Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's Time We Got Rid of Streetcars in Toronto

I recently came across a CBC news article that referred to a study linking many serious bicycle accidents in downtown Toronto to streetcar tracks (see: Streetcar tracks major cause of serious downtown cycling crashes, new study finds).  To me, this is yet another reason to get rid of streetcars in Toronto.  I understand that streetcars are an iconic symbol of the city, but they're also a big traffic nuisance whether you're riding a bicycle or driving a car.  Have you ever driven in downtown Toronto and gotten stuck behind one?  Unless a streetcar has its own right-of-way, like on St. Clair Ave. or Spadina Ave., chances are that whenever it stops to load and unload passengers, the rest of the traffic behind it has to stop.  By law, all traffic in the land adjacent to a streetcar must stop behind the streetcar doors to allow passengers to be loaded and unloaded onto the transit vehicle. There are instances, however, when drivers will ignore this law and try to pass the streetcar when its doors are open, sometimes leading to riders being injured or even killed.

The fact of the matter is that if not for the presence of these annoying hulks of metal and the infrastructure they use, both cyclists and TTC riders would face much less risk to their well-being when navigating the streets of downtown Toronto.  Furthermore, traffic would flow more freely because it wouldn't be stuck behind streetcars loading and unloading passengers.  Indeed, getting stuck behind streetcars doesn't just cause a lot of frustration for drivers, but also leads more idling traffic and therefore more pollution.  Another benefit of doing away with streetcars is that the city would no longer have to do maintenance on streetcar tracks or cables.  I can't even count how many times the city has had to close major intersections in downtown Toronto in order to repair streetcar track, resulting in more traffic headaches.

Now of course, if we get rid of streetcars, we'll obviously have to replace them with something.  After all, multitudes of Torontonians rely on streetcars every day.  Indeed, supporters of streetcars will tell you that if we got rid of them, we would have to replace them with buses that run on gas rather than electricity like streetcars do and the end result would be more pollution.  But as I've already mentioned, even though streetcars run on electricity, they cause traffic to idle and that idling itself leads to more pollution.  Also, who says that we need to replace streetcars with buses when we can replace them with subways?  This has been done in the past.  Older Torontonians may remember, for example, how there used to be streetcars on Bloor and Danforth before the Bloor-Danforth subway line was completed.  There's no reason why we can't replace current streetcar lines with subway lines. There would, of course, be a major financial commitment, but I think many Toronto residents would agree that it would be worth it to alleviate traffic jams and make getting from point A to point B easier.

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