Hate gridlock? Blame Bill Davis
By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD -- Queen's Park Bureau
Sam Cass is a man with a plan -- a vision crafted 36 years ago
that would have kept traffic off city streets and running smoothly.
Ask him why we have gridlock now and he'll give you three
reasons: Bill Davis, Bill Davis and Bill Davis.
"In 1971, (then premier) Bill Davis decided to turn the clock back
and put us all back in public transit," says Cass, who served as
Metro roads and traffic commissioner from 1954-1989.
The 1963 Metro official plan contained a revolutionary system. A
highway grid system would be built across the six municipalities.
Motorists would be able to drive to anywhere from anywhere and
only have to travel on local streets within a four-mile square.
"We were starting to build it and it was working like a charm,"
Cass recalls. As every mile of new expressway came on line,
traffic was greatly reduced on city streets.
When the Gardiner Expressway opened, traffic on King, Queen
and Dundas Sts. dropped by more than half. In fact, 30 years later,
Cass reports that there is still less traffic on those streets now than
there was before the Gardiner.
Then came the great Spadina flip-flop. In 1971, Davis, under
intense lobbying from pressure groups, cancelled the proposed
"In 1971, Bill Davis took the official plan that Metro Toronto had
drawn up and scrapped it," says Cass. "He became an instant
specialist on transportation and dictated a new plan which was an
abject failure," he recalls bitterly.
Metro had devised what Cass calls a "balanced transportation" plan
-- that is they would provide transportation in accordance with the
demand for it.
"We would respond to what people asked for, rather than what we
wanted them to do," he says. "It isn't for municipalities to tell
citizens what form of transportation they should use."
Extensive interview studies at the time concluded that different
kinds of highways had to be built. Where previously, roads such as
Hwy. 2 and Hwy. 5 ran through small towns and villages as main
streets, the new 400 series of highways bypassed towns and cities.
The new plan called for a similar system in Toronto.
"We would remove traffic from those communities and bypass
them and the only way to do it was by grade separation," Cass says.
"You either put them up in the air or down below."
When Davis nixed Spadina, he changed the direction of
transportation in this city irrevocably. It plunged the city into an era
of political meddling and anti-automobile policies from the old city of
Toronto aimed at expelling cars from the city and causing what
Cass calls, "planned congestion.
"It was planned. It wasn't an accident. It was done in order to
move the clock back and get us into transit -- and the people
refused to do it," Cass says.
The proposed Scarborough Expressway was another victim of the
anti-car lobby. It was never built, despite the fact that 80% of the
land had already been expropriated and the rest was readily
available as it was mostly railway right-of-way. What the lobby
groups failed to recognize was that expressways deliver cars
downtown while taking traffic off residential streets. Traffic on
Kingston Rd. would be only a fraction of what it is now had the
Scarborough Expressway been built, and volume on the Don Valley
Parkway would be cut in half, Cass estimates. Meanwhile, the
traffic nightmare on residential streets in the Annex would have
been resolved if the Spadina Expressway had been built.
On the transit side of the ledger, Cass says that once again, Davis
has a lot to answer for. His government decided to subsidize 75%
of transit, while Metro taxpayers picked up the rest. With no need
to justify themselves financially at the fare box, transit builders went
on a spending spree, while ridership stagnated.
"They have more than doubled the capacity of the system since
1971, but the number of passengers now is virtually the same as it
was then," Cass points out. For the record, he predicts the Sheppard
subway will be a transit "white elephant," that will cost so much to
operate it will create shortfalls in the rest of the system.
Meanwhile, Harold Gilbert, chairman of the Better Roads Coalition
and a deputy minister of transportation from 1974-85, also points to
the cancellation of the Spadina Expressway as the beginning of
"What was forgotten in the discussion is that a lot of public transit
relies on roads as much as the automobile does," Gilbert says.
"With more traffic coming in from the outskirts and a lot of that
traffic being moved by public transportation -- bus -- the major
reason things started to get behind was because of that internal
battle that went on after the Spadina was stopped, between the
province, between the old city of Toronto and between Metro," he
We missed the bus, says Gilbert, because what sounded good in
theory doesn't work in practice.
"You just can't have a bias against one mode of transportation and
say we are going to force people into another mode of
transportation, because everyone was moving away from transit
and into cars." Toronto Traffic Main Page