Howard Levine Writes About St. Clair

Howard Levine, a former member of City Council and one of the founding members of Streetcars for Toronto back in 1972, writes in today’s National Post about the St. Clair project.  Howard and I sit on opposite sides of the St. Clair fence these days — I still believe in the scheme and wish it were done better, while he sees it as irredeemably flawed.  I share his despair that what we fought for in 1972 took so long to achieve and was such a botched piece of design and community relations.

Howard writes:

The urban design consultants hired for St. Clair publicly acknowledged their firm had no experience with a similar project.  Nonetheless, they concluded the existing streetlighting levels along St. Clair were below standard, although the retired Toronto Hydro chief engineer who designed the system in 1992 strongly disagreed.  This arbitrary choice for new streetlights on fewer and higher masts and with higher intensity leads directly to the necessity for a new system of centre poles for the TTC overhead.  Centre poles result in a significantly wider transit median because of the clearance required for emergency vehicles.  Bad choice.

I sat with then-Councillor Levine on the former City of Toronto’s Street and Lane Lighting subcommittee, and we fought hard and successfully to retain lighting in a style that supports a “streets are for people” philosophy.  This included the use of luminaires at a height and spacing that do not overwhelm the street, and a light spectrum that is close to daylight so that colours look natural (unlike the yellow lighting found in so many cities and almost all of the Toronto suburbs).

The new lighting design for St. Clair, complete with its centre poles, was selected and, according to private conversations with Levine, already ordered before the EA was completed.  This is one of the reasons why the City and TTC so strongly opposed any design changes.  If that is true, it is symptomatic of a process that saw the public as a rubber stamp, not as participants.

Some other statements in Levine’s article don’t hold up to scrutiny.  We can debate the vertical undulations in the track, but they are not so precipitous as to lead to unusual braking or wear problems. 

As for the traffic control system, we know what happened (or more accurately didn’t happen) on Spadina.  We are still waiting for a report for the City traffic engineers about the impementation of transit priority on that street.  They had years of head-start on St. Clair, and that might actually give them time to get that route operating properly from day one.  Anybody want to bet that nothing will happen until late 2008 after the last of the construction is finished?

The real issue on St. Clair is what it will look like in 10 years, 20 years.  If we are still running one car now and then down the middle of a right-of-way, we will have failed the promise of reinvigourating the neighbourhood.  All of that infrastructure must be matched by frequent, reliable service.

10 thoughts on “Howard Levine Writes About St. Clair

  1. Having done this exercise once upon a time and there is a great temptation to design entirely from charts and theoretical efficiencies instead of looking at the aesthetics of the situation. I bet most consultants would say that most of the side streets in Toronto are under lit but most people would prefer them to the “properly lit” streets in suburbia because of the softer and whiter light.

    I bet that if you check statistics this new and improved lighting has not made neighbourhoods safer. It only makes them less attractive to pedestrian traffic which makes them less safe. Keep tilting at the windmills Howard and maybe someday, someone will actually listen to you or visit cities which use bettter lighting methods, such as in Europe or the older sections of Toronto that have not been “Modernized”.

    Steve:  Actually one of the interesting findings of our street lighting studies was that the “old style” luminaires actually provided better light distribution than the new standard suburban style.  Of course, the “non modernized” parts of Toronto do use colour-balanced, energy efficient lighting.

    I would really love to see what the Don Valley Parkway or 401 with their high mast sodium lighting would look like with really “modern” MH lamps.  After all, this technology was originally developed for colour TV coverage of the Olympics several decades ago.  Maybe the “experts” will discover this in time.


  2. I’m just curious, do we know if the loops will be reintegrated into the new St. Clair ROW?

    St. Clair Station Loop
    St. Clair West Station Loop
    Bathurst/Vaughn/Wychwood track switches
    Oakwood Loop
    Earlscourt Loop
    Townsley Loop
    Gunn’s Loop

    Steve:  It would be hard to operate the route without most of these.  St. Clair Carhouse is not a working property, and there is no need for special work at Wychwood.  Townsley Loop is currently not useable due to some missing track, but I don’t know whether the TTC plans to reactivate it.


  3. Are the lights for Spadina and the Queensway similar to those that will go in on St. Clair (white, but a different style/head than the old arc lamps)?

    I am in complete agreement – the white lights in Toronto are so much nicer – the fixtures and the lights themselves, and do not provide the harsh overlighting that can come with white lights.

    Steve:  If you look at the Urban Design Study that was done for St. Clair, you will see some contradictory information about poles and lights.  The study is here.

    It is claimed that the undergrounding of hydro lines and the use of centre poles will eliminate poles on the sidewalk and free up space there for other design elements such as trees.  However, the night illustration on page 11 clearly shows that the street lighting will be provided from poles on the side of the street and the centre poles will only have decorative “up lights”.  None of the daytime designs shows a conventional luminaire on the pole, and some even omit the ones at the sidewalk line.

    As I have said before, the people doing the lighting and pole design were either incompetent or not completely honest about what they were planning.

    The one good point about the night illustration is that the colour of the streetlight is white, not yellow.  Let’s hope they use the same colour-corrected technology already in widespread use in the old City of Toronto.

    Also, when will the process start on the St. Clair extension west?  Has a western terminal even been selected yet (be it Runnymede, Jane or Scarlett).

    Steve:  The EA for that is supposed to get under way early next year.  Various western termini have been proposed including Kipling Station (!).  One major design problem, the reconstruction of the underpass at Scarlett Road, has been sorted out so that room will be left for streetcar lanes.

    There is also the Mayor’s campaign proposal to run a service to the airport connecting down to the St. Clair line from Eglinton.  I think this is a bit far fetched, but there’s a long way to go and lots of options to be considered.


  4. I love those illustrations on Page 7 that appear to show a devilstrip of about two feet in width AND encompassing the poles as well.  And, some of the before-after illustrations appear to show the sidewalks as identical even though an extra driving lane has been added.  It seems not only the pedestrians are to be squeezed!

    Steve:  There’s also the before/after pair where the “old” view is through the ugly box hydro structure and the “new” is all clean and airy even though this would happen regardless of what the streetcar project looked like.


  5. I suppose it’s a matter of taste, but on a wide street like St.Clair I prefer the centre poles.  I drove along the construction site today.  The road seems to be of ample width for a driving and a parking lane and I question how much difference side suspension would add to the width of the sidewalks.  With proper street furniture and landscaping the street should look much better than it does at present.  Certainly the street lighting should be white as adopted thoughout the city and the whole enterprise must be taken as an opportunity to improve streetcar service rather than to cut the number of streetcars.  This latter point is my greatest concern.

    Steve:  The question of sidewalk space is more critical in the next phase where buildings abut the sidewalk and the city doesn’t have the option of just widening the road.  There was a large bite taken out of (mainly) the north side of St. Clair where there used to be lawns.  This was city property as part of the road allowance, and no expropriation was required.  Further west, they have to work within the existing street, and every inch counts.


  6. With regard to comment 5 and Townsley Loop my records indicate that it was deactivated August 21, 2005 and the intersection rebuild will be all tangent track. For those trivia types who care, the last car through was 4033 II.


  7. When I asked Mitch Stambler about the western extension of St. Clair, he said the EA was going to be starting this year.  I suppose the delay/problems of the construction near the subway stations is why they delayed the EA.

    Is the TTC actually considering extending St. Clair as far as Kipling station?  That’s a lot of construction they would have to do to go that far!

    Steve:  The last I heard mention of this it was an idea of Howard Moscoe’s.  I’m not sure that it makes sense going that far out as a St. Clair extension.  If we start talking about lines radiating out from Kipling Station, that’s another matter including both a Dundas West line (in effect the originally proposed Bloor subway extension) and a line northwest to the Airport. 

    About the Scarlett underpass, they don’t necessarily have to use that route.  Couldn’t the St. Clair line go south on Jane and west on Dundas, avoiding the Scarlett underpass altogether?   It could save the city a lot of money.  However, given the amount of ridership on the 30 Lambton, I don’t think they need to extend St. Clair to Kipling station.

    Steve:  Yes, Jane is another option, and I am intrigued that David Miller’s election material mentioned this as a possible route link north to Eglinton and thence to the Airport.

    Another possibility that gets me thinking is if they happen to extend the streetcar line, will there be a ROW west of Gunns Loop?  The most logical extension would be to Runnymede at least, but they would run into some design problems along the way.  The road on St. Clair, east of Runnymede, is very narrow.  At some points there is only 1 lane in a certain direction, which makes it hard to create a ROW.  Also, there are railroad tracks on that part of St. Clair as well, which creates more difficulty.

    I am anxious to see what will become of the EA.

    Steve:  The real question on St. Clair West is how much right-of-way the city actually owns for the street.  How much wider could St. Clair be without expropriating any property.  As to the railway tracks, the question is how long the industrial uses requiring them will remain in operation. 


  8. An issue with centre-poles that hasn’t been raised here is that, without them, overhead wires must be suspended from buildings.  Overhead wires are not visually appealing when strung accross the entire road.  They also interfere with radio reception, which I know doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it isn’t very ‘people friendly’.  If centre-poles were truly the only light poles on the street, then more space is avaiable on the cross-section of the road.  Instead of two poles, we only have one.

    Steve:  The streetcar overhead has been suspended from hydro poles at the sidewalk line for over 60 years.  Direct attachment to buildings is extremely rare in Toronto.  The underlying problem is that the new lighting design probably requires the poles to be spaced differently than at present, and we will have fewer brighter lights.  Changing the pole spacing screws up the overhead suspension scheme.  But what we are really going to have is three poles — one on each sidewalk for the lights, and one in the middle for the streetcar.  The net effect is a loss of space.

    As to wires strung across the street, the span wires holding up the overhead today are the smallest of the visual blight, and there is far worse from the old hydro installations that are not yet underground.

    By the way, it is the streetcar contact wire and power distribution that create radio interference (mainly on AM, not FM).  The span wires are neutral and do not cause interference by themselves.

    I truly don’t like how the TTC seems to be trying to sell this project to the public.  It is a wonderful idea, if the TTC were open with the public and looked for actual citizen input, the St. Clair ROW could meet the communities’ needs.

    I to noticed the difference between the before and after pictures.  The after pictures are of course of much better picture and colour quality.  They have before/after, where the only difference is some trees on the edge of the sidewalk, but the before picture looks dirty, while the after picture is crisp and clean.  The TTC is patronzing the public by trying to sell them the ROW, which doesn’t need to be sold.  If the public truly had input, the ROW wouldn’t need to be sold, as it would be what the community demanded and deserved.


  9. Hi Steve:-

    I agree with the last sentence of your first paragraph absolutely. Botched PR. When the Spadina Line was in public consultation it was as bad too, but we finally got it and now most of the naysayers love it.

    But as far as PR on St. Clair went, I hadn’t heard of one of the greatest advantages for the non-transit using resident/retail owning opposers stated. There should have been an emphasis on the use of the ROW by emergency vehicles. This was part of the hype with the ROW on Queen’s Quay, don’t remember if stated on Spadina. If there is 2 minute service on the St. Clair carline (wouldn’t that be nice, actually serving a heavy corridor with decent headways!) then there is adequate room for an emergency response to weave around the trolleys and get to the scene requiring their assistance ASAP.

    I witnessed just such an event on Spadina at Harbord, where a Police car turned south down the ROW and passed the backed up SB traffic and a SB streetcar at Willcocks at a fairly high speed. No idea what the emergency was but it proved that from 0 to 60 down Spadina and very quickly out of sight around the Circle, to serve and protect was a reality, not a frustrating wish.

    Our Church there too had a fire call due to a malfunctioning detector and the fire trucks came up the ROW to look after us. If it had been a real fire and they had been caught in the traffic, it could have meant disaster.

    I can’t even imagine the response time with the former status quo, versus the potential life and property saving seconds saved by an improved St. Clair. Until something happens close to their daily lives, heaven forbid, will the light ever dawn on the blessings the ROW will give their neighbourhoods?

    Real examples, unreal PR.

    Steve: I am still baffled by the designers’ adherence to centre pole overhead suspension on the ROWs. Aside from widening the ROW by a metre, this also creates an obstacle for emergency vehicles.

    Also, as to PR, there is a public meeting tonight re the next stage of detailed design, but it is a complete secret on the TTC/City website for the project. All through this exercise, notices show up there late, if at all. I only know of this meeting because a friend alerted me.

    Piccininni Centre, 1369 St. Clair West, 7 pm, May 7.


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