Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Level crossings -- levelling industrial infrastructure

Spacing wire linked to an interesting article from NOW, proposing an expanded number of level railway crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. I applaud anything which promises to make walking or cycling easier, and if we can make pedestrian or bicycle level crossings safe, I see nothing wrong with them. However, the article contained a couple of passages which displayed a disturbing skepticism about the future of railways in Toronto:

The insistence on a lofty 7-metre height clearance (in case the railways ever get around to converting from diesel to overhead electric) dooms walkers and cyclists to climbing up and down a hundred stairs or following winding, fenced ramps like rats in a maze.

Obviously, bridges built with less than the required clearance for overhead wiring would complicate efforts to electrify the railways, leaving us with diesel pollution (and carbon emissions) from train traffic for a long time.

For better or worse, rail-based industry in the 416 is in full retreat.

Considering that people who live in Toronto have not yet stopped shopping, that means the trucking industry continues to advance. That, in turn, means that we continue to depend on one of the most carbon-inefficient means of transporting goods. I don't see a "better" side to this; I see it as unambiguously worse. If we can make level crossings work safely, the article in NOW makes a pretty good case for them. However, that case should not include an argument that we no longer need railways, or that we can give up on electrifying them.

The comments in Spacing included an even more explicit demand that the railways "adapt" to the needs of the city. I see this refrain too often in discussions of city policy; in the name of banishing industry from the city, too many people seem willing to destroy less polluting transportation systems. We have already seen plenty of calls to make the port lands into residential neighbourhoods and vandalize the turning basin with a "promenade". Now, apparently, we should not worry about destroying the rail corridors. If we carry on like this, the trucking industry will inherit to sole ability to deliver goods to Toronto, at a serious cost in local and global pollution.

In the NOW article, Roger Brook speaks of the Wallace Avenue Bridge which crosses the rail corridor in the West End. I cannot speak to the utility of the bridge for pedestrians, but as a cyclist, I cross that corridor regularly. I have written about the intersection between Annette, Dupont, and Dundas and the railway underpass. In my opinion, the Dupont underpass offers most cyclists the best possible place to cross the West End rail corridor, or it would if the city would take just a few measures to make the intersection safer.

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