Three Years / A Grand Design Revisited

Today, January 31, 2009, is the third anniversary of this site.  I started out posting a collection of Toronto Film Festival reviews just to get things rolling, but the primary focus here has always been transit.

For a moment, I will indulge my ego and say that the amount of exposure, the references, the cross-links to this site are gratifying.  However, you, the readers, contribute a lot with your comments, even those I don’t agree with, because there is a real sense of people caring about how the transportation system in Toronto and surrounding areas should grow and improve.

Indeed, having this ongoing conversation hones my own thoughts on many issues.  Would that some politicians and professional transit folk had to undergo the rigour of hourly challenges to their policies and assumptions.  Some days here it’s like a non-stop Question Period.

My thanks to all who have contributed and to those who merely drop by to see what’s new.

At the three-year mark, it’s worth looking back at one major post that declared my position on regional transit planning.  A Grand Design, published in March 2006, was an attempt to “draw a map” even though I hate doing that sort of thing.  The debate can quickly descend into miniscule details of how each line would be built rather than a discussion about the overall philosophy.  Some of you will remember excruciatingly long threads where writers battled over the exact alignment, construction techniques and service plans for routes that wouldn’t open for two decades.  If I had allowed people to upload images, I am sure we would have debates about the colour of tiles in Barrie subway station.

With the recent publication of Metrolinx’ A Big Move in December 2008, GO Transit’s GO2020 and the TTC’s Transit City plan, I decided to look back at A Grand Design to see how it fared.  Before I do, let’s remember the context of January 2006.

  • The TTC was still digging out of the Harris legacy, and broad support for transit from Queen’s Park was in the future.
  • The GTTA Act (Metrolinx’ enabling legislation) was introduced in the Ontario House in April 2006 and received Royal Assent in June.  (Some sections relating to the takeover of GO Transit and other transit operations in the GTAH have not yet been proclaimed.)
  • Transit City was unveiled in March 2007.
  • MoveOntario 2020 was unveiled in June 2007.
  • Metrolinx began serious work on a regional plan in fall 2007 culminating in publication of A Big Move in December 2008.

Also, before appearing to claim all of A Grand Design for myself, I must repeat the acknowledgement from page 1 of the document.

I must acknowledge the many people — professional planners, engineers, transit management and staff, urban thinkers, writers, politicians, transit fans, fellow advocates, friends and even a few political enemies — for the long education they gave me in how cities work and what transit can do.

My own contribution was to show what a consolidated plan might look like, and particularly what one that didn’t assume all the prejudices, political and technical, of how things were done for past decades. Continue reading

TTC Service Review Meeting

Grzegorz Radziwonowski passed along the following notes from last night’s annual public meeting re service improvements.

* The people who came to the meeting are much more unhappy with the 504 King Streetcar than with any bus, streetcar, or subway route.

* There continues to be a dislike. at times hatred, of Transit City, LRT ROWs, and Streetcars in general. Many people were proposing the TTC put in Electric Buses (Trackless Trolleys) in the Transit City ROWs, rather than Streetcars.

* At least 3 people were talking about the 30 Lambton leaving High Park Station 4 minutes early during the evenings.

* Apparently buses are to be a part of a second phase of Transit City; however, no further details were given on this.

* When I spoke to some of the TTC planners, they currently want to renovate Bloor-Yonge Station by adding the second (Eastbound) platform at Yonge Station.

* While speaking with planning staff, I also found out that minibuses were unfeasible because the biggest expense would be to pay the drivers (which would be from ATU 113), and that that cost would outweigh any benefits the TTC might gain from reduced fuel costs. They also told me that while they really want Articulated vehicles, they have yet to find one that meets their criteria (I have yet to find out what exactly that criteria is).

* A lot of people wanted either the SRT or 21 Brimley to be extended until the last B-D train arrives at Kennedy. Many of these same people want 133 Neilson to have an express branch, running to Scarborough Town Centre, preferably via Highway 401.

Other smaller issues were raised, but I really can’t list all of them. I only listed either reoccurring ones, or one that would affect Transit for all.

I can’t help feeling sadness and despair that the TTC has done such a thorough job of making streetcars unpopular.  We don’t have enough of them.  The TTC is better at finding excuses for poor service than actually making cars run reliably.

Nobody believes that the Transit City lines can be built quickly and cheaply because the counterexample of St. Clair stares everyone in the face. 

On other notes, the “Transit City Bus Plan” is intended to flag major routes that will be guaranteed good service all the time, with express operations where they are warranted by travel patterns.  This is related to the posts I did a while ago about the 10 and 20 minute networks.  (By the way, those posts were for discussion purposes, not as definitive lists of routes.)

The really big problem with minibuses is that they don’t last anywhere near as long as a full size bus, and the cost over a comparable lifespan can actually be higher.  This depends, of course, on assumptions you make about what is “equivalent”.  The labour issue is a red herring, but is a convenient excuse the TTC can trot out to avoid discussing the issue.  They already operate several “community bus” routes, and labour costs on these are lower than on major routes because the crews are off-peak work which tends to cost less to operate.  Artics, needless to say, are intended for a completely different type of route.

Divine Intervention May, Or May Not, Affect Service

The Atheist Bus Campaign reports that the TTC has approved the text of advertisements suggesting that “There’s Probably No God”.  This campaign has stirred controversy in the U.K. where it first appeared, but at last report the island kingdom has not sunk beneath the waves.

Before anyone starts blasting my site with a bunch of religious drivel, no matter what your persuasion, don’t waste your time.  It will be deleted mercilessly.  I take the Old Testament approach to smiting, and there will be much smiting if you readers don’t toe the line!

For my own part, my view of immortal forces owes a lot to sundry polytheisms, and not a little to the novels of Terry Pratchett where the gods are a bunch of quarrelling, self-centred and not always competent folk rather like what passes for senior management in any organization.

Whether they exist in an absolute sense we will never know.  One hopes that things like the Scarborough RT were the product of a god-in-training who could never get things to come out right, but wrote a lot of impressive reports for the big guy upstairs in the hope that he would never actually ride the thing.

What intrigues me is that these ads come to Toronto with comparatively little fuss, although that may come once they start appearing and word gets around.  If anything, this should be a big yawn, just one more sideshow in our wonderfully diverse city.

Council Calls for Relief Line Study

Wednesday saw a long debate at Toronto Council on the Yonge Subway Richmond Hill extension.  As I write this (January 29, just after midnight), I do not have all of the details of Council’s final decision.

However, this much I know:

  • Council has requested a study of the Downtown Relief Line.
  • Some Councillors used the debate as a springboard for attacks on the TTC’s project management costs and proposals for private sector participation.
  • Council agreed that Transit City is the top priority for transit spending.

I find myself in the unusual position of being part of a wave of advocacy for the DRL, a line that will almost certainly be a conventional subway.  If this seems odd, my reasoning is that we must look at how the network operates as a whole.  The core of the network needs more capacity, and jamming more people into the existing Yonge line (getting more out of existing infrastructure as the TTC so delicately puts it) is irresponsible and possibly reckless.

If the studies that really need to be done emerge, we will look at both TTC and Metrolinx plans, and question what will work best for the core area, the outer 416 and the 905.  Both agencies have much to answer for in their shortsighted, misleading planning and their inadequate evaluation of alternatives to network structure and staging.

As details emerge, I will add to the information here.

Mr. Flaherty Discovers Union Station

Tuesday’s budget announcement from Ottawa didn’t surprise me one bit in virtually ignoring transit as a focus for economic stimulus.  Many cities may have a backlog of transit projects they would love to see funded, but most of these projects are well beyond the horizon of what we hope will be a modestly short recession.

Transit needs explicit, ongoing funding, not more one-off handouts because of an economic crisis or an MP/MPP with constituents to please.  Ottawa may come to the table with that some day, but Finance Minister Flaherty seems happy to crow about the gas tax and the GST rebate as if they were new money for cities.  They’re not, and the GST isn’t even vaguely linked to transit spending as one might hope for the gas tax.

Wednesday morning, we heard Flaherty on Metro Morning proclaiming that we would “finally” renovate Union Station to expand capacity.  The tone was of a long-suffering parent finally making good on their offspring’s profligate ways.

Someday, when the Finance Minister has more to do than announce trains for his riding (a proposal that seems to have dropped from view), he might learn that the City of Toronto and GO Transit are already partners in the Union Station renovation.  The details of this have been available on the City’s website for months.  “Now we’re going to take the lead Federally” says Flaherty to expand capacity at Union.

Some lead.  The feds will kick in $75-million, of which $25-million has been on the table snce 2000 as a pledge from Parks Canada for heritage restoration.  The total project is in the half-billion range (details will come out in a few months), and Ottawa’s contribution isn’t even close to the 1/3 level of funding everyone talks about for these partnerships.  For that contribution, Ottawa claims that this is now their project.

As usual, Flaherty dragged out that old chestnut about how if only cities (for which read “Toronto”) would manage their money better, all would be well.  Partnerships with the private sector would bring efficiencies and savings.  That record was broken months ago, and playing it again shows just how bankrupt the Tories are for real ideas.

We thank Mr. Flaherty for his $75-million, but hope that we actually see the money rather than endless bureaucracy to bless funding requests.  As for Flaherty himself, his attitude shows that the finger-in-your-eye style of November’s laughable financial update is alive and well in Ottawa.  Maybe he should be parked in a refurbished RDC in Peterborough waiting for the start of service to Toronto.

Earlier in the same program, I spoke about the budget’s implications for transit in Toronto.  My theme was the need for Toronto and Queen’s Park to stop linking transit plans to federal funding that never arrives.  If an enlightened government someday appears in Ottawa, the real need will be to increase dedicated, ongoing funding such as the gas tax, not project-based schemes that generates fees for engineers, consultants and bureaucrats in grant applications, but little real work.

Queen’s Park and Metrolinx dodged the whole issue of funding their regional plan.  No money will actually appear on the Ontario’s books until lines actually open, and the cost will then be treated as a mortgage, an ongoing debt to be paid down in decades to come.  Metrolinx, likely under Queen’s Park’s orders, played along and left the issue of revenue to pay for all this for the future (beyond the next election).

To its credit, the Metrolinx Board takes a more active stance, and the debates about road tolls, regional sales taxes, or any other alternatives will come sooner rather than later.  If we’re going to commit billions in debt to build all of this infrastructure, we need to commit revenue sources to pay the bills.  Assuming that natural economic growth will magically make the problem go away is a bankrupt policy as we see in every newspaper and every economic forecast.

Life is suddenly much harder for transportation Pooh-Bahs, and they will have to make hard decisions about where to spend money.  It’s easy to put big maps up on the wall while an appreciative crowd oos and ahs about their new transit network.  All those big announcements are a lot smaller than before, and the shortcomings in many plans will be glaringly obvious when we can’t pay for all of them.  Trade-offs and careful study are needed, and that takes more than a superficial road show.

Much energy will be wasted in coming months figuring out how to change Ottawa’s mind.  That may bear fruit in the long run, but we must start thinking about the alternatives.  We cannot put off forever building lines we have needed for a decade or more, and we must decide how, if Ottawa won’t help, we will build a network we can afford.

Metrolinx Announces Weston Corridor Airport/GO Study (Updated)

Metrolinx has launched a study of substantially increased rail capacity in the Weston Malton corridor to serve the growing demand on several lines in the northwest as well as a Union-Airport shuttle service.

Affected and proposed GO services include:

  • Brampton (frequent, express all day service)
  • Georgetown (all day service)
  • Guelph (peak service)
  • Bradford (all day service)
  • Bolton (peak service) 

For further information please refer to the Metrolinx project homepage.  There will be six public meetings between February 3 and 12 in various communities.

Worth noting is the timetable which includes several months of consultation, then the formal assessment of the proposal and public comment.

Updated January 24:

Mike Sullivan from the Weston Community Coalition has provided the following information about proposal.

  • From a meeting with Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac, Mike has learned that three tracks are to be added between West Toronto Junction and the Airport, four tracks from the Junction to Union.
  • The tracks on the CN only (not the CP) will be in a trench through Weston, and this will be covered (ventillation will obviously be an issue with diesel trains) from just northwest of Church to just southeast of King.
  • The John Street crossing just north of Weston Station will be closed and replaced with a pedestrian bridge.
  • Air-Rail Link trains will stop at Weston Station.
  • The crossings at Strachan Avenue (west of Bathurst) and Dennison Avenue (about .5 km south of Lawrence) will be grade separated.
  • Operations will be diesel both on GO and the Air-Rail Link.  Electrification might happen in the 15-25 year timeframe.  [By that time, the refurbished Budd cars providing the airport link will be at least 70 years old if they are still in use.]
  • Some land expropriation is likely both for the grade separation at Dennison and at the north end of Weston.
  • Service to Brampton will be every 15 minutes all day long in addition to the airport service and other trains in the corridor.

Union Station: Updated Plans and West Wing Sale to GO (Update 1)

Updated January 24:  A video showing the proposed new layout of the eastern GO Concourse is available on the City of Toronto’s Union Station site.

The virtual tour starts  looking down into the moat from Front Street at the east end of the bridge linking the sidewalk to the station building.  Note that the moat is at a lower level than today and provides a direct path with no stairs between the subway mezzanine and the new lower level of Union Station.  Although the moat is shown with no cover in this video, there will be a transparent cover over this area to protect from weather and to prevent water and snow buildup in the crossing.  Also, the number of entrances through the north wall of the station will be greater than today to handle the large pedestrian volumes between the subway and the railway station.

The tour “flies in” through the north doors to the new concourse level.  This is in the same space as the existing GO concourse, but at a lower elevation giving a very high space for this entrance area.  The point of view pans west toward the centre block of the building.  Although it is not immediately obvious, there will be a stair up to the concourse under the great hall.  There is already a change in elevation at this location, but it will be greater because the east concourse will now be lower.  There will also be a connection into the Via Arrivals level.

The tour pans back and looks toward the east wall where you can see a stairway up to the east teamway.  This is roughly where the exit to the teamway south of Front is located today.

Next, the tour flies south to the escalators up to the new GO concourse level.  In the video, all six of the escalators are running “up”, but in practice this would be adjusted depending on flow conditions.  At this point you can see the diagonal undersides of some of the connections up to track level.  This design gives more open space than a simple box with a stairway inside it.

After we fly up the escalators, the view shifts to look back to the north and eventually comes back to the north end of the concourse.  The layout, with the escalators a considerable distance south of the subway connection, is designed to spread out the pedestrian flows.  In the original design, this connection was further north and the pedestrian modelling revealed that there would be congestion problems.  My shifting the escalator south, GO passengers enter the concourse in roughly the middle of the space rather than at one end, and travellers waiting for trains on this level don’t block people trying to continue further south.  Schedule and departure information screens are provided throughout the concourse to avoid congestion problems with many people clustering around few screens.

Finally, the tour looks down into the lower concourse from north to south, toward the bank of escalators.

The original post follows the break below. Continue reading

Metrolinx Fare & Service Integration (Update 3)

Thanks to an oversight on the security on the Metrolinx website, it was possible to view a report that was pulled from the agenda for this Friday’s meeting.  (Thanks to one of my regular correspondents for spotting this.)

The report talks about integration of services between the TTC and other systems as well as a Metrolinx-GTAH pass.  Because the report has been withdrawn it cannot be considered to be an authoritative Metrolinx statement, but it’s indicative of Metrolinx’ ham-fisted attitude to local systems including the TTC.

Updated:  Comments on the report added.

Update 2:  Tess Kalinowski writes about this issue in The Star.

Update 3:  For the convenience of readers, the report which was pulled from the Metrolinx site is now available here.

John Barber’s scathing commentary on this report is online at the Globe and Mail.

This report proposes that Metrolinx embark on a takeover of fare integration and service co-ordination for cross-boundary operations.  To that end, Queen’s Park would be asked to implement the necessary legislation to remove jurisdictional obstacles and to proclaim the section of the GTTA act empowering Metrolinx to implement a Farecard Division.  The target for full GTAH-wide fare integration would be 2012.

Notable in many discussions of fare and service integration is the absence of GO Transit, even though the GTTA Act includes GO as part of a future integrated system.  Nobody wants to mess with GO’s revenue stream, or to contribute “local” demand to what is seen as a regional service.  Strangely, the same approach is not taken with respect to the TTC (see the Richmond Hill subway debate).

The report notes that between 1996 and 2006, transit trips to downtown Toronto from the 905 have increased while auto trips decreased.  I venture that the vast majority of this effect is thanks to GO rail services, not to cross-boundary bus routes. Continue reading

Yonge Subway Extension Additional Information Report (Updated)

[My apologies for the temporary absence of this item.  I have been updating it.]

A supplementary report on ridership projections and other impacts on the Yonge Subway is now available on the TTC’s report website.

While I do not agree with all of the report’s conclusions, this is a refreshing attempt to look at the growth and development of the transit system on a wholistic, networked basis, rather than as a single line.

The TTC persisted in using subway train capacities that do not match their own service design criteria, ignoring current over capacity problems and downplaying future growth.  This has changed between the December and January staff reports, and with that change come important new concerns about current and future available capacity. 

At this point we have no idea of the feasibility of the proposed Bloor-Yonge platform reconstruction project.  The TTC alternately treats this as something for the indefinite future or as a co-requisite of the extension’s construction, depending on which report one reads.  Cost, constructability and operational impact during the conversion are all unknowns.

I remain seriously concerned that the TTC is playing a dangerous game with capacity of the subway system and views the downtown relief line as a far-distant, last resort fix.  This will push more and more passengers into a single route and make the system even more vulnerable to delays and disruptions than it is today.

Today’s TTC meeting produced the expected result, the endorsement by the Commission of the project, but it is still subject to a long list of caveats.  The definitive list is in the recommendations of the Toronto Executive Committee from January 5, 2009 (item EX28.1).

However, after presentations by me, Karl Junkin and David Fisher, there was considerable debate.  Vice-Chair Mihevc wound up as the sole dissenting vote in the approval motion, but it was clear that the complexity of the issues related to the future of the Yonge Subway is now grasped by the Commission. 

Well, almost all of them.  Commissioner Perruzza seems to think that York Region should be free to build whatever it wants, connect it to Toronto’s system, and let us worry about how to deal with the aftereffects.  Unfortunately, nobody has stepped forward, certainly not from York, offering to actually pay for it. Continue reading

The Scarborough LRT That Wasn’t (Updated)

Updated January 16:  The Metrolinx board has agreed to publish the Benefits Case Analysis for the SRT replacement project.  As I write this, they don’t have a working website, but once the report is available, I will review it here.

Updated January 11:  John F. Bromley has kindly supplied photos of CLRVs 4000 and 4001 showing the cars with pantographs.

My archives yield up interesting goodies from time to time.  In anticipation of the Benefits Case Analysis report at Metrolinx for the SRT replacement and extension project, I thought it worthwhile to revisit the original Scarborough LRT.

Here’s Progress Report No. 1.


Yes, it’s a streetcar!  That was the original plan, and the line was built for CLRVs.  That’s why there is a streetcar-radius curve at Kennedy, and if you look closely, the remnants of clearance markers on the original low platform at track level.  When the station opened, even though it was RT by then, the graphic over the up escalator was a streetcar.

Note the design for the station at STC where the streetcars are at the same level as the buses.  It didn’t take long for someone to hoodwink Scarborough Council into thinking that this simply would not do, and the streetcars needed their own level lest they isolate the land south of the station from development.  Anyone who knows the site knows that the bus roadway does quite a good job of that.


By Progress Report No. 2, which is otherwise quite similar to No. 1, the design has changed to an elevated structure.  Moves were already afoot to substitute RT technology, but the streetcar line took the political hit for imposing an elevated on Scarborough’s new Town Centre.

In time, the RT technology replaced the LRT scheme.

A few things worth noting here are that the estimated cost has gone from $108.7-million in the LRT plan to $181-million in the RT plan.  The final cost would actually be in excess of $220-million thanks to add-ons including extra cars.  The CLRV fleet was planned to be 22, and the RT fleet we wound up with is 28.

The RT promo also claims that because the wheels are not used for traction or braking, there will be lower vibration compared with conventional vehicles.  In those days, the CLRVs were still running with the original Bochum wheels, and streetcar track construction guaranteed lots of corrugations and noise.  The RT developed its own problems in time because those wheels do bounce, and they are also used for the final braking effort when they can (and do) slide producing flat spots.

Now, almost 30 years later, we are finally looking at extending the RT further north.  If this is done as LRT, it will be able to share a new carhouse and trackage with the Sheppard East LRT, and will also form the northern portion of the eventual Scarborough-Malvern line.

When the Metrolinx analysis comes out next week, we will see whether the lure of expensive, unnecessary high technology still rules the decision, or whether we can start to undo the damage of building that orphan RT line so many years ago.

Update:  Here is John F. Bromley’s photo of CLRV 4000 fitted with a pantograph at the SIG factory in Neuhausen, Switzerland on June 29, 1977.


Here is a photo of 4001 leaving Orbe, Switzerland on the Orbe Charvonay Railway on October 6, 1977.  This photo was taken by Ray Corley, and is provided by John F. Bromley.