Following a lively debate over Toronto's Transit Network Plan at yesterday's City Council meeting, John Tory's ever-changing SmartTrack vision has undergone yet another evolution. From its earliest incarnation, the transit line has been the cornerstone of Tory's platform since winning the mayoral election in 2014, but the plan has been in a constant state of flux since talks about implementing the plan turned serious. The western spur to the airport has been axed in favour of an extension of the Crosstown LRT, while persisting concerns over cannibalism of ridership numbers from the proposed Scarborough subway extension have jeopardized the eastern arm.
Now, City Council has ended the debate by deciding to accommodate the growing number of long distance cyclists using the GO system, which would mitigate their interference with the rest of the transit network. The latest iteration foregoes increased train service and new stations along the SmartTrack route, opting instead to simply add bike racks onto existing GO trains. Councillors also approved a name change for the project, dropping the 'T' to rebrand the initiative as the shortened 'SmartRack'.
Arguments during the City Council debate highlighted the benefits of the plan, particularly the large reduction in cost needed for implementation. "I think it's a promising step forward for transit in the GTA", said city planner Farra D. Trager after the meeting. "The new SmartRack encourages cycling across the city as a viable alternative to driving, and at the same time, it frees up billions of taxpayer dollars to fund more transit studies that possibly, maybe, might lead to something actually getting built".
Other benefits cited include the reduction in the need to spend on bike lanes and paths across the city, as the accommodation of bikes on GO lines would create a network in itself, allowing space for cars to remain on major avenues where bike lanes full of hot, toned cyclists in spandex shorts would otherwise cause driver distraction. The progressive plan is also seen as being in line with other major cities around the world, particularly in Europe, who have much more widespread infrastructure for cyclists. "We have barely any bike parking at GO Stations", Metrolinx spokesman Jim McKenzie said, "and no one wants to cycle on the expressways, so we're giving cyclists carte blanche to load their bikes on the trains."
Annex resident and cycling activist, Avril Poisson, was pleased at the outcome of the debate. "Even at 76 years old, I am an avid cyclist throughout this city, but have always had to put away my bike in favour of a taxi to get to my daughter's house all the way out in Scarborough", she explained. "Now, with the revised SmartRack, I can still cycle it. It is a huge leap forward that will improve the lives of thousands across the city".
We will keep you posted on this exciting new development as Toronto's Transit Network Plan and SmartRack continue to evolve. Want to find out more and get in on the discussion? Check out the dedicated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.