Metrolinx Marries GO, Dumps Pesky Politicians

Today the Government of Ontario announced that GO Transit and Metrolinx would be merged together in one agency.  Some sort of takeover was contemplated in the original Metrolinx legislation which proposed that GO become a division of Metrolinx, but this part of the bill was never proclaimed.

Since last fall when the Regional Transportation Plan emerged, some at Metrolinx have spoken darkly, and usually privately, about how the politicians are getting in the way of accomplishing Metrolinx’ manifest destiny.  Not long ago, a report on the innocent matter of cross-border fare integration showed Metrolinx’ staff’s true colours and their hunger for power over local transit agencies.  Now Queen’s Park has stepped in.

This is hardly a shotgun marriage, but it came as a big surprise to the local politicians who make up the current Metrolinx board.  This group has been accused of being dysfunctional and obstructionist when in fact anyone who actually watches the board at work sees a truly collegial group of senior politicians who are trying to do the right thing both for their own cities and for the region as a whole.  The 416-vs-905 dynamic everyone thought might doom Metrolinx never developed.

Problems lay, however, in Metrolinx staff and its Chair, Rob MaacIsaac.  Although the agency professed to want as much public input as possible, this was stage managed to produce feel-good support for Metrolinx work, and dissent was actively discouraged.  When the Board asked for a few extra months to fine-tune the RTP, a process that anyone who saw early drafts will know made a huge improvement to the final product, they were seen as delaying progress even though the plan did come out on time.

If anything, the foot-dragging lies at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa, neither of which has shown much love for actually paying for transit projects.  Lots of promises, but no money.  Indeed, the whole concept of multi-party funding schemes is a guarantee of inaction.

What will be the effect of this merger?  In the short term, many things are unknown, but there is good reason to worry that Queen’s Park may actually have derailed the very agency that was on the verge of building a regional network. Continue reading

Queen’s Quay Revitalization Plan

This week, Waterfront Toronto released detailed plans (18MB download) for the redesign of Queen’s Quay between Bathurst and Parliament Streets.

Updated May 7, 2009:  The presentation has moved to a new URL, and related information can be found on the project’s web page.

This plan is the culmination of several studies, some of which seemed to go on forever, but in the end we have a design that has widespread community acceptance.  By “we”, I mean Toronto, my city, a city that too often settles for half-baked functional plans that do little to stir real pride in what we have and what will be built.

Some elements of this plan have appeared on this site before, notably the design work for the East Bayfront LRT and the long debates on a portal to the Bay Street LRT tunnel.  I will try not to duplicate those details.

This post is intended as an overview of the long presentation, a walking tour, if you will, along the waterfront-to-be.  Page numbers refer to the PDF itself regardless of any numbers that may appear on individual panels. Continue reading

All Over The Waterfront (Update 4)

Update 1, March 17, 5:50 pm:  More details have been added about the various alignment options for the Waterfront West line through Parkdale.

Update 2, March 24, 7:55 pm:  Feedback from the TTC about Parkdale alignment details.  Details of Queen’s Quay public meetings added.

Update 3, March 25, 6:00 am:  The preferred option for the Kingston Road line is BRT.

Update 4, March 28, 11:10 pm:  The presentation from the March 25 public meeting on the Queen’s Quay redesign is now available online.  Note that this file is almost 18MB for those of you with slow network links.  The document is quite extensive, and I will review it in a separate post.

Transit planning on Toronto’s waterfront leaves much to be desired thanks to the patchwork of overlapping studies and projects for two decades.  Options for the portion between Parkdale and Bathurst Street have changed with the recent cancellation of the Front Street Extension, but no planning based on ths possibility has ever been conducted.

Throughout its history, planning for the waterfront has been fragmented and compromised to fit around whatever other projects had real political clout.  To help focus discussion of the waterfront as a whole, this post gives an overview of all of the projects and schemes from Long Branch to West Hill. Continue reading

Roncesvalles Redesign Public Meeting (Update 2)

Updated March 28: 

I have received reports from various sources that the recent public meetings on this project were a bit of a mess because the project’s representatives could not explain how their preferred option would work, and even supporters were left scratching their heads.  This option is explained, although not illustrated, by a post on the Roncesvalles Village BIA’s website.

The big problem is that the “new” scheme was so recently added to the mix that the project doesn’t have proper illustrations for it, only engineering plan views (looking straight down, in two dimensions, with no sense of how the street would actually work or look for people on it).  There is a somewhat clearer illustration on Bike Toronto’s site, although their drawing does not show clearly how the bike lane would ramp up to sidewalk level at transit stops.

Another surprise, lost in the shuffle, is that almost no parking will be eliminated by this plan.  Roncesvalles, unlike major streets such as St. Clair, has comparatively little traffic, and converting curb lane space to permanent parking and loading zones bounded by sidewalk “bump outs” won’t seriously affect traffic flow.

John Bowker of the BIA writes:

Torontoist is reporting broad opposition at the meeting to the City/TTC proposals. The truth is that the presentation was regrettably weak and unclear. The City and TTC even managed to confuse their own supporters. Many members of the supposedly angry crowd asking about the proposals were actually Roncesvalles Renewed members, all of whom support the pro-transit values underlying the concept proposals. Torontoist also falsely claims the sidewalk plan would eliminate right turn lanes, but anyway …

Lisa Rainford from the Bloor West Villager describes the meeting more accurately, emphasizing confusion over hostility.

The City/TTC presented a plan that reduces parking losses from 26% to eight percent – just 19 spots. And that’s during the day. During the evenings and on weekends, when loading zones are not in use, the plan reduces parking by less than five percent – a mere 11 spots. And the City and TTC were able to do this without affecting traffic flow or greatly altering the original vision of new and enhanced public spaces. This is incredibly good news (at least for businesses), and no one at the meeting even knew. This plan comes as close to having your cake and eating it too as anyone could have hoped.

Update 1, March 26:  The presentation boards and slides are now available on the project’s website.

The City of Toronto will hold a public meeting tonight to present the recommended design for the revitalization of Roncesvalles Avenue.

The meeting will be held

Monday March 23, 2009
6:00pm – 9:00pm (presentation at 7:00 pm)
Howard Jr Public School, 30 Marmaduke St.

Further information is available on the City’s project website and on the Roncesvalles Village website.

Michael Ignatieff on Transit (Updated)

Updated:  Michael Ignatieff was on CBC’s Metro Morning yesterday (March 23) but, alas, the interview was not deemed worthy of a podcast.  Please see the comment from “Ed” dated today for a precis.  It appears that Ignatieff is still out of touch with the details of what Toronto actually needs.

Over the weekend, I received news from Michael Ignatieff’s “Town Hall” meeting in Halifax.  (For the benefit of foreign readers, Ignatieff is now the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, the Liberal Party.) 

Marcus Garnet sent an email to a Transport 2000 list, and this found its way to me.  Below are extracts. Continue reading

St. Clair Spring 2009 Update

When I contemplated a title for this article, I felt compelled to include the year simply because this project has gone on for, it seems, forever.  The Environmental Assessment started formally in September 2003.  Detailed community consultation on the approved project began in February 2005.  By way of an attempted legal derailing and reordering of project priorities, we come now to almost the last year of construction.  I say “almost” because the 2009 project will almost certainly spill over into 2010 if past experience is any evidence.

For the benefit of readers who don’t get a chance to visit the line regularly, here is the status as seen on a field trip by your interpid reporter yesterday, March 16. Continue reading

Watch Streetcars Live on Next Bus Beta

Next Bus has the TTC streetcar system up in a beta version on their site.

That link will take you to a display of the Queen car, although as I write this, no service appears to be running west of Humber Loop.  You can select other routes from a menu provided on the page.  Right now there is no Carlton service west of Bathurst or east of Broadview, Dundas cars are all east of Ossington.  Data for St. Clair is reported only for the streetcar portion east of Bathurst.

This is a trial.  Don’t complain to me if it doesn’t work.  That’s what trials are for.  Apparently there are still cars with no GPS units, and this causes problems.  Of course it is possible that the service really is that screwed up, but one quick cross-check is to compare the number of cars shown on the display with the number of runs that should be in service.  For example, the Bathurst route shows only two cars even though four are supposed to be in service at this hour.

The site requires that you have Java installed to use the live map feature.

Fare By Distance? Not When It Suits GO (Updated)

Today, GO Transit implements a 25-cent across the board increase in all fares.  Writing in the Star, Tess Kalinowski reports displeasure among commuters who have been slapped with higher relative increases for short trips than for long ones.

This isn’t the first time GO increased fares disproportionately, but the cumulative effect sets a pattern.

One commuter who travels from Old Cummer to Union complained that:

… the flat-fare hike means riders who live in Toronto are subsidizing passengers travelling from places such as Hamilton and Barrie.

“Over the last five years, I’ve seen my fares go up 27 per cent. Somebody from Barrie has seen their rates go up 9 per cent, Oshawa 14 per cent, Hamilton 10 per cent,” he said.

In response, GO replies that many costs have nothing to do with how far someone travels:

Transit officials defended the increase, saying many of the system’s costs, such as snow removal, station improvements and communications, are fixed and have nothing to do with distance. They also worry about discouraging riders from farther afield by pricing them out of the system.

Strange, that argument.  It’s precisely the one for which I, among others, have been villified when suggesting a flat (or at least flatter) GTA-wide fare policy.  Long distance riders are subsidised with free parking, new make-work garage building, and proportionately lower fares relative to the resources they consume.  Why?  Because we don’t want them driving to and from work.  The costs — both physical to provide and maintain infrastructure, and social to consume so much land with unproductive roadways and a low-density lifestyle — are greater than what it takes to subsidise their commute by GO.

As regulars here know, I have a big problem with parking construction as an alternative to improved local feeder bus services.  This issue will only grow as GO becomes less of a peak period carrier and more of an all day regional rapid transit system.  That’s one of the many areas Metrolinx, in its less than infinite wisdom, chose to ignore.  We won’t have “Mobility Hubs” complete with soaring interiors and palm trees as Metrolinx envisions if stations are surrounded by parking garages, and those who cannot afford to dedicate a car to all-day storage at a GO lot will still be isolated from regional transit services.

Finally, those who advocate for fare-by-distance as a “benefit” of the “Presto!” card (or whatever technology is eventually adopted) should compare notes with the folks at GO for whom high costs for long trips are a very bad idea indeed.  Queen’s Park and its agencies don’t seem to have a consistent view of how we should price transit.  There is no perfect system, and all of them will distribute benefits and rewards inequitably.

Metrolinx could do everyone a big favour by looking at the impact of various options for fare structures, including the wider issues of local service funding and the broad social value of mobility for everyone.  Will they will have the fortitude to take on this issue (and revenue tools in general) rather than studying only infrastructure we may never be able to afford to build and operate?

Update 1, March 14 at 3:50 pm:  Andrew Salmons of Milton has created an online petition requesting not only a reversal of today’s increase, but a lowering of GO’s cost recovery ratio so that fares could be reduced.

Waterfront East Surfaces At Last (Update 1)

Update 1, March 5:

The presentation materials from the CLC meeting on March 2 (discussed below) are now available online.  (Warning: 7.5MB file)

On March 2, I attended what is likely the final meeting of the Community Liaison Committee (CLC) for the Waterfront East LRT project.  Further discussion of this subject will now be consolidated with the Queen’s Quay redesign project.

The primary outstanding issue from our discussions going back a few years was the location and number of portals from the Bay Street tunnel to the eastern branch of the Harbourfront route.  Options involving a swing west into Harbour Street, down York Street or down Yonge Street were rejected in an earlier round as being impractical for various reasons involving available space and gradients needed to reach the surface within available city blocks.

Five options were studied in detail, of which one will be the recommended option going forward.  These options were:

  • Bay Street between Lake Shore and Harbour.  Under this option, the existing west portal and Queen’s Quay Station would be abandoned, and a new common surface stop would be created on Bay north of Queen’s Quay.  This option is physically constructible, but poses serious operational problems due to congestion of pedestrians, road and LRT traffic at the Bay & Queen’s Quay intersection.
  • Bay Street between Queen’s Quay and Harbour.  This option will not fit, physically, in the space available.  There is not enough room for tracks to rise to the surface to a “landing” before the special work for a surface intersection with Queen’s Quay.
  • Queen’s Quay between Bay and Yonge Streets.  In this option the portal would lie east of Bay and the stop would be just east of Yonge.  This scheme poses many problems because the road is constrained on both sides by existing buildings.  Access to these buildings, as well as the continuity of pedestrian and cycling areas planned for the street would be difficult or impossible.  This scheme is not viable.
  • Queen’s Quay between Yonge and Freeland Streets.  In this option, the line runs in tunnel to Yonge and then rises to street level just west of Freeland.  The station would be just east of Freeland.  This area has enough room to allow the Queen’s Quay design to be continued through the portal area, and has no adverse traffic impacts.  The Toronto Star building north of the proposed portal has no ground level retail that would be injured by the portal’s presence, and any new building on the south side can be designed for its environment.  This is the recommended option.
  • Queen’s Quay between Freeland and Cooper Streets.  In this option, the line would run in tunnel including an underground station at Yonge, and would rise in a portal in front of the Queen’s Quay LCBO.  The first surface stop would be near Jarvis Street.  This option was rejected primarily because of cost.

Initially, the line will be ended in a temporary loop near Parliament Street at a location to be determined.  A separate study is reviewing the redesign of the Don Mouth area including connection of the Cherry Street LRT through to hook up with the Queen’s Quay East line.

Construction of the new tunnel east from Bay will include modification of the existing structure under the intersection at Queen’s Quay so that a full “T” junction including a through east-west track can be installed.  This would allow a direct service linking the western and eastern waterfronts and on through to the Distillery District or the Port Lands.

The TTC also discussed the expansion of Union Station Loop, but their design has not changed noticeably for over a year.  Some fine tuning is required to bring their scheme into alignment with the proposed Union Station redevelopment plan and its new retail and GO concourses.

The first meeting of the consolidated LRT and Queen’s Quay Design CLCs will occur on March 11, and I expect to have more details on the overall scheme for the line in the larger context of the Queen’s Quay redesign project.

There will be a public drop in centre for these projects on Saturday March 28.  The final version of the Environmental Assessment for the Queen’s Quay East line will go to the TTC in May and to Council in July.  Assuming funding, the line would likely begin operating roughly in 2013.

I will post links to relevant documents as they appear online, as well as details of the drop in centre on March 28.

Coming Soon

The past few weeks have been rather quiet for news, and I, along with half of Toronto, have been getting over a bad cold that dampened my enthusiasm for writing.

Very little of substance happened at the February TTC and Metrolinx meetings, and that’s why there was virtually nothing here about them.

Recently, I received the vehicle monitoring data for Queen and related routes for the months of December 2008 and January 2009, and I have just started to work on formatting it for analysis and comment.  This period includes some truly appalling weather, as well as different approaches to line management.  It also brings GPS location to the route (most of the time, most of the vehicles), and this has required some programming changes in the analysis software.  (The data are still quirky, but in a different way.)

I hope to start publishing articles based on these new data in a week or two.

Meanwhile, work by Waterfront Toronto and TTC on the Queen’s Quay east line has surfaced after a long hiatus, and I hope to report on updated plans for this project soon.