Updated June 9, 2010 at 7:40 pm:
Council today voted to support the TTC’s proposal for the Ashbridge Carhouse including an access route via Leslie Street. This was little surprise given that Councillors are loathe to override staff recommendations unless there is an overwhelming case in favour of an alternative.
The first part of the debate turned on whether the carhouse should be at the Ashbridge site at all. Despite some uninformed grandstanding by would-be mayor Ford, and handwringing by others over what might have been at the Lever site (Sunlight Park) if only its availability had been known sooner in the process, the Ashbridge site selection was approved.
The second part of the debate focussed on the access route. The TTC argued strongly against the Knox/Russell option and that position won the day, in part because few champions of this route rose in the debate.
The Transit Project Assessment now enters its formal 90-day phase for comment and then goes to the Minister of the Environment for approval.
Updated June 7, 2010 at 6:40 pm:
As requested by the Commission, TTC staff have commented to Council for its June 8/9, 2010 meeting on the proposed Russell/Knox route from Queen Street to Ashbridge Carhouse. This report appears to take as uncompromising a line as possible on the alternative to a Leslie Street access route.
[Sorry to new readers. The information in this update presumes a knowledge of the details, for which you should read the main post following.]
I believe that the TTC has overplayed their hand here, and given yet another example of their unwillingness to fairly evaluate alternatives to their own proposals. This stance has effects beyond the immediate project, and adds to the general distrust of material the TTC places before elected bodies. The comments below should be read in concert with the TTC report. The subtitles below correspond to the sections of that report.
The TTC states that it evaluated 11 routes to the new carhouse. However, no detailed evaluation of the “Russell/Knox” route was included in the Transit Project Assessment. It appears here only as a short letter, and only by virtue of the Commission’s direction, not staff’s initiative.
Loss of LRV Storage Space:
At a meeting between Councillor Fletcher, Chair Giambrone, TTC staff and other interested parties (including me) on May 28, there was no mention of a permanent facility for collision repair at Russell Carhouse. When we challenged the long-term need for the “prototype testing facility” at Russell, there was no reply indicating its eventual function, one which appears to have developed in the interim.
Why was a collision repair facility not included in the Ashbridge site as this building will take over the major maintenance function for streetcars now performed at Hillcrest Shops?
The TTC refers to their master plan for LRV Maintenance, and should be required to publish it. All neighbours of TTC streetcar facilities need to know what is planned for these sites. This entire discussion could have been conducted on a better-informed basis if this material were already in public hands.
What is the future use of space inside Russell and Roncesvalles carhouse buildings? From the Russell plans shown by the TTC, they only count the outdoor storage as “capacity”.
One question for City budget watchdogs: is the construction of this facility included within the Capital Budget item for the Ashbridge Carhouse, or is this a net new expenditure? Is this another example of TTC project creep?
Property Required on Queen Street:
The TTC claims that it must take in full the property on Queen Street just west of the existing exit from the yard. If one considers the east to south curve required for the new connection as following the same trajectory as the existing track, it would not foul the building. The TTC should be required to show a detailed plan of why a full taking of this property is required.
This view is from Google Earth, and it clearly shows the exit at the west end of the yard, the three yard tracks that would be taken for the Knox route, and the location of the building in question relative to these tracks.
This view is from Google Street View and shows a car leaving the yard westbound onto Queen Street. The tracks which permit this operation will not be available to new LRVs in the future carhouse operations, and all LRVs will have to use the eastern exits from the carhouse.
This view shows the western exit from Russell Yard.
This view looks directly south at the western property line of Russell Yard and shows how the existing tracks relate to the property next door. It strains credibility that with a slight shift to the east of this junction, a 90 degree turn east to south cannot be installed without requiring taking of the neighbouring property.
The TTC claims that two extra traffic signals will unduly slow operations, but their own evaluation of a route via Connaught, Eastern and Knox to the north side of the Ashbridge site claimed that only 1 minute would be added to the trip. Proper signal priority should be capable of moving streetcars through the curves to and from Eastern Avenue in reasonable time.
Moreover, the TTC does not consider the delay some of its cars travelling on Leslie will encounter. About 40% of all moves to and from Ashbridge Carhouse will occur other than during the wee hours of the night.
Circulation around the Ashbridge site is a legitimate concern, but it was not raised in the TTC’s evaluation of their own scheme to enter the site from the north.
The TTC claims that Canada Post will oppose any use of Eastern and Knox for carhouse access. However, there has been no traffic analysis to substantiate this objection and, moreover, the representative from Canada Post at the recent TTC meeting was clearly confused about which end of his site actually was used by trailer units. In fact it is the eastern end (Woodfield Avenue) where the trailer bays are located, not at Knox.
At a minimum, the TTC needs to validate claims of traffic interference and confirm which of Canada Post’s operations, if any, would actually be affected.
I must ask how TTC streetcar movements on Eastern and Knox would so disrupt Canada Post and yet not have comparable effects a block away on Leslie Street for general users of that street.
Martin Goodman Trail:
The TTC claims that the Martin Goodman Trail, a cycling road on the south side of Lake Shore, would be forced to cross streetcar tracks curving into the new carhouse site. This would be unsafe as bicycles don’t do well with streetcar tracks that are not crossed at 90 degrees (as they would be for the Leslie alignment).
First off, it is odd that the TTC has now discovered the safety problems inherent in streetcar tracks and cycling, but does not address the issue of shared use of roadspace on Leslie Street.
Second, the location on Lake Shore where the Knox trackage would cross is one where there is a median that disappears to the east. If the eastbound lanes of Lake Shore were to swing north to the west of Knox rather than further east as at present, there would be plenty of room for the Martin Goodman trail to cross the tracks before they begin to curve into the TTC site.
The report of TTC actions at the June 2 Commission meeting and the original post on this topic follow the break below.
June 2 TTC Meeting Update
On June 2, the TTC considered the matter of Ashbridge Carhouse including the site, possible routes to the carhouse and the associated Transit Project Assessment Report.
The matter has been passed on to the Toronto Council meeting of June 8 with the staff recommendation intact, but with additional motions placed by Commissioner Bussin on behalf of Councillor Fletcher (who does not sit on the Commission):
- To consider the addition of a second access route for the Ashbridges Bay MSF and to report to City Council on the Knox/Russell/Eastern route.
- To meet with stakeholders to ensure appropriate mitigation for the Leslie Street route.
- To direct staff to report back on changes proposed to the Russell Streetcar Facility to accommodate the new LRVs and to consult with the public on the impacts and mitigation measures of the changes.
- To ensure design excellence for the site and also the route; and to include a greening strategy on Leslie Street to Queen.
- To establish a construction liaison committee for the site and the route.
Many local residents spoke to this issue at the meeting, and their positions can be broken roughly into three groups:
- Those who oppose the site entirely.
- Those who accept the site as a future carhouse and maintenance shops, but who object to the use of Leslie Street as the access from Queen Street.
- Those supporting an alternative route from Queen that was not included in the TPA Report. This is the route through Russell Yard proposed by me (see below for details).
This has been a contentious matter for some time, and many residents spoke with a sense of frustration at having their concerns downplayed or ignored by project staff. For its part, the TTC regards the project as urgent so that the new facility will be ready in time for delivery of the first of the LFLRVs in 2013.
During discussion of the Russell Yard proposal and other matters, it was clear that there is some reluctance to overrule staff, particularly at this late stage in the process, and that some of the detailed issues are not well understood by Commissioners, many of whose wards are nowhere near the Russell or Ashbridge sites. Councillor Fletcher and Commissioner Bussin’s wards meet on Leslie Street, and they share a direct interest in whatever is decided here.
I will not reiterate my arguments here as they are summarized in my deputation.
A representative appeared for Canada Post Corporation because their South Central facility, the largest of their plants in Canada, lies in the large block bounded by Eastern Avenue on the north, Woodfield Road on the east, and Knox Avenue on the west. They expressed concern that streetcar operations on Knox would interfere with truck movements in and out of their plant, and especially were concerned about trailer operations. However, the Canada Post rep seemed to get his directions askew when talking about their trailer yard which is at the east (Woodfield) end of the building.
This is not the end of the Canada Post site where streetcars would run. Instead, they would run via Knox Avenue at the other end of the building. In response to claims that there was a great deal of traffic on this street at the same time as the TTC’s morning service buildup from 0600 to 0700, I stood at that location for an hour this morning to record what actually happened. There were some Canada Post trucks at Knox, but hardly a flood, and many that came along Eastern Avenue used the Woodfield Road entrance. You can read the details in my log.
The primary source of traffic on Knox is postal employees arriving and leaving work as there is a shift change at 0700.
One of the local residents, speaking of the wildlife nearby, noted that a beaver had been sighted crossing Leslie Street from the Tim Horton’s to Loblaw’s. This is clearly an urban beaver. In keeping with this holistic view of the neighbourhood, and because an hour of watching for a mythical traffic jam of postal trucks gets boring, I included notes about some other passersby.
It is unclear whether the representative from Canada Post was properly briefed before he made his presentation, but my opinion is that he spoke to a proposal that was not, in fact, on the table.
When TTC staff report on the Russell Yard option to Council next week, we will see how they characterize the Post Office traffic. Notably, when they had their own Knox option in the TPA, they did not mention this as a possible impediment.
The original version of this post follows here:
On June 2, 2010, the TTC will consider the Transit Project Assessment Study for a proposed new carhouse and shops near Ashbridge’s Bay at the southeast corner of Lake Shore Blvd. E. and Leslie Street. This project has gone through much debate and public consultation.
One remaining issue is expected to generate debate at the TTC meeting. The proposed route from Queen Street to the carhouse is the most direct going straight south via Leslie to the site, but this has triggered concerns in the area. In brief, these are:
- Leslie from Queen to Eastern (one block south) is largely a residential street and a large number of streetcar movements to and from the carhouse will occur overnight.
- A new “T” junction will be created at Queen Street where there is a Seniors’ residence on the northeast corner. This will be a source of noise not just from cars turning, but from all-day service through the intersection. This effect was not addressed in the Transit Project Assessment.
- Leslie is a major cycling route to the waterfront. Addition of streetcar tracks creates a constraint for cyclists using the road where none exists today.
When the TTC studied alternative routes to the carhouse, one option they proposed ran via Connaught (the east end of the existing Russell Carhouse), Eastern (the south side of the Russell site) and Knox Avenue to reach the new carhouse.
However, they did not examine the creation of a new streetcar-only link through the west end of Russell Yard as an alternative to new double track on Connaught. Such an arrangement has the following benefits:
- Elimination of the need to widen the south end of Connaught where only a single southbound track now exists.
- Isolation of traffic bound to and from the new carhouse from operations at Russell Yard and Connaught Avenue.
- Provision of a shorter route from Queen to the new carhouse than either the Leslie Street or the TTC’s Connaught options.
The major offsetting issue is that this would take space from Russell Yard that reduces the overall system capacity to store streetcars in the future.
Another possible route studied by the TTC was to connect via Coxwell and Lake Shore. Although this link could be improved by comparison with the version the TTC proposed, it still has significant problems notably the heavy use of Coxwell by cyclists to reach the waterfront, and severe traffic congestion during special events in the area.
As a backgrounder to this discussion, I prepared an article detailing the issues with each of the options.
TTC Staff are expected to support their preferred Leslie Street route to the carhouse at the June 2 meeting. How the Commission responds remains to be seen.
There is some irony in the fact that the City’s Executive Committee recently overruled a TTC recommendation regarding the proposed link between the Sheppard East LRT and the Scarborough RT/LRT. Staff proposed an on-street link via Progress to Sheppard over which fewer than 20 SRT trains would have operated daily. The Executive Committee directed that an underground connect be used, at an estimated cost of about $65-million, to spare effects on residents and a cultural centre on Progress Avenue.
There is a direct analogy between the two situations, and the amount of streetcar/LRV traffic proposed for Leslie Street is much greater than for Progress Avenue.
At the TTC, there is a strong desire to have this issue settled so that the project can be forwarded to Council for approval before the summer break and the inevitable hiatus in work during the fall election.
Updated June 1, 2010:
The map above shows the routes under discussion:
Blue: TTC proposed Leslie Street route
Green: TTC Connaught Avenue option
Red: Russell Yard option
The purple lines show the carhouse site.
This map shows details of the Russell Carhouse site.
Blue box: The area to be repurposed as a northsouth route through the west end of the carhouse property.
Red box: The existing junction between the yard and Queen Street at Vancouver which must be restructured to link with the new tracks. The new intersection here would match what is proposed for Queen & Leslie by the TTC.
Orange lines: The Russell/Knox route including access to Queen both ways.
Green box: The space intended initially as a prototype testing facility which will later be available for LRV storage.