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Malvern keeps waiting for transit - OPENFILE.ca

January 17, 2011
Kasia Mychajlowycz

Malvern has no luck with transit—and hasn’t for the last 150 years.

 Outside Malvern Town Centre, on Neilson Road. Contributed by Christopher Drost.

In 1871, the Grand Trunk Railway changed its route and bypassed what was then the small town of Malvern, in favour of Agincourt to the west.

In the 1980s, the Scarborough RT was going to end at Malvern Town Centre; the line never went past McCowan Road and Progress Avenue, about six kilometres southwest, because the kind of train used turned out to be more expensive to run than anticipated.

Malvern has since become one of the city’s thirteen “priority areas,” identified as such in part because of a history of gang violence (in a 2004 police sweep, sixty-five people were arrested for their alleged involvement in the Malvern Crew), pockets of poverty, and a lack of services—including transit.

Now, the latest false hope for Malvern might turn out to be Transit City. With Mayor Rob Ford’s alternate plan competing against it, Malvern may once again be left without a rail line. The Mayor’s proposed Sheppard East subway line, which would continue the Sheppard subway line to Scarborough Town Centre, doesn’t come any closer to Malvern than the Scarborough RT.

On January 9, a rally at City Hall in favour of Transit City drew a small crowd of supporters—one hundred, by organizers’ estimates—and more than a dozen speakers, including seven city councillors. Behind the speaker system, a volunteer held up a poster by the Toronto Environmental Alliance, based on numbers from the Pembina Institute, a think tank; it shows the proposed LRT network beside the subway expansion plan, and lists the number of Torontonians who live within a half kilometer of each plan’s lines (630,000 would live near an LRT line, as opposed to 61,000 near a new subway line). The sign also lists the neighbourhoods that would be served by each plan. Malvern is on the LRT’s list, but not the subway’s.

The sign reads, along the top, “Which plan has the most winners?”

In the Transit City plan, the Scarborough RT would first be converted to Light Rail Transit (think streetcars, but level with whatever road or platform they're on, with more seats and a dedicated lane) and extended to meet with the proposed Sheppard East LRT line; phase two would extend it to Malvern Town Centre. The Malvern LRT line would end at the southeastern corner of Malvern, connecting the community with the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

The Malvern LRT didn’t make the province’s budget this past spring. Though it wasn’t scrapped, the line was designated a “future project” by the province and city, without funding or a timeline for completion. The Scarborough RT extension was still in the works, on track to proceed until Mayor Ford proclaimed that "Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen" upon taking office.

The communities that would gain the most from Transit City, though, are also the ones that overwhelmingly voted for Rob Ford. Ward 42, Scarborough–Rouge River, which includes Malvern, gave Ford half of their votes. Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance blames that on a lack of communication between downtown transit activists and the TTC with suburban voters, not on a lack of interest in better transit. “It’s ridiculous that all of the parts of the city that would benefit from Transit City are the ones that voted in a mayor that now says he has a mandate to kill it,” he says. “Clearly, Transit City’s benefits were not communicated clearly if that’s what’s happening.”

On a freezing December Saturday, two weeks after the mayor’s order to stop all Transit City work pending review, sixteen volunteers collected signatures from Malvern residents urging city council to "keep rapid transit on track." The canvassers engaged with residents on their own turf.

Initha Subramaniam, a teacher, and Effie Vlachoyannacos, a consultant, hit the streets of a small development nestled just south of the last few blocks of Finch Avenue East. Subramaniam grew up in Malvern, and speaks Tamil to many of the people who answer the door (after English, it’s the top language spoken at home, according to the 2006 census). Many don’t know about the transit debate; most drive. But they’re interested. As the canvassers explain the issues, many are surprised and angry that $130 million has already been spent on LRT that might never be finished.

Some of the canvassers were also at the downtown rally, where sign-up sheets for new canvassers were passed around. Organizer Amanda Rocchese said that twenty-five people had signed up to canvass Malvern in the coming weeks.

Alex Dow, who works at the Action for Neighbourhood Change Malvern, an organization set up by the United Way as part of the city’s priority area initiative, says his group works to inform residents about the ever-changing plans for transit expansion in Toronto, but that many people don’t know the difference between Transit City and Ford's subway plan, and get lost in the politics. Often, residents talking to the canvassers didn’t know that there was an LRT line planned for so close to their neighbourhood, or that it's now in jeopardy.

“Transit is so politicized here [it's] no wonder that people are a little in the dark about the plans,” says Dow during our interview a day after the December canvass. He points to the long history of transit promises—and disappointments—for Malvern, adding that the residents he serves feel the consequences.

“The longer the commute, the more it eats away at the community. It takes away time with your family, and that’s something that certainly we’re concerned with here.”

As originally published here: http://toronto.openfile.ca/toronto/file/2011/01/malvern-keeps-waiting-transit

2011-01-17 Malvern keeps waiting for transit _Kasia Mychajlowycz_.pdf87.45 KB