Which Way London? #Ldnont

In a recent opinion piece on the London Free Press site mentioned London is halfway between Toronto and Detroit. I think the person was trying to sell that as London’s selling point as justification for better rail service at the expense of local rapid transit. I disagree about delaying rapid transit but agree London needs better travel to areas beyond the city’s bubble.

London is halfway between Detroit and Toronto, and I don’t mean geographically but halfway between decay and success. Detroit used to have a world leading trolley focused transit system which was profitable. The rolling stock would still be running today if it hadn’t been destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Detroit nationalized the profitable private system then converted it to buses as part of a car focused transportation system. Toronto about the same time built a subway line and extended streetcar/trolley service with abandoned rolling stock from Cleveland or Cincinnati. Which is the more successful city today, Detroit or Toronto?

Toronto loves cars as much as Detroit or London yet recognizes that it can no longer afford to focus solely on cars for transportation. It is estimated the Greater Toronto Area, Canada’s main economic engine, loses $11 billion annually in lost productivity due to cars being congested. Toronto alone loses $3.3 billion in productivity because of its inadequate transportation networks. As younger generations reject the car for more efficient and cost effective transportation methods it will be the GTA and Hamilton that will attract people and not cities building wider roads or second class alternatives.

London’s current choice is bus rapid transit focusing on the centre of the city only. It is a flawed plan, an incomplete plan, a plan with many problems. Having seens some of the city and LTC’s supporting documents it is the information that is missing that sticks out. Metreolinx has some in depth studies showing how expensive the status quo or further automotive infrastructure could cost billions more. London makes vague statements about progress and attracting investment but I’ve yet to see anything with the opportunity costs of doing nothing or the justification for the plan as is. Even the two websites show how far behind London is, if you can get to LTC’s website.

London lives in its own little world, it is unable to learn from other cities mistakes or successes. The danger is London, or as I’m beginning to call it Ditherville, will not survive without bold transportation reforms and an end to the automotive monopoly in transportation. The disconnected walking paths, cycle routes, poor transit to anywhere not the downtown all leave London rather unlivable outside a few downtown areas. These disconnects are costing London, most likely far more than the cost of fixing them.

How much is the car costing London in lost productivity, as a barrier to employment participation, in increased policing costs, in health care costs, environmental damage, and lost investment opportunities? As the rapid transits argue London residents are paying for better transit, just not their own. Many other communities are looking to take the money if London doesn’t spend it. I agree with the “Not Yet” person in the opinion piece that London does need to connect beyond city limits. Which would be pointless if most people can’t get to where those connections are made.

London needs a grid transit system, with two rapid transit corridors north/south, and another two east/west. It needs to spread the transit system to all areas of the city and plan for future integration with a regional system like Metreolinx and the possibility of high speed rail, which won’t stop for buses. It needs to work with the rest of the province to have a single smart card paying system that works on any Ontario, and possibly any Canadian, transit system. It needs cycle and walking network that extends beyond city limits and is accessible from any point in the city. It needs to slow investments in auto infrastructure until the other systems catch up in funding.

How does London compete in a world where economics is shifting back to Asia? Can London survive using the status quo? Nothing says London has to be anything but farm fields and ruins in a century. Working against the rest of the region, province or country will certainly make London like Detroit or cities that require trowels to see. While we’re waiting for lights to change or travelling at 60km/h in our horseless buggies the rest of the world is getting places at 200-500km/h. We still haven’t separated bulk, fast freight, and passenger service to dedicated tracks, slowing all of them down. But at least we have a six lane highway to Detroit and Toronto, that’ll compete with China’s 20,000+km of high speed rail.

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