In the last month of 2016, while many people in the GTA were focused on debating the merits of tolling the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, there was another motion presented at December's Toronto City Council that you might have missed which could have had nearly as much of an impact.
During the December 13th meeting, Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul's) put forward a motion that, had it passed, would have somewhat de-politicized the planning of rapid transit infrastructure projects in Toronto by requiring that the projects be prioritized based on actual data. In a close vote, it lost 19-22. The full motion read:
That City Council request the City Manager to determine the priority and scope of Toronto's infrastructure projects, to be funded in whole or in part with any new revenue tool(s), based on ridership/user projections, land-use patterns, most urgent need, density, future development potential, and other methods of assessment consistent with recognized urban planning principles, and report to the Executive Committee in the fourth quarter of 2017.
As anyone who has watched Council knows—especially when it comes to debates surrounding the Scarborough Subway—project prioritization is not always conducted in the most data-driven manner. This motion would have forced Councillors to use the data-driven project prioritization list as a reference point when making the case to increase the priority for their politically motivated project.
"I believe we undercut our argument that we need new revenue tools when we make decisions that are not fact based, that are politically driven", Matlow said during Council debate. "That every time we spend billions of dollars on projects that are not genuinely our priorities, we're not taken as seriously by many residents and governments when we're asking for funds for the actual priorities. And I believe that we need to—in a depoliticized way—organize that list in a way that makes sense, and then we go in order as they come."
While Council rehashes debates on the Scarborough Subway or rapid transit along Sheppard Ave East, projects like the East Bayfront LRT and Waterfront West LRT remain on the fringes of attention. Supported by numerous Secondary Plans and their corridors seeing rapid densification, they remain relatively low priorities for the suburban Councillor-dominated Council.
The narrow defeat of this motion means Council is able to maintain the status quo of prioritizing projects based on political motivations. Project prioritization will always be done primarily in the political arena, but at least this motion would have given evidence-based decision making a seat at the table.