The Look of the TTC

Today’s Toronto Star has an article Sick transit: TTC dirty, leaking, decaying about the sorry state of many of our subway stations.

Although this is the worst time of the year for assessing the general look of anything that is used by hundreds of thousands of people per day, many of the complaints from Star readers ring true.

Stations don’t look as clean as they once did despite the TTC’s attempt to arrange its crews for heavy-duty blitzes on stations rather than superficial dusting. This is further complicated by the now-and-forever construction and repair projects that give the impression of jobs half done and forgotten. The TTC could do a much better job, both on site and online, of posting notices that should be kept up to date about what is going on.

Speaking of notices, there is a huge, ongoing problem that notices when they do appear remain in place long after the work is done and they act as magnets for grafitti and other abuse. This sort of thing contributes to a look that says “we don’t care”.

(My personal favourite was College Station during the 506 streetcar track reconstruction where three different generations of diversion notices existed, in some cases side by side, in various locations.)

Oddly enough, just a few days ago I did an interview with some journalism students from Ryerson about “design on the TTC”, to which my first offhand reply was “what design?”. Yes, there are various standards for new signage as well as older generations, but this is obscured by so much pure junk that the clean, unifying benefit of consistent graphics is totally lost.

Plant maintenance is one of those TTC budget lines that was squeezed for years, and gets little respect because it’s always easy to say “just get more productivity out of your staff” rather than looking at the underlying problems. Like so much else in the TTC (and municipal services in general), we need to know what it would cost to provide better service in this area. As long as the attitude is “we can’t afford it”, we (the public) never get a chance to weigh in on where the TTC might spend more money. This was the situation with service quality and, although it has taken forever, the Ridership Growth Strategy allowed those who want better service to advocate for it with hard numbers on costs and benefits.

Litter will always be with us, and the sooner the TTC picks it up, the better. Scratchitti is becoming a major problem and I’m not sure how quickly the TTC addresses this. My gut feeling is that I see far too much of it, and it can’t all be fresh.

Attracting riders isn’t just a matter of better service, it’s the environment in which that service runs. Telling riders that it’s their fault for littering blames the many for the thoughtlessness of the few.

28 thoughts on “The Look of the TTC

  1. Not to go on and on about this but I continue to think that subway stations would look a lot better if each had a Station Manager who could keep an eye on ALL aspects of their station(s). London has such people and though they cannot do everything they can probably “cut through the bureaucracy” and ensure problems are addressed, proper signage installed and outdated notices are removed.

    Steve: This was suggested some years ago by a former Chairman of the TTC, but nothing ever happened. We don’t need one manager per station, but certainly one for a small enough area that they can visit all of their stations two or three times a day.

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  2. I’m amazed at the staggaring amount of grafitti on the lakeshore west go line (on the cement embankments running by the skydome…) a few months ago I noticed they painted over most of it, but the next day it was back, and I don’t think they’ve bothered to fight back against it…

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  3. Dirty stations and vehicles are unacceptable and they discourage ridership. Blaming the riders is rather pointless because as we all know, it doesn’t stop them from littering or vandalizing. The TTC needs to hire more janitors, and in particular they need to increase the number who work during the day – obviously they shouldn’t try to clean during rush hour but they need to start cleaning during the midday and evening in addition to at night like in other transit systems because otherwise the stations will be disgusting by the end of the day. Obviously, any janitor that doesn’t do their job needs to be immediately fired.

    Also, why doesn’t the TTC use those big black mats at entrances like many other public places do? These would considerably reduce the amount of slush and snow that gets into the system in winter.

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  4. The appearance of the BD line stations could be improved dramatically if they would just re-grout and clean the tiles. Go look at photos in the Toronto Archives and you’ll see what those stations looked like when they were new.

    Go to Bathurst where new tiles were put up near the elevators (which matched the old ones). The newer tiles attract and hold dirt more easily than the older ones, and it’s obvious they haven’t been cleaned since they were put up.

    Garbage at track level sits there for months, and the seats on the trains are dirty as well — why they would use felt instead of the old cushioned vinyl is beyond me — you can’t clean it.

    A system that used to pride itself on being clean in the 60s and 70s is now an embarrassment, but the TTC has always been like this. The reason everything looked clean back then was because it was new, not because they were cleaning it.

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  5. I would second the “Station Manager” concept. NYC has this as well, with the person’s name and phone number prominently displayed. I have not noticed if it is one per every station, but agree with the idea of one person for a group of stations. One per station may be useful for major transfer stations (Yonge/Bloor, Union, Eglinton, Finch, &c)

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  6. I wonder if a regular user of Museum station would care to take photographs of it every month for a year after the refit, so we can track the progress of how, inevitably, the TTC will let decrepitude waste the money being spent.

    Steve: Mark, that’s not decrepitude, that’s the “patina of age”. This maybe a subtle plot — convert our stations to pseudo-archeological ruins, and just let the dirt pile up! Of course, if we find mummified would-be passengers holding Metropasses carved on clay tablets, we’ll know just how long the service has been slipping!

    John Lorinc has a story in the Globe today about Museum Station.

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  7. The other issue that is brought up by some comments published in the Star is the removal of platform bins.

    This is, of course, the TTC, in one of its typical methods of using security panic reasoning that on some days would make Dick Cheney blush to justify the removal of all garbage bins. Washington, LA, New York haven’t even went to such extremes, and even London, where plastic bags for garbage were common for years because of the “Troubles”, plastic bags are everywhere for refuse disposal in train and underground stations.

    For one thing, this negates the fact, that by necessity, Queen and Dundas have garbage bins at platform level, and St. George and Bloor have them as well. I won’t even get into the horrible design of these containers, where with completely open tops, newspapers and pop cans are mixed with real garbage.

    I’m only surprised the TTC hasn’t gone to hard plastic or metal seating in buses and subways from the useless felt “cushion”, which after all, is potentially flammable.

    Steve: I believe that the cushions are treated to be non-flammable, or at least to be very difficult to ignite.

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  8. I passed through Museum station recently — it looked much better the way it was.

    People have to remember that our system was modelled after New York’s, and they used bathroom-like tile in their stations at the time. So they only re-did the platform and left the rest of the station as is? That looks “real good”.

    The existing tiles can be restored, and that old font was much better as it was easier on the eyes. Even the old TTC SUBWAY signs on the surface are being replaced, creating a lot of inconsistency. When BD opened, all YUS stations had their signs changed so that the system would be uniform.

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  9. You know, I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and spent a fair amout of my adulthood believing that the TTC was just great though there were still things I didn’t always agree with. Now it seems like such a has-been of an outfit and I wonder what happened to wonderful operation I once knew (or at least thought I knew).

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  10. In another thread or post we can debate the need for and quality of various renovation schemes.

    But in day to day maintenance there is no question there is a problem.

    The light fixtures at platform level get too dirty, and stay too dirty for too long; and while I understand the TTC saying ‘brake dust’ I don’t understand the infrequent cleaning schedule.

    By the way, Steve, isn’t there anything to be done to reduce the amount of ‘brake dust’ the train throw off?

    **

    At any rate, I just harken back to one childhood memory from the 70’s when the B-D subway still ended at Warden; and they used to shrink the trains from 6 to 4 cars for mid-day service.

    I remember being on the train and the janitors entered the train while it was being de-coupled and began mopping, window-washing, spraying the seats on the old H-4s and doing a very thorough job; they let me (then an interested 5 yr old) watch for awhile till they the cars had to leave for Greenwood (the 4 active cars left Warden first).

    It was a level of effort I can’t remeber seeing on the TTC in my teenaged or adult life.

    Steve: Brake shoe dust is a fact of life in subways, and actually there is far less of it thrown off by modern trains with regenerative brakes than on the old G trains that depended entirely on brake shoes for stopping. Trains these days do most of their braking with the motors. This is another one of those standard excuses like “congestion” that is used as a substitute for just keeping the place clean. As you say, light fixtures are not washed anywhere near as often as they used to be, and this contributes to the dull, dirty look of the stations.

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  11. Steve,

    Have you seen the plans for Pape Station? I was concerned that the TTC was going to redo it in an ancient Greece theme, seriously, owing to Greektown on the Danforth. But I consider what they’ve proposed, and wholeheartedly plan to execute, to be far worse. Is that really art? Or is it something that I can do myself using simple Adobe Photoshop? Certainly the point of a subway station is to facilitate movement of people, not to be a low-rate art gallery, as some of their illustrations suggest. Pape is a very busy station and absolutely no one is going to stop to discuss the “art.” I should note that if the art appeared to be of the calibre of the Spadina line and placed in its proper context, instead of all over the place, I would have no complaints. The TTC likes to claim that the Sheppard Line is full of art too. Well, with the exception of the Sheppard-Yonge mural, it’s pretty pathetic as well. But I guess us Torontontians are simple folk and deserve no better.

    And dark blue ceilings for Pape? Sounds like groupthink is in full force yet again over at the TTC.

    Pape definitely needs infrastructure renewal. The secondary exit and elevators are long overdue, but architecturally and artistically what they are proposing has nothing to do with the community and will look worn out and dated much sooner than the original 1960s era structure.

    The TTC tried its best to ruin Broadview and now it’s going to try even harder to ruin Pape.

    Steve: At least at Broadview, they didn’t redo the basic black-and-white colour scheme or try to incorporate “art” into the design. The rusting canopy supports, the constant leaks onto the new stairways and the temporary direction signs for buses speak to a lack not only of design aesthetic, but of simple competence.

    The Pape designs have changed a lot and improved since the first versions I saw at a TTC meeting. However, the change of colour scheme from yellow to white with blue highlights may be dated if Greektown moves away.

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  12. The bottom line is money. The TTC can either spend it on more service, or fixing up stations/vehicles. Until the province decides to pay it’s fair share (AFAIK even Texas pays more to the operation transit then Ontario does) I laugh when I hear Dalton go on and on about how bad Harris was doing X and Y, and then see Dalton sit around and not bothering fixing X and Y, and yet assuming this makes him better then Harris. Ontario needs to begin to fund the operation of transit now, and frankly, they need to do a lot of it. A dollar per rider seems about fair (that’d be around $440 million for the TTC each year)

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  13. The ‘station manager’ proposed in earlier posts is a scheme I would fully support the TTC and the City investing in. Their is nothing like pride in your transit infrastructure that proper maintenance brings. I even think that cleaned well maintained stations would help increase ridership as well.

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  14. Ugly and lame public art is not the exclusive purvue of the TTC. It’s a product of art selection by committee, where anything bold seems to be too difficult to maintain, or too likely to attract and retain graffiti, to be worth selecting.

    On top of that, art is so selective, even devisive, that people are gonna be upset with the choice selected.

    Still, I’d rather see some art presented than a blank wall of concrete as on the outer walls of Sheppard Line stations.

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  15. The plans for Pape are nice and in good taste. They could redo the entire line like that using color patterns similar to the original ones.

    Steve: The Pape designs can be found on the TTC’s website.

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  16. I hope this isn’t too off-topic Steve

    Pape Station:

    I attending the meeting this past week and wasn’t overly impressed with the design on several fronts.

    1) If the ceilings are going to blue concrete (with the original platform ceiling retained), it will still leak all the time, need patching all the time…. are they going to use blue concrete/plaster compound? Otherwise the patching will look terrible! Personally I wanted the original platform level ceiling out, something aerier like the high roof sections at Wellesley and Lansdowne).

    Steve: Hmmm “aerier” might imply that we have eagles living in the station. The high roof sections at certain stations are a side effect of how they were built and what services are nearby, and you can’t count on the same space being available above every platform.

    My big problem with the blue, aside from the patching question you raise, is that it isn’t even a match for the Greek flag which is the whole rationale for changing the colour scheme of the station from yellow.

    2) Not related to cleanliness at all, but the new second exit won’t be usable as an entrace, and worse, they stuck it in the middle of parking lot! Huh?

    All that money, I should be able to go in and out and it should face a street.

    Steve: The location is a function of where the east end of the station structure lies. I’m surprised that it doesn’t have provision for automatic entry by pass or token.

    3) Also I don’t see any effort to address capacity at one very overly busy station. They need twice the capacity from platform to concourse and as much new concourse space as they can muster.

    Steve: One problem with the concourse is that it cannot be extended west (ie further over the middle of the station) because it would run into the services under Pape Avenue. There are also clearly other subterranean constraints given the split-level concourse, a unique design on the system. The lower part is under the street while the higher part is under the bus loop.

    4)As for art, its OK, but I much prefer when the art is the architecture, do something impressive with the surface building or use a higher quality wall finish that has design elements.

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  17. Eglinton West is like a sieve when it rains. The solution is to use mop buckets to collect the water. Of course, the buckets tend to run over, and are sometimes used as trash cans.

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  18. Justin said: “Eglinton West is like a sieve when it rains. The solution is to use mop buckets to collect the water. Of course, the buckets tend to run over, and are sometimes used as trash cans.”

    I guess this explains why there are no buckets left for floor and wall washing! :->

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  19. Just one idea on how we can improve the look of the TTC at relatively low cost, specifically for the older 1954 stations on the Yonge line: Maybe the TTC should consider displaying old Toronto Archives TTC pictures on the walls of the subways. Each pictures should be located in the original area depicted by the picture. This would provide a very fascinating “then and now” view of the stations.

    Steve: Many years ago, the MBTA in Boston redid a number of their very old stations with images of buildings around the neighbourhoods. The TTC would probably spend their time wondering how to sell advertising.

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  20. It would be interesting to see such old photos of the neighbour in each station. For example, at the Jane Station they can show old Jane loop photos

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  21. The TTC could definetly improve on the stations. One major problem is grafitti and other acts of vandalism. This does not make riders feel safe. If I use the TTC late night, empty (buses with few people), dark and leaky metro stations, that does not make any one feel safe. Feeling unsafe is what drive people to use motor vehicles. It does not matter whether the bus or metro run at 60 seconds headway or 180 seconds headway.

    No one feel unsafe at an airport even late at night. Grafitti and scratches on glass do not exist at an airport. The TTC should consider putting armed guards at metro stations, metro vehicles and buses. This would deter people from littering and vandalizing. All this will make transit more safe. On the Atlanta metro, there are always two armed guards on every metro trainset at night.

    A metro station should act as a portal to the immediate community. I am glad that there are mummy exhibits at Museum station. The Tokyo metro systems all have blend stations that look like each other. On the Yokohama metro system, there are pictures of the community from various periods. If people are waiting for a train, they might as well learn a little a bit about the local community.

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  22. I’m wondering about that Museum refit – how’s it going to look once they hang ads everywhere? On the plus side, those columns will be too difficult to wrap with Mountain Dew posters.

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  23. I would love to see an improved sense of care for public transit and one way to do so would be the Station Manager concept. At least we can get someone to take responsibility for (and hopefully, take pride in) the appearance of our stations.

    As for making the stations reflect the local community that is a great idea as well. I would also like to see community involvement. If we can get community sponsorship for murals, community activities to clean up the stations, and general awareness about what we can do to improve our stations…I think there are people who are willing to help out.

    m

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  24. RE: Pape Station.

    Any idea why they decided to put an automatic entrance at the east end of Lipton, on the other side of the bus loop? An alternate exit is ok if it is located far from the main entrance. In this case, it appears to be only an extra minute walk to the station. Why is this entrance necessary?

    Steve: Under current building codes, all subway stations must have two separate paths to the surface that do not go through any common area such as a shared mezzanine. The second entrance is mainly for fire code reasons, not for convenience.

    The location is constrained by having to be on the platform, and with the main entrance already being roughly in the middle, an auxiliary entrance is not going to be far away. You can get a sense of where the station lies by looking at the width of the parking lot on Google Maps. Where the parking lot (or the park) is narrow, the structure underneath is tunnel, not platform.

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  25. The subway was again shut this morning due to a “small fire at track level”. These fires seem to be far more frequent recently, I assume most are caused by litter catching fire. Yet another reason for the TTC to improve their cleaning. Litter and grime on the platforms and public areas is not good for the image of the TTC; litter on the tracks is clearly dangerous.

    Steve: As reported elsewhere, the TTC is reconsidering its decision to remove litter bins from platform level. The original idea was for security purposes, but the side effect is that people have no place to drop their papers, etc, and more of them wind up on the tracks.

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  26. Pish, if there was to be a second entrance, it should have been on the WEST side of Pape, not on some rarely used sidestreet. The street acts as enough of a barrier to justify the west side of the street getting its own entrance. This is the arrangement that exists at Spadina.

    I guess hindsight isn’t always 20-20.

    Steve: Think about how the station is configured. When you go down to the mezzanine, you are under the east end of the entrance building. Then you double back again (actually under the sidestreet) and head west down the long stairs to the platform. By the time you get there, you are already under the west side of Pape.

    A new entrance on that side would not have the necessary separation from the existing entrance to meet fire code.

    By contrast, at Spadina, the station building is east of the east end of the platform (you go up off the end of the platform and are then under the station building). The new exit is from the west end of the platform 500 feet away and coming up under Walmer Road.

    The two sites are completely different.

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  27. I think he was talking about the automated entrance on the west side of Spadina. But that means that they share the same concourse so this is also in “violation” of fire safety codes, right?

    Looking at Google Earth Maps, why not make an entrance at Eaton Avenue? Having the entrance there could possibly mean a larger take of passengers as well as having the entrance meet fire code.

    Steve: The new entrance to Spadina Station is at the extreme west end of the platform with its own passage onto Walmer Road. The Spadina west side entrance is part of the original station.

    As for Pape, look closely at the satellite shot (at maximum resolution). The parking lot narrows before it gets to Eaton, and that change marks the east end of the station structure where a new entrance could be placed. If you measure from the point west of Pape where the lot narrows to the corresponding spot east of the loop, and compare this to the scale, you will see it is about 500 feet, the length of a station.

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  28. I have indeed seen the Walmer Road entrance. As a subway afficionado myself, I have seen a lot of secondary entrances in the Bloor Danforth Line. Several of these stations have their secondary concourses located far from the subway platforms and which the stairwells leading to these platforms are on the extreme ends of this platform. I am most familiar with Royal York as at one point I frequently used the Glenview Road entrance. I think the Markham Street exit at Bathurst is a similar situation as well.

    Looking at the plans for Pape Station, when leaving the subway platforms using the new secondary exit, you are facing east, and when you are heading up to Lipton, you are heading west. I also notice that they are squeezing one exit and entrance gate into the entrance at street level.

    I don’t think it would be hard to construct a short underground passage to a new entrance at Eaton (on the south side of the parking lot). The stairwell at Eaton could be as much as 15-20 meters from the street itself to allow for an expanded entrance with room for all its necessities, token machines, transfer machines, and of course, more than 1 entrance and exit gate, etc.

    I think I agree with Stephen Cheung on this one, the secondary entrance seems to be poorly planned on some “rarely used sidestreet”, not to mention one that deadends at a parking lot. I still think the Eaton Avenue entrance is viable based on what I am seeing.

    I suppose these “fire code regulations” is what prompted the construction of the second set of stairways from Platform to Streetcar/Bus level, right?

    Steve: Yes. Any station undergoing major renovation must be brought up to current fire code.

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