The Spaces In Between

As the Mayoral campaigns of various candidates meander toward October 25, I can’t help noticing a common thread in the transit platforms of the major candidates.  Actually, a missing thread.

Everyone loves to draw a map.  Pull out a magic marker and a map of the city, cross out a few “David Miller” lines to show you’re an independent thinker, draw in a few of your own, and Voila!  You have a transit platform.

Some candidates talk about quality and reliability of transit service without saying exactly what they mean.  One would give seniors a free ride for four hours a day.  One would integrate TTC and GO fare structures and operations.  But the real debates, as I saw just this morning at yet another joust for three would-be Mayors, turn on maps and funding.

Large swaths of Toronto will never see rapid transit, whether we use that name for full-scale subways, or LRT, or BRT, or jet-propelled Swan Boats.  Riders living there will put up with local bus and streetcar services forever.  There may be a new subway or LRT down the street, closer than today, but not in walking distance.

What we don’t hear in the debates is a sense of that much-hated word “vision”.  What role does transit play in the city, not just today but in decades to come?  What does “good service” mean?  How much are we willing to pay for a bus every 10 minutes or better at midnight?  How much of the cost should be paid by governments as an investment in mobility and enabling transit lifestyles, and how much should be paid by riders?

Drawing lines on a map looks good, at least to people who live near the projected routes, but unless there’s a lot of them, and a mechanism to pay for their construction, they’re just doodles to most transit riders.  Doodles, moreover, of lines that may not open until the would-be Mayor has been driven from office by a newer municipal saviour.

My question to those who would be Mayor is simple:  what will you do to improve transit today?

Be honest about fares.  Will you raise them?  Will you charge by distance?   Will you get rid of the TTC’s arcane transfer restrictions?  Will you truly integrate GO and TTC fare schemes in a way that is attractive to riders?  Don’t tell me about Smart Cards, whether it’s Queen’s Park’s Presto or a new Open Payment system.  Tell me what your philosophy of charging for transit really is.  Once we know how you want to price transit, we can work out how to collect the fares.

Be honest about service.  People love subways.  They run until almost 2am with trains every five minutes.  There’s even a big three-way meet of last trains at Bloor-Yonge.  No wonder people want us to build subways — they guarantee the TTC will run vastly more service than, were it a bus or streetcar route, the corridor would see.  If you’re a suburban bus rider, don’t count on frequent service or protected connections.

What is “acceptable” service in frequency, crowding and reliability?  How long should someone wait for a bus to show up?  Should they be guaranteed a seat outside of the peak period?  Should reliable schedules be enforced for infrequent routes, and should frequent services provide a reliable headway between vehicles?

What does “transit priority” mean to you?  Will you take capacity away from other road users to speed transit operations, especially in locations that are already congested and transit service is often delayed?  Are streets more important for parking and deliveries, or for moving vehicles?

What is your attitude to pedestrians?  Transit users make their trips as pedestrians walking to and from stops and transferring between routes.  Should access to transit be easy and comfortable?  Are pedestrian spaces important for you, or do they get the leftovers?

The next time you hold a press conference, go to a corner that doesn’t have a subway or an LRT today, or on any map, not even on yours.  Explain what you will do to make transit better for that community.

In between rants about making City Hall more accountable and tightening our belts, explain just what this will mean to people who don’t live on your rapid transit network, who won’t benefit from all the capital spending you plan to squeeze out of Queen’s Park and maybe, just maybe, Ottawa.

When the new buses start running, when the service improves (even on the Queen car), then we’ll hold a photo op for you.  Think how many neighbourhoods you will visit with your better bus and streetcar service!  And you might even do it before the next election!!

42 thoughts on “The Spaces In Between

  1. Way too many important questions here to get an intelligent response from politicians or journalists: that’s why you’re neither, but actually know what you’re talking about!


  2. It would be so interesting if you were to dissect the media’s candidates (top 6) transit plans.

    Steve: I have already done Smitherman’s. Rossi’s doesn’t have enough meat on the bones yet, nor does Sarah Thompson’s. Ford doesn’t have an official one yet, although I am trying to find out from his campaign whether mad ravings by his policy advisor (published on his personal blog in February) are really Ford’s program. Everybody is missing the boat on regular service quality, funding and fare questions as my post indicates.


  3. As a TTC bus operator for over 20 years, it has always frustrated me to no end about the lack of vision that the city and the province had and have in regards to transit in the city and surrounding regions. For the most part, it has been reactive and not proactive. The few times that they had a proactive idea, the local or provincial government would change and so would the funding. The Kennedy and Kipling extensions were completed in 1980. If the subways were expanded a few km’s every year or so since then we would have subways all over the city for less than it cost to build the Sheppard Stubway. It is extremely sad and depressing.


  4. Munro for Mayor!

    Steve: I decline the nomination. Retirement has its benefits, and one of them is not having to get up at the crack of dawn to run the city.


  5. There is a Japanese term that means “the space between two structural parts”.

    It’s important to think about the routes (bus, tram, subway, etc.), but it’s also important to think about what is in-between them as well, and how one goes from being in-between to being on the routes.

    Steve: Yes, this is an important concept in many different ways.


  6. Transit is the hot topic of this election but, really, none of the mayoral candidates have made much sense about anything, never mind the future of the TTC.

    This election should have been much more substantial due to the wide field of purportedly serious candidates, regardless of John Tory’s intentions, just like the 2003 election was. Instead, Canada’s largest and most important city gets candidates who enjoy lots of childish mudslinging, infotainment debates on CP24, and the strange notion that our mayor-elect’s edict on bike lanes will determine the fate of the local economy. It has been a sad showing so far and I don’t expect it to get any better after Labour Day.

    This notion of old school politics where candidates pay their registration fee, kiss babies and shake some hands, and then find a little bit of time to come up with some policy ideas is going to sink a lot more than public transportation in this city.

    Professional politicians know well in advance if they will be running for public office and incumbents supposedly have some idea which past initiatives succeeded, or failed, and why. Add to that a small platoon of policy advisors, and there really isn’t an excuse not to come prepared for a serious debate.

    If the mayoral candidates are relying on cheat sheets, take my advice: If you’re going to cheat, cheat off the smartest kid in the room.


  7. Excellent questions. I’m going to print them out and keep them handy in case I get the chance to speak to any of the mayoralty candidates between now and the election.


  8. The number one biggest concern I have with almost all of the mayoral candidates except Joe Pantalone and maybe Smitherman with respect to the transit plank in their platforms is this: They want to take the (so we are told) committed funding for Transit City, cancel the light rail lines and build subways. Aside from the whole subway vs. light rail debate, it’s a very speculative gamble that the Transit City funding will still be available if the light rail lines are cancelled. There is a very real risk that could be a very fast and easy way to end up with nothing if one of these guys gets in, cancels the light rail projects and then finds that the province decides to withdraw that funding. The willingness to gamble everything to possibly end up with nothing like that concerns me.


  9. Transit in Toronto is too political, and it’s always been that way.

    To your comment about subways running every 5 minutes or better, all day long … TC light rail lines will operate at this frequency all day long as well, but not the downtown streetcar network. So here’s a case where the suburbs will get better service than the inner city.

    Now if they got smart and actually built fully-covered LRT stations that protected passengers from the elements, then we might get a system that is almost as good as a subway. But, I doubt it. What we will get is a streetcar line on a raised trackbed with freezing passengers standing by poles.

    Why can’t the TTC build light-rail lines with subway-like qualities?


  10. In any political forum, be it an election campaign or committee meeting, devising concepts and formulating policies are easy; successful implementation is the difficult challenge and the true mark of an accomplished politician. Toronto has been fixated for decades by unrealistic and unaffordable “pie-in-the sky” transit schemes. This continues with even more frenzy as the mayoral campaign intensifies.

    The central focus of any transit project should result in better reliability of the transit system as a whole. But this can only occur with astute management, a key element woefully lacking during the endless years of construction along St. Clair. A saving of just a few minutes on the streetcar can hardly justify the incredible expense and disruption that residents have endured for far too long.

    Urban design and engineering insight and abilities are woefully lacking in actually constructing the St. Clair project. Sound and unwavering political oversight to ensure that only the best and unbiassed expertise is sought and acquired is a key component of implementing any element of a city, from a garbage can to a subway line. And it’s this collapse of effective and fair political oversight of the workings of this city that has accelerated since amalgamation. The St. Clair mess is perhaps the most visible result of this collapse and should serve as a warning when political oversight is compromised.

    Toronto is blatantly dysfunctional as anyone who struggles to live here must realize. I am tired of vapid platforms comprised of schemes and goals that are impossible and irresponsible.


  11. Also, Steve Ledrew, Ben Mulroney and Melissa Grelo need to be replaced with better hosts who will ask tougher questions. I prefer to have a host who hears a silly answer and then tells a candidate it was indeed a silly answer.


  12. Transit Planning should not be a political decision. Even though Miller had made a leap into the future with the Transit City vision, it will not be a complete solution to the future. Miller himself just drew some lines, lets say Sheppard East just because the subway is already there. I’m not saying its bad or anything. He drew better lines than most candidates.

    The problem with all the mayoral candidates are that they have no idea of what every ward in Toronto actually need. How can someone who live in Etobicoke actually understand transit in Scarborough or someone who doesn’t take transit outside of downtown know whats wrong with the Steeles bus.

    Steve, you are right that all mayoral candidates think about is expansion and subway, but what about the current situation. The current scheduling for buses and streetcars creates a lot of short turns. We all know something can be done about it, but no one in politics seem to understand that. Any changes to the payment system is too complicated for the TTC to handle. I would actually like to see how they will handle POP on the new streetcars.

    Steve: To be fair to Miller, the Ridership Growth Strategy started with work he did while he was on the TTC, and his concerns extended beyond just Transit City to improved service everywhere. That said, there is a chronic unwillingness at City Hall to openly criticize the actions of staff, and some of the long-standing excuses TTC management has for poor operations simply do not hold water. Things are pretty bad when the Vice Chair of the Commission resorts to asking ordinary citizens to audit the condition of subway stations, something that wouldn’t be necessary if his own organization did its job properly.


  13. More than one person has said, “Transit Planning should not be a political decision”. That, in my opinion, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what politics and democracy really is.

    A quote that has been at the centre of my own political philosophy comes from my political science professor at University, Thomas Qualter, who wrote in his book, “Conflicting Political Ideas in Liberal Democracies”:

    “The need for politics arises from the conflict of human desires and from different understandings of the world. If everybody agreed, there would be no need for government or politics, for all would simply go ahead and do whatever it was they wanted to do. But this is not the situation around us. Even with the best will in the world we disagree not only about what should be done, but also about ways of doing those things. On any issue of consequence, people will honestly and sincerely hold different opinions. One should not expect to find, in any random gathering of people, a unanimous opinion on any issue: capital punishment, the right of public servants to strike, the sale of government owned corporations, the proper status of the French language in Ontario, the times and places where one should legally be able to buy beer, and so on. On none of those things are we agreed, and the people who disagree with our position are not necessarily, for that reason, fools or rogues.”

    “Commonly, we will find in practice that those who argue for forgetting about politics in the interests of the common good are really saying ‘I know what I think, and I don’t want to have to consider any one else’s opinion.’ On many local councils, school boards and club executives, you will hear it said, ‘Let’s keep politics out of this.’ This view reveals a profound misunderstanding of the nature of a democratic society, which in essence is based on the propriety of politics. Political activity to resolve conflict is at the foundation of our way of life, without which we would not be a democracy.”

    If we want better politics, we need to build better voters. That’s why I think Steve Munro does an incredible service, here. The work of activists like him have helped move public transportation from an afterthought and an easy target of cutbacks to a major political issue. You remember the media coverage received by riders who threatened to strike to protest the recent TTC fare hike? That shows that there are more people out there who are sick of the current situation in public transit, and who are making it a major political issue. This is why all five candidates do have transit on their platforms.

    To be sure, their platforms aren’t very good, but that shows that our work here isn’t done (if it ever will be). We’ve successfully educated people into understanding why transit is important. Now we need to keep the discussion going to educate voters on why some of the politicians’ responses to their concerns are flawed claptrap.

    It would probably do us good if every person reading this post were to write up Steve Munro’s questions and send them to each of the candidates, and focus on the critical one: do you promise to keep fares reasonable and not to cut service? And, if so, how?

    The more we do that, the more likely the politicians will be forced to listen, and give us the answers we need to hear — rather than the answers they think we want to hear.

    Steve: Thanks to James for his kind words.


  14. So is James Bow trying to say that Metrolinx and the TTC read this blog and act on Steve’s criticisms? Wouldn’t that be nice, and that way we wouldn’t have to listen to Steve’s umpteenth rendition of “Long Branch — Dundas W. Stn. or BUST”, or my obsession, “Wye do I have to shlep up these stairs at St. George”?

    Transit planners like Soberman should be calling the shots, not politicians, and certainly not us. We’re not qualified and we’re biased railfans — myself included. We can talk just for the heck of it, but that’s as far as it should go.

    Steve makes some very good suggestions, and over the last few years he’s managed to convince even me that light rail is the way to go in the suburbs, but there are pro-subway forums over at Urban Toronto where Steve would be eaten alive.

    Politicians will never listen to us James — we don’t hold the mainstream view.

    Steve: The folks on Urban Toronto are welcome to their opinions. I stopped reading and posting there because there was so much vitriolic, ad hominem writing suggesting that I am personally responsible for the end of civilization as we know it. I try to host a variety of views even when I don’t agree with them, and have found that the process of carrying on these debates has honed a lot of my own arguments. As you know, I am not a hard line, LRT is the solution to every problem bigot, although I will argue for LRT unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. The same cannot be said for the subway advocates on Urban Toronto.


  15. Steve, I had no idea you were responsible for the end of civilization as we know it! Boy, you sure had us fooled. And here, all along, I thought it was Paris Hilton (or Perez, take your pick). So, the swan boats are simply a means of transporting us over the abyss. How Wagnerian.

    I too am amazed at the vitriol that prevents healthy debate. Some people’s agendas are not to be tampered with, I guess. “If you are not with us, then you are the enemy”. Depending on which group’s agenda, you are either Socialist Steve, or Taliban Munro. You can’t win for trying.

    Steve: Some of the folks at Urban Toronto come from a debating school where insulting your opponent takes the place of actually engaging him. I did a long critique of the “Save Our Subways” epistle, to which they responded that, yes, there were a lot of holes, but they were working on an updated version. Sorry, guys, but when I publish something written on Swiss cheese, I expect my critics to beat the crap out of it, and don’t have any hopes it would be adopted as part of an election platform.


  16. People like Soberman should be calling the shots?

    Did you read that report he wrote on trolley buses? That report had a number of serious problems with the analysis that affected the final recommendation that it made. If that’s anything to go by, it would be more of the same if Soberman was calling the shots.

    Steve: There is a myth that the “transit professionals” who are consultants are somehow absolute gurus whose flawless pronouncements would save us all from disaster. Funny how so many of those consultants are used to buttress positions staff already decided rather than actually giving independent advice.

    If someone “out there” really has all of the answers, why isn’t he (consultants are almost always “he”) sitting on a pedestal at City Hall with his adoring worshipers at his feet?

    I am available but want (a) a comfy pedestal with A/C and a supply of good food, wine and entertainment, (b) well behaved worshipers who don’t try to question my pronouncements, and (c) a generous travel and hospitality budget. Signed photos and selected writings will be available for a modest fee.


  17. “Steve: The folks on Urban Toronto are welcome to their opinions. I stopped reading and posting there because there was so much vitriolic, ad hominem writing suggesting that I am personally responsible for the end of civilization as we know it.”

    What! No more options to the “Where Do You Go To Get Your Hair Styled?” thread from Steve? Oh no, and I was wanting with bated breath for your next comment.


  18. It’s not a matter of activists not doing their job or failing in their attempts to relay vital information to candidates. These mayoral candidates don’t want to hear the real story and they won’t take advice or even just mild suggestions. They all think they know better.

    A close friend, who is a lifelong activist on many fronts, recently mentioned one of the candidates and said he personified the description, “When Lucky thinks he’s smart.”

    We’ve got a whole slate of mayoral candidates who have been lucky politically and, consequently, they really do think they’re smart. They aren’t and the public is going to pay the price for their delusions about their brain power, as usual.


  19. Considering the dismal record of the “experts” and politicians over the last 30 years it is hard to see how an “activist” dominated agenda could have done any worse. Since the opening of the Bloor Danforth subway in 1966-67 we have seen little that has truly progressed transit – or transportation for that matter in Toronto and the GTA. Subways built in the wrong place, declining service, sprawling suburbs unserved by effective transit, expensive toll roads owned by foreigners and an erosion of the TTC’s record of mechanical perfection and cleanliness. There is nothing to be proud of in that record.

    In fact, the last major transit decision that went “right” was heavily influenced by a group called Streetcars for Toronto. (Steve – I hope I got the name right.) Maybe if the authorities spent more time listening to rail-fans – and especially those such as you Steve, who take the time to research before pontificating, perhaps we could make some better decisions.

    The implementation stage of Transit City has, as the saying goes, been “Deja Vu all over again”.

    Steve: I wouldn’t want to claim that the advocates get it right every time either, but we have to do a much more thorough a job just to get listened to, never mind believed or followed.


  20. It is not just the Save Our Subways members who are rude. I find those advocating LRTs on Urban Toronto to be just as rude or even worse.

    I think some of those Save Our Subway members insult you because they believe that you do not welcome debates regarding subway expansion such as Sheppard East or Eglinton. They see you as an ‘LRT or nothing’ guy and once a conversation on subways starts up, you put your fingers in your ears and walk away.

    Steve: As readers here know, that’s not the case. However, I do not start with a presumption that every line drawn on a map should be considered as a subway first, and nothing else. That’s how we’ve spent the past decades getting nowhere — only lines with the strongest political support can overcome the sticker shock of big transit projects. My LRT preferences have been stated before and I won’t duplicate my feelings on what an LRT network could look like.


  21. With due respect to James Bow and Steve. If you leave transit planning up to politicians you get what we have right now. A bunch of lines drawn on a map, EA’s that are tailored to fit one’s desired mode of transport, essentially political lines with little thought to how they would fit into the overall network. See the York extension, the choice of LRT on Sheppard West, etc, etc, all chosen by this politician or that so that they can go to constituents and say that they’ve served their community. The TTC is then left to pick up the service pieces.


  22. In response to Michael Greason’s post …

    Streetcars for Toronto … yes, their intentions were good, but they were based on PCCs running every 2 minutes on roads that had far less traffic than today … plus a ton of nostalgia. What we wound up with wasn’t so great.

    And yes, sometimes the experts do get it wrong. An example that comes to mind is Norman D. Wilson (for whom Wilson Av. is named) — well, this old guy was in his 70 when he designed the Bloor-Danforth subway in 1957 — the line which you feel was the last thing Toronto did right in terms of rapid transit. Well, it was not — he should have stayed retired in Rosedale.

    For starters, his ridership estimates for the line were way way off (he felt the University line would be very close to maximum capacity with the opening of Bloor). Next, tell me who in their right mind would design a system in which two major subway routes cross each other north of the downtown financial district? No other city does this. Not only did he undersize Bloor-Yonge and St. George, but he was also forced to resign over his design of the controversial wye interchange.


  23. I’ve given up on ever having a great Toronto. I’m debating where to move when I have money. I hear Vancouver is nice.

    I’m also a bit upset that everyone wants to blame the politicians. Who are they? They are people who get Car Driving, House Living, 9-to-5ers. Those people CDHL95ers are the ones who determine elections. Next time you are angry, don’t yell at the people they elect, yell at the CDHL95ers.


  24. Transit expansion planning’s become too politicized for its own good. I tire of hearing about subway extensions to areas where nobody lives, areas with very good access to highways and commuter-rail service. Why are planners neglecting preexisting densely populated areas of the city to go build subways through brownstones, greystones and new developments? Does the existing customer base not matter? I hear a lot about something called a DRL that apparently is only fit to skirt the outer edges of the downtown core, not penetrate it directly enough to serve a large number of existing King, Queen and Dundas transit users. Sorry if my heart doesn’t bleed for Liberty Village or West Don Lands (future) residents who will have the subways the rest of covet right at their doorsteps, which half probably won’t use.

    I’d like to see from my next Mayor the vision and guts to say that we’re building a subway right through the innercity (adjacent either King or Queen Sts). I’d also like to know whether it’s really worth it to spend $350 million per kilometre on a light-rail line across a mere 20 kms of a 45 km long corridor (Eglinton) when the going rate for subway construction now is only $310 million/km (marked for inflation). Building those subway lines would be a legacy one could truly be proud of saying they’ve accomplished, not running light-rail lines into Rouge Park.

    Steve: The DRL will not provide a great deal of local service to inner city neighbourhoods, and their trips to downtown will still be more direct by streetcar than subway depending on where they’re going. The LRT subway on Eglinton is being built to subway standards.


  25. Steve said: “I do not start with a presumption that every line drawn on a map should be considered as a subway first, and nothing else.”

    Hear, hear! In fact, the one thing Ottawa did right was not to fall into that trap. The transitway was a brilliant idea of getting rapid transit–emphasis on rapid–into a through a smaller urban area. When the time is right (something Ottawa cannot at this time figure out, alas), upgrade to LRT. But a subway is not a viable option, and in a city like Toronto should not be thought of as an only option.

    Sure, let’s have door-to-door subway service! Let’s build subways down Mt. Pleasant and along Cummer. Why not?


  26. M. Briganti said: Not only did [Norman Wilson] undersize Bloor-Yonge and St. George, but he was also forced to resign over his design of the controversial wye interchange.

    He wasn’t forced to resign, he chose to resign to make a point, because the TTC board of the day wasn’t taking his advice. It’s somewhat akin to David Gunn’s resignation, although the environments are obviously different between the two. You can find his resignation letter in the Archives.

    Steve said: The LRT subway on Eglinton is being built to subway standards. Unless there’ve been a major, major changes from the design plates in the EA, the E-C LRT tunnel is an extremely far cry from subway standards.

    Steve: The boring machines for the Eglinton LRT are even larger, if I remember correctly, than those ordered for Spadina. The cost of building a subway is sensitive to the amount of stuff one has to dig out from underground (as we learned in some detail during debates at the TTC on the Spadina tunnels), as well as the number, size and complexity of stations. When I talked about Eglinton being “to subway standards” I meant that subway trains could fit through the tunnel. Other problems like gradients don’t really affect the cost of the tunnel (except if steeper grades allow you to stay closer to the constantly changing “surface” of Eglinton itself).


  27. There have been a lot of healthy debates here on Steve’s blog. This is the best ever. We are collectively getting at the real problems that sometimes get missed when we discuss the technical issues. That’s not saying such discussions aren’t valid, but this is even more important.

    This thread should be required reading for every one of the municipal candidates for the mayor’s job and city council.

    Don’t let the bastards wear you down. It’s tough, but you have to keep speaking out. The folks we’re fighting would love nothing more than for us all to tire of the struggle and walk away. The only battle that is ever lost is the one you quit.

    If no one has said it lately, I will: I salute all of you who devote the time , thought and attention to these issues. If Toronto is to be saved, then it will start with this kind of rational, level-headed debate.


  28. The paradox is clear by quoting from two comments:

    Steve (not M.) says, “The problem with all the mayoral candidates are that they have no idea of what every ward in Toronto actually need. How can someone who live in Etobicoke actually understand transit in Scarborough or someone who doesn’t take transit outside of downtown know whats wrong with the Steeles bus.”

    Then M Briganti says, “Transit planners like Soberman should be calling the shots, not politicians, and certainly not us. We’re not qualified and we’re biased railfans — myself included. We can talk just for the heck of it, but that’s as far as it should go.”

    I’m not sure that Soberman has any more clue about transit issues in various parts of the city than the mayoral candidates do.


  29. Three factors always get overlooked in this never-ending LRT/subway debate … 1) the GTA’s geographic size, 2) the average distance travelled on a typical suburban trip, and 3) overall GTA population.

    The truth is that neither subways nor LRT work under the conditions that prevail north of Eglinton. Subways are too expensive and there simply isn’t enough ridership to support them. LRT is too slow and can’t compete with the private auto, so it does nothing to get suburbanites out of their cars.

    We keep fooling ourselves over and over with this — there is no practical solution. Build the DRL downtown, but build more road capacity in the burbs.


  30. Karl … he was asked to resign. I never said Soberman should call the shots, I said transit planners LIKE Soberman should call the shots.


  31. Mimmo, I’ve read his resignation letter myself. I’ve read other communiques from the same time period that were fretting over how he would be replaced (nobody in North America at the time matched his qualifications). They would never ask him to resign as he was considered too valuable. He resigned because the commission was seriously contemplating building only the west half of the wye, which he refused to accept.


  32. “Transit planners like Soberman should be calling the shots, not politicians, and certainly not us.”

    That is, in my opinion, not a democratic view. I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s just that I firmly believe that, ultimately, the people have the responsibility to make the choices and call the shots. We as professionals or activists have our own responsibility to speak as persuasively as we can so that the voters are all as informed as possible so that they make the right decision, but we can’t and shouldn’t make decisions for the voters.

    (A caveat is that I do believe in representative government, where politicians are elected to do the best they can — even making unpopular decisions like implementing the HST — and allowing the voters to render judgement on their record in the following election. If we as voters choose to put professionals like Soberman or activists like Munro in charge, that’s also a democratic decision).

    It is a fact of life that the voters, as a whole, will make decisions that we, as individuals, fundamentally disagree with. We as individuals have some protections from the “tyranny of the majority” in the form of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but beyond that, this is just something that we have to swallow. Wasn’t it Churchill who said that democracy was the worst form of government imaginable, until you considered all of the other options?


  33. M. Briganti’s definitions of failure are not, in my view, truly accurate.

    The dismal streetcar service of today does not in any way detract from the decision to retain streetcars in the first place. Service in rush hour is not all that awful and the “congestion” argument (“can’t run streetcars in mixed traffic”) is a canard. There is a physical limit to rush hour service – based on headway and fleet size – but the awful off peak service is entirely a TTC management deliberate decision. One does not wait 45 minutes for a College Car because of “congestion” – it is because the TTC has deliberately underserved the demand. That the demand is still there is the wonder.

    The crowded state of the BD subway and congestion at Yonge Bloor suggests to me that the subway was still built in the right place. It is more successful than planned. The failure is Toronto’s neglect in completing the transit network.

    I believe that the politician inspired Spadina Subway still has every second train short turning at Eglinton West in rush hour. It doesn’t speak well to the (politician inspired) decision to locate first order infrastructure in that corridor. Extending the White Elephant to even lower density areas seems to this layman to be a dubious improvement. Extending the over capacity Yonge line to Richmond Hill seems equally unlikely to provide real progress. I don’t profess to have expertise in moving people from Richmond Hill but I read with interest Steve’s (transit activist) comments about GO Train alternatives. They seem more cost effective to me.

    Laymen can have many thoughts that contribute to the debate – and provided they have done their due diligence and thought through the issues – they should be at least listened to. As an example, not related to transit, I read in the G&M (several years ago) that Ford was selling up to 70% of its new cars through a 2 year lease where the car could be returned at the end. This layman thought that Ford was going to have a big problem with 2 year old under-maintained cars in two years. As it turned out Ford lost 100s of millions of dollars on those residuals. I often wonder how much “bonus” those who are “smarter than me” got paid for thinking up this genius plan.

    Steve: The short-turn operation is at St. Clair West, and there are plans to extend it to Glencairn. Evantually, it will shift north to at least Downsview.


  34. Nick writes: “I’ve given up on ever having a great Toronto. I’m debating where to move when I have money. I hear Vancouver is nice.”

    I would say to you that the grass is always greener on the other side. I’ve seen Chicago and I’ve seen New York. I’ve seen Des Moines and Omaha. All of these cities have things that I wish Toronto would have. And all of these cities face challenges in some ways. I think this is true of every city. Even Vancouver. Vancouver has many things I wish Toronto would have — particularly the mountains and the sea. All we have is the lake. This arrangement has constricted Vancouver’s land use and also made it hyperaware of its environment, which has led to more sensible land-use development. However, the city continues to struggle with a bit of a gulf between the rich and the poor, as recently evidenced by the efforts to try and change council from a full at-large electoral system to a ward system.

    I live in Kitchener, and Waterloo Region is a beautiful, vibrant community which is very much on track to future prosperity. With luck, we should see construction of our LRT in the next few years, and I expect to live here long enough to ride it. But I find that Torontonians don’t really appreciate the good things in their city until they leave. As a former Torontonian, I find service here in K-W (which has increased by more than 25% since Kitchener and Cambridge united their systems under Grand River Transit) to still be a poor sibling to Toronto’s efforts. This is definitely a city that’s built to cater more to car drivers than pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists, and yet we’re seeing congestion in rush hour as bad as any you’ll find in the GTA. And while Kitchener-Waterloo has its vibrant communities, it isn’t nearly as multicultural as Toronto, and you mustn’t underestimate the vigour and energy that lends to the big city. And, don’t forget: for the longest while, the City of Waterloo had the highest debt-to-taxpayer ratio in Ontario, largely thanks to a property deal that went bad, thanks to an inattentive local council.

    Toronto has its challenges, but it also has plenty of things that will enable it to prosper in the coming decades, in spite of the ineptitude of the people we elect to lead it. Toronto isn’t limited to the TTC, or the politicians at city hall. It’s the people who go about their business on the streets. And the people in the streets are doing quite well, and will continue to do so.


  35. Steve, while your intentions are noble, I don’t see how the politicians or the policy advisers are gonna be able to answer every single question. Most of the candidates are either career politician or corporate citizens, not urban design specialists. It would be a far better question to ask who should be sitting in the commissioner seats after the election? We’ve all grown tired of TTC management behaving badly and not being held accountable by the commissioners (St. Clair brings this to mind). I would be glad if Rob Ford actually holds management’s feet to the fire.

    In regards to Soberman, the argument from authority does not always hold water. Soberman was the salesman for the ICTS technology used on the Scarborough RT. There is already a conflict of interest in having him be responsible for finding a replacement for the RT. It would be like asking a car salesman who sold you a lemon for advice on buying a new car.

    Steve: Soberman himself made exactly this point at one public meeting in Scarborough where he joked about having been the guy who sold us ICTS in the first place. He was clearly leaning to an LRT conversion, but by the time TTC management was finished with his report, it became an apologia for Mark II ICTS. The fact that this did not consider the cost of taking ICTS to Sheppard or beyond shows just how blinkered TTC management’s think continues to be. Only when the numbers worked so much better for an LRT line integrated with Transit City did they eventually change their position, and there is still foot-dragging.


  36. 1. No one knows what’s needed in every single corner of the city. But I do expect that mayoral candidates can make intelligent answers to sensible questions. Furthermore, if a candidate puts forward a transit policy, it should be an intelligent policy and the candidate should be able to intelligently defend it. (Realistically, campaigning is all about photo ops kissing babies, sticking to your talking points, and ignoring troublesome questions.)

    2. I agree with James Bow’s points about political process. I’m currently reading a very interesting book, “Risky Business”. It’s about nuclear power and public protest. The opening chapters make a number of good and concise points about the tension between technocracy (the scientific experts know best) and the desire of the public for input. I certainly haven’t read the entire book yet — I keep stopping to ponder what’s written. For example, you could substitute “risks” and “hazard” by “transit planning” and “transit plan” in the following excerpt:

    ….Creating practical participatory mechanisms for the public is increasingly difficult in a decision-making environment heavily dominated by technical expertise.

    By embracing technical definitions of issues, the language of political debate becomes specialized. The concern is that dependence on scientific experts, whose judgments are necessarily influenced by their moral beliefs and social aspirations, may replace rule by a technocratic elite for democratic process. As well, the widespread requirement for specialized knowledge in the assessment and management of technologically generated risks raises the concern that the power of public decision-making will shift from politically responsible authorities to those who best grasp the technical issues associated with a particular hazard.

    (Risky Business: Nuclear Power and Public Protest in Canada, Mehta, 2005)

    Steve: I would add that, in both transit and nuclear power, any attempt to question the assumptions of the technocracy is met with a catch-all response “on your head be it if this doesn’t work”. TTC management plays this game in issues of safety where they raise the spectre of personal liability by Commissioners for decisions affecting what management deems to be safety-related. Safety is important, and it must not be used as a smokescreen to justify pet projects. I could argue that cleaning stations is a “safety” issue, but you’ll never hear TTC management or the Commission talking that way. Everything we do has an associated risk, but the presentation and evaluation of those risks reveal much about the biases of the presenter.


  37. Most politicians don’t take public transit, so how would they know what works and what doesn’t? The reason I mentioned Soberman is because he’s technology-neutral, and very objective. Can the same be said for people here, or on Urban Toronto?

    As for Mr. Wilson, Karl, he was asked to resign. When the line opened, the news media asked Mr. Wilson to comment on the operational problems and he remained silent. He knew that he goofed. If memory serves me right, the commissioners that supported him were turfed later on also.

    Steve: Everyone who agrees with someone is “technology neutral”. Those who disagree are “biased”.


  38. Norman Wilson resigned before even the University line opened, nevermind Bloor-Danforth; 1960. BD’s design was pretty much complete by that time. The operations of the wye after it was operating had no impact on his resignation.


  39. M Briganti writes: “Most politicians don’t take public transit, so how would they know what works and what doesn’t? The reason I mentioned Soberman is because he’s technology-neutral, and very objective. Can the same be said for people here, or on Urban Toronto?”

    First of all, politicians may not take public transit, but their constituents sure do. Besides the TTC complaint line, who do you think we contact when there are issues? A municipal politican’s job is to represent the city to his/her constituents, and vice-versa. This is hardly the consultant’s job.

    Secondly, how many of the problems at the TTC are technological, and how many are operational? I don’t care if Soberman is the technologiest whizzer in the whole transit business, if the Queen car isn’t running on time. That’s not a technological problem. Dirty stations are not a technological problem — technology such as brooms and mops have been known for quite some time.

    Thirdly, I have no idea how “objective” Soberman is. Consultants typically back up what their clients want. Why would a consultant, who essentially has no responsibility beyond delivering a report, want to take responsibility for the implementation of the report? That can only lead to trouble for them: it’s harder to implement reports than write them, and the implementation can reveal problems that are missed in the hoopla of the report’s delivery to the client.

    Wendell Cox is a consultant, too. If you enter “anti-transit consultant”, you can read all about him. Any campaign to have the TTC, or GO, or Metrolynx, run by consultants will get a big fat laugh/raspberry from me.

    Steve: Many consultants work in the enviable environment where they never have to actually do anything, just run studies and produce reports now and then. It’s a lot easier to draw lines on a map than to make the trains run on time. A really good planning consultant knows and respects the problems from both sides, at least to the point of being able to advocate or warn about things that sound good in the media, and look great in the glossy brochures, but won’t work on the street. Conversely, they also know enough to recognize BS about why some idea “won’t work here”. However, it is a political decision to override, and if necessary replace management to correct this sort of problem.


  40. So what’s Ed’s point? I’m talking about unbiased route and technology selection, not about scheduling and dirty stations.

    OK Karl — about Wilson, I give up — you’re right and I’m wrong. There was an official story, and an unofficial one, so I’ll let it go, but I will say this … you know how Steve says Bloor had the ridership to justify a subway in the 60s? I have a report in front of me where Wilson says that Bloor St. didn’t warrant a subway — that it was chosen only because Metro wanted an east-west subway somewhere, and that it was the busiest car-line at the time. So Steve … LRT on Bloor!

    Steve: The BD line was running a service in April 1964 between Bedford and Coxwell of one two-car PCC train every 86 seconds, or almost 42 trains per hour. At the design loads now used by Service Planning, that’s over 6,000 per hour, and the cars were running at well above what is now considered a target load for planning. (West of Bedford and east of Coxwell, the service was one 2-car train every 150 seconds.)

    The day it opened, the BD line had a higher demand than projected for any Transit City line in the 2031 timeframe. That was before the growth of the suburbs and the reach of both rapid transit and surface routes into areas that were farmland in the 1960s.

    No, if I were looking at BD today, I would see a situation very like Eglinton, but with more current and future demand, an impossible situation for surface LRT, and a strong justification for tunnelling right across the city. Combined with the idea of integrated service for a direct ride downtown, I would probably argue for a subway, not LRT. Where the debate would have come is the question of where to end the subway and make the transition to a suburban LRT network, but that’s a completely separate argument I don’t want to rehash here.


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