Timo Puhakka used to drive regularly on Lawrence Avenue when he was visiting a friend at Scarborough General Hospital. During that time, he had more maintenance issues with his car. Since then, he has noticed a decrease.
“If you’re driving in the centre lane, you’re going to be hitting potholes and bumps from where the patches are different levels,” says Puhakka, who is President of the Guildwood Village Community Association.
“It costs money. You can expect all sorts of problems because your car is being bounced around.”
The Canadian Automobile Association recently released their list of the Top 20 Worst Roads in Ontario. Three of the Toronto streets on the list pass through Scarborough: Lawrence Avenue, Steeles Avenue and Kingston Road.[iframe: src=”http://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=118396487118916558923.000494cc0f1981e5d283c&ll=43.770598,-79.232025&spn=0.223127,0.343323&z=11&output=embed” width=”550″ height=”350″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″]
Road conditions are one of his constituents’ top concerns, Ward 38 councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker says.
“Lawrence Avenue is like a washboard,” he says. “(It’s) a very unpleasant feeling when you’re driving your car at 40 or 60 km an hour. It makes people feel unsafe and it makes people concerned about their cars.”
The CAA’s list wasn’t a surprise to city officials, says Joe Condarduri, manager of Transportation Services for Toronto.
“We knew about them. It’s just that we can’t get to them for various reasons.”
One reason is coordination. Before Transportation Services can start construction, they have to wait for other city agencies to complete their work, Condarduri says.
“We want to make sure all the sewers are done properly, the water mains are done, all the gas utilities are done,” he says. “Then we go in and do the street.”
But the main reason is a lack of funding. The city has a $280-million backlog of road repairs. And that figure is expected to increase to over $400 million in the next five years, De Baeremaeker says.
But this year’s backlog would have been higher if Toronto didn’t get $70 million dollars from the federal government’s infrastructure stimulus fund, Condarduri says.
In suburban areas like Scarborough, the backlog is partly due to how these communities were built, De Baeremaeker says.
“Large swaths of Scarborough were constructed within 10 to 20 years of each other,” he says. “In the 50s and 60s, we built Lawrence, Ellesmere, Finch, Steeles…. The roads have now all reached their 50 year lifespan and they all need repair at the same time.”
De Baeremaeker says the solution would be to spend more money on roads, but that would mean an increase in taxes — an option his residents don’t support.
One of Rob Ford’s campaign promises was to devote more money toward eliminating the backlog.
“That’s excellent news for us,” Condarduri says. “But we’ll see it when we see it.”
NO SPACE FOR GROWTH
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker enjoys stepping out into his Scarborough backyard in privacy. He shares the dream of many people who moved to Scarborough in the past 30 years. He wants his cozy, single-family home on a spacious plot of land, far away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown’s urban cluster. But is this dream a notion of years past?
“People who have lived in Scarborough all their lives come up to me, and say, ‘Glenn. I can remember when this was all just dirt roads,’” De Baeremaeker says. “30 years ago the Scarborough Town Centre didn’t even exist.”
The city has experienced an extreme transformation in those 30 years. In that time, the city has gained nearly 300,000 more residents, and its been dissolved into the City of Toronto. It became one of three cities in Canada to have more foreign-born residents than Canadians.
The city De Baeremaeker serves is not his grandfather’s Scarborough. Yet he still feels that Scarborough is an escape from the city.
“There are still plenty of places here where you can still walk to your school,” De Baeremaeker. “There are still safe little cul-de-sacs with grassy lots.”
De Baeremaeker says that the high-rise condominiums filling out the areas along arterial roads would not be closing in on the single-family homes anytime soon.
“It will be at least 20, 30 years until we ever see that,” he says. “It takes that few decades before you can see that transformation.”
Highland Creek RE/MAX agent Suzette Thompson says it could be even longer than that before Scarborough is engulfed in the city.
“I think that Scarborough will always be a place to raise a family, even 20 years down the road,” Thompson says. “It will still be predominantly single-family homes on bigger lots for years to come.”
She does admit, however, that Scarborough’s space for spacious lots is spent.
“We are definitely running out of room for detached houses,” Thompson says. “In 15 years we will be completely out of room.”
The official city plan is to keep high-rise “urban villages” north of Highway 401 says Coun. Ron Moeser. The majority of condominiums in the future will be built at centres like the Scarborough Town Centre before the city looks to build in established neighbourhoods closer to the lake.
The lack of space for construction doesn’t disappoint everybody, however.
Centennial Community Residents’ Association (CCRA) president Jeff Forsyth wants the high-rise growth far away from his cozy Port Union area neighbourhood.
“We don’t have many issues just how it is here,” Forsyth says. “We try to stay away from all the issues in the big city.”
TRANSIT IN FLUX
One of Scarborough’s most nagging issues is its waning transit system.
“Rob Ford plans to take away transit from a lot of people,” De Baeremaeker says. “Transit City was going to spread a wide net of services and lead to huge improvement in efficiency.”
By the time the 2015 Pan Am Games roll around, Scarborough was supposed to be equipped with multiple light-rail transit trains that would finally give the residents in East Scarborough a transit option besides slow, lengthy bus routes. Instead, Ford plans to cancel the LRT trains and extend a subway line to the Scarborough Town Centre.
“Ford’s plans don’t help anyone living east of McCowan Road or north of highway 401 whatsoever,” De Baeremaeker says. “If you live in areas like Malvern or West Rouge, you’re getting absolutely nothing.”
Rougeville Community Association president Shamoon Poonawala says that transit setbacks are only adding to the area’s growing traffic problem.
“Transit is very subpar on this side of the city,” Poonawala says. “Until you get people proper transit, nobody is going to give up their cars.”
What has disturbed many critics even more than Ford’s current plans are the financial implications that cancelling Transit City and attempting to build a new subway will have for a city already struggling to get out of debt.
“The plans for Transit City are already done, funding has been obtained and construction has been contracted out,” De Baeremaeker says. “Ford plans to step in, stop everything we are doing and smash the entire plan into smithereens.”
Some critics also believe that economically Ford’s plans are irresponsible and far outside of the available budget.
“The TTC can’t even handle its own operating costs, how can anyone promise extras?” questioned Dr. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor from U of T.
“I did the calculations, and it looks like the subway will cost an additional 4 billion to what he (Rob Ford) has been saying,” De Baeremaeker says. “How can you give us a subway without increasing taxes?”
Furthermore, even if Ford manages to find the funding, which De Baeremaeker claims will be nothing short of a miracle, it is unlikely that anything will be ready for the 2015 deadline.
“In my opinion, nothing will be done for the Pan Am Games. Ford is making us go backwards,” De Baeremaeker says.
Considering the state of the roads in Scarborough and the huge increase in population, the strain on transit is considerable. It’s going to take some serious work and planning to fix the notable transit issues in time for the Pan-Am games. Until then, commuters are going to have to get creative.
“It looks to me like people are going to have to walk or bike to the Pan Am facilities from the Scarborough Town Centre. And that’s a long walk,” De Baeremaeker says.