As the opening days of the Pan American and Parapan Games near, that familiar feeling when company’s coming, with little time to make one’s home presentable, is rising in this city. The largest multi-sport event in Canada will fill this city over the summer period with more than 10,000 top class amateur athletes, coaches and officials from the Americas. Yet, construction in and around Union Station will not be completed in time for the start of the Games.
The Games are being hosted here in Canada for the third time, although for the first time in Toronto. That honour had previously gone twice to Winnipeg. Clearly, we want to be able to show off our city with pride, for the world will be watching. We want the world to see Toronto as a city that functions efficiently while boasting of our many hyphenated cultures.
Yet, athletes and those traveling here to view the games will have our over-subscribed roads, construction frustrations and frequently delayed public transportation system to contend with.
It has become something of a joke that one of the first English phrases visitors from non-English speaking countries learn, once here, is “The TTC apologizes for the delay”, simply because it is repeated so often during the course of a day, every day.
Certainly, the new articulated streetcars, or more precisely light rail transit, are up and running on Spadina Avenue, but with platform adjustments at TTC stops still not done on other major routes, such as the St. Clair Avenue West corridor, it would be hard to imagine they will be ready in time for the July 16 Opening Day of the Pan Am Games or the Parapan Games that follow beginning on August 7.
What will definitely not be cleared up in time are the Bay Street to York Street concourse and the mess of construction that continues around Union Station.
For months, reports have been that completion is well behind schedule. Furthermore, the Games will be a far off memory by the time all the work is now expected to be completed, at the end of 2016. That was not to have been the case for the eight-year revitalization project, with earlier promises that it should have been completed this year in time to be a showpiece for visitors coming for the Games and commuting to sports venues in Oshawa, Caledon or any number of other locales.
Visitors can expect to share transportation woes with the rest of us over the course of the summer, and we may anticipate even more traffic tie-ups with an increase in visitors driving here from the U.S. during the period that the Games will be on.
It should not be that, in addition to whatever awe inspiring athletic achievements which no doubt will unfold at sporting venues during the Games, visitors will take away with them the memory of how challenging it was to get to events or to travel around the city.
Former mayor Rob Ford may have made it to the world stage for his outrageous behaviour, but our seemingly irredeemable transportation dilemma is also promising to now make news beyond our borders.
That type of message going back to other places could reflect in decisions about how livable this city really is and how attractive it would be to future business and other investment prospects.
Anyone who has travelled to nearby cities such as Chicago or Boston knows that we are comparatively behind in responding to the cry for greater transportation efficiency.
With the Parapan Games also to look forward to, ongoing work to upgrade subway stations for wheelchair accessibility may also not be ready in time.
Our public transportation system is functioning on what officials term “budget constraints” regarding this vital upgrade. Therefore, whatever promises may have been made about having top-flight wheelchair accessibility cannot be kept, at least not in time for these Games.
There is already much concern about overspending in the run up to the Games. While we are certain that the events will be a boon for the city, particularly for the hospitality sector, including hotels, bars and restaurants, we would like to feel assured that we have our best city on display. The concern is that our ugly transportation secret is about to get out.