If there is any such thing as a focus at City Hall these days, large-scale transit seems to be it.
But even if these grand plans are completed - which looks less likely now that discussions around funding have been deferred - not enough people will be taken off the roads to dramatically reduce congestion. Ponder that for a moment.
If either The Big Move (the Metrolinx plan) or OneCity gets fully implemented, the percentage of morning commuters that take transit will rise only 10 per cent - at a cost of around $40-$50 billion and an additional $500 mil or more a year to operate and maintain.
Clearly, we need to think about other ways for people to get around - ways that are more, shall we say, pedestrian in nature.
While only about 15 per cent of us self-identify as pedestrians, most of us walk regularly, even if it's not our primary mode of travel. For example, 70 per cent of the 900,000 people who use the TTC every day start or end their trips on a bus or streetcar and often walk at least a couple of hundred metres to and from stops.
That alone is a lot of travelling mileage. Additionally, between 10 and 15 per cent of residents walk the whole way to work. Some do it for the health benefits or to save money.
A growing number of people (between 40 and 50 per cent) who live in condo-dominated neighbourhoods downtown choose to walk to work and elsewhere because it's the fastest and most efficient mode of transit.
This suggests that if we create the right conditions, more people will join the walk-to-work contingent and push for companies to set up shop in the downtown core - a great way to boost local economic development.
For each 1 per cent of morning commuters shifting to walking, the city saves around $5-$6 million a year in TTC operating costs. (Each passenger requires a $1 dollar operating subsidy.) Given our growing population and the environmental and economic challenges faced by the TTC, such savings would make a difference.
After all, the alternative - expanding roads to meet increased car volumes - is not a realistic approach; the space isn't there, and highways are expensive.
And yet walking strategies are dramatically underfunded. Toronto spends around $1.7 billion a year on operating and maintaining transportation infrastructure, but less than 2 to 3 per cent of that goes to pedestrian-realm issues.
Beyond budget and congestion worries, six or seven pedestrians are hit by cars every day, some fatally, according to Toronto police. Surely, that deserves attention.
In April, the Board of Health initiated a discussion on lowering speeds on residential streets to 30 km per hour. But speed limits alone won't solve the problem of fatalities. Streets need to be redesigned to slow traffic. Narrowing roads and adding planters would change driving habits faster than police enforcement.
Nothing's free, but luckily, walking isn't a big-ticket item. If the city spent only 5 per cent of our total transportation dollars on walking, well below the proportionate share (remember, walkers are 15 per cent), we could dramatically improve our neighbourhoods and lead to savings.
At the most basic level, walking requires good-quality pavement. We don't tolerate large potholes in city streets, and we should be just as proactive about fixing sidewalks. And though it's hard to think about ice in this summer's heat, we need to do a better job of plowing sidewalks and enforcing snow shovelling bylaws.
Pilot projects have shown that such enforcement increases compliance from 60 to 90 per cent. If we're reluctant to go that route, then the city needs to start clearing downtown sidewalks and park paths. This could cost around $15 million a year.
In addition, we need to improve street plowing by stopping the practise of pushing snow off roads and onto sidewalks. But that could easily run into tens of millions of dollars.
Toronto has wonderful neighbourhoods that provide great backdrops for walking adventures or commutes. We have to start planning walkways the way we plan roads - by thinking about who will use them and how.
The elderly and mothers of small children need benches, joggers appreciate drinking fountains, and everyone needs shade. We could also do a better job of using the side lots of buildings on corners to create little patches of public space with benches, green space and trees to encourage community life as was done on Dundas in 2010.
Finding ways to plant trees so they can grow to full size will require improved soil conditions and more watering. (Trees in parks can have expansive root systems, whereas street trees are severely confined.) Trees also need trunk guards to prevent damage.
Street life could be further improved by more public art and the right mix of stores and restaurants. Pilot projects, like closing off Gould to cars, are a good way of modelling change. Of course, if done incorrectly, a fully pedestrianized street can become a dead zone, like Sparks Street in Ottawa, making it harder to get support for the next project.
The final frontier for pedestrianism is the suburbs. Many streets there lack sidewalks, and the spread-out nature of its communities often make motorized travel the only practical way to get around. In these areas, the city needs to use the coming LRTs to encourage density along main avenues and more ground- level retail.
We need to get people to hang around; that's how a walking culture is built. Toronto was one of the first cities in the world to have a Pedestrian Charter - it's time to build on that success.