that shouldn’t count), but smaller mom-and-pop places are truly feeling the pinch, and that’s a shame.
With the number of condos going up around me (there are three towers under construction near my place, and more sure to come), it will only be a matter of time before foot (and transit) traffic start to outnumber the cars on the street. In the meantime, it doesn’t do anyone any good to have falsified and truthiness about what’s going on. I’m looking forward to what comes out of this TTC report (though some will say it’s streetcar-biased), if only to get some cold, hard numbers to juxtapose against the half-truths coming out of City Hall.
[photo by Stephen_Parker.]