Where Did “Transit City” Come From?

From time to time, the question arises of where the TTC got the name Transit City and I have quietly claimed authorship for this in various conversations.  Now the truth will be revealed!

Back in December 2004, the TTC was working on a response to the new Official Plan showing the potential role of surface rapid transit.  The report didn’t have a name yet, and although many ideas had been floated within the TTC, none had hit the mark.

Mitch Stambler, Manager of Service Planning, who was working on the report, left me a voicemail wondering if I had any ideas.  After mulling on the problem for a while, I wrote the following email:

Well here it is December 29th, and I’m finally getting around to naming your wonderful new plan.

Hmmm … “Better Late Than Never” would be a good description for some TTC services, not to mention for a plan that we could actually achieve rather than endlessly debating.

… It is important that we somehow emphasize that this is something we really can do, and can do in a reasonable timeframe at a cost we might be able to afford.  Also, we have to tie this in with the idea that Toronto is growing through transit to support the OP …

Somewhere, we have to say that we should not try to handle all of the regional demand on the subway, and that this approach will leave resources (and subway capacity) free to handle comparatively-speaking local demand.

The LRT (or whatever) study needs to acknowledge this context — that it is NOT trying to be a mega solution to all transportation problems of the 416 and 905, but that it is trying to address the growth of population on The Avenues, and more generally in a built form that is not suitable for a network of subway lines.

Alas “Wheels to the Future” has already been used by the TTC over 60 years ago, and some bright spark might point out that hovercraft and maglev trains do not use wheels for propulsion — we want to give no indication that this study may be biased to one particular mode, after all.

“Transit for the Avenues” or “Transit Avenues” only makes sense if you know about the OP and the special meaning it assigns to that word.

“Network 2011” has been used before, and we really need to get a shovel into the ground sooner than that anyhow.

Hmmm … I have just had a brainwave along another, er, avenue …

“Toronto, A Transit City” is generic and it shows the focus we want for overall growth using transit (be it on the Avenues or elsewhere).  It’s also broad enough to embrace a larger scheme of studies … “Toronto:  Building a Transit City” … which would probably come to be shortened in general parlance as the “Transit City” plan or something like that. 

I am talking myself into the phrase “Transit City”.

Building a Transit City was presented to the Commission in January 2005.  The shortened name was used for the LRT network announcement in 2007.

As you can imagine, the idea of an entire network, buttons and all, with that name on it made me rather proud, in a reserved, quiet, demur, unassuming, unpretentious way.  Just part of the pro bono stuff that comes from being a transit advocate.

21 thoughts on “Where Did “Transit City” Come From?

  1. Of COURSE you are rather proud, in a reserved, quiet, demur, unassuming, unpretentious way! You have every right to be. Just don’t forget to apply for copyright protection. You have far more of claim to it than Paris Hilton did with “That’s hot!”
    Now, THERE’s an idea : Hot Transit!


  2. It’s interesting to see the reasoning behind the term, too. Let’s just hope the ferry report just commissioned doesn’t come back titled “Swans Near the Don” and result in a splashy media launch of “Swan Boats” — that might not give you the same sort of pride.

    Steve: I want to see a Swan Flotilla sailing across the harbour with pride of place to Admiral Giambrone and his swan-plumed hat. The web site should filled with cygnets gliding across the screen where they can spend their time obscuring the text. That text, needless to say, will be in a new font designed especially for this service, and it will have lots of curlicues and serifs.


  3. Good you posted that because heaven forbid some consultant take credit for the name!

    I think they should name a Line after you — but not a subway of course.

    Munro’s Way
    Munro’s Electric Rocket Wonder
    The King Munro

    Steve: The “Rocket Wonder” eh? Either it’s an astonishing new kitchen utensil sold on the shopping channel, or something vaguely naughty. I prefer the latter.


  4. Like the new subway cars , eventually the new streetcars Toronto is going to buy are going to need a name.

    It’s name is going to important as they will dominate city streets for decades to come, becoming one of the city’s most important symbols. Perhaps if Mississauga, Waterloo and Ottawa join in the purchase, they may dominate the province. Just as Peter Witts and PCCs, they will still be talked about for many decades after that.

    I suggest the name: Munro Light Right Vehicle (MLRV).

    – It will be used both in Toronto old downtown streetcar system which he fought to save and the new suburban streetcar system he fought to create.

    – Streetcars have a history of being named after the people who got them built.

    – It honours how many influential people into Toronto, like Jane Jacobs, “Honest Ed” Mirvish and the thousands of other activists who have had a profound effect on the city without ever being elected to office.

    – “Munro” is easy to spell and pronounce.

    Steve: Flattered though I am by your suggestion, I will stick with cooking up “Transit City”. However, since Admiral Giambrone has been musing about new colours for streetcars, here is my suggestion:

    A soothing blue with lots of swans.


  5. Wasn’t “Wheels of Progress” another old TTC chestnut? Maybe this one can be revived to report on Transit City’s progress – it’ll be appropriate once again as there will be real progress in improving public transit in Toronto. (Some might say that the last 20 years were the “Wheels of Regress.”) Another old one that the TTC used on its transfers in the 1940s was “Transit Progress is Civic Progress!” Nothing like a little self-boosterism!


  6. My name for the Scarborough RT in 1981 (when they had its naming contest) was way better than all of this … my preferred official name for it was … THE HOLLY TROLLEY. Actually, my sister came up with the name, and we couldn’t stop laughing.


  7. Hmm…I like the idea of naming the LRVs after famous Torontonians, but maybe they could be named individually along with a number.
    Like Car 4500 could be named the Ed Mirvish, 4501 the Jane Jacobs, 4502 the Steve Munro, etc.


  8. Name all things TTC after Steve……but leave the TTC colour scheme RED!

    I always preferred the G-Trains for this and wish they’d brought back red for the subways.

    But the Spacing mock-up of a new TTC LRV looks great, just paint it like that!


  9. If the TTC dramatically alters the colour scheme for the new cars I’m going to freak out. Some idiot will give us meaningless swooshes and irratic colours so common in newer systems believing they have to in order to convince the public the new vehicles are ‘classy’. Kinda like how so many people were pissed off by the crystals sticking out of the Museum and that awful art school on stilts that is a blight on all of humanity, it’s clear that most folks in charge of ‘modern design’ really don’t have a clue about respecting history and making new things fit into their surroundings. I understand that the CLRV paint scheme was a dramatic departure from the past when it was first introduced, but it is an attractive, bold and classy scheme that rivals just about anything I’ve ever seen on a transit vehicle and it clearly suits the form and lines of the CLRV.

    [“Irratic” is the word used by Kristian in the posted comment. It’s an amusing conflation of “erratic” and “irritating”.]

    When I visited the so-called “public consultation” at Dundas Square I spoke at length with Stephen Lam the Engineering Director regarding a number of highly technical concerns I had about the new vehicles and was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent and productive conversation we had. (He actually took some notes and learned a few things!) I ended off by stating my emphatic support for the classy design of the CLRV and its paint scheme and my hope that the new vehicles would be sympathetic to both.

    The TTC seems to be quite on the ball this time around with the technical side of things, but I’m greatly concerned we’re going to get a visual design that looks something like a swooshy spaceship… and it won’t be a ‘red rocket’ anymore if the wrong political hands hijack the design process.


  10. Oops… I’ll give you credit for coining “Transit City” if I get credit for ‘irratic’! (I think I’ve been watching too much “Colbert Report”… re-writing the dictionary… )
    I must say though that this new conflated term sums up my opinion of ‘modern’ transit paint schemes better than any existing word in the English language. The ‘swoosh’ applied to the new GO Transit locomotive is a very basic but perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s only a short hop to waves and random geometric objects! (Or should I just be happy that our transit fleets are not 100 percent covered in advertising instead?)


  11. I would like to see TTC take a bold approach with LRV schemes in either the existing livery colours or the blue red and white of the City of Toronto flag – to make a dramatic statement all the time rather than the occasional eyecatching wrap. Something like this Air Canada 65th anniversary scheme which sadly was a one-off, and now they are painting them all duckegg blue.


  12. I am a supporter of new subway expansion but I like to concept of LRT, [though] I don’t know if would work out. I think Scarborough RT extension to Sheppard in a Malvern area would be good. I also like the streetcar service on Eglinton is a good idea. When is the Spadina Extension constrution going to begin?

    Steve: The Spadina line is in detailed design right now, and some preliminary work such as sewer relocations might begin this fall.


  13. I completely agree with James. Now I don’t expect a 1930s paint scheme to be applied to a new LRV, but a modern scheme (okay maybe no swooshes or irratic waves) would be good, say a thoughtful application of maroon & cream on a silver base (please not another boring white transit vehicle) would be quite eye-catching and make the statement that the TTC’s streetcar/LRT system is in a renaissance harkening back to its golden age.


  14. Here in Los Angeles, when the Blue Line opened in 1990, each train car was named after a local city in the area the route traversed. “The City of Lakewood,” or “The City of Vernon.” Just like naming a large yacht! These names were only indicated on golden (probably brass or something) plaques mounted inside each car near the end door. Each plaque showed the name of the car and below that had a paragraph describing the history of the town that each car was named after.

    On the exterior, the cars were identified only by numbers. Nobody ever refers to the cars by their “name” and I doubt anyone other than a transit nerd like myself ever reads the plaques.

    None of our other rail lines (Red, Purple, Green, Gold) have these “namesake” cars.

    However, local bus operator Foothill Transit recently started a super-duper freeway express BRT bus service called the SILVER STREAK. This line has brand new 60 foot articulated buses with free wi-fi on board.

    These buses are also named with this convention, with names like “Spirit of San Gabriel” or “Spirit of Pomona” painted on the outside of the bus just above the rear wheel wells. No plaque with historical information though. Again, they also have numbers so I doubt that anyone uses the “names” of the buses for any real purpose other than public relations.

    Having said that, you could take this idea and name your individual LRV vehicles after Canadian cities and mount some of those historical plaques. Wouldn’t it be fun to say “I road ‘The City of Guelph’ in to downtown from Pearson Airport,” or something like that?


  15. On the comment of maroon, while I personally don’t like that colour, I can inform people that new streetcars in Tokyo are sporting an appearance not unlike those of the old Peter Witt cars, and I think it looks absolutely great. If Toronto could do something similar or alternatively give it some PCC-inspired charm, it’d be a large sign of respect.

    The TTC needs to do something special with this streetcar revamp, and they have to do it well, too. 2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of streetcars in Toronto!


  16. @Scott Mercer:

    The TTC is not a suburban commuter service but a local service, so the comparison does not quite work, although they could use neighborhood names if they really wanted to, but I don’t think it’d go over that well. You could name one of the Eglinton LRT cars “Silverthorn”… but lots of people wouldn’t have a clue that there is a neighborhood with that name along Eglinton West… makes a cool name for a streetcar, but I doubt many people will make the connection, unless it is part of a campaign to educate the city at large about its detailed patchwork make-up: by neighborhood. Interesting concept, mind you.


  17. I have to agree about the paint scheme. I was horrified to read that we were even considering new colours. Conservative reactionaries like me would like to get involved and advocate red streetcars – it’s the TTC’s colour, after all (the logo is everywhere) and has been iconic all this time. Statement? What statement? Why? Just having a complete and efficient LRT network is a massive statement.

    But Steve, the public is furious with Transit City, judging by comments in response to the Sunday Star. Thank goodness the TTC is totally unaccountable to voters. The Star is pro-transit and advocates what’s best for Toronto, so I think it’s important to get them to publish the reasons why we need Transit City. The debate is always presented as if subways were an easily affordable alternative, just a few million dollars perhaps.

    All that people know is streetcars as they are currently operated in Toronto. There’s an awareness problem – if only we had pictures floating around of European systems so that we would all know what LRT even looks like.

    And I would like to thank you personally for your incalculable contribution to Toronto over the course of your life.

    Steve: Thanks very much. I too was extremely disappointed with the responses to the Star’s article and it shows how badly over the past decades the TTC has destroyed surface transit of any form as a reasonable alternative, in the public’s mind, to subway construction.


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