Jennifer Keesmaat’s love and passion for urbanism cannot be doubted. Through her speeches she demonstrated a breadth of knowledge and experience that few possess. That she has made herself into a hero to urbanists, progressives, and the media cannot be denied. But as the Chief City Planner, a civil servant, I am glad to see her go.
Keesmaat viewed herself and her role not as being a Director in the Toronto Civil Service but as a Commissioner in an American style strong mayor administration, along with the publicity and prestige that such a public office holds; think Janette Sadik-Khan. However, because of the way that she ran her office, real damage has been done to the trust and integrity of the planning department and to Toronto’s transit system.
“I think in an ideal world, a lot of these projects would have been advanced a long time ago,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner. “We’ve approved the growth. In many instances we’ve already built it, but the transit has been lagging … Suffice it to say, we need to catch up. We desperately need to catch up.”
She’s right. But stopping and going back to square one is an odd way of catching up, particularly when you’re already behind. That’s what’s happening this fall as Toronto City staff have outlined a two-steps back proposal to “reset” the long-awaited Waterfront LRT project.
I listened with great interest and puzzlement to a story by Mary Wiens of CBC Radio about the daily transit odyssey of a man named Oladipupo — no family name given. Oladipupo describes his gruelling daily two hour journey from Finch and Morningside in Toronto’s extreme northeast corner to Steeles and Islington near its northwest corner and laments the great cost of time and energy that he must endure.
It is well known among Toronto transit planners and enthusiasts that the TTC is not geared to accommodating journeys described by Oladipupo. The system has been designed to funnel riders from all over the city to rapid transit lines — the subway — which all lead towards the downtown core. This system works for the majority of Torontonians but leaves many — like Oladipupo — in the lurch.
Oladipupo describes his journey as taking two hours each way. This can be easily verified using Google Maps which lists his journey as taking 1 hour and 33 minutes — in ideal circumstances — with a total trip length of 31.7km. Couple that time with road congestion, passenger causes delays, and a wait at Finch stations and rounding up this can be interpreted as taking 2 hours.
In her piece Wiens segues and asks Oladipupo to show her SmartTracker. This is where the story begins to fly off the rails.