St. Clair Update

Christopher Hume has a column in today’s Star about the St. Clair line (Click here) where he discusses the gap between theory and practice in major urban design/construction projects.

This morning, CBC’s Metro Morning had a discussion about the impact on businesses with the owner of the Retro Cafe (at Vaughan and St. Clair) and David Crichton, the city’s manager for design and construction.  With luck this may show up later today as a podcast on the CBC site here.  It may have been early in the day, but Crichton continued the city’s unhappy stance of saying “it’s too bad, but we have to rebuild the street” while ignoring that the design and the construction phasing have considerable impacts.

Last Friday, I received the following comment:

Dear Steve,

I am glad you have this website because this is the first place I want to comment on what is happening with the St. Clair Line.

I live just west of Spadina.  Not only has there been absolute chaos but I have had to call Joe Mhevc’s office regarding the noise of drilling and lack of crosswalk, large ditches on either side of the tracks and the incredibly horrible gridlick.  It has taken me 45 minutes to get from Sr. Clair and Spadina to St. Clair and Yonge on a bus.

Mihevc’s office put me in touch with a Jim Peebles at TTC who was nice enough, when I asked about when the drilling was going to stop, to put me on to someone who could answer the question.  I was assured three weeks ago that the drilling just west of Spadina and before the Subway underpass would stop shortly.  It has not.  In fact I noticed at the beginning of this week that it had started in earnest again.

[I believe that it’s Jim Teeple at the TTC in case anyone is trying to track him down.]

What was odd was that they were taking up concrete on the track that had already been laid down and re-drilling!  Four days later, a fellow named Scott Duggan at TTC tells that the drilling will stop today.  The reason for taking up the concrete?  Bad concrete had been used and they had to do it over again.  This sounds like nonsense and “make work” to me as I am sure the company and the workers are still being paid even though this mistake was made.

Having said all this, I have had to endure this terrible drilling sound from 7:15 in the morning to 5 p.m. at night.  I have allergies from the dust and my doctor says I have developed bronchitis.  I work from home a lot and you have no idea what it is like to try and speak to people over the phone with that drilling in the background.

What I would like to know is how does bad concrete get poured on a 95 million dollar project like this??  Any help you can give me in getting this drilling stop – noise pollution groups, whomever – would be greatly appreciated.


I continue to be astounded by the length of time neighbourhoods are disrupted.  I’m not in a position to get the TTC to stop tearing up the street, and the real issue now is to get everything put back together on this first phase of the project.  Streetcars allegedly will return to the line this winter (it was originally planned for November, but …).  This is important to free up buses for service elsewhere in the network.

As for future phases of the project, it is astoundingly clear that much better co-ordination and construction planning, not to mention speed, are required.  Yes, the St. Clair project is more complicated than a “normal” track relaying job the TTC does every year, but the length of time it is taking is appalling.

We also need a hard look at the details of the design from Vaughan Road west.  Saying that we can’t modify the design without a full-blown EA review is an excuse for not addressing the problems.  Having said that, I must press the businesses on St. Clair for a coherent position on traffic designs.  One reason for the sidewalk narrowing at intersections that so annoys many was the stated requirement that traffic be able to flow freely on St. Clair.  That’s a recipe for designs that put cars first and pedestrians a distant second.

The election is out of the way, and it’s time for the city to address this projects design.  That means more neighbourhood meetings and who knows what level of acrimony.  However, the city and the TTC need to come to the table with a will to make this project work, not to impose their plans on the neighbourboods without compromise. 

11 thoughts on “St. Clair Update

  1. The St. Clair project does seem to proove the old adage of time-wasting : when all is said and done, more is said then done.
    I know I’ve asked this before, but I’ll ask it again : even though there are things that need to be done ahead of time like environmental assessments, WHY does is take so ****** long to get a streetcar line built? Correct me if I’m wrong, but did not the original St. Clair line built in 1911 by the TSR take no longer than TWO YEARS from conception to completion?


  2. I also heard the rather depressing interview on the CBC this morning.  It’s a pity that the City spokesman did not try to explain the project a bit more – it clearly was necessary to replace the tracks and that takes time and causes disruption too.  How much more time was needed to ‘improve’ the streetscape and create a ROW?

    I was surprised to hear that streetcar service is expected to resume from St Clair West station to Gunns Loop on January 7.  (This is the section that has not yet been ‘improved’.)  I realise that to have service on any of St Clair it is necessary for streetcars to be able to get onto St Clair (from Bathurst) but it appears that streetcars will not be running on the section from St Clair station to St Clair West station until even later in 2007.

    It was also alarming to hear that the date to finish the TTC tracks to Gunns Loop would now be late 2008 (‘with possibly a bit more work into 2009’).  We have already heard, on this very interesting site, that in 2007 the rest of the underground loop at St Clair West will need to be replaced, again shutting ALL of the route for several weeks.

    It’s not hard to see why people directly affected are a bit annoyed!

    Steve:  This project, as I have said many times before, seems to be managed (to use the word loosely) to inflict the maximum possible disruption on transit service.  A related project, the new elevators at St. Clair Station, is supposed to be finished so that streetcars can once again run through the loop.  We shall see.


  3. Steve,

    It’s not just St. Clair where TTC construction crews are ridiculously slow.  The crossover at the south end of Wilson Station is being replaced.  Work has been going on since March of this year, and still the yellow flags and the amber slow order lights are out and equipment and supplied left on site.

    The now seemingly permanent slow-order through the crossover has been an irritant – I often now miss my connecting bus at Wilson.  I long for the era when a complex intersection like King/Queen/Roncesvalles/Carhouse can be completely replaced within 48 hours!

    Steve:  I too have seen subway projects that seem to drag on forever and have all the hallmarks of bad project management.  Who is keeping track of the status of all of the works-in progress?  There is no excuse for very long-standing slow orders.  A good example is the annual tie replacements between Victoria Park and Warden.  Rather than just closing the line for the weekend and doing a really solid 48 hours’ work, the TTC lets the work drag on for months with permanent slow orders.  One year, they seem to totally forget about the project until I complained.


  4. That’s nothing: check out Osgoode station where they’re into their 3rd year of putting in an elevator (I think) with nothing yet to show.  For some reason this also required tearing down the entire ceiling of the station and leaving it in a total shambles.  If there’s a less aesthetically pleasing subway station that Osgoode anywhere else in the world I’d be very surprised.

    Then there’s the Broadview station revamping which is drawing to a close now after about 5 years of work.

    Steve:   Broadview is my home station and I despair of this job ever being finished.  We seem to go for long periods with no activity, and now finally at the end of the construction season, it’s full steam ahead! 


  5. About the sidewalks on St. Clair: having been in Montreal this weekend, it saddens me to think of any sidewalk *narrowing* in toronto.  The wide sidewalks along Ste. Catherine make for a really shocking amount of pedestrian traffic.  It’s not my favourite area of the city, but it’s so nice to see a large capacity sidewalk used so well.

    The big walking streets in the plateau (Mt. Royal, St. Laurent, St. Denis) all seemed to be medium-wide, which was very nice too.  In addition, there was only one lane of traffic on Mont Royal, yet the place in teeming with life and small businesses.


  6. I walked along the stretch under construction a couple of weekends ago.  (There were work crews out – I mention as an aside.)  The biggest sidewalk narrowings were at locations where the new, wider (only slightly from what I could see) platforms were placed.

    I couldn’t tell from pacing it out if the lanes were narrower than “normal”.  They were narrower than those I paced off on Spadina at one location.  This is obviously not scientific.  I would say that the accomodation for queueing space for turning at Yonge is fairly modest in length.

    I guess I’d like you to clarify what you mean by fixing the design.  Do you suggest eliminating turning lanes altogether – so that outside of rush hour, the road would be a single lane each way?  It seems to me that this is the current situation with the construction.  The effects on the life of the street surely can’t be construed as healthy.  Do you mean that vehicular traffic shouldn’t “flow freely” along the street?  Should it instead be completely at a standstill?

    Steve:  An intersection that has been cited as the “ideal” by the SOS folks in the design done for the Via Italia business community is College and Grace.  At that location, there are no turn lanes, and parking extends almost to the corner.  This is obviously not representative of Bathurst and St. Clair where two major roads intersect, and where there is a considerably greater need to accommodate turns.

    On the southeast corner at Bathurst, the sidewalk is very narrow because of the nearby building.  Obviously this could be fixed whenever that corner is condo-ized, but meanwhile it is a less than ideal arrangement.  There will be a similar situation at Dufferin on the southwest corner where the TD bank sits right at the sidewalk line and this prevents the insertion of a right turn lane.

    I believe that a block-by-block review is needed to fine-tune each section of the line and make sure that all of the assumptions built into the early plans are scrutinized carefully.  If there are changes we can make to reduce impacts without totally strangling traffic, we should make them.

    I would add that the Yonge to Vaughan stretch is the easy part of the project.  There are relatively few business – and very little in the way of pedestrian traffic.  In this case, narrower traffic lanes are relatively manageable.

    In the section West of Bathurst, this is not the case.  With all but a few small sections, this is a continuous retail/commercial thoroughfare.  Delivery vehicles need room to maneuvre in and out of loading zones.  The strategy of lane narrowing is less viable here – yet the sidewalk space is all the more important to support businesses.

    I think it’s important to realize that most people in the area rely on a mix of modes of transportation.  My sister walks and takes transit – but relies on a taxi to bring home groceries for a family of 4.  My brother-in-law uses the TTC – but relies on his partner’s van to carry tools and supplies to work sites.  Things aren’t as cut and dried as driver baddies and saintly transit users.

    Steve:  As I said above, the intent is not to strangle the street.  However, it is two lanes wider than most arterial streets downtown.  Do we want completely free-flowing traffic to use the street to through the neighbourhoods, as opposed to local traffic within the neighbourhoods?  Compare to Dundas or College Streets.

    The examples from Montreal are interesting.  St. Laurent is a modest width street.  It also happens to be one way.  There is an equally wide street (immortalized by a great Canadian writer) that runs parallel.  In fact, most of the grid in the area is one-way.  Park Ave (2-way – 5 lane – broad sidelwalks) – with top-notch transit service – is a short walk to the West.  St. Denis has the Metro running along most of it.

    The progress of the work is unfortunately not surprising.  As Alvin Toffler once wrote:

    “But worst and most ironic of all, instead of taking the lead in technological advance as promised, nationalized enterprises are alost uniformly reactionary – the most bureacratic, the slowest to reorganize, the least willing to adapt to changing customer needs, the most afraid to provide information to the citizen, the last to adopt advanced technology.”

    Steve:  And we will just ignore the fact that the construction work is being done by private companies who bid on this.  The TTC did not spec bad concrete, but it was delivered and installed all the same.  There’s enough blame to go around for both the public and the private sector, and problems on St. Clair should not be dismissed as an example of how the public sector can’t do anything right.  That’s handy political rhetoric, no more, regardless of whose quote you use.


  7. To my eye, some projects do take excrutiatingly long. I have come to understand some realities of engineering, principally the one about what can go wrong, probably will.

    That said, I have not come to an understanding of how TTC schedules most of its long term projects. There are apparently inviolable time requirements, like the wait period needed for concrete to cure, or how long it takes to get escalator parts from Germany.

    There are also the vagaries associated with running several projects at once, involving a series of departments. Often an urgent situation in one area will pull crews off a project, and they won’t return for ages. And there is the complexity of balancing in-house personnel and outside contractors.

    How does worker productivity fit into a complex scheduling environment like this? How do you guage the speed of a project if it only sees actual work underway on the third Thursday of every month?

    And once again, when is a delay caused by funding shortages and when by organizational inefficiencies?

    The result is ceiling panels missing in over half the subway stations. Riders who lose respect for the organization and the people who work for it. The threat of reduced morale, instead of the satisfaction of finishing a job in a timely fashion.


  8. I don’t disagree that there isn’t blame to go around. The problem is that no-one will be held accountable – other that perhaps a private contractor having to absorb some rework costs. It would be interesting to know if the subcontractors are on a time and material payment basis – or are they responsible for completing certain tasks.

    Projects can be completed on time with sufficient rewards and penalties to the contractor. The Santa Monica Freeway is LA was rebuilt from the ground up in about 87 days – if memory serves.

    I read the Toffler passage a couple of days ago. It immediately reminded me of a number of things I’ve learned about the TTC in this space.


  9. From the point of view of future LRT in general and ROW in particular, it is important that expectation for St. Clair type of reconstruction be well understood.  In terms of construction time, St Clair may not be out of line.  It has taken twice as long as the recent Gerrard track reconstruction, and is about twice the length.  It is also considerably more complex.

    In terms of keeping the street capacity during construction, it was not going to happen.  In terms of tasks to be done to rebuild the street, there was underground work, sidewalks, ROW, islands, crosswalks, roadway.  In terms of political interaction there was the environment assessment with its public meetings, and the lawsuit.

    There are several questions that may be asked.  Can more of the work be done in parallel?  Should the individual tasks be done over several years?  Should the project have been done in smaller chunks?  Which is better: perpetual low level construction, or shut down the area and do it as one massive project?  There is no ‘correct’ answer.

    The SOS lawsuit appears to have had the effect of extending the pain.  The original plan included four crews all starting about the same time.  The TTC were actually able to contract three crews with starting times spread over 6 weeks.  The wonder is that they were able to obtain that many crews on such short notice, particularly after such a sudden cancellation of the work on the original contract.  Did the TTC scavenge crews from other projects planned for 2006?

    I have walked the route many times, I have seen the chaos, and I have seen the results taking shape.  I understand that construction is necessary and creates chaos.  It is nevertheless nescessary.  My impression is that the major decisions were correct.

    Steve:  My understanding is that some of the problems arise from co-ordination problems among various branches of the city including the Works Department (who are responsible for the overall street design and construction project), Hydro and the TTC.  Also, by starting the work so late in the construction season, a much larger amount of the street is under construction simultaneously than would have been the case had they started in the spring.

    The lack of information about next year’s work plan is troubling.  Possibly the City was holding off to see the outcome of the election, but we should already have detailed information about project staging and design for public review.  The project cannot be tendered until the design is locked down, and once again we will probably see a compressed construction season.


  10. A great deal has been said about the the way the construction has been implemented for St. Clair, but there is not much concerning the alternative that might have happened.  The following hypothetical work schedule for St. Clair assumes convential track replacement (not ROW) using uncoordinated work schedules similar to previous years on streets like Queen and Gerrard:

    2007: Close street to replace tracks Vaughan to Oakwood.
    2008: Close street to replace tracks Dufferin to Lansdowne.
    2009: Close street to replace tracks Lansdowne to Gunns Rd.
    2010: Repave street.
    2011: Dig up roadway to bury hydro wires.
    2012: Dig up street to replace water mains.

    This maintains the status quo leaving no potential benefit, and is probably more disruptive overall.

    Steve:  This is a nice theory, but in practice I point to Queen East in the Beach where there was properly co-ordinated construction of both the track, roadway and sidewalks, all in one project.  It can be done.

    If construction of each year’s work actually started in April, the normal time we begin such things, rather than mid-summer, it would not be necessary to close so much of the street at the same time in every location.  This kind of approach needs to be taken in the work from Vaughan westward.  I would even propose that the work for 2007 be kept within reasonable limits so that we don’t repeat 2006, but also we be ready to start at the beginning of the construction season in 2008.


  11. I came upon this site only today.  I live as well just west of Spadina on St. Clair.

    It was not bad concrete they had laid originally it was that they laid it during the heavy rainfall we had in October and it damaged the concrete.  You might remember the plastic tarpaulins that were placed over the tracks.  Whoever OK’d the installation of the cement during this deluge of rain was to blame.

    Steve:  Thanks for clearing this up.


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