"Talent," wrote playwright Robert McKee, "is the innate power to discover the hidden connection between two things." And one of the fastest vehicles is metaphor, literally a transfer from one idea to another.
The brain makes new routes in dreaming. It's not surprising, then, that I - and, doubtless, others - often dream of subways. Subterranean transit seems a fine metaphor for the brain's below-ground montage work.
And more subways, especially in the half-conscious haze of winter, are Toronto's dream, which financial reality has relegated to the recesses of the urban unconscious. Planners would rather focus on a more pragmatic reverie.
The TTC's Transit City plan, unveiled Friday, March 16, centres around a sanguine map of thick red arteries criss-crossing the familiar and perennially lonely loop-and-line subway.
The new routes will add 120 kilometres of light rapid transit (LRT), multi-car high-speed trolleys in dedicated rights-of-way.
The plan posits six new rapid lines: east-west along Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton and the waterfront, north-south along Jane and Don Mills. The jewel is Eglinton, a 31-km stretch that would run below grade (underground) part of the way.
Oh, but it's still just a dream, expected, somewhat optimistically, to cost $6 billion (10 times less than a comparable tube network), $2.2 bil for Eglinton alone. It'll take 15 years once funding is secured - and of course, it isn't. So what was the strategy here?
"People don't give you money for plans that don't exist," says TTC chair Adam Giambrone. "You've got to start somewhere."
The timing was carefully orchestrated: it coincided with the mayor's push for 1 cent of the GST and was plunked into public view just before the federal Tories' budget on Monday, March 19. Not that it mattered, since transit doesn't even get a "theme' in the budget. Transportation money outside of the gas tax share is for conversion to fuel-efficient cars.
Well, on to round two. Transit City is as much propaganda as plan. They want us talking and the feds and the province listening (and chipping in two-thirds of the capital cost).
It's hard to look at that stylized diagram and not get a little emotional. Some cities have neighbourhood parochialism. We have east-west ignorance. LRT could change that. In outlying low-density areas, rapid surface transit could vivify street culture. And there's just something about streetcars: they have an impact subways don't; they become part of the neighbourhood.
But one wonders if the story might be different downtown. How would Queen West be affected by a hub at the foot of Roncesvalles, where the waterfront RT would connect directly or indirectly with three other busy surface routes?
A waterfront RT may be as much as 15 years off, but developers' wet dreams will start around... now. With intensification already happening at Dufferin, Parkdale property values could continue skyward.
In fact, if the plan starts moving toward reality, pressure will increase along all proposed routes. Of course, it's assumed that the routes will drive density, but with financing not yet secured, we can expect redoubled enthusiasm for granting height and density variances in return for LRT funding. Not necessarily a bad thing, but worth watching.
And has there been much thought given to what will happen to existing routes? Overcrowding on the Bloor-Danforth line may be alleviated if riders divert to Eglinton, but may only be worsened by the Don Mills LRT emptying onto the east-west subway. Will there be relief lines for Yonge? Will new capacity be added to existing streetcar routes?
Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan fears a loss of focus on "fine-grain" transit in the core. "Today I walked along Queen from Bathurst to City Hall," he says, "and not one streetcar passed me."
Giambrone says the problem with Queen is traffic, not capacity (riders from 5 to 7 pm would surely disagree), and hints that the city will be looking at diamond lanes for streetcars, like those for buses on Bay. Well, what about buses? If there's belt-tightening for trolley-building, could "unproductive" routes suffer?
Giambrone seems unconcerned, saying, "We don't do a lot of service on buses in the core." Ossington bus riders would certainly agree. In fact, I thought that was my point.
"Every 20 years," Councillor Gord Perks tells me, "the city tries to kill streetcars. This plan just inoculated the system against that." If rapid transit is seen as serving the whole city, it loses its political vulnerability.
Despite talk of ample connections to Mississauga, GO and Viva transit, it seems regional governments weren't consulted about the plan. They'll need to be for a real commuter solution. Political pressure needs to be applied upward to remind governments that, hey, look, Canadians actually live - and work - in cities.
If the necessary conversations start happening, this could have implications well beyond transit.
As subway expansion is put to bed for now, most of the city's depths will remain inactive. But things often worm their way into our subconscious only after they've reached a critical conscious mass on the surface.
So we might permit ourselves a healthy amount of dreaming in the coming months. And don't be afraid to talk in your sleep.