Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chapter 11: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

"If Toronto is a sort of amalgam of New York and Chicago, Montreal can be understood as the best of Boston and New Orleans, a combination of old-world charm and modern technology." -Alan F.J. Artibise, "Canada as an Urban Nation" quoted on page 161.

Fiorito calls Toronto bland in chapter 11 and then proves it by going on to tell about how various facets of Toronto are merely 'mediocre'.

Is Toronto mediocre?

Since Toronto is supposed to be an amalgam of New York and Chicago, as the above quote from Fiorito's book would suggest, lets start there. Since I have never been to Chicago, but do know New York City quite well since I lived there for a year, lets compare Toronto to New York.

1. Transit: New York City has a kick ass subway system that moves millions of people a day (1.4 billion trips in 2005 according to Wikipedia) into and out of the city. The system not only connects with commuter trains (Metro North and the LOOOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG Island Railroad), Staten Island Ferry, annoucments of transit connections (announcement: "This is Times Square-42nd Street...Transfers available to the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, Q, R, W and Shuttle to Grand Central"), but also has express trains that moves people quickly past smaller "local stations" that the majority of people would not want to stop at. Sure the subway system is more than 100 years old, but it was built right from the beginning with switching redundancies between lines which helps to detour trains during construction on weekends as well as helping to keep the trains moving when there is a medical emergency. Medical emergency? Max ten minute holdup in New York to get things back on the move.

Toronto's subway system is becoming antiquated and useless. The system needs to expand big time! York University is Canada's largest bus station with GO Transit, TTC, YRT, VIVA and York University transit buses feeding passengers into, out of and through the campus. There is a proposal for a subway extension through the university grounds, but this is starting to become bogged down in political blame and bureaucracy between the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

Perhaps one comparison between New York City and Toronto on the transit issue is how many people does each subway station serve (i.e. divide the population by the number of subway stations).

New York City has 468 stations serving aproximately 10 million people (living within the 5 Boroughs of Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhatten, and the Bronx) whereas Toronto with a population of 2.5 million (within the former cities of Scarborough, East York, York, North York, Toronto and Etobicoke) has 69 subway stations. So on a per capita basis:

New York: 10,000,000 / 468 = 21,367.52 people

Toronto: 2,500,000 / 69 = 36,231.88 people.

What does this mean? There are more stations in New York serving the population than Toront. Considering that many trains in New York don't stop at the smaller subway stations (i.e. Express trains) and better connections to connecting transit, as well as the ease of their fare system it is no wonder why New York's subway system just totally rocks and Toronto's looks just plainly mediocre. Not only that, New York's transit system (subway, trains and buses) combined gets you everywhere. Toronto's transit system is so disjointed, confusing and stuck in traffic that the only thing one gets is to be late for work.

How to fix Toronto's subway problem?

Simple: 1. Complete the Sheppard Avenue line Eastward to Scarborough Town Centre and Westward to Downsview (and not further) to connect to the current Scarborough RT (and future Bloor-Danforth line extension). 2. Extend the University-Spadina line to Major Mackenzie Drive and Jane Street in order to service the booming new development in that corridor as well as finally give York University subway access. 3. Demo the Scarborough RT (because the system is coming to the end of its life span and no replacement parts are easily accesible as well as demand oustrips capacity) and extend the Bloor-Danforth line out to at least where the Scarborough RT currently ends. 4. Extend the Yonge Street line north to at least Bernard Avenue (one block North of Elgin Mills Road) to reduce congestion on Yonge Street. 5. Twin the Yonge Street line with an Express Tracks and local tracks like the 2/3 line in New York City. This would probably catch Toronto up on it subway stations and provide far better service.

2. Sports: The Toronto Blue Jays keep increasing their payroll year in and year out in an attempt to keep up and hopes (!) of surpassing the New York Yankees in terms of bringing in on field production. The Jays are hoping to eventually get back to winning the World Series for the first time since 1992 and 1993 dynasty years. So far this can only happen if The Boston Red Sox (like in the 2005 season) and New York Yankees are plaqued by injuries allowing Toronto to inch by them into second place in the East and into the Wild Card spot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been trying to get back to winning a Stanley Cup on a regular basis since 1964. If that doesn't spell out a history of mediocroty what else will?

The Toronto Raptors are just plain losers considering this team has been around for at least ten years and has spent more time on the wrong side of the scoreboard than on the right. This barely even qualifies as mediocre.

3. Architecture: Toronto has hints of great architecture but more often than not this has been subdoed by the mediocre cement and/or glass buildings that surround them. The hints of great architecture include the new Ontario College of Art and Design on McCaul Street (page 162), Queen's Park, ROM, the CN Tower and others. But these buildings are surrounded by boring buildings like Metro Hall, Toronto Convention Centre and other office buildings. These buildings hold back or even block the amazing sightlines to the spectacular buildings. The rising condo buildings along Toronto's waterfront are starting to imped the spectacular view of the famous Toronto skyline of office towers, the CN Tower and Rogers Centre (SkyDome). In fact, Rogers Centre is almost totally blocked out by the condo towers depending on which angle the skyline is viewed from the Toronto Islands. It is sad really that such great architecture is being glossed over by mediocre utilitarian buildings.

Toronto is a unique city. It just wants to be like New York, but it has to come to the realization that it is not. Perhaps if Toronto found its own niche market like London, like Paris, like New York, like Berlin and others, then perhaps Toronto could become great. But until then, Toronto will have to sit it the realm of mediocrity.

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