TIFF 2008 Reviews (2)

Those who follow my Film Festival reviews will know that I have missed my personal deadline of Thanksgiving weekend by a long shot.  Now I’m hoping to be done by the end of October.

A great deal of transit-related activity has been getting in the way.

Two films that I saw at the festival have now opened in Toronto, and I am pushing their reviews out the door while they’re still vaguely current.

These are:

  • Religulous
  • Happy-Go-Lucky

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Clean Subway Stations! Vintage Tiles!

The October TTC agenda includes a report on the Subway Station Appearance Improvement program.

Things are proceeding, but slowly.  One major change will come in stations that have/had ceiling slats over the track areas.  These are hard to clean, and it is simpler to remove them and spray paint the ceiling black.  A similar approach was taken on the walls of Union Station.

There is some irony in this tactic.  Originally, the ceilings were bare plaster, but this made for noisy stations.  Next came sound-absorbing foam, but it quickly turned dark thanks to the ever-present dust in the subway environment.  What to do?  Cover the foam with slats.  Now we have come almost full circle.

Where slats covered station ceilings, they will be removed to provide easy access to all of the conduits hiding underneath.  This will bring on a minimalist look in many locations.  Probably we could paint all of those conduits beautiful colours, but a few millions would be needed (via charitable donations of course) to grease the wheels, hire a prominent architect to select the paint chips, and then give us a half-finished project.  Nobody would think much about maintenance, but there would be a nice photo op.

Speaking of Museum Station, a similar tactic for the outside walls will be installed as a trial at St. Andrew.  An ilustration within the report (page 10) shows the process of removing the old slats.  What do we have underneath?  The original vitrolite tiles!  Catch them while you can!

Lest I appear to be unfairly carping about the TTC’s ability to look good while saving money, I must applaud the basic housecleaning practices they are using and hope that they will remain and improve, not fall victim to budget cuts.  However, we seem to be moving in the direction of dulling already functional, but not beautiful, stations down to a level of poverty.  As a temporary measure, this may do, but for the future, especially for new and rebuilt stations, we need to do better.

Metrolinx Backgrounders: Where Will They Ride?

From October 20 to 30, Metrolinx will host a series of public meetings for those interested in commenting on the draft Regional Transportation Plan.  Four background papers are now available on the RTP page providing additional information about various aspects of the plan:

  • Climate Change and Energy Conservation
  • Transit Technologies
  • Modelling Methodology and Results
  • Mobility Hubs

This article deals primarily with the modelling of ridership, likely the most important of the four backgrounders because it shows how the proposed network is hoped to behave and the impact it will have on travel in the GTAH.

There are many caveats in this process set out in some detail in the report, and I won’t replicate them here beyond the standard warning that any model is only as good as the data it is fed, that the likelihood that the real world will match the modelled one falls off as we move into the future, and the basic fact that models cannot project the effects of changes beyond the range of known circumstances.  We know what changes are expected in population, jobs and housing fairly well for a 5 to 10 year horizon, but the 25 year view is hazy.  We know how people react to comparatively small changes in the relative cost of travel, but we don’t know what happens when changes are large and sudden.  Metrolinx is quite open about these problems, as anyone publishing modelled data should be, and it is important that we view the projected network behaviour in this light.

From my own point of view, there is a much more profound problem.  The only data shown in the backgrounder are for a completed network of routes in 2031.  If anything is certain about Metrolinx, it is that the proposed network will not all be built, and will not be built when or where today’s draft plan suggests.  The draft RTP itself acknowledges that this is a conceptual plan and is subject to change.

Moreover, the primary discussion today is about what will be done with the $11.6-billion of MoveOntario money we hope to see from Queen’s Park, plus, if the gods smile on us, an additional $6-million from Ottawa.  That’s less than half of the total cost of the RTP, and does not cover any costs for local transit systems such as ongoing maintenance, fleet expansion and service improvements.

Whatever is built, the work will happen in stages.  From a simple marketing viewpoint, if nothing else, it would be useful to know what the situation will be in five, ten, fifteen years as new routes come onstream.  Will the public (and the politicians who depend on that public for support of large public works like the RTP) see significant change in a meaningful timeframe?  What will we have to show for all the money we will spend?

Metrolinx already has a short list of projects to start immediately, in effect a seven-year plan, plus a fifteen-year plan in the RTP.  However, the backgrounder only shows the situation on a 25-year horizon. 

How much of the demand projected so far in the future comes from existing or soon-to-be trips, and how much depends on building or rebuilding that is decades off?  If we only look at the 25-year timeframe, we will see projections skewed by populations and jobs that won’t exist for at least a decade.

How will travel patterns behave when only a third or a half of the network is in place?  Will we have temporary crowding problems caused by an inapt (or inept) sequencing of projects?

The second major flaw lies in the presentation of the projected data.  The backgrounder gives us figures for the AM peak and the peak point on each line, but does not show the volumes on links within the network or even identify where the peak points are (although in many cases they are easy to guess).  Evaluation of proposed routes is difficult if we don’t know the contribution each link makes to the network as a whole, or the impact addition of a new route has on links in the existing system.  Decisions about project staging, how much of a new route should be built when, depend on knowing the time periods when each stage would be most effective for the region as a whole.

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TTC Website: Where Are The Planning Reports? (Updated)

With much fanfare, the TTC launched its new website earlier this year.  Improvements are coming soon, we are told, but meanwhile a goodly chunk of the old website has vanished, one that policy wonks like me and other readers of this blog find quite useful.

Yes, it’s the Service Planning page.  You can still read this page by using the search engine on the City of Toronto’s site and pulling up the cached copy of the page.  Don’t try the actual page or links within the cached copy because you will be redirected to the new site.  If you want to find something listed on that page, you will have to craft a search query and hope that there’s a cached copy of what you want.  Needless to say, any documents created after August 2008 are not linked here because that’s when maintenance on the old page stopped.

I have inquired about this situation, and the official story is that the TTC is working on making the old content accessible.  Meanwhile, the content is equally unavailable to everyone, and I am not quite sure that’s what is intended by “accessibility”.

The TTC seems quite content to publish its Commission Reports through the most primitive of interfaces rather than using the standard meeting and report format developed by the City Clerk’s office for its agendas.  This is really rather embarrassing, although at least they are no longer publishing documents that contained draft text and editorial comments, and there’s a fighting chance that the illustrations will actually show up.  Appendices and carry-in presentations to the Commission are still a challenge, however.

Sadly, this is one more example of a half-finished TTC project that starts with the best of intentions, but appears as if someone forgot about it along the way.

Updated October 11, 1:00 pm:  As a convenience to readers, the current TTC service summary is available on my site.  It’s a sad affair when the fans/advocates have to host official content because an organization can’t get its own act together.

TTC Service Summary Effective 2008-08-31

TIFF 2008 Reviews (1)

When I started to write this, Toronto’s film festival had only been over for a week.  Those ten days for me are almost an alternate universe.  Closing night always brings a mixture of relief that I won’t have to queue up for a 9:00 am screening and ennui that it’s all over.

Events of the past month in transit-land have preoccupied me, and now, in early October, I am finally getting to the business of converting rough notes into fair text.  Over the next few weeks, I will publish them aiming for completion before my personal deadline of Thanksgiving weekend.  (For those who don’t know the background, I started this practice back in 1986 when “online” meant a single-line dialup BBS with an entirely text-based interface.  The world of online reviewing is huge now, but I keep up the tradition both for friends who ask “what did you see”, but tire after I have spoken for 20 minutes and show no sign of stopping.)

The 2008 festival, for me, was good, but not great.  Three stars.  Lots of solid, worthwhile films, a few gems and a few dogs, but there was no day where I went from screening to screening buoyed on the cumulative effect of what came before.

This post contains general comments about the festival itself together with reviews of:

  • Plus tard, tu comprendras
  • Passchendaele
  • 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould

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Local Road Planning: A Challenge for Metrolinx

In previous posts about the Metrolinx regional plan, I have written about the absence of local transit service other than something assumed to grow a lot, but not on Metrolinx’ dime.  Another aspect of local planning that pops up at Metrolinx Board meetings is the road network.

To nobody’s surprise, there are many projects to expand road capacity in the 905 given that the vast majority of travel there today and in the foreseeable future will be by private car.  Yes, there may be improvements through car pooling, park-and-ride and other schemes to lower the total passenger miles carried by autos, but there will still remain a huge demand for road space.

Recently, I received a note from a reader about the challenge of fighting Environmental Assessment battles in York Region.


York Region has proposed a massive arterial road widening program. The base plan is to widen virtually all existing 4-5 lane arterial roads (2 lanes each way + left turn lane) to 6-7 lanes + wide median + bicycle lanes. The extra lane would be for HOV/bus during rush hour and general purpose the rest of the time. Different roads are at different stages in the EA process. Most are going through without citizen opposition.

However, in Markham, citizen concerns, lead by me, has resulted in the EA process being halted for 5 regional roads. The Region has agreed to model a broad range of alternatives and to form a citizens’ advisory committee. This work will commence this fall. They have also renamed the program “Transit Supportive Roads”, a very disingenuous name as you will see below.

Case Example – 16th Ave

Let me use 16th Ave in Markham, as I am most familiar with that regional road.

  • runs through established low density residential/parkland neighbourhoods (95%) or commercial (5%)
  • stable adjacent neighbourhoods unlikely to intensify in next 20 years
  • one YRT bus route (Route 85) with peak service every 20 mins
  • maximum current transit ridership say 50 people/hr/peak direction
  • VIVA BRT on dedicated right of way coming soon on Highway 7 ( 2 km south)
  • heavily congested by automobiles during peak hours

The idea that this road needs investment of scarce public dollars to build a “transit supportive road” is ludicrous. Until the built form of the area changes, this will remain as a low transit ridership route (< few hundred pphpd). The project is a road widening for cars with a fancy new name.

My Request of your Readers

However, let’s play along for a minute. Do your readers have any suggestions on what could be tried (or modelled) to improve transit within the existing footprint or with minor widening? At this point, the Region seems amenable to testing a broad range of ideas. Two ideas have surfaced so far:

  1. Build a single reversible bus-only lane in the centre of the road
  2. Use the “intermittent bus lane” concept cited in Metrolinx Green Paper on Transit (pg 11) and apparently giving 50% improvement in bus speeds in Lisbon with limited impact on general traffic movement

Has anyone seen #1 anywhere in North America? Has anyone been to Lisbon and observed #2? Does anyone have other ideas?

Peter Miasek

This raises at least two questions.  First, are we facing unbridled widening of roads in the 905 regardless of whatever efforts are made to woo people onto transit?  The current situation with VIVA is disheartening in that an entire network of BRT is shut down, but it carries only 35,000 people a day.  Those people are feeling the impact, but they’re a drop in the bucket of transportation demand.  How much political clout can transit plans muster?

Second, the Metrolinx Draft plan contains some fairly strong language about the need for local municipalities to bring their plans into line with the new regional plan.  Will Metrolinx have anything to say about road projects, some of which, as Durham’s Roger Anderson pointed out, are on the verge of construction but don’t even appear on the Metrolinx maps?  How can Metrolinx formulate a regional plan when it ignores the role and impact of local road and transit decisions?

Influence in High Places

Elsewhere in the transit universe, allegations have been raised that I have far too much influence in decisions about how our city and our transit system should grow.

I admit it.

Tonight I was at the Toronto Consort’s Marco Polo Project, and there hanging for all to see behind the performers was an illustration from Li Livres du Graunt Caam which now resides in the Bodleian Library.  This beautiful image shows Marco Polo’s departure from Venice on his travels to the east.  (Warning: 5MB image)

Note the large white swans.

These are disguised swan boats, and my influence back into early 15th century transportation is revealed for all to see.