Eglinton-Crosstown Public Meeting (Updated)

Updated April 27, 2011 at 4:10pm: The presentation from the April 26 public meeting is now available on the Metrolinx website.

Original post from April 21:

There will be a public meeting about the Eglinton-Crosstown project on Tuesday, April 26 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm in the auditorium of St. Clement’s School, 21 St. Clement’s Avenue.

For those who don’t know the area, this is roughly a 3/4 km walk north from Eglinton Station, or you can transfer to the 97 Yonge at Davisville (indoors) or Eglinton (on-street) Stations. The service runs roughly every 15 minutes, at least on paper.

All the attendees will arrive by transit, won’t they?

This meeting is a joint presentation of several Councillors along the Eglinton line.

One can only hope that the public will actually get a chance to speak, a rare event in our fine city these days.

TTC Fouls up Variety Village Service Plan (Updated)

Updated April 26 at 2:30 pm:

I received a note from the TTC castigating me for the “gotcha” nature of this article.  In effect, in my zeal to show this as a staff error, I left out information that would have painted a different picture.

The background for this is that at the December 2010 meeting (the first of the new Commission), there was a presentation on the options for serving Variety Village.  This presentation is not available online, but was sent to me with the complaint.  Given its size, I have excerpted the portion relating to the proposed 12 Kingston Road split in which it is clear that (a) service would be removed from Kingston Road at some hours and (b) staff do not support this option.

2010.12 Variety Village Route 12

The December report accompanying the presentation includes an earlier report on Variety Village which mentions the split 12 Kingston Road service as an option, but recommends against it.  There is no mention in the 2004 report that a split service would remove buses from Kingston Road completely during some periods of operation.

The loss of service with this option is not mentioned in the April report or recommendation approved by the Commission, nor in the “Commission Highlights” posted after the meeting.  It is quite clear that this was seen as a “good news” story, and that the Commission did not understand (or if they did, care to acknowledge) that a service cut was involved.

The original post from April 25 follows below.

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Reading the Fine Print

The TTC’s Audit Committee recently considered the Draft Financial Statement for 2010, a report that will likely show up on the regular meeting agenda in May.  As usual, the interesting parts are buried in the notes.

Last fall, I wrote about the manner in which the TTC is financed and the baffling array of programs and reserve funds through which money flows to various parts of the TTC operating and capital budget.  This article continues with the info for 2010.

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The Vanishing Eglinton Right-of-Way

Serious policy geeks like me spend our time delving into the more arcane reports on various agendas.  This can be tedious work, but every so often, something interesting turns up.

On the May 2, 2011, agenda for the Government Management Committee, there is an item regarding the transfer of various city properties to Build Toronto, the agency charged with making money off of surplus City lands.

Among the properties to be transferred are three strips of land along the north side of Eglinton Avenue:

  • West of Widdicombe Hill Blvd
  • East of Widdicombe Hill to Kipling
  • East from Kipling to Wincott Drive

These lands form part of the original reserve for the Richview Expressway for which plans were abandoned decades ago.  A strip of land will be kept along the south edge of these properties for road widening should an Eglinton LRT project (or similar work needing more road space) ever proceed.

Disposal of this land by the City effectively blocks any scheme for using the expressway lands for a transit line either on the surface on in a ditch.

Another block of land to be transferred lies on the northeast corner of Don Mills and Eglinton.  The report notes that this is the planned location for a bus terminal connecting with the Eglinton LRT line at Don Mills, and this would certainly be a good place for an integrated development.

Elsewhere in the list of surplus properties, one can see remnants of the Scarborough transportation corridor and the Front Street extension.  It is ironic that an administration so bent on auto transportation is giving up lands that once might have been part of an extensive highway network.

Transfer of Properties Report

Appendices including detailed property descriptions

The Mythical Private Sector Subway

The Ford Administration and its followers at City Hall would have us believe that transit developments in Toronto can be had essentially free of public cost and that the private sector, whatever that means, will pony up the investment to build the subway.

Almost as soon as the scheme for a privately financed Sheppard Subway was announced, the wheels started to come off the plan.  Actually, “come off” assumes that it had wheels to begin with, and statements by the Fords showed clearly that they had not worked through the details.

Oddly enough, their hands were out for any public sector funds that might be available including $330-million or so originally earmarked by Ottawa for the Sheppard LRT, up to $650m in “left over” funding that might not be needed for the Eglinton tunnel project by Queen’s Park, and whatever investment could be pried loose from Ottawa’s “PPP Canada”.  Additional money might come from a quick sale of waterfront lands by the City to would-be developers.

The scale of the Sheppard project may well shrink to only the eastern leg from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre so that the total cost stays in the $2-billion range.

Recently, I learned that Queen’s Park had offered $2b toward the Sheppard Subway provided that the Fords would allow the eastern part of Eglinton to remain on the surface, but this was turned down flat.  So intransigent is the Mayor on the subject of incursion by transit into road space that the possibility of substantial funding for his pet project was not an option worth embracing.

You may have noticed by now that there isn’t a lot of private sector money in this story, except for the buy-out of waterfront lands, and that’s a sale of public assets, not a private sector investment in transit.

Meanwhile, we hear a lot about private sector investment elsewhere, usually with little context.  Vancouver’s Canada Line comes up now and then, including in comments on this site, and some people think it’s a private sector show all the way.  In fact, various public agencies have over $1-billion in the project, more than half of the total cost.  Even the “private” partner, a joint venture, includes investment agencies that manage public funds including pension plans.

Probably the most successful example of investment-supported transit is in Hong Kong, but this must be seen in the context of local conditions.  Not only is Hong Kong an extremely dense city, it is one in which the land ownership and planning are firmly in public hands.  Private buildings abound, but they sit on land leased from the public sector which reaps the benefit of land development.  (For an extensive look at the Hong Kong system’s financial and planning development, see Rail+Property Development by Cervero and Murakami [14MB]).

Leaving aside whether Toronto would ever support densities such as those found in major Asian cities like Hong Kong, there are important issues that do not get discussed here.

  • Who profits, and how soon?  If land is held in the public sector, the profit from  appreciation thanks to transit construction remains there too.
  • Will the City simply hand over land to developers to do with as they please, or will there be a recognition that city building involves us all?
  • Will new neighbourhoods to be planned both as attractive, pedestrian-friendly spaces where people will want to live even at high densities, or will we see a continuation of the tower-in-a-parking-lot so common in many developments?
  • Will we build car-oriented suburbs, generating even more congestion, along what is supposed to be a major transit corridor?
  • Will the Sheppard line be funded only with development along its corridor, or will other parts of the city, such as the waterfront, have development revenues siphoned off leaving them bereft of transit?
  • How much of the scheme depends on the City fronting the initial construction cost in the hope of future development revenues to pay the capital and operating expenses?
  • Will Council be allowed to perform, in public, a full review of the terms of any arrangement, or will we sell our transit system’s future in a back room deal?

PPPs are notorious for requiring careful structure of contracts, performance criteria, penalties and ongoing management.  Toronto’s political culture prefers to walk away from such responsibility in the public sector.

One way or another, Toronto will commit a pot load of money to a Sheppard subway of dubious value, and force Queen’s Park to bury the entire Eglinton line at great cost.  Billions will disappear into these projects while other parts of the transit system beg for funding.

The private sector may wind up funding some portion of the Sheppard project, but transit overall is still very much a public issue.  Long term funding will depend on public revenues.  We cannot avoid the debate on fares, tolls or taxes, with the assumption that magically money in the private sector will build, operate and maintain our transit system.  Somewhere, the public will spend more, or sell assets, or give away benefits as a tradeoff.  Nothing is free.

Are We Losing the Eastern Waterfront?

Most Torontonians know we have a lake and its better-known attractions such as Harbourfront, the stadium, Exhibition Place, and of course the wall of condos stretching from Yonge to beyond Bathurst.  However, the Eastern Waterfront isn’t part of the “mental map” many people in Toronto carry around.

For the past century, the lands east of Yonge, and particularly those south of Lake Shore and east of the Don River, have been industrial properties known only to those who work there, the neighbouring communities, intrepid explorers, and visitors to a few clubs and supermarkets.  The size and potential of the space — as big as the existing downtown — simply don’t register as part of “Toronto”.

Waterfront Toronto has plans to change all of that and, in the process, to undo some of the disastrous choices of the past century.  Developments proceed along Queen’s Quay, and there is much more to come, but even these get us only to the Don River.  The big prize is the Don River mouth and the port lands to the southeast.

Plans to redesign Queen’s Quay, reducing it to a two-lane road with cycling and pedestrians replacing cars where the eastbound roadway now lies, are threatened.  Mayor Ford’s desire to maximize capacity for road users may sabotage a scheme many years in the making.

There was a time when “transit first” was the defining call for waterfront development, and the eastern branch of the Harbourfront streetcar was planned as an integral element in the build-out east from downtown.  As with so many great schemes, this has run aground on funding limitations at Waterfront Toronto and substantial growth in TTC cost estimates.

The proposed line on Cherry Street that was to serve development in the West Don Lands, may not be built for several years because of concern that it might impede Pan Am Games related development, the very development it was intended to serve.

The worst knot in the transit scheme lies at the tangle of roads where Cherry, Lake Shore, Queen’s Quay and Parliament all meet around the mouth of the Don.  Sorting this out was to be part of the plan for creation of parkland and flood control at the Don, but this project has no funding, and no burning interest from any level of government.

From a transit perspective, it’s as if the Spadina car ended at King Street, and there were no Harbourfront car on Queen’s Quay.  This is no way to develop a transit-oriented neighbourhood.

Waterfront Toronto is under attack from some in Mayor Ford’s circle.  Yesterday, John Campbell, president and CEO, appeared on Metro Morning commenting on some criticisms.  He was rather diplomatic in saying that the debate is simply a matter of a new government finding its legs and learning what’s really going on.  The problem with this outlook is that many in Ford’s inner circle have been on Council for some time.  Whether they actually paid attention to Waterfront Toronto, or saw it only as one more Miller legacy to be dismantled, is hard to say.

The real agenda becomes much clearer when one reads Councillor Doug Ford’s musings about waterfront development.  That prize I mentioned earlier, a piece of land roughly equivalent to the block bounded by Yonge, Bathurst, Bloor and Queen, is lusted over by many public agencies and not a few developers.  This is an ideal time, after all, to hope for a municipal fire sale.  The city wants to liquidate its assets, and developers would love to get a free hand to build on the eastern lake shore in the same unfettered manner we have already seen west of Yonge Street.

Ford thinks the city should not be in the development business, but fails to understand that the whole Waterfront Toronto scheme was to provide the infrastructure and the overall design that would increase land values and build the foundation of a new downtown neighbourhood.  That’s not something any private developer, concerned only for the land he develops and the immediate neighbourhood, cares about or will invest in.  A beautiful park would make him money, but he wants the public sector to pay for it.

Another wrinkle comes from the competing agendas of agencies such as Infrastructure Ontario and the Port Lands corporation who would love to elbow Waterfront Toronto aside and develop their lands without the overburden of regional planning and design goals.  The idea of a waterfront park, of wetlands, cycling and pedestrian realms, isn’t embraced by those who see only acreage and more development.  Indeed, some would simply channel the river and build over it rather than exploit what it could be as the focus of public open space.

Worst of all is the City of Toronto’s appetite for money.  Much of the improvement in the waterfront was to be funded from proceeds of development, but if this is scooped by the City to pay down debt, or to fund pet projects like the Sheppard Subway, the ugly, inaccessible waterfront will remain, and the land will be lost to public hands forever.  If we sell quick and cheap, we gain a short term pile of cash, but leave the bulk of future appreciation in private hands.  (I cannot help thinking of another cash-strapped, right-wing government that sold Highway 407 in similar circumstances, a sale many have regretted ever since.)

The waterfront is on the edge of the city, and to many it’s as out of sight as Malvern or Rexdale are to downtowners.  Voters want slogans and quick fixes, and only care about the details when they are personally affected.  Do we want a beautiful waterfront?  Do people even care?  Will we wake up in ten years asking “how did this happen”?

Service Changes for May 8, 2011 (Updated)

Effective Sunday, May 8, 2011, many service changes will be implemented across the TTC network.  The most significant of these will be the removal of service to lightly-used routes during off-hours primarily, but not only, on Sunday evenings.

Updated April 23, 2011:  The detailed Service Summary effective May 8 is now available on the TTC’s website.

To save myself a lot of typing, I have simply reproduced the list of cuts from the TTC memo describing all of the changes.  The remaining changes are detailed below.

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NextBus Data Feed Change Breaks Apps & Bookmarks

On April 6, NextBus introduced a new data feed structure.  The major change in this version is that the stop nomenclature used internally by the application has been revised to match the stop numbers used for the TTC’s vehicle arrival text message system.  Other updates include some schedule related information in the data feed (run, crew and trip numbers) that will probably be of more use to an internal app that “knows” about the schedules.

This change has side-effects both for users of the NextBus site, and for 3rd-party applications based on the data feed.

Any NextBus user who has bookmarked a stop for easy retrieval will find that the bookmark does not work.  The reason is that the bookmark includes the old stop identification, and this does not exist any more.  You will need to recreate the bookmark.

Users of Whereismystreetcar will find that it is working, sort of, while the author adapts his code to the new data feeds.  There is a similar problem with old bookmarks on this app, and any you have created must be redone.

I don’t know about other apps based on the NextBus feed, but if users could let me know what’s working and what’s not, I can maintain status info here.

TTC Meeting for April 2011 (Update 2)

Updated April 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm:

I forgot to mention in my earlier update that there was talk going around the meeting that only half of the Sheppard Subway scheme (the eastern half) might be pursued in the short term (the next decade) to keep the cost down to $2 billion and change.  This echoes a comment by Vice Chair Peter Milczyn in yesterday’s Toronto Sun.

Updated April 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm:

At the Commission meeting, very little happened.

The new, but not yet official, Chief Customer Service Officer was introduced and he made a few remarks about his hopes for the new position.  He has a real challenge in front of him.  Customer Service may be the kind of thing Commissioners love to smile brightly and gush about, but wait until we start talking money, or the negative effects of cutbacks on the perceived quality of the system.

As expected, the proposed split of the 12 Kingston Road bus so that half of its service would run via past Variety Village (via Birchmount and Danforth) was approved.  This will begin operation on May 8, but the community shuttle bus (run by Wheel Trans) from Main Station will continue to run until Victoria Park Station (route 12’s terminus) becomes accessible later this year.

Unlike the previous meeting, Commissioner Minnan-Wong did not belabour the public session with inquiries about contract cost changes.  Some of these questions should be asked, but without implying that every change is a sign of waste and incompetence.  Whether he was equally silent in the private session before the main meeting, I don’t know.

However, in what must be the greatest example of how petty the new Commission (and the Ford regime) can be, there was continued discussion of the fact that former Chair Giambrone overspent his 2010 expense allowance by approximately $3,400.  The issue will come back to the May Commission meeting, and there were dark hints that more serious measures would be taken.  Considering that for many years, none of the Commissioners or Chairs has used all of their expense budget, this is really small potatoes.  However, it’s more important than worrying about how to pay for a $4.2-billion subway with magic beans.

The big issue, relatively speaking, was the new Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited report.  This company, renamed and resurrected from an older, inactive TTC subsidiary, will be used as a home for work on the “Toronto Subway Project” (the official name for the Sheppard Subway extensions in the Memorandum of Understanding with Queen’s Park).  It has $160,000 sitting in the bank from the original setup capital out of TTC when it was created, and retained earnings from work performed years ago.  This nest egg will allow it to operate without any funding approvals for the short term.

We learned that Gordon Chong, a former Councillor and Commissioner, has been retained at $100k/year as President, CEO, Secretary, Treasurer and Co-Chair.  The other directors and officers who are members of Council will not be paid for their work on TTIL.

A rather convoluted motion was passed by the Commission stating that it would approve paying invoices on TTIL’s behalf provided that a mechanism was set up for Council to fund them.  Presumably this would be required once they burn through their $160k nest egg.

Former Vice-Chair Mihevc spoke as a deputant, and raised a number of issues about the Sheppard Subway notably the lack of detailed information on the way it will actually be funded, what the effects will be for ongoing system subsidy requirements (as compared with the Transit City LRT lines originally proposed), and what type of service would be offered to those areas where the LRT plans have been cancelled.

A report on what to do with Finch West is expected back later this year, and the 2012 budget review will include provision for whatever is recommended.  Obviously, this won’t involve any significant construction such as a BRT lane and stations.

The Commission swatted these requests aside, and Vice Chair Milczyn said that “we don’t need to know what future subsidies might be” because in every past case the TTC has always just opened new lines and absorbed the cost.  The desire to not debate the wisdom of the Sheppard proposal, which hasn’t been approved by anyone yet other than the Mayor, was quite clear.  After the meeting, a press scrum with Chair Karen Stintz was notable for its evasiveness.  In the end, it all comes back to “the Mayor wants it”.

As long as Council has enough cheerleaders who let Mayor Ford get away with this sort of thing, it’s hard to understand why we even bother holding public meetings.

The original post from April 2 outlining major agenda issues (most of which were not discussed at all), follows the break.

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