Quoth the Commissioners …

Today’s TTC meeting contained a few gems that will never show up in the press who have other, weightier matters on their minds (and limited space).

During a discussion of a report on station redesign, and with a sideways glance at a presentation on station cleanliness, Commissioner Milczyn, speaking of the auxiliary entrances to Bay Station, said:

“Most cities have public toilets that are far more attractive than the entrance to TTC subway stations.”

Commissioner Bussin, picking up on earlier remarks about blog-based comments, said:

“It’s interesting to listen to the public from time to time.”

I know she probably meant it to sound better than it does, but it’s amusing for a politician to think this is worth doing occasionally. Maybe about as often as all the Queen service gets to Neville Loop?

28 thoughts on “Quoth the Commissioners …

  1. It’s her job to listen to the public ALL the time.

    I’m getting really tired of hearing Adam Giambrone and these commissioners refer to the BD line as a public toilet. They really know nothing about “modern” 1950s/1960s design. Spend that money on more streetcars or better service instead.

    Contrary to what Adam Giambrone is saying, it is absolutely NOT true that the TTC downgraded more elaborate/ornate plans for Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth station finishes at the time because of budget constraints.

    The BD station glass entrances and ceramic finishes were considered very modern and attractive at the time. I have some old TTC literature somewhere that actually brags about the vitrolite, porcelain, and ceramic finishes used on the University line, and how other transit agencies found our stations very attractive at the time.


  2. Maybe a requirement of being a TTC Commissioner, or a member of management, is that one must use the TTC at least once a week to truly know how the system does (or does not) operate in practise.

    Steve: I have seen both Adam Giambrone and Joe Mihevc in my travels on the system, and even ran into the Mayor a few times on the subway. Both the Chief General Manager, Gary Webster, and the Manager of Service Planning, Mitch Stambler, ride regularly.


  3. As an amateur politician, I can tell you the proper way to translate “It’s interesting to listen to the public from time to time.” into english, is “When the public says something that I agree with, it makes my job a lot easier”


  4. The quotes I read about Giambrone — this is his lowest hour. He called Bloor and Danforth line a “mistake.” This kid is his own worst enemy. Can’t his staff tell him not to say such horrific things? No sense of history. Archaeologist my foot.


  5. I agree wholeheartedly with what M. Briganti wrote above.

    Surely most of these renovation projects are likely to come from the TTC budget and not from a charity or independent fund-raising group. And surely there are more important places to spend this money, even on the current subway system. Hopefully there are some discussions about what to do with Yonge station on the BD line that involve more than new tiles and art. Underground utilities adjacent may limit the expansion of this station but there needs to be some consideration into doing something (re-positioning stairs, etc.) to at least give the appearance of easing congestion on the platforms. We want more people on the TTC and once the trains become as frequent as they can be the crowding issue becomes even more of a problem.

    And I struggle to understand the historical significance of High Park or Coxwell. Woodbine and Keele represent the original terminus of the line so that may enter into the decision to leave these stations as is. I cringe at the thought of wiping out all that tile and font that they have now merely for the sake of doing so. What kind of a motif are they going to have at Lansdowne, or Dufferin or Ossington? Will anyone care? Ridership will hardly be impacted by whether the stations have tiles or “fake stone”, as Joe Clark would call it. It seems like a case of spending money without any real economic return aside from cost-saving on those “special” tiles they won’t have to replace anymore. (and how often do they have to replace them now?)

    It would seem that High Park could one of the few stations that could be done up to advertise a certain feature of the neighbourhood it’s located in – namely the park.

    I hope that they are overcome by common sense and good judgement here. For some reason though I think I have reason to worry. More streetcars, buses, better on-street management of service and gadgets that help to do so – all useful and better ways to spend the precious money in the City Of Toronto budget.

    Steve: One important point here is that the TTC isn’t going out tomorrow to change every station on the line, but what they have done is to give the staff the freedom to choose any design for any station that is getting a major makeover. As for the Museum project, I was intrigued to learn yesterday that there’s no money yet for “Opera” or “Art Gallery” stations even though these are in far worse shape than Museum which really didn’t need a makeover.


  6. I really don’t get the constant bashing of the older stations; aside from the fact the designs were modern at the time, what’s wrong with functional? As worthy of funding public art is, I really don’t see the point in forcing transit agencies to inflate construction costs with it. Frankly, I would rather we were building new stations more like what we have on Danforth, no frills, functional facilities sized for their surroundings and demand. General cleanliness is a problems, but easily solved if we could just afford the staff…


  7. I was at the meeting as well and got a chuckle over those comments as well. One item at the meeting that surprised me is that Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker proposed a station along the RT line at Brimley. I think that that station would be too close to Scarborough Town Center to justify investing in a station there. And STC won’t be as busy when they extend the RT to Malvern as a lot of RT passengers will board earlier on the RT when the extension is complete. Chair Giambrone suggested a covered walkway from Brimley when this same preposition was made by a deputation a few months back as well.

    Steve: Yes, the incessant bleating about how Scarborough is so hard done by on transit is wearing a bit thin. Brimley Station would be at the west end of the residential node around STC while the existing Town Centre station is right in the middle. Maybe someone has some industrial land west of Brimley they want to redevelop right beside a spiffy new station.


  8. Well if these guys ride the subway regularly, then I’m baffled. Most of the trains are horribly filthy, and it’s obvious that they are not cleaned on a regular basis. Sure, the floors will get grimy throughout the winter, but even the seats, windows and poles are filthy on most trains.

    The train I was on this morning had just come out of the Greenwood Yard (it was completely empty as it pulled into Coxwell eastbound), and although there was no litter on the train, most of the seats on the car I entered were extremely filthy. A few has smears of black gunk, others had crumbs and various stains. The interior windows also had a coating of dirt, and in general it looked as though the car hadn’t been cleaned and washed in months. I’m sure the guys you noted above must see the same things, so I don’t understand how it is that this continues. I know we tend to paint the past in a rosy light, but clearly, trains were not nearly as dirty and unkempt back in the ’70s and ’80s as they are today.

    Before a single dime is spent on modernizing any stations, all trains and stations should be thoroughly cleaned and then maintained as such. It’s just common sense to me. What’s the use of a nice and shiny new Museum station if the train you then enter is filthy?


  9. Ms. Bussin didn’t particularly want to listen to this member of the public about the possible fixes to the Queen St. streetcar problems – as yes, I have an edge about overall inactions and lack of imagination and re$ource wastage involving certain pet projects of the “progressives”.
    But she’s inspired the term “blindp”.


  10. Steve:

    I’m just confused as to what the rush is? If it is to get around the Toronto Preservation Board then they are acting like slimy developers who want to tear down historic buildings for condovilles – not what we expect from a Commission populated by Councillors!

    I would rather they published a set of station specifications for stuff like signage and accessibility on the new stations and worried about looks later.


  11. It’s a relief to hear commissioners and some political hoity toities use transit as the Roncesvalles yards have added overflow parking at Sunnyside loop and along the property apron. Requiring that is just a little embarrassing, no?


  12. Pardon me to rain on the parade regarding the Bloor Danforth Line as a public toilet.

    My fiancee’s parents recently emigrated to Toronto from Hong Kong and presently live in an apartment not too far from ours. Back in Hong Kong, they lived near a MTR subway station and what they say about the TTC is that compared to the MTR, the look of the TTC subway stations is “depressing”. The stations on the MTR do have colour coded schemes and would like to see something a little more “interesting” here.

    For every person who wants to preserve the old design, there are others who say they would like something new. I’m pretty sure you could find people out there who say that we should significantly “freshen up” our stations, especially the ones on the Bloor Danforth Line.


  13. If there is one thing the TTC knows how to use better than anyone else, its ceiling slats. I have seen some beautiful architectural works at various stations that employ nothing more than ceiling slats. The design of our subway stations, especially Bloor, is a functional design that should be admired for its simplicity and understated appeal.


  14. Stephen,

    Anyone who remembers the Yonge line from the 60s/70s will tell you the original glass walls looked much better than what’s there now. I remember King and College used to be this nice light blue/green color — Union was yellow. They ruined it. Looking at what they did to Museum recently (really tacky), I’d say they’re going to make BD look even worse than it does now.


  15. I dont know why everyone is so concerned about preserving the current look of the subway stations… Times Change get used to it. I mean the bloor – danforth line is and always was created to be colour coded not to win art/design contests. In my honest opinion they are falling apart.

    Take Pape for instance, it has three shades of tile colours which are visable on the wall, St George at the one end of the platform has missing tiles on the wall near the trim stripe on the bloor danforth line. Your saying things like this need to be preserved? Why not just preserve the terrazo floors or every last lightbulb in the stations for “historical” significance. The look of those stations are so dated that we need to update them, end of story.

    Take museum station for example. Alot of people thought it did not need a makeover when truth is, it looks a hell of a lot better now than it did before, its well lit, its got nice statues inside and the nicest thing of all it hid the cream and blue tiles behing a mauve background.

    If this is what people are saying about the bloor danforth lines and preserving history, I wonder what they will say when it comes time to renovate Eglinton Station, as the vitrolite there is starting to reach the end of its life. Already at Eglinton we see tiles with holes in them, tiles replaced with Ceramic tiles and metal panels, there are Vitrolite tiles on the platform level that have chips and cracks out of them. Nobody cared when they replaced some of the Vitrolite with metal panels and ceramic tiles even though it is more historically significant that any bloor danforth station, yet we complain about renovating stations that are rather utilitarian in nature.

    Get with the facts people, its time for a change, I think that all stations need to be redone in a more modern look, after all there is so much that can be done to them. Like a reader said earlier, high park could be done to showcase the park that is just across the street, but instead it has a blue and grey colour scheme that leaves alot to the imagination.

    Toronto once had some very ornate design schemes in the stations of the original Yonge line and even though I was not alive to see the stations in their original state I go to stations such as eglinton and love the look of it, simply they look so beautiful. Its always a great joy to see some vitrolite at places like Union Station, Queen station and Osgoode Station because its so much nicer that seeing such bland station designs. It really brightens my day when I see how nice the Vitrolite looks compared to the surrounding tile. I think it is times that we went back to creating more ornate stations, not purely functional ones.


  16. I don’t know if heard this somewhere, but I think if use Museum Station as a starting point for the menu of station renovation, the new subway station design could be called the “kitsch of the day”. I know that the subway trains are not washed often in the winter because of freezing fears, after all they have to go through the wash and then get parked outside, so we should see an improvement there. The floors in the trains and stations should be better once the winter and spring rainy season is over, but the stations are really showing the long-term effect of reduced and deferred maintenance.

    Whatever people think of the B-D stations as they are, they would certainly look a lot better if they had been maintained to a higher standard over the last decade or so. Just like the low-cost track replacement of the 70s and 80s, we’re paying the price for the skimping further down the road, when money is needed for other pressing projects. What happened to the State of Good Repair? I guess it got watered down to something less than when David Gunn initiated it. I remember Castlefrank was one of the first stations done, and it positively gleamed… fresh paint, clean floors, no missing slats, missing concrete and a lot less grime. Bringing the BD stations back to a high standard CAN be done without re-inventing the whole system in a theme park mentality.


  17. The people living in the cluster of condos and townhouses in the Brimley/Ellesmere area are in a very awkward situation. Although they live within 300 – 400 metres of STC station, they have no direct way to access it. Currently, they have to either walk all the way to the west entrance of the mall, and then through the mall up to the STC station entrance, or walk around Borough Drive and then up through the Civic Centre area to STC station. Both are very indirect routes and discourage people in the area from using the RT. True, a new station less than 500 metres from STC may be overkill, but something really should be done to address this issue.

    Steve: A new entrance is to be built at the west end of STC station. This will be accessible from Brimley by walking east from Borough Drive across the front of the Bell Canada building to the new condo development. This entrance will be in place a lot sooner and cheaper than building an entirely new station.


  18. I actually like the look of King and College Stations. In fact, the look of the stations from King to Bloor (with the exception of Wellesley) are quite uplifting compared to the rest of the station. Which is why I look forward to Museum’s facelift with a lot of optimism.

    I agree with my fiancee’s parents when they say that the look of the Bloor Danforth stations as depressing, with the only notable exception of Old Mill station. Coming from Ottawa, I don’t know the architectural history of the subway system. The thought of a major “refresh” on the Bloor Danforth stations was one of the first things that I had thought about once setting foor on the subway.

    I have visited many other public transit systems in the world, such as Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston, Montreal, and Hong Kong. My opinion is that Toronto lacks the visual attractiveness of these subway systems. Never mind that some of these systems were constructed later than the TTC.

    I apologize if I’m sounding “cold”, but this is from the perspective of someone who could be construed as an “outsider”. But Toronto is full of people like me. I would bet that when the TTC states that “it is listening to the public” it is probably listening to the hordes of people who agree with my assessment.

    And as a final aside, I believe that the design of the Sheppard Line stations, in addition to Downsview, is perhaps the best that I have ever seen on the TTC.

    Steve: One of the best subway billboards ever was the TD Bank’s “Green Machine Station” campaign. After King (and others) had been “modernized”, the TD put up large billboards lettered with the original TTC station typeface and in the original station colours. It looked as if you were looking through a window in the new wall to the original wall underneath.


  19. Apparently some transit systems think that history is integral rather than a burden. From the New York Times site:
    March 26, 2008, 1:47 pm
    Between Us and the Subway Lampposts
    By David W. Dunlap

    The IRT and the BMT still live. So does the IND.

    New York City Transit is an amalgam of two private subways (Interborough Rapid Transit and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) and one municipal line (the Independent). In theory, the distinctions between them were erased long ago.

    In practice, however, the differences survive and — in the case of new street-level subway entrances — are deliberately perpetuated by New York City Transit to reflect the system’s trifurcated origins.


  20. M. Briganti “The BD station glass entrances and ceramic finishes were considered very modern and attractive at the time.”

    I find that hard to believe. The BD line was built in the same time frame as the initial stations on the yellow, green, and orange lines in Montreal. There’s a world of difference between the design elements in Montreal than in Toronto. Not only in terms of materials and finishes, but in the lack of monotony in the Montreal designs. At the same time, there is a consistency of signage and features in the Montreal design that are maintained in every station and can still be seen in the newest stations that opened only last year – unlike Toronto where every new extension, seems to require a redesign of signage.

    Whether or not we preserve existing features on BD is one question – but lets not overstate the case of the original design.


  21. I agree with Richard . A . White 110%.

    In general, the system does need a redesign. Perhaps not right away (we definitely could use some service enhancements and better spending of funding) but one way or another we can’t keep a death grip on the past. We have to move on, otherwise we’re going to be regarded as an ugly and depressing system for the rest of time.

    Newcomers to the city have no idea about the city’s past, nor do they care. If they come in 5 or 10 years and we still haven’t changed anything about our stations (including the endless list of uncompleted repairs like the missing bottom half of the pillar or the missing walls in Union to the lack of ceilings in various other stations) they won’t say “oh yeah that’s awesome they’re keeping the historical aspects of their city!”. No, they’ll be saying “wow, how ugly. The subway where I come from looked much better than this, and even that was old and ugly”.

    I’m all for keeping our history intact, but that only goes so far. Maybe we can keep a significant station or three in their current state (of course fixed up a bit) but in general we DO need a redesign; once we get all the other problems out of the way.

    Steve: A clarification about Union Station. The old slats on the walls were looking really bad and, rather than trying to clean them, the TTC took them down and painted the walls black as an interim step. Once the utility work now underway is completed this year, the station expansion will result in the disappearance of the existing south wall and the north wall will be refinished as part of the overall new station design. This is not an “abandoned project”, merely one that is taking a while to reach the point where there are visible changes.


  22. “Newcomers to the city have no idea about the city’s past, nor do they care. ”

    Where’s your evidence of this Raffi? I’m relatively new (about 4 1/2 years) and I care.

    Steve: People visit cities all over the world because of their past. If we tear it down five years after building it, there is no “past” to visit. Even worse, the old parts of the city known and loved by many vanish, and we have one homogenous suburb. Miles and miles and miles.

    Things like our street lights, the oddities of our subway stations, the colour of the streetcars, the look of how things were “before” even if you have to find them, like hidden treasure, down an alley the modernizers missed, are important, are part of what makes Toronto Toronto.


  23. Thank you Raffi. You hit the nail on the head. I have been to budapest and rode the Millenium Underground, the first subway line in continental Europe. It is over 105 years old now and looks better than ever. In the 1970’s the stations started to show their age, much like our bloor danforth line is now. What the people did there was retile the stations in the original brown and white colour scheme using vitrolux tiles and the original font used in the station. Also, they now have exhibits in each station displaying the original history of the line, not the line as well as the stations being the museum piece. All I was trying to say was that we can do more with what we have. I mean just because a station is old is no excuse for it to be rundown and dilapidated. Honestly, these stations are getting so old, it’s becoming hard to find the right materials to even repair them. Maybe it’s time the commission raised fares to $8.00, institued zonal fares and redesign the stations.

    Steve: If we are going to charge $8 a pop, plus a surcharge for longer trips, we can get a hell of a lot more than new tiles in the stations. These two issues have absolutely nothing to do with each other.


  24. Well, I guess no matter what someone does there’s going to be criticism. They say that for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism. I say the first thing to do is to just get the stations and cars back to the standard of cleanliness of days gone by and see what can be done to address safety on the system. It’s starting to look to me as though Toronto’s subway is about to go in the direction that New York’s subway went before Rudy Guliani became mayor there.

    Steve: I was on a train yesterday (March 29) that looked as if it had not been through the wash track in weeks. C’mon guys — winter is almost over and the least you can do is to wash the equipment.


  25. To Nicholas Fitzpatrick’s comment, how old are you, and were you around at the time?

    BD was modern in 1966. Montreal was in a totally different league … ultra-modern and futuristic. Of course, both look dated now. Montreal has a lot of bare concrete (like Spadina) that just didn’t age well. The original 60s stations in Montreal look like they were designed in the 70s — that’s how far ahead of the times they were.

    My point is this — both systems should be preserved and restored. Any re-makes will appear dated in the future. Nothing can be made to look timeless. BD has a certain coherence and common look-and-feel that I think is worth saving. Plus, a lot of us that have ridden the line for the last 35 years want to see it stay the way we remember it — not turned into a tacky theme park.

    Integration of the station into the neighbourhood is BS. What’s next for BD station walls? … Honest Ed’s at Bathurst and a pit at Christie?


  26. Mimmo, you may be right. SOME stations can be preserved but the majority of them are falling apart and finding materials to repair them is becoming harder and harder. Take the tile colours in some stations such as Pape where there are three shades of yellow on the wall or Woodbine where there are two shades of green on the walls and that’s not including the trim strip.

    Nobody who immigrates to or visits toronto cares about what the subway looked like in 1966, they just want to see something that looks clean and modern. I am not saying the Sheppard line is a work of art with all its concrete walls but it looks alot better than the Bloor line has and probably ever will.

    By the way Steve $8.00 a ride plus zonal fares was meant to be a joke, I was trying to say that if we want to redesign the stations we will have to do it ourselves, without help from the feds as well as the province and we will need the money to do it right now.

    Steve: I thought so, but some people here make the most amazing proposals …


  27. The cities in the world that have “history”, the ones that so many North Americans make a pilgrimage to just to look at have it because over the years certain things were looked after and allowed to remain. Over here we want nothing more than to destroy anything that could potentially be history down the road in the name of progress. Subway stations may be a stretch from century buildings torn down to make condos or a Home Depot but all of the little things add up to make the history of an area. It seems that nostalgia is almost considered bad and history is good but in many ways they are the same thing. When all that you care about is what the rest of the world looks like you lose all of your own individuality. If you let what you had have a chance to stand the test of time in the first place, who knows, it may be you who is looked at as a genius way down the road.

    The BD tile, as boring as it is, still looks awfully good despite the maintenance of the system. A layer of grime looks pretty uniform across tiles but what will it look like on some of these new finishes? Without any more cash infused to look after the subway infrastructure, beyond these “revitalization” campaigns, what will Museum look like in five years after the initial shine has gone and the dirt has began to accumulate? What happens when some nut finds a way to hack away at those columns in the station? How long before there are layers of permanent stains running, from, say waist height to the floor because they can’t be cleaned as easily as tile could be?

    And despite all of these renovations they are still running low system wide on washrooms although the stairs to the bus platforms at Islington seem to be doing a fine job of this. I don’t know what the standards are worldwide but do all passengers in dire need have to use a corner of the platform as a washroom or are there more options in the stations? Certainly if I was redesigning a station I would look to put more functionality into it than it already has – ie. let’s add washrooms and elevators. Quite obviously they can’t look after the washrooms they have now – security and staffing problems would be cited there yet if they could provide clean, secure washrooms at more stations they would come out smelling like a rose to so many riders who realized the the TTC did something good for the system overall and not mickey mouse cosmetic stuff that does nothing to change Joe Blow’s experience on the subway system.


  28. I’m ambivalent towards the propsed renovations for the BD line. After all, I wasn’t around when the subways first opened to appreciate the architecture of the times. But to the poster that complained about possibly remodelling Bathurst Station after Honest Ed’s, that actually ain’t a bad idea. Okay, maybe not a station that looks like Honest Ed’s store, but more of a tribute to one of Toronto’s greatest citizens himself. Of course provided that it isn’t overdone of course.

    Steve: The problem with an “Honest Ed’s Station” is that I would not be surprised to see the store closed and the property redeveloped within a decade or so. It’s important that any “neighbourhood” stations don’t get so tied up in local colour that they become obsolete.

    That’s one reason I like the idea of using graphics (photos, tiles, whatever) to display images of the neighbourhood over the years. This gives both a sense of history and spreads out the local references.

    The flip side of this is the design of exits through developments. We should not let a developer dictate the visual scheme to suit this week’s marketing. The orange north exit of St. Clair reflects Loblaws colour scheme as it was when this connection was built.


Comments are closed.