Devin Horne to address concerns of businesses, residents
Over the next three years, plenty of people will have a complaint or a question about the Sheppard East Light-Rail Project.
Devin Horne is the man paid to listen.
And if people can't find Horne, he may find them.
A new TTC employee with a position created for the project, community liaison officer, Horne is going door to door on Sheppard to introduce himself.
His job is dealing with merchants and residents along the 14.8-kilometre route.
He'll soon have an office on Sheppard, "close to the action as possible," with walk-ins encouraged.
Before the work starts east of Kennedy Road on an underpass below the Agincourt GO line in May, or on sections of the line from west of Birchmount Road to just east of Kennedy and from east of McCowan Road to west of Progress Avenue, each will have its own liaison group where questions can regularly be put to Horne, contractors, project managers and city officials.
"It's amazing how communication can alleviate many of these concerns," Horne said this week, unperturbed to be the public face of the first Transit City LRT project underway after TTC work on the St. Clair Avenue streetcar line ballooned in cost and took considerably longer than expected.
The fact Horne's position exists shows the TTC "took our thoughts to heart," after two years meeting with members of the Sheppard East Village Business Improvement Area as well as recognizing communication on the St. Clair project "fell down miserably," said BIA chairperson Mark Bozian.
"It's a positive step. I think they picked the right individual," he said, adding Horne can relieve frustrations of business owners and residents by providing answers "in real time" from people with power to make decisions.
"That just never existed before on a TTC project."
At the Agincourt Public Library this week, Horne said Sheppard East is not St. Clair, that it is a much-wider street with more room to work and no street parking to lose.
The city has more efficient, less-disruptive construction methods too, he said. Work for Bell Canada, Toronto Hydro and gas mains won't be done separately from the tracks. One side of street will be completed before the other and one section completed before the next starts.
But Horne is aware some people will probably never agree an LRT line running from Meadowvale Road to an underground connection at Don Mills Subway Station is worth the inconvenience or $950-million cost.
At a January town hall held by Scarborough-Rouge River Councillor Chin Lee were residents and business owners who still insist the Sheppard East LRT can somehow be stopped. Horne asked for a show of hands on the project and later remembered the room was almost equally divided.
"The problem is they lie to us, left, right and centre," Karl Haab, who was there, said this week. "Everybody thinks they're getting a light rapid transit (system), but these are only streetcars."
Horne, who grew up in Birch Cliff, studied urban planning and then worked as both a BIA co-ordinator and a town centre manager for the London Borough of Hackney, is equally certain areas such as Scarborough need a transit system that fits travel patterns the city now has.
By building light-rail lines instead of much-costlier subways, he said, "we get to spread this system much further across Toronto."
Adding bicycle lanes on the route gives people another commuting choice, Horne suggested. "What we're trying to do is balance out the uses on a road."
Haab doesn't see the need for bicycle lanes and said he suspects putting Horne, a cyclist and transit user, in charge of publicity for the project is "like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse."
Horne is a good talker and "seems like a nice fellow," Haab added. "It's just that we think the whole concept stinks."
By Mike Adler
February 1, 2010
Neighbourhoods: Sheppard East