– (This is an unpleasant article, sorry) –
On the anniversary of the Yonge street van attack which killed ten people a year ago, Canadian media has been debating whether or not city streets should put in place more barriers to help keep pedestrians safe in the event of any future van attacks. This seems to be missing the point: Toronto had not one but two terrorist attacks in the past year, the Yonge van attack and the Danforth gun attack. Luckily – in the relative sense only – no more than thirteen people were killed. But one does not need to be a neurotic to consider what might have occurred if, instead of Yonge and Danforth, they had attacked Yonge-and-Danforth: Canada’s most crowded subway station.
If we have learned anything about terror attacks in the 21stcentury, it is that they are simple to imagine ahead of time (9-11, for instance, was neither the first quadruple airplane hijacking nor the first significant attempt to destroy the World Trade towers nor the first attempt to crash a hijacked airplane into a major Western landmark nor even the first major attack carried out by Al Qaeda that week), possible to prevent (hardening cockpit doors, for example), and can have secondary consequences nearly as damaging as, or plausibly even far more damaging than, the terrorist attack itself.
Now think back to Toronto. An attack at Yonge-Bloor station is frighteningly easy to imagine: a gunman, or gunmen, at rush hour, just as a train or trains are pulling into the station, videos of the result circulating online immediately afterwards. Aside from any damage such an attack might cause directly, it would potentially have even graver secondary impacts in the form of copycat attacks, car accidents, air pollution, political consequences, etc., not just in Toronto but also nationwide and beyond.
The point here is not to ask Canadian media to debate how to make areas like Yonge-Bloor safe from gunmen – that is not a discussion we would ideally need or want to carry out publicly. Rather, Canada’s intelligence agencies and governments should perhaps immediately address the problem. Waiting until a decade from now, when a relief subway line will hopefully be built and Yonge-Bloor will be expanded, may be taking a very big risk. Indeed, the station expansion may even increase crowding during construction for several years.
There could, maybe*, be relatively simple ways of reducing this threat. For example:
- Create a rush hour bus-only lane on certain streets (Yonge, the DVP, Don Mills, etc.), to reduce crowding on the Yonge subway in the years before a new subway line is built
- Do not allow able-bodied people to enter Yonge-Bloor station from the street during rush hour; widen pedestrian space on Yonge to make it easier for these able-bodied people to walk (or, perhaps, take a bus on Yonge) to get to neighbouring subway stations Wellesley, Sherbourne, Rosedale, or Bay. This would reduce crowding in Yonge-Bloor not only by reducing the number of people who use the station, but also because, with no able-bodied people entering the station during rush hour, staircases would be much clearer, and crowds would therefore disperse more quickly following the arrival of every subway train.
*I will admit: despite what I have written above, I know basically nothing about the risk of an attack of this kind, or how that risk should be addressed. [I will even cop to the fact that I may to some degree be using the fear of such an attack manipulatively, as a way to promote transit-friendly or pedestrian-friendly policies that I would want even if no such risk existed…]. I would, therefore, be very interested to learn what people who are actually knowledgeable think about this issue.
In any event, these two suggestions seem unlikely to occur; many would see them as (to quote Doug Ford) “a war on the car”. Yet maybe seeing them as a war on terror would be much more accurate.