Toronto officials had nothing but praise for the response of the city’s outside workers to the havoc created by the record 126 millimeters of rainfall from Monday’s storm which flooded basements, roadways and public transit vehicles and subway stations. That’s one month’s worth of rainfall in just one evening.
The city’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan is designed to take the pressure off the sewer system. Yet, given the way the city was flooded, questions now emerge about how up-to-date Toronto’s sewer infrastructure is in order to respond effectively.
At what point can we be assured that measures will be in place to relieve the city of torrential rains that climatologists say are among the distinguishing features of climate change? After all, we could be looking ahead to similar cycles, the likes of which had not hit this region since Hurricane Hazel more than 50 years ago, and we already know we are not ready. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority came about in the wake of that hurricane, but what is their answer now to climate change levels of precipitation?
That nine per cent increase in water rates instituted recently is meant to go toward modernizing the city’s water runoff system, but anyone whose car was ‘totalled’ by flood waters on the Don Valley Parkway this week or during the other recent flooding there in the past eight weeks would tell city managers they’re not working fast enough.
City workers have shown that they can clean the mess up rather quickly, but are we only prepared to respond with clean up? Just about every aspect of city functioning was disrupted by the storm. Subway stations gathering water only added to the frustration of daily commuters already too familiar with the now predictable unreliability of our local public transit service.
Certainly, the level of flooding into stations such as Queen’s Park and Kipling and the subsequent inconvenience would give some strength to those who support above ground light rapid transit (LRT) construction, providing, of course, that they are built in consideration of the effects of anticipated regular torrential rains or other weather extremes such as major snowfalls.
But this storm also left commuters with a sense that the people in charge don’t fully know what they are supposed to be doing in such situations. At the height of the storm, communication from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) failed to match the urgency of the situation. Commuters left stranded in trains at standstill in tunnels were left making up the answers for themselves. This is completely unacceptable.
Regardless of what explanation or practiced apology General Manager Andy Byford would issue after the fact, here was yet another incident in which the TTC fell down on fully informing people about what contingencies, if any, were in place. Very few took comfort in Byford telling the public that he was “proud’ of his staff when what commuters got was little if any sufficient direction from them during the storm.
In this age of advance mobile communication why hasn’t the TTC adequately equipped staff with efficient communication devices? And, given its designation as a vital service, why does the TTC not have its own back-up power system for the tracks as it does for the stations?
Flooding not only inundated homes and major traffic arteries, it is why more than 70,000 were still without electricity long after the rain stopped, as the flooding caused the breakdown of two Hydro One stations in Etobicoke, in the city’s west end. Why is that? Why were these stations not better protected from flooding? At its height, close to half a million people in Toronto were without electricity. In Mississauga, 80 per cent lost electrical power.
Days after the storm, there were still roads closed and traffic signals not working. Motorists were following the four-way stop rule in many locations, but where were the traffic cops to help regulate traffic flow at the busier intersections?
What did go well during this sudden deluge is that people in this city reached out to help and support each other and, thankfully, no lives were lost. We know that whatever nature has in store, we will come together in times like these. However, we would all be safer and better accommodated if the systems and procedures we expect to be in place in anticipation of similar ‘acts of God’ are at optimal preparedness.