I have been a vocal supporter of Shift London and their initiative to launch rapid transit in our city since day one. That being said, I feel it is only fair to preface what follows by stating that since I live and work downtown, my daily ‘commute’ is little more than a 12-minute door-to-door stroll.
I had decided I was willing to put up with a traffic nightmare for the foreseeable future, the astronomical costs — even what I saw as the inevitable purchase and demolition of property to allow for road widening. London is now the largest city in Canada without a rapid transit plan, after all, and the allure of new and shiny playthings here was too tempting and I, based on the information presented, was completely ‘on board’. In fact, my only concern may have been that perhaps London might be lacking in ambition, and should have more seriously considered increased light rail transit (LRT).
This recently changed when I heard reports of Edmonton’s LRT woes. How bad is it? Consider this: When the Edmonton mayor asked “Anyone dead?” at a recent council meeting and was informed that no one was, he flatly replied, “OK, so this thing is not a total disaster.” At a cost estimated at $665 million, we are hearing that their LRT is slower than the buses it replaced, has worsened traffic conditions and has almost certainly increased carbon emissions. To recap, it has actually exacerbated the problems it was meant to fix, at a considerable expense.
“But Lincoln”, you say, “Edmonton is a totally different city”, before asking, “Why would the LRT be any different than what happens now with the trains that run through town today?” My response is simply this: they wouldn’t. AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM! Having read each and every tweet containing the hashtag #LdnOnt for the last four years I can tell you the two topics that are mentioned daily without fail are the miserable state of our existing public transportation and that %#$(^& train. Consider now additional at-grade tracks cutting across the city at additional points.
I have had some assurances by those ‘in the know’ that our local staff and the consultants on Shift London are well aware of the challenges and successes of previous LRT projects. What is implied here is that of course will be able to learn from other mistakes, meaning of course that others may benefit from ours. Can someone please stroke my hair and whisper “it will all be all right”?
The costs are too prohibitive to redo this, although I’m not naive enough to believe this will actually happen without other levels of government shouldering a large part of the financial burden. And all indications are that now is the time to ask — picture if you will a Scrooge McDuck-like vault with the words “FREE PUBLIC TRANSIT MONEY” embossed in gold above the door, which has been left wide open.
As of this moment, I’m still tentatively in favour of bringing rapid transit to London. I do, however, need some reassurances to convince me that benefits outweigh the substantial costs. Preferably by experts and insiders who actually believe what they are saying. Good judgement comes primarily from experience and experience comes from . . . well, poor judgement.