There’s a call at Toronto’s city hall this week to ramp up a plan to create buses-only lanes on some busy suburban streets as a way to help tackle COVID-19’s impact on the city’s vulnerable neighbourhoods.
Councillors Brad Bradford and Jennifer McKelvie are set to bring a motion forward to the TTC’s Wednesday meeting, asking commissioners to accelerate their plan to ban cars and other non-TTC vehicles from curb lanes in five busy corridors that serve a handful of priority neighbourhoods.
The motion will largely target Scarborough and North York — communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The city came up with a plan to improve bus service to those communities last year. But back then, the idea was to roll it out gradually over a five-year period.
That’s no longer an acceptable timeline, Bradford said.
His motion, seconded by McKelvie — who, like Bradford, is a commissioner as well as city councillor — calls on TTC staff to find a way to introduce enhanced bus service on the key routes in just two months.
“Where these communities have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, it can be challenging to get around in a safe manner and the TTC needs to respond to those concerns and do it in a timely fashion,” Bradford said.
“Providing bus priority transit lanes is certainly going to help with that effort.”
Help for front-line workers
Bradford said that many of these communities are home to front-line workers in essential sectors like healthcare, food distribution and manufacturing.
“If we can speed this up, we can meet an immediate need and also start bringing long-term transit improvements to the communities in Toronto that need it most,” he said.
Bradford said flooding the five busy corridors with buses would help front-line workers — who don’t have the luxury of self-isolating — move more quickly between work and home. It would also make it easier to physically distance, since more buses would mean more elbow room between passengers.
The five corridors had a combined, pre-pandemic ridership of about 220,000 passengers per weekday, he said, which makes them among the busiest in the city.
The affected corridors include:
- Jane Street from Eglinton Avenue to Steeles Avenue.
- Dufferin Street from Dufferin Gate to Wilson Avenue.
- Steeles Avenue West from Yonge Street to Pioneer Village Subway Station.
- Finch Avenue East from Yonge Street to McCowan Road.
- Eglinton Avenue East/Kingston Road/Morningside Avenue from Kennedy Subway Station to the University of Toronto, Scarborough.
‘This is not a dramatic transformation’
As for drivers, who might be object to losing a lane?
“Adding some priority to moving people via public transit, that seems to be a good use of space, a good use of resources and something that’s going to make it safer for everybody,” he said.
Bradford also dismissed concerns about the cost of the accelerated program to a city that’s already swimming in pandemic-generated debt.
He said the extra buses needed for the routes are already in service, but they’re considered to be reserve vehicles, which only actually move during the busiest times of day.
Under the new plan, they’d all be running consistently throughout the day — something they cannot do while sharing lanes with other vehicles.
“At the end of the day, this is not a dramatic transformation to the right-of-way,” he said.
“We’re talking about some paint, some bollards, some signage — quick interventions that are low cost but that are going to really improve the lives of tens of thousands of travellers every single day.”
He said he’d like to see a report from staff on how doable it would be to have an accelerated rollout by its July meeting.