Transit City (7) Thirty-Five Years

After spending the whole day at City Hall and the evening writing about Transit City and responding to many, many comments, a few personal words.

Back in 1972, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee fought to preserve Toronto’s streetcar system and with it, the basis for an expansion of low-cost rapid transit into suburbs that were still farmland.  I have walked along Finch Avenue East when it was a dirt road with sheep grazing on one side and apples ripening on the trees on the other.

We almost got the start of that network with the Scarborough LRT line, but Queen’s Park had a better idea and GO Urban was born.  That boondoggle led eventually to the RT and in the process convinced everyone that low-cost transit was impossible and subways were the answer.

Only one problem:  we couldn’t afford them, and that’s over two decades ago.  Endless wrangles on where to build one subway route wasted huge amounts of time and reinforced the idea that transit was not going to serve the suburbs.  What has become the gridlocked 905 follows directly from the folly, from the abdication by planners and politicians to make a good, working transit system in the outer 416 as a model for what could grow into the 905.

Megamayor Mel’s contribution was “downtown North York”, an oxymoron if ever there was one, and the Sheppard Subway.  I remember Mel saying “real cities don’t use streetcars”.  This is the same person who called in the army to shovel snow, and who sold out his opposition to the Harris amalgamation plan in return for a guaranteed shot at the Mayor’s job.

I remember the long dry years when the contempt for public input and transit advocacy was palpable.  No point in wasting my time on carefully researched deputations.

Today was an event I’ve been waiting for although I never really expected to see it.  This is an LRT plan on a scale and with the political support we should have had 30 years ago.

And so my deep thanks to many who have supported my transit advocacy over the years, to the politicians and press who have listened to my incessant rants about LRT and transit in general, to the professional staff at the City and TTC who against the odds have kept up a belief in transit, and to the growing and lively activist community who bring new hope that people actually care about what happens to our city.

13 thoughts on “Transit City (7) Thirty-Five Years

  1. Steve; It is Torontonians who should thank you! People have supported your transit opinions because they are sensible and well expressed. Unlike many politicians you listen to comments, comment on them and even see the merits of other people’s arguments. This very lively (and informative) website is a reflection of this.

    I was very pleased to see a transit NETWORK plan being announced as it is clearly better to discuss transit networks not individual routes. Of course, one needs to build this network in pieces but each new piece of an LRT network must be linked so that vehicules can actually reach the tracks! Last week because Bathurst was blocked due to an accident there was no streetcar service on St Clair for several hours. Sometime can you discuss which sections of the new network can be built first and which new lines will be constrained by having only one link to the rest of the network?

    Steve: Staging of the new network was deliberately avoided in the announcement to avoid battles over who gets their line first. As you say, it’s the fact that this is a network plan, not a single project, that was most important in changing the scope of debate about transit’s future. At least one new carhouse will be required for this network and we are not going to be running cars from Roncesvalles Carhouse all the way up to Finch.

    For example, if a new carhouse were built in Scarborough, it could serve the Sheppard and Eglinton/Morningside routes which would make a very nice initial package. If it turns out that the RT line would make more sense as LRT in this new context, the new carhouse would serve that too.

    There is a myriad of details to work out and a lot of community consultation to be done before we see this implemented. A lot of comments already are based on misinformation, and this needs to be corrected with a series of targeted local meetings. At least now we have something concrete to talk about.


  2. Steve,

    I would like to recognize and thank you for your tireless efforts: 35 years of passionate TTC transit advocacy on behalf of all Torontonians; that culminated yesterday with TTC Chair Adam Giambrone’s Transit City LRT Network announcement.

    I, along with your once TEA environmental/transit firebrand, eYe enviro-columnist, activist–collaborator and now Councillor Gord Perks, Mayor David Miller and many others watched with pride as Jane Jacobs personally awarded you the 2005 Jane Jacobs Prize for 30 years of apolitical, selfless, unstinting, TTC transit advocacy in June 2005.

    After personally witnessing, savouring and finally calling on your reserves to comment fully on the implications of yesterday’s “astounding” LRT Network announcement—that surprised and delighted even you—I’m sure you went to bed last night totally exhausted and exhilarated after finishing these 7 Transit City posts. It was not always so.

    I know you are very well respected for your objective, apolitical transit counsel, both within City Hall and the TTC—a virtual TTC living-encyclopedia—and no doubt, Jane Jacobs is surely smiling too!

    Well done!


  3. 30 years ago Toronto not only went “anti-transit” but it went “anti-transportation” roads and highways were stopped as fast if not faster then LRT and Subway routes. I am happy to see that the city is finally seeing that moving people where they need to go quickly and efficiently is not a horrible thing.


  4. It is hard to get people to care but it is worse when politicians actually count on apathy to carry on with their own agenda or things that do not really matter as much to society as a whole.

    Your hard work over the years is to be commended and even though I joked to Durham Chair Roger Anderson to pay the 5 million for a study to you I meant it as he needs to really talk to the experts so Durham can have a Transit system to be proud of and as far as I am concerned– You are the best Expert I know of.


  5. Cheers to you Steve. I’m right there with you.
    Many thanks to you too Steve for your hard work and advocacy in this matter. Your pains have not been wasted.


  6. Bus shelters are currently being used for the “one cent now” campaign posters.

    What we need to do is make a realistic mock-up of an LRT in action at familiar intersections. Make a poster of this and put it in the bus shelter advertisement at the exact same intersection that is being depicted in the mock-up.

    The bottom could have the Transit City logo and web address.

    Just imagine. Instant public awareness for this plan.


  7. I have too agree with Luke about the LRT mockup – I remember that Metro Transit in Minneapolis had a mockup of their LRT line so people could see what it would look like.


  8. Steve, are you close to OD’ing on this yet? You’re probably riding on an LRT “heroin high” right now.

    So let’s get serious — I’m old enough to remember GO-ALRT, Network whatever-the-heck-it-was-called, the Downtown Relief Line, the Queen Subway, the Eglinton Subway, etc. etc.

    Steve: So am I. I have the plans for many of these in my archives.

    Now I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but how is this any different? The chances of this getting built are slim. Even Toronto couldn’t pony up the necessary cash if the other 2/3rds came from the Province and the Feds tomorrow.

    Steve: There are two reasons so much didn’t get built. First, there was a huge tug-of-war about building more lines into downtown (eg the Downtown Relief Line) versus serving the suburbs. This was tied into the debates about controlling growth in the core. Jack Layton actually supported the Sheppard Subway project in the hopes that by strangling capacity into the core, he could control its growth. Instead, we established the premise that a subway on a suburban corridor would actually generate enough development to pay for itself. That’s a false premise as I have discussed at length elsewhere.

    Second, of course, was the question of funding. All of the subway proposals cost the earth, and LRT options were not on the table.

    If this is going to get built, it has to be done by by GO Rail/TTC merger, and extend far beyond the 416 boundaries. Only the province has the money to do this ALONE, and a lot of trips are coming in from the 905. We can’t ignore the 905. This isn’t 25 years ago when I remember fields north of Steeles Ave. while riding the Route 60 bus.

    Steve: I don’t agree. There is a huge demand for travel inside the 416 that is unmet by the TTC. GO has its work cut out handling the long-haul commuters, and who knows what the GTTA will do with the various regional bus operations. At the rate GO is expanding, we won’t see anything built within Toronto for fifty years.

    The problem with 416ers and 905ers is they’re a bunch of guppies. I see cars stuck on the 401 every day and nobody complains – people getting on the road by 6:30a to beat the traffic. They just accept it. These people make me want to vomit, because as long as they remain silent, improvements to the GTA commute will NEVER happen. I hear the GTA has the worst commute times in North America, and the city keeps expanding.

    When the motorists wake up and make this a #1 election issue, you’ll see the problem solved in 10 years. Until then, it’s just paper. Now that I think about it, the timing of this announcement was bad. The TTC just comes across and being an ungrateful spoiled child. They just got cash for the Spadina Subway and now they’re asking for more. I’m sure the Feds and the Province are saying, “give an inch, take a mile”. First get the funding, then put out the plan.

    The push for this has to come from the driving public.

    Steve: The timing of the announcement was quite deliberate. Everyone knows the Spadina Subway is a huge waste of money, but it’s an “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation. If Toronto said “we won’t build it”, they could just about forget getting any money from Queen’s Park or Ottawa forever. There is immense political pressure behind the Spadina line.

    Transit City shows what can be done at reasonable cost to improve transit for the whole city. It won’t solve everything, but it’s a start. Also, it ties into the Mayors’ National Transportation Strategy by showing what could be done with additional funding. Frankly, I don’t want to wait another 10 years, go through interminable fights about funding, and wind up with little more than subway from Don Mills Station to STC. That’s the path we were heading down.

    The push will never come from the driving public until we show what transit can really do. It will never, ever be as comfortable and convenient as riding in your own car, but 25 years from now, the problems of traffic congestion will make today seem like a picnic. We have to start building now so that transit is a clear alternative.


  9. It’s a step forward to be seeing a plan – of sorts. It seems that this was rushed to the presses somewhat. Some odd and sundry comments.

    1. LRT on Jane?

    I can’t see this being effective LRT (at the south end) without a fairly long tunnel – with a big dig at the southern terminus. Without this, there is no room for stations. Was this thrown in to balance out the map politically?

    Steve: No it was not there for political balance. Various north-south lines to the west of the city were examined, and that one fits best both with needs for better transit system and its ability to link the rest of the network together. The south end of the line goes to Jane Station on the map to avoid assumptions about the availability of land in the Weston Corridor for an alignment to Dundas West as I have discussed elsewhere.

    2. 240 vehicles?

    Applying the benchmark from Calgary C-train (122 riders per service hour) , using 240 vehicles for 175 million passengers a year would require vehicles to be in service an average of 16 hours/day. This doesn’t seem realistic.

    I would expect LRT ridership/service hours on the proposed routes to be lower than the Calgary benchmark. When

    Other than the Eglinton line’s central segment, one of the lines will be serving a dense employment district.
    The speed of service will not match that in Calgary. The C-train lines are cut under most intersections of any size. There are at grade crossing – but most are in industrial/warhouse areas. (Check out Google Earth as a good way of investigating this.)
    I’d expect station spacing (if there are actually stations) to end up being about 400 metres. (Longer than this and residents will demanding local bus service.) This will slow the service – reducing passengers/service hour.
    Calgary’s LRT runs in large part on completely segregated ROW (i.e. no vehicles and no pedestrians. This allows trains to run at high speed between stations. This won’t be possible with the proposed lines here – other than sections in tunnels – due to pedestrian safety requirements.

    More realistic would be 100 boardings / hour or necessitating about 386 vehciles (I’m using the Calgary benchmark of about 12.3 hours in service/day).

    With extra yard/maintenance space, the difference adds about $1 billion to the price tag.

    Steve: Many of the routes included in Transit city have very high levels of passenger turnover. They are not simply picking up people to bring them to one central point. Moreover, the TTC carries more than half of its total demand outside of the peak period. We get much better offpeak utilization of our routes and vehicles than most transit systems in North America. Improving service quality in the suburbs will attract even more ridership.

    Also, the Official Plan calls for major redevelopment along transit corridors over the next decades. This will fundamentally change the population density and travel demands in these corridors.

    In 2005, the King streetcar carried 48,000 passengers a day or 14,400,000 passengers a year (for purposes of estimation, Saturday and Sunday count as one day, and so the daily ridership times 300 is a good approximation). This was done with a peak service of 48 vehicles whose realistic capacity is around 75 on average at peak, and about 50 off peak. The daily service required 510 vehicle hours, and that scales up to 153,000 hours per year. We are already carrying 94 riders per service hour on vehicles much smaller than the C-train. The average hours/vehicle/day is already over 10, and that’s on a route with a lot of extra peak-only service.

    I believe that the TTC’s estimate is in the ballpark.


  10. Steve,

    I’m asking this question here because this was the most recent post.

    About the on-street location of the rails for the LRT vehicles, would it not make sense to put them in the curb lane? I don’t mean the west-bound rails in the west-bound curb lane and the east-bound in the east-bound. I mean putting both sets of rails on the same side of the road. It would eliminate having to cross lanes of traffic to get to the LRT, and it would make the street itself a single entity, without being broken up by rails down the centre. I guess the only problem would be cars wanting to make right turns, they would have to avoid the LRT. Other than that, I question why this is not put forth as an idea.


    Steve: The exact location of the LRT right-of-way will be a matter for detailed design on each section of each route. For example, as part of the Waterfront East project, one design under consideration for Cherry Street puts the streetcar tracks on the east side of the street and the other traffic on the west side. Similarly, the proposed redesign of Queen’s Quay (implemented temporarily last year) converts the existing eastbound traffic lanes to bike lanes, sidewalk and plantings. This effectively makes the LRT a side-of-the-road rather than centre-of-the-road operation.

    This approach will work in some locations but not in others. It hasn’t been proposed in Transit City only because we are nowhere near the detailed design phase on any of the lines.


  11. I’d have to question using ridership intensity on King St as the basis for supporting expected intensity in suburban routes. Montreal gets equal or greater ridership intensity on its combined 535/80/165 routes that loops in and out of the downtown area. In the case of the King St route the bulk of the riders are taking trips of 2-4 km. (My perception of the route matches that of the poster on one of your other threads.)

    The focus of the Transit City appears to be more on the longer trip. Point #1 in the plan states that its is to provide:

    “much-faster travel between the major areas of Toronto, offering people a truly travel-time competitive and less-stressful alternative to private cars”

    meaning that the target rider is less the short hop – but more (say) the 7-12 km rider. (In my mind this is the correct target market for attempting to use transit to reduce congestion. Converting a 12 km car trip reduces road demand 4 x more that converting a 3 km trip.)

    Sure, there will be some development along the proposed routes – especially Eglinton I’d project – but:

    1. Popultation growth in Toronto isn’t that rapid (0.9 over 5 years in the latest census.)
    2. Much of the population growth is downtown where people can walk to work and cultural amenities. Many areas of the city are seeing declines in popultation. I’d expect population to stabilize in some the areas currently losing popultation – but not massive growth. I project the migration towards the lake to continue.

    I see little propect of particularly intense employment centers springing up on these routes. You can have plans – but redevelopment only happens with demand.

    Steve: I don’t agree because over the next two decades, the character of a lot of the suburbs will change as older areas are redeveloped. This will create not only more demand, but more demand for short trips within the suburbs. King may be an extreme example, but I wanted to show the difference between a major TTC route and the Calgary example cited in the previous comment.

    Yes, as the system becomes more attractive for longer trips, the average trip length will go up, but that does not change the fact that we already have good bi-directional demand, good off-peak demand, and demands that are not focussed on a single terminal point.


  12. Yes, here in Los Angeles, transit planners and advocates should follow the example put forth by Transit City: the promotion and discussion of an entire transit network.

    We’ve been building LRT lines and subways for 20 years now, but, in the wrong manner: one line at a time, more or less. We have been in need of planning for a more comprehensive network, now that we’ve got almost 100km of track up and running.

    If you’d like, check out, and click on the “Maps” section. Under the “conceptual maps” area, the map by Damien Goodmon has been provoking a lot of discussion. What a shock: it’s a massive all-region transit sytem proposal, just like Transit City.

    Hope Transit City catches on, I’ll surely be referring to it in my activities here in L.A.


  13. Transit City is the best thing in my memory (I haven’t been around long) to happen to the City, and probably since the decision to retain streetcars. I applaud you, Steve, for keeping the LRT spirit alive and kicking all these years. Without there, there would be no (right-of-)way.


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