Transit City Revisited (Part I)

Transit City and transit in general are much in the political news thanks to one mayoral candidate’s declaration that there would be a moratorium on additional routes among other changes at the TTC.  Christopher Hume’s column in the Star gives an overview of the landscape.

In the midst of TTC problems from lousy customer relations to service reliability, from Enbridge cutting into the subway tunnel to a maladroit handling of the recent fare increase, everyone needs to step back a moment and divorce the TTC from the politicians.

Transit City has many good points, and they need to be reinforced, not simply tossed aside as part of the anti-Miller rhetoric brewing in some campaign offices and newspapers.  Transit City isn’t perfect, but the map may as well be cut into stone tablets rather than being a living document to hear some of its supporters. Such inflexibility undermines the plan itself.

There’s an odd parallel to Metrolinx’ Big Move plan.  Metrolinx claims that their plan is a work in progress, but just try to criticize it, try to suggest changes, and their professed love of public input evaporates.  Transit City isn’t quite as bad, and we are at least having some public feedback through the Transit Project Assessments.  However, some fundamental changes are needed.

Before I talk about the plan, it’s useful to see where it came from.

The Official Plan

Toronto’s Official Plan contains several maps of interest.

Map 4:  Higher Order Transit Corridors

This map shows potential rapid transit expansions, but does not give any indication of technology choices.  The possible new corridors range from bus and streetcar lines to future GO Transit corridors.  The alignments owe a lot to older studies and plans.  Major corridors within the 416 include:

  • The Finch hydro corridor from Malvern to northern Etobicoke and then southwest to the airport
  • The full Sheppard corridor from Scarborough Town Centre to Downsview
  • The Eglinton corridor from Kingston Road to the airport
  • The  St. Clair corridor from Runnymede to St. Clair West Station (this was subsequently amended to reach east to Yonge Street)
  • Dundas Street west from Kipling Station
  • The Jane corridor from Bloor to Steeles
  • The northwestern extension of the Spadina subway
  • Dufferin Street north from Downsview
  • Steeles Avenue from Dufferin to Jane
  • Yonge Street north from Finch Station
  • The Don Valley corridor (as a busway judging from the alignment) from Steeles to downtown
  • The SRT extension north to Steeles and Markham Road
  • Waterfront services east through the Port Lands and west to Park Lawn
  • Kingston Road east to Eglinton

GO Transit corridors included the North Toronto subdivision for a crosstown service and a northeastern extension through Agincourt to the 905, as well as the Bolton line to the northwest.

On this map, the term “LRT” only appears in reference to existing routes.  However, there are clues such as the caption on a photo on page 2-6 of the plan “Some arterial streets have plenty of room for streetcars”.

Map 5:  Surface Transit Priority Network

This map largely derives from locations where the TTC had frequent service, and yet there are some locations where the layout is inconsistent.  For example, in southern Etobicoke, both The Queensway and Lake Shore from the Humber west to Highway 27 are included even though neither of these is favoured with good transit service.  The entire length of Lawrence Avenue is omitted despite frequent bus service.

Map 2:  Urban Structure

The Urban Structure map shows the “Avenues”, areas where the city hopes to see land use intensification, and where, by implication, growth would be supported by transit.  Maps 2 and 5 don’t exactly line up with each other, nor with map 4.

Map 3:  Right-of-Way Widths

This is a useful map for anyone planning a road widening as it shows which streets already have, for example, 36m widths in the public realm (despite what the road might look like today).

What is clearly missing from the Official Plan is a consolidated Transit Plan.  We have bits and pieces, but little agreement, and a great deal consists of small improvements on what exists especially for local, surface transit.

David Miller’s Re-Election Campaign

The term “Transit City” appeared in Miller’s campaign literature “What Makes A City Great”, although the projects described there were largely a rehash from the Official Plan.  Work was already underway to refine this plan and to concentrate on improved mobility within the suburban parts of Toronto.

This triggered three important changes:

  • Subway plans, other than the Spadina extension already in the works, were removed because of their high cost.
  • Bus-based plans were dropped because of the capacity limitations and environmental considerations especially on heavily used corridors.
  • LRT became the mode of choice for the new network.

Planning considerations also demanded that the network look ahead to future growth, and that it bring new services to a wide range of suburban areas.  Specifically omitted was any consideration of new capacity into the core area because that realm had been handled largely by GO Transit for past decades.

Transit City was announced  in early 2007, and its components differed from the Official Plan (OP) in many ways.

  • The Sheppard line would run east from Don Mills to Meadowvale, not to Scarborough Town Centre, to improve continuous travel on Sheppard.  Access to STC would be provided by the already-planned extension of the SRT to Sheppard.  This also supports the designation of Sheppard from Don Mills to McCowan as an Avenue.
  • The Eglinton line proposed in the OP was broken into two segments east and west from Kennedy Station.  The eastern part was extended north to serve University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC), connect with the Sheppard line and serve Malvern.
  • The Finch West line would be located on Finch Avenue in recognition of the location of potential riders and destinations rather than in the hydro corridor.  Finch is designated as an Avenue from Bayview to Bathurst, although one wonders how this would fit with the low-rise character east of Yonge.
  • The Jane line would run from York University west and then south via Jane, more or less as proposed in the OP.
  • The Don Mills line, rather than extending into downtown, would end at the Danforth subway.
  • The St. Clair line would be extended west to meet the Jane line, rather than ending at Runnymede as in the OP.
  • The Waterfront West line would run all the way to Highway 27 (Brown’s Line) rather than ending at Park Lawn.  This picks up on the Avenue designation for Lake Shore Blvd.

Notably absent was any mention of a Bloor-Danforth subway extension in either direction, a Yonge subway extension north from Finch (only the BRT corridor is included) and a “downtown relief” line.  I will return to the DRL later, but it is important to note that this scheme has not been part of any plans for a few decades.  It is not an “omission” in Transit City.

Revising the plan was a political act.  The lack of co-ordination between various aspects of the Official Plan together with the TTC’s ongoing presentation of, at best, incremental improvements, required a new vision for transit leaping beyond “more of the same” planning.  Transit City was that plan, and it received Council’s endorsement.

When Transit City was unveiled, Queen’s Park was on the verge of its own major package of transit improvements that came to be MoveOntario2020.  Without a clear view of a major new transit network, Toronto would have seen little more than a few subway extensions (that would likely have been in the provincial list anyhow) and, possibly, some money for one or two BRT lines.  Getting Transit City on the table first allowed Toronto to show what a network linking many parts of the 416 could look like, and Transit City was incorporated into the provincial announcement in June 2007.

In the second part of this article, I will examine the various components of Transit City as well as other schemes for the TTC system.

4 thoughts on “Transit City Revisited (Part I)

  1. Hi Steve,

    First I want to thank you for publishing this blog I know it must be a labour of love. I have only recently come across your work and I was hoping you might publish some of these “State of the TTC” posts to help people get aquainted with the issues before the election. I was also wondering if you could address some of the objections to transit city from other people Mr. Rossi’s point about the lack of operating money, Ms. Stinz’ contention that the TTC is using about 2400 more staff to move roughly the same number of passenger as in 1998, and last the 30,000 complaints or about 85 a day you seem oddly dissmissive of these issue and I would appreciate any additional insight you may have.

    Regards, Adam

    Steve: I am far from dismissive about the 30k complaints, and you must already by now have seen my critique of the TTC’s response to its customer service woes. For far too long, the TTC has ignored many aspects of customer service, and recent events have shown how unprepared and thoughtless they can be. This must change.

    As for Rossi and Stinz, the Transit City series (to which you are replying) is the beginning of a review of those and other major projects within the TTC. It would help if people who want to kill off (or at least defer) projects understood what the options are and how we got where we are today.

    The critique on labour is unfair, although I am not going to get into excessive detail (can the TTC for once defend itself credibly?). In brief, the TTC is carrying far more people today than in 1998. Quoting from the TTC’s 2007 Annual Report, ridership in 1998 was 388.7m people. For 2008 it was 466.7m, a 20% increase, and it went up again in 2009. The employee count in 1998 was 9,462, while in 2008 it was 11,679, an increase of 23.4%.

    Another important issue on the labour side is that changes in provincial labour laws related to work breaks and driver safety have decreased the number of hours one operator can provide, and therefore the ratio of operators to service grows. Finally, in 1998, the TTC was still reeling from service cuts of the Harris era, while by 2008, major improvements in the amount of service relative to the number of passengers were already underway.

    Finally, in 1998, the TTC was not engaged in a great deal of capital works, and the number of staff on budget related to them was comparatively low. By 2008, this number had grown, although the value is not broken out in the Annual Report. It is important when looking at staffing levels to recognize that they are affected by many factors.

    Ms. Stinz needs to do much better research.

    I will be publishing a series of articles on the basics of transit policy probably starting in the coming week. These will be cross posted to


  2. Specifically omitted was any consideration of new capacity into the core area because that realm had been handled largely by GO Transit for past decades.


    I will return to the DRL later, but it is important to note that this scheme has not been part of any plans for a few decades. It is not an “omission” in Transit City.

    To be brutally honest… this sounds a little self-contradictory. Reading this, one has to ask; Did Transit City specifically omit the DRL, or not?

    Frankly, you cannot try to build a network without taking network impacts (including impacts on core-bound services) into account, so I don’t see how the DRL cannot be considered an omission in Transit City, unless it is suggested that Transit City is not a network, but an isolated set of corridors.

    Steve: Transit City was specifically a network to address suburban travel, not travel to the core as that was more or less assumed to be handled by GO. Moreover, if the DRL had been included, it would have pulled the focus of discussion to a suburbs vs downtown argument, and its huge cost would have dwarfed the LRT network’s. When the TC routes were under discussion, I argued that we should look at the DRL, but this was left to another day. That day arrived with the Richmond Hill subway proposal. More about this in Part III (Monday).


  3. St Clair can’t meet Jane anymore…. Metrolinx wants different track gauge for TransitCity.

    Steve: They can meet, just not interline. St. Clair cars will not operate from Black Creek carhouse. In any event, I have my doubts that we will see the south end of the Jane LRT anytime soon, and so the point is moot.


  4. The Right Of Way map is crucial for any plans for Right Of Ways on streets. If the road is not wide enough, you can’t fit one in period. The map clearly shows why a LRT on Finch or Sheppard will be different from the existing one on St.Clair.


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