Think About Transit on Finch and Sheppard, But Not Yet

On May 30, I sat through a bizarre debate at Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee.  Two motions proposed at Council were referred off to this Committee for action, one regarding Sheppard and the other for Finch.  The intent of these motions was to provoke a discussion of and request detailed information about the status of transit on the now-abandoned parts of the Transit City routes beyond the scope of the proposed subway extension project.

First up was Sheppard.  Councillor Raymond Cho, whose ward encompasses the northeastern part of Scarborough, is very disappointed that plans to improve transit to his constituents, and to the outer part of Scarborough generally, have been cancelled.  He asked that, at a minimum, consideration be given to taking the rebuilt SRT (now the Eglinton Crosstown line) further north to Sheppard as this would bring the rapid transit network across the 401 and much closer to Malvern.

Councillor Karen Stintz (also chair of the TTC) proposed that discussion of the issue be deferred “until such time as the Toronto Transit Commission’s plans for improved public transit on Sheppard Avenue are known”.

This is an odd stance to take given that there is no indication the TTC is working on any plans for improved public transit beyond the scope of the proposed Sheppard Subway to Scarborough Town Centre (STC).  Cho asked that at least a time limit for such a report be included in the motion, but this idea was not acceptable as an amendment by Stintz.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (former TTC Vice-Chair) argued that avoiding discussion now would lead to a finished product being presented for an up-or-down decision with no time for debate or public input.  He argued that people affected by the cancellation of Transit City want input into alternative plans now.  Stintz replied that Metrolinx is running a series of meetings regarding the Eglinton line, but what these have to do with service on Sheppard and Finch is hard to fathom.

Councillor Anthony Perruzza (another former TTC Commissioner) asked about the cost to the city of the cancelled Transit City projects.  Stintz went into a convoluted explanation claiming that Transit City was put together before Metrolinx existed, that it was worked out as input to The Big Move, and that since Metrolinx decided to change its plan, there was no cost to the City.  Stintz claimed that since Transit City was never funded, there could not have been any costs.

This is simply not true on a few counts.  Metrolinx was created as the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority in 2006, and changed to its current name in 2007.  At the beginning of David Miller’s second term as Mayor in December 2006, it was already known that Queen’s Park was working on a comprehensive new transit plan in anticipation of the fall election.  Whatever Toronto had on the table would likely become part of it.  Transit City was announced early in 2007, and in June 2007, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020.  Metrolinx was charged with sorting through all of the projects in a long shopping list from the GTA regions and this, eventually, became The Big Move.

The TTC, with the approval of City Council, undertook a number of Transit City studies, and carried their costs on its own books.  Once the projects were officially funded, Queen’s Park reimbursed Toronto for the costs to date.  Some projects, such as Jane and Don Mills, never reached funded status, and the sunk costs on those projects remain on the City and TTC books.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park explicitly states that Toronto is on the hook to repay any subsidy already paid on Transit City projects (such as preliminary engineering and Environmental Assessments)  that are no longer part of the overall plan.  This affects the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects, and probably the SRT extension.

As for Metrolinx changing its plans, it was no secret that Mayor Ford was immovable on the elimination of surface LRT from the plans, and that Queen’s Park needed to salvage the Eglinton Crosstown line by making it an LRT subway.  The decision to cut Finch and Sheppard East out of the plan was simply a way to placate Ford, to free up additional funding for Eglinton, and to get out of the way of Ford’s Sheppard Subway.  This was not a unilateral Metrolinx decision.

As the debate continued, it was clear that Stintz was being too clever for her own good by trying to treat work-to-date as not part of “Transit City”.  This is an example of the gyrations through which Mayor Ford’s team will go to warp history to fit their agenda.

Councillor Adam Vaughan grilled Stintz on the issue of tolls, a subject recently raised by Gordon Chong who is running Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited (TTIL), a TTC subsidiary.  Stintz attempted to claim that she has no reporting relationship with Chong even though she Chairs TTIL’s parent body.  Isolated by the TTIL board on which she does not sit, Stintz claims she has no responsibility for what Chong might say.  The irony here is that Chong, as a Ford crony, really doesn’t report to Stintz who is more and more only a figurehead at the TTC where major financial decisions are concerned.

Vaughan continued with questions about funding of the Sheppard line and the amount of development needed to generate revenues that would finance its construction.  He proposed that the Chief Planner report on development sites along the corridor and the potential effect of large-scale redevelopment at densities much higher than have been contemplated as part of Transit City.  Councillor Peter Milczyn (chair of the P&GM committee and vice-chair of the TTC), punted that idea off the table by suggesting that this be done as part of the quinquennial review of the Official Plan that will get underway later this year.  Vaughan and others responded that people should know now, not in the indefinite future, the implications of Ford’s financing schemes for development in their neighbourhoods.

Councillor Ana Bailão spoke laughingly to Vaughan as if Transportation City were already a done deal when in fact neither it nor the Ford MOU has ever been to Council, unlike Transit City which required both funding approvals and Official Plan Amendments.

The entire debate took on a surreal tone with the Ford faction (who control both the committee and the TTC) weaving a fable about how discussion now would be premature, and that the new “Transportation City” plan was getting the same level of debate and consideration as “Transit City”.  In fact, it is getting almost no debate, the very issue this faction complains about every time they talk about Miller’s exclusion of the right in the Transit City planning.

The Ford team spends far too much time justifying its actions, its lack of consultation and transparency, by reference to the Miller years.  That was a weak excuse months ago, and now it’s positively laughable.  A city is not governed on resentment for a man, for a regime no longer in power, but on a coherent, believable vision for the city.

In the end, the same fate met the requests for additional reports on both Sheppard and Finch — the issues, even a request for information, are deferred until the TTC gets around to proposing something specific for each of the corridors.  We already know what the Finch report looks like complete with its confusion of a golf course for a college in the route planning.  Nothing has been presented to the TTC on the Sheppard east corridor.

“Transparency” is not a word I would use to describe transit planning in Toronto under Mayor Ford.  In time we may see what, if anything, the TTC comes up with for the two corridors.

Meanwhile, the 2012 operating budget, almost certain to bring service cuts and fare increases, is expected to surface at the June 8 TTC meeting.  The city’s huge deficit going into the budget process will make any talk of new service on Finch, Sheppard or any other corridor seem like a distant memory.

Is BRT The Chosen Way?

The Globe and Mail included a full page article by Jonathan Yazer on Victoria day on the subject of Bus Rapid Transit.  [In the interest of full disclosure, I was interviewed for but not quoted in the article.]

The online version includes one photo — a BRT operation in Seoul — but the print version includes two more — New Delhi and Soweto.

Common to all three examples is the provision of dedicated space for buses, and this echoes comments throughout the article.  The streets in question have generous proportions with the Seoul example having at least three traffic lanes in each direction, plus four lanes for the BRT (this provides space for platforms and a passing lane at stations).  The New Delhi example looks like two traffic lanes each way between stations, although the peak direction has a rather chaotic triple row of cars in it.  In Soweto, the example is on an expressway and the photo does not show a station layout.

There are really three questions any BRT advocate must address:

  • Are you prepared to take road space away from cars, or to widen the road so that non-transit capacity is maintained?  Apples-and-oranges comparisons with reserved lane LRT and mixed traffic BRT (aka BRT-lite) give the impression we can have something for nothing.  No, we would get little more than a road lane, a bit of paint, a few signs and no enforcement.  This is Toronto, and we should be honest about how traffic laws actually work here.
  • Are you building a line for local traffic, or for long-haul travel?  There is a big difference in the capacity of and the space required for a BRT line if the buses rarely have to stop.  Moreover, if you can’t provide exclusive lanes over the entire route, you must address the design where buses move into mixed traffic.  An example of such a problem who be at the Finch Hydro corridor and Keele Street if buses could not reach Finch West station without navigating through congestion on Keele.  Some parts of a route may not have room for road widening, and yet they must provide the full capacity needed for buses using the reserved-lane portions.
  • How do you expect riders to access your service?  Buses running through ravines, down expressways and along (some) hydro corridors will not be easy for passengers to reach, and this constrains the demands a line can serve.  This is not to say that such operations are a bad idea, but that they don’t answer every situation.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz remarks that “… BRT needs to be done properly, with its own right-of-ways, so that they’re convenient and effective means of moving people”.  This seems to put to rest any thoughts of making do with reserved curb lane operation.

I have a few kvetches with the article.

  • In the print edition (not online), there is a sub-title “Sayonara light-rail, au revoir subways.  Across North America, express bus corridors are leaving pricier transit options in the dust.”  This text is not supported by the article, and is a good example of poor headline writing (authors rarely get to write their own headings, except on personal blogs like this one).
  • There is a reference to the Vancouver BRT having been upgraded to “LRT”.  This repeats a statement in the TTC staff presentation on the Finch corridor.  In fact, Vancouver replaced its Richmond BRT with the Canada Line which is technologically much closer to a subway (completely grade-separated, automatic operation) than to LRT.  It’s closest cousin would be the planned Eglinton “LRT” which is a far cry from the original Transit City proposal.
  • The article does not mention the error in the TTC scheme which takes the proposed Finch line to a golf course rather than Humber College and, therefore, gets the length, cost and local impacts of the BRT proposal wrong.  I suspect that the article was completed and filed before this issue came to light.

Yazer’s article is a good overview, and it does not read as an airy endorsement of BRT in all circumstances.  I agree that BRT has its place.  Whether that place is as a replacement for Transit City is quite another matter.

We have many bus routes that will never get even this level of attention, and will do well to see the odd transit priority measure at intersections.  The war on transit will affect the bus network throughout suburban Toronto if only because making more space for transit and providing more resources to operate better service are two items far from the agenda of the Ford administration.

If Finch had not been an active part of Transit City, it wouldn’t even be considered for BRT.

Service Changes Effective June 19, 2011

Many service changes will come into effect on June 19 thanks to the two common factors influencing summer schedules:  seasonal riding changes and construction.

The service changes are detailed in the usual spreadsheet form.  This will be a point of comparison in the fall when we see when and if these changes are reversed, what improvements are funded from the May service “reallocation”, or if budget problems start Toronto into a downward spiral.

Construction Diversions

The 504 King diversion in Parkdale for track and overhead reconstruction between Roncesvalles and Close will continue until the end of the summer.  The operation of streetcars on Roncesvalles itself should resume at the end of July.

The 506 Carlton car will divert around the Gerrard Street bridge over the Don River during reconstruction until the end of the summer.  Westbound service will run via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament.  Eastbound service will run via Parliament, Queen and Broadview.  Cars will be added to the schedule to compensate for the added mileage.

The 505 Dundas diversion around street reconstruction west of Spadina will continue through the summer.

The 502/503 services on Kingston Road will be converted to bus operation until late November for watermain construction.

Rapid Transit Service

On the Yonge Subway, the only service change will be the withdrawal of one standby train and one of three scheduled gap trains.  The scheduled headways are not changed.

Service on the Yonge subway has been lower than budgeted because of the late arrival of the Toronto Rocket trains.  The first of these is expected to enter service in June.  There is no word yet on when this will trigger headway improvements.

On the Bloor-Danforth subway, peak period service will be reduced by 12-15%.

On the Scarborough RT, running times will be increased to reduce top speeds during hot weather.

Details are shown in the spreadsheet.

2011.06.19 Service Changes

Creative Financing for the Sheppard Subway

The City of Toronto has issued a proposal call on behalf of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited (TTIL) for consultants to work on the business model for the extensions of the Sheppard Subway.

One option previously discussed to fund transit expansion has been “Tax Increment Financing”.  Comments in various places, including from members of the development industry, suggested that the scale of development needed on Sheppard Avenue to finance the subway extensions was not attainable.

We now know that the Ford regime intends to cast the net much wider to fund their pet project:

The plan will assume that the incremental tax revenues arising from the construction of the proposed Sheppard subway extension corridors as well as from the construction of the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown line can be applied towards funding the capital costs of the Sheppard subway extension projects. The plan will provide a separate forecast of incremental tax revenues for each of the four corridors (Sheppard W., Sheppard E., Eglinton, Scarborough RT).

In other words, additional tax will flow not just from Sheppard, but from the Eglinton-Scarborough line funded by Queen’s Park.  This begs the question of how we would ever fund rapid transit entirely with TIF revenue when we must raid the benefits of other projects.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park does not specify where TIF would be applied, only that it is an option to be explored and Queen’s Park would assist with any necessary legislative changes.

This is turning into a shell game where future city revenues that would pay for many improvements and ongoing operations will be mortgaged to fund one subway expansion.

[Thanks to Jamie Kirkpatrick at the Toronto Environmental Alliance for spotting this.]

The Mythical Finch West BRT (Update 2)

In what has to be a major “oops” for the TTC, a keen-eyed reader, Michael Forest, noticed that according to the map of the proposed Hydro corridor alignment for a Finch BRT, the western terminus is the Humber Valley Golf Course, about 5km east and south of Humber College.  This error occurs in both the background report and in the staff presentation.

The inability of the TTC to provide accurate maps now appears to have affected its ability to plan new routes.

It is unclear how a “Hydro” alignment would actually reach Humber College because the Hydro corridor turns southwest (past the golf course) to reach the Richview switching station.  On Finch itself, there is no parallel Hydro corridor from a point just east of Weston Road to Humber College.  How the TTC could cost such a route when none exists (unless there are many student golfers) is a mystery.

(One option might be to deploy a fleet of Swan Boats from the Golf Course via the Humber River to traverse the remaining distance to the College.)

Updated May 15 at 8:00 am:

The actual distance from Finch & Keele to Humber College as given by Google Maps is 10.9km, almost 2km more than the length cited by the TTC in its preliminary comparison of alternatives (9km).  The route is longer if via the Hydro corridor because of access between the corridor and Finch.  The distances cited by the TTC appear to be the length of a route to Humber Valley Golf Course which lies between Weston Road and Albion Road where Sheppard Avenue would be if the river valley were not in the way.

The corridor, as some have already observed in the comments, crosses Finch between Highway 400 and Weston Road, about 4km west of Keele.  Any BRT to Humber College cannot avoid centre-of-the-road construction for the 7km west of this point.

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In Case You Haven’t Noticed

With the recent emphasis on Customer Service as the TTC’s new mantra, I am rather harder on them for certain types of issue than I might otherwise be.

One important part of CS is accurate information.  Not only is it useful to riders, it gives some indication that the organization cares to make their journey more comfortable with alerts about unusual conditions.

Sunday, May 15 is the date of the Goodlife marathon, and the TTC helpfully tells us about delays and diversions with posters and e-alerts.  Here is one I just received:

SUNDAY: Rolling road closures for GoodLife Toronto Marathon impacts TTC routes: 5, 14, 33, 65, 72A, 94, 97-320, 127, 504. Expect delays.

Last updated May 14, 2011 18:59:30

Route 33 Forest Hill no longer operates on weekends.  “Expect delays” is something of an understatement.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, the service change notice and revised schedule have finally appeared at Broadview Station for route 8 Broadview.  The TTC appears to be slowly catching up with the backlog from service changes implemented a week ago.

At times, I feel like I’m just kvetching, but one would hope that the TTC folks responsible for maps and service notices paid attention to timeliness and accuracy.

TTC Meeting Wrapup May 2011

The TTC Agenda for May 11 contained a number of items of interest.  In a previous article, I reviewed the preliminary report for the Finch bus service improvements.

Items detailed below the break are:

  • PRESTO Update
  • Adam Giambrone’s Office Expenses
  • Station Ambassadors
  • Chief General Manager’s Report for January-February 2011
  • 510 Spadina Additional Service South of King Street
  • Additional Commissioners

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Secret Service Cuts

Today, the money-saving service cuts went into effect on many routes.  At this point, the TTC’s magnificent customer service efforts have not seen fit to post notices at stops on the affected routes, nor to change the posted schedules.  They have managed to place small yellow stickers saying “hey, no service”, but left the old schedules in place.  I don’t know if the yellow stickers are up system wide because checking that out is lots of work.

So far, the TTC’s effort consists of:

  • A “good news” press release and media event stressed the service additions (almost all of which were routine seasonal changes) while omitting any mention of the service cuts.
  • Updated schedule info is online, but not on schedules posted at stops.
  • There are “no service” stickers on affected stops, but I don’t know how extensive this work is, especially where routes with different hours of service share the same stop.
  • System maps have not been updated to show route segments with limited hours of operation.

At Broadview Station, there is no indication that 62 Mortimer and 8 Broadview no longer operate after 10pm Sundays.

On a related topic, the TTC must dust off its Service Standards and address issues on which they were silent earlier this year:

  • Will the screenline of 10 riders per hour continue to be applied for future service cuts?
  • Will walking distances to service be considered both as they apply to future cuts, and to reviews of the cuts that have been implemented?
  • What mechanism will be used to monitor and, if justified, to reintroduce service, and what standard will apply?

Please use comments on this post to help track the degree to which missing or incorrect information about the service cuts is a system-wide problem.

And remember to tell all your friends that this is “for the greater good”.

hotdocs 2011 part i

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year when a transit blogger burrows into dark theatres to watch documentaries for eleven days.  Our regular programming will resume in due course.

This year’s hotdocs has 199 films and the most dedicated won’t see even half of them.  Me?  I manage two or three a day with the odd foray to other events such as concerts and even the occasional political/transit meeting.  Hard to break old habits.

This post covers days 1-3 of hotdocs and includes reviews of:

  • POM Wonderful Presents:  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold ***
  • A Hard Name ***
  • How to Make a Book with Steidl **½
  • That’s Life ***
  • Our Persian Rug ***
  • Mighty Jerome ***½
  • Battle for Brooklyn ****
  • The National Parks Project *½

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