By SHAWN MICALLEF Star Columnist
Fri., March 23, 2018
Step aside Bermuda Triangle, Toronto would like to introduce the world to the Queens Quay streetcar tunnel. It’s a void that magnetically attracts automobiles, sucking them into the subterranean depths of the city. Drivers, ever attentive and alert at the helm of their cars, seem to be powerless and disappear with alarming frequency into it. Once down in the tunnel the cars become stuck like giant lobsters in a cage, unable to reverse out. Police report one man still had his foot on the accelerator when they found him in his car.
Alas, if only supernatural forces could be blamed. It’s all made for a perfect internet meme that shows the foibles of the idiotic, or drunken human condition.
According to Brad Ross, the TTC’s director of corporate and customer communications, about 25 cars have made their way into the tunnel since 2014 “despite bollards, signs, rumble strips, flashing lights and raised track.” Each time this happens, the TTC has to extract the car from the tunnel, which means the streetcars don’t run, which further means thousands of people can’t get to where they’re going. As this often happens overnight, morning rush hours are compromised.
The tunnel is not disguised in any way, and the speed limit on Queens Quay is 40 km/h, so, theoretically, drivers are going slow enough to notice the world around them. Let’s look again at the measures warning drivers not to go into the tunnel. There are bollards (a.k.a. posts), signs (things we were taught to obey in driver’s ed), rumble strips (actual bumps in the road that shake the car), flashing lights (casinos use them to get our attention for a reason), and a raised train track (around for more than a century and a half and something all children are told to beware of.)None of this stopped drivers from entering the tunnel. The TTC says they’re going to install a gate now. If I were a gambling person I wouldn’t put money on the gate remaining intact forever. The tunnel follies, as amusing as they are, are a reflection of the state of Toronto’s streets today, with reports of pedestrians and cyclists hit by drivers a near-everyday occurrence.
Contrast all the measures put in place to prevent cars from going into the tunnel to Mayor John Tory’s Slow Down Toronto initiative announced earlier this week. To improve safety in school zones, the initiative includes a police enforcement blitz for two weeks, “in-road traffic calming signs” that will be placed in the middle of roadways and hopefully slow down traffic with mere words, and photo radar to catch speeders.
It’s in response to the epidemic of collisions, but also the death of 11-year-old Duncan Xu who was killed in his residential neighbourhood in February on the way home from school. That event prompted the mayor to say there’s a crisis in Toronto, that the carnage cannot continue and that drivers need to take responsibility for their actions.
Strong words, but followed by very weak action: lives are at stake but the measures in Slow Down Toronto are less formidable than what currently protects the Queens Quay tunnel.
The mayor’s strong words also conflict with his opposition to the Re-Imagine Yonge project in North York, a $51.1-million plan to remake the street with bike lanes, wider boulevards, a landscaped centre median and better pedestrian crossings through a neighbourhood of 80,000 people. Though the plan has broad support from community groups and the local councillor John Filion, and is exactly the kind of redesign our streets need to make them safer, the mayor has opposed it, insisting on keeping the six lanes of highwaylike traffic through the neighbourhood and routing the bike lanes on the surrounding roads.
Words and actions are in opposition across the city. After the tragic collision that killed young Xu, the area councillor for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt, Jim Karygiannis, had the pedestrian passageway that many children used to get to school closed. Perhaps in response to the backlash he received from this boneheaded, counterintuitive move, this week Karygiannis issued a statement calling for an accelerated Vision Zero Plan in school zones.
Vision Zero is a Swedish model that aims to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities and the mayor and his allies have been criticized for boldly talking it up while underfunding it and lowering the reduction targets. Votes and actions are what count here, not words. Let’s see how Karygiannis votes on Re-Imagine Yonge when it returns for a final debate at City Council next week.
This vote will be a test for the mayor and every city councillor who claims to care about the carnage on Toronto streets to see if all of the blustery words and hand wringing over deaths and injuries caused by cars in the city, as well as notions of responsibility, is just performative politics. The votes count and saying one thing while doing another is the worst kind of hypocritical doublespeak.
It’s a test to see if all that doublespeak is simply just lies.
Shawn Micallef is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @shawnmicallef
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