The January TTC agenda includes a report about the lessons learned from the St. Clair construction project and their implications for work on Transit City.
While it is refreshing to see anything the TTC does held up to the cold light of review, I can’t help feeling that the tone avoids the question of why this project ran out of control for so long. The covering report states:
TTC considers the St. Clair Streetcar experience as an important stepping stone in the evolution of LRT in Toronto which began with the Spadina LRT, then Harbourfront LRT to the St. Clair project. This invaluable experience is an important guide in the delivery of the Transit City program.
That’s not saying much. Toronto has now built three pseudo-LRT lines over two decades. The first, Harbourfront, is due for a major redesign with the reconstruction of Queen’s Quay. That line also features a connection at Union that was woefully inadequate for the demands placed on it, despite claims to the contrary by TTC engineers.
The Spadina LRT, a scheme that took 25 years from proposal to implementation, was a bit better, but like Harbourfront, still suffered from traffic signal timings that favoured road over transit operations. This has still not been fully addressed even though the line opened in 1997.
Much was expected for St. Clair, a chance to “get it right”, but this project was plagued by:
- conflicting and changing demands for the use of road space
- a design process that produced detailed plans too late for proper public review (they appeared while the work was already out to tender), and that inevitably led to construction periods spanning winter months
- a construction process involving multiple agencies and contractors with nobody in overall control
St. Clair did not “get it right”. Now that the line is open to Lansdowne, we can see just how appallingly the TTC manages service on a route where there is no excuse for chronic bunching, wide gaps and short turns. This comes just as the TTC attempts to gain credibility for Transit City as an improvement in suburban transit services. St. Clair is not a shining example.
The bulk of the report was written by Les Kelman and Richard Soberman. In their introductory letter, they state:
This report is not intended as an exhaustive assessment of all issues, problems, or accomplishments of the St. Clair project.
The main objective is to extract valuable lessons learned from the actual experience of implementing St. Clair streetcar improvements with the view to indicating how these lessons have affected and continue to guide the overall program for project management, budget, and schedule control for individual projects included in the Transit City LRT program.
The lack of thoroughness, of digging up the past, may come from a desire to look ahead to what can be better. This is unfortunate, particularly given some language in the report itself.
The Environmental Assessment process began in 2003 with Council approval. This was the “old EA” process including a substantial amount of work just to agree on a formal Terms of Reference. This step was eliminated from the new Transit Project Assessment process now available to the Transit City projects. Project approval followed late in 2004.
Some design elements have been discussed elsewhere on this site at length and I won’t belabour them here. However, the Kelman/Soberman report talks about scope changes during construction.
… following the commencement of both the detailed design and construction phases, debate on project scope, including street enhancements, continued with the result that additional features were added. In other words, the project scope changed while the project was under construction.
Changes in the St. Clair budget included decisions to replace existing hydro service with underground services and expand project scope (including escalation) for enhanced street lighting, relocation of hydrants, and sidewalk and roadway enhancements.
I beg to differ. Many changes including lighting and hydro undergrounding were already present in the proposal drawings shown to the public in early stages of the project. Indeed, the undergrounding was used to show how attractive the street would be without its then-existing tangle of Hydro box construction on tall poles.
As for the lighting, that is bound up in the whole debate about centre poles for TTC overhead support. Originally, the proposed light standards would have been roughly 50% further apart than the spacing needed for TTC overhead, and new luminaires would replace the standard teardrop design used in the old City of Toronto. However, the new luminaires (which I cannot help calling “Darth Vadar” lights because of their shape) did not provide anywhere near the illumination level required on the street, and the pole spacing was changed back to the old layout. None of this was the subject of any public review. It was presented as a fait accompli in the public meetings.
During 2005, work was halted by a Judicial Review of the project and claims of inadequate public consultation, and construction was delayed for eight months. Kelman/Soberman characterize the situation thus:
The domino effect initiated by the Minister of the Environment’s decision to grant special standing to the main complainant, followed by the Judicial Review, essentially introduced significant construction delay which was one of the main causes of considerable criticism by, and hardship for, affected residents and businesses.
Complaints from residents and businesses about hardship on the western section of St. Clair have nothing at all to to with the Judicial Review or the Minister’s intervention as work there did not get underway until 2007. Streetcars were still operating to Keele Street in April of that year. A significant source of delay arose from the City’s design and tendering of work with projects starting in the fall rather than the spring with the result that neighbourhoods were in the throes of construction when the snow came.
Kelman/Soberman talk about “scope creep”, and there were certainly a number of changes made to the project along the way. However, these changes were brought on, in part, by the last-minute availability of detailed designs and the fact that work was tendered before fine tuning could be completed. Some changes were instituted by local Councillors responding to the squeakiest of the wheels among their constituents rather than as part of a formal public review process.
Problems during construction came from an absence of a proper management structure:
Responsibility for managing all components of the project is distributed among several agencies, each with their own procedures for project management, procurement, budgeting, and schedule control.
Under conditions where there is no single entity responsible for the entire project, coordination is complicated by the lack of clear lines of authority and it is more difficult to ensure effective schedule control.
In addition, time and space conflicts arise when, for example, one contractor attempts to mobilize equipment and material deliveries during the same time period required by another contractor in the same general location.
The contracting strategy itself, notably, the large number of relative small individual contracts, introduced a number of barriers to efficient project coordination and delivery.
Probably viewed originally as a means of expediting construction, overall project control was complicated by awarding contracts to small firms with insufficient resources to provide effective project management of their own forces as well as those performed by electrical and mechanical sub-contractors. Delays resulted from the complexity of co-ordinating a large number of independent, yet inter-dependent, activities.
One casualty of Toronto’s amalgamation was the rise of major departments each of which operated as a fiefdom, and the loss of overall co-ordination between the many departments and utilities of the pre-amalgamation city. Only recently has this been addressed by the creation of a Major Infrastructure Co-ordinating Office at the City.
An important change for the Transit City projects is the integration of all construction activities into Transit City itself. If utility work is needed, that will be contracted by the project, not by individual departments and utilities, so that the work can designed, managed and built as an integral part of the transit project.
As for the contracting strategy, there is a desire in some political circles to support small businesses, and I remember presentations at the TTC where smaller firms complained they could not possibly bid on large TTC projects. However, subdividing projects brings management and co-ordination issues as we have seen on St. Clair. This practice will not be repeated for the Transit City lines.
Kelman/Soberman really run aground with comments on Community Consultation:
Community consultation was carried out through the normal practices of the City of Toronto and the TTC in accordance with requirements of the day embedded in the Class Environmental Assessment process. Though well intended, these procedures led to a Ministerial order to step back and pay special attention to the objections of a group of individuals, the majority of whom were diametrically opposed to the very basic concept of an exclusive transit right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue.
The Ontario Minister of the Environment was simply far too accommodating of matters raised by those opposed to the project, matters that, with some degree of resolve, should have been addressed directly. As a result, inordinate attention and resources were devoted to dealing with individuals whose main interest was to ensure that the project would not proceed. Extension of the public debate in this manner really meant that ‘closure’ of the consultation process was never really achieved.
They go on to talk about the relative success of the construction liaison committees and conclude:
Community stakeholders should be credited for taking a positive approach at the CLC and their input was certainly valuable in helping to reduce construction disruption.
This contrast — project opponents bad, community liaison good — is far too simplistic. Many supporters of the project, myself included, raised many issues about the design and construction of the St. Clair line, but far too often all objections were treated the same way, as nuisances to be ignored.
Transit City won’t make everyone happy, but a big improvement will be avoidance of “it’s already been decided” and “we know what’s best for you”. We shall see. It’s easy to be accommodating during the early days of preliminary design, but the real challenges come with detailed design and construction.
Each project will include a public consultation arm, and this will include responsibility for resolution of problems as they arise during construction. In effect, the public should have “one stop shopping” when dealing with any aspect of works in their communities. I hope that this will actually work given the past year’s experience with communication efforts on the Operations side of the TTC (discussed elsewhere on this site). If “communications” don’t work, the TTC must fix the problem directly, not simply add another layer and confuse responsibility.
Transit City is not a “chance to get it right” on LRT construction. Imagine if the TTC had botched a major subway project. We are long past the point where we send a few guys out into the middle of the street with shovels and hope that an LRT line appears sometime in the next decade.
We cannot afford another St. Clair. Credibility for LRT, both in construction and operation, is vital to our ability to embrace it as a valid mode for transit expansion. “Getting it wrong” is not an option.