Updated July 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm:
At its meeting on July 6, the TTC board accepted the staff recommendation that the access route to Ashbridges Bay Maintenance & Storage Facility remain on Leslie Street. The presentations accompanying the discussion were more extensive than those in the online version and I have reproduced selected pages below.
My deputation to the meeting argued that the TTC should keep open the Knox/Russell routing option in case problems with the Leslie option are even worse than are now known.
Several others appeared in support of various options and alternatives. Neighbouring businesses and residents on Leslie are generally opposed, while Canada Post maintains its strong dislike of the Knox route.
The staff presentation contained two components:
Alternative LRV Storage Study
A study of alternative sites for LRV storage was originally launched through Councillor McMahon’s office. McMahon’s ward runs east from Leslie and contains the carhouse site, while Councillor Fletcher’s ward runs west. Both have been involved in community activism regarding this project.
The study’s authors presented their report as an independent piece of work no longer formally associated with McMahon. The nub of their claim is that the TTC could store a substantial number of new cars at its Hillcrest and Exhibition Loop sites thereby eliminating the need for the Ashbridges project. TTC staff dismiss these proposals because (a) building under the Gardiner Expressway is not considered practical (headroom) and (b) the space available at Hillcrest is not economic.
Although the proposed layout at Hillcrest would allow all of the St. Clair and part of the Bathurst service to be operated from a location much closer to the route, the saving in “dead head” mileage does not offset the cost of operating an additional carhouse requiring its own staff.
Overall, the proposal for alternate sites only works financially if Ashbridges Bay can be completely eliminated.
I suspect that if the TTC really wanted to, they would present at least the Hillcrest option in a more favourable light. Indeed, if the fleet of new cars expands to serve the waterfront, additional carhouse space will be required, and the Hillcrest site will be back on the table.
TTC Diagram of CNE Loop showing two additional storage tracks just north of the Gardiner Expressway structure (view looking east).
TTC Diagrams of Hillcrest Complex showing existing land use and proposed arrangement for LRV storage and servicing.
TTC Diagram of Hillcrest Complex showing Hydro lands. As discussed in the report, this site is impractical because of problems of placing TTC storage directly under a Hydro line.
TTC Diagram of Danforth Garage with possible LRV storage and servicing. This site is smaller than the Hillcrest lands, and would only hold 20 cars. The same problem with staffing costs for a small carhouse apply to Danforth, and there are fewer offsetting costs from dead-heading because Danforth is in the east end of the system. (The diagram shows the connecting route ending at Lower Gerrard, but the distance used in the report is only to Upper Gerrard where the existing system would tie in.)
Connection Track Route Options
Canada Post argues that the flow of trucks through their site is west to east, entering via Knox to indoor bays, and leaving Woodfield at the other end of their site. However, if this is true, then the postal traffic on Knox during the peak period for streetcar movement (5-7 am) is southbound, while the streetcars would be travelling northbound.
This is precisely the argument used for the Leslie route — although there would be many streetcars leaving the carhouse to build up service, the traffic northbound on Leslie is very light, and the main demand is southbound. Therefore, the two can co-exist.
A proper study would have documented the actual details of traffic flows and whether there was a true conflict, but none has ever been done.
The TTC managed to find improvements in the Knox route including a revised layout at Russell Carhouse. The change here from the original scheme is that only two existing storage tracks, rather than three, are lost to the north-south connection, and the property requirement at Queen has changed from full taking of a building near the exit to an easement across the corner of the property.
The comparison of options has also been updated from the original one in the EA to a new version for this report. Notable are changes in the cost estimate. Leslie goes up a lot thanks to the utility work required, while Knox goes up mainly due to escalation through delay to the project, and the present value of future operating costs.
The qualitative evaluation for Knox has gone from “mid-range” on Access, Parking and Property to “worse” thanks to the property taking at Knox and Eastern (vacant land that is part of the street boulevard) with no allowance for the lesser requirement at the northwest corner of Russell Carhouse.
Transit and Traffic operations for Knox have been upgraded from “worse” to “mid-range” because of the widening from 2 to 4 lanes. Reference to Noise being “worse” for Knox does not take into account the adjacent land use which is largely vacant or industrial.
While I agree that the Leslie option would be the better one in a greenfield site, or even on the street as it was two decades ago, times have changed. The sad lesson of this exercise is that the TTC’s original evaluation of alternatives was not as accurate or fair as it could have been, and this triggered the obvious conclusion that they had no interest in changing from their initial, preferred scheme.
Original post from July 1 at 10:36 am:
The question of a connection track from Queen Street to the new LRV maintenance facility at Leslie and Lake Shore will come before the TTC board again on July 6, 2011. Although the selection of this location was a matter of some controversy, that debate is over, and site preparation work is now underway. However, the route linking the new shops and yard to the existing system remained at issue along with questions about the suitability of alternate yards.
At its February 2, 2011 meeting the Commission directed staff to review alternate routes to the carhouse and work with Councillor Paula Fletcher whose ward lies to the west of Leslie Street. I have participated in this process at the Councillor’s invitation.
The two routes still under consideration are:
- The TTC’s preferred route from a junction at Queen and Leslie south to Commissioners’ Street and into the site at its southwest corner.
- An alternate scheme leaving the carhouse near its northeast corner crossing Lake Shore directly opposite the foot of Knox Street, heading north to Eastern Avenue and east to the southwest corner of Russell Carhouse. This link would connect to Queen Street through the west end of the existing yard and reconfigured version of the existing track connection at Queen Street. (See the TTC report for detailed maps.)
The Knox alternative was not part of the original Transit Project Assessment but evaluation of it was added at the end of the process in 2010 when this issue was before Council. At that time, the estimated costs of the two options were about 10% apart with Knox being the cheaper of the two. Other considerations tipped the balance in favour of Leslie Street, and that is what Council approved.
Recently, the TTC has learned that the existing utilities under Leslie Street are much more extensive than originally thought, and that the cost and complexity of relocating them will be higher. Leslie is a main utility corridor, and it includes a 70-80 year old main connection to the Ashbridges Bay treatment plant. At one meeting, TTC staff were concerned that the limited space available under Leslie and the complexity of utility relocations could make the Leslie route too difficult to build. This is not reflected in the published report.
The original review of Knox in 2010 triggered an objection from Canada Post whose South Central facility lies between Knox and Woodfield (a long block to the east). Canada Post claims that operation of a large volume of streetcar traffic to and from the carhouse via Knox would interfere with their operation. However, there has not been any traffic study to support this claim, and the main trailer yard for Canada Post is at the east (Woodfield) end of the site, not at Knox street. My own observation of Knox (in a previous article) showed that traffic to and from Canada Post via this street is low.
In the revised design, the TTC proposes to widen Knox to a full four-lane road using property already owned by the City along the street. This would provide added capacity for Canada Post, although they are still unhappy with the scheme. This can only be resolved by a proper traffic study, something we are unlikely to see on short notice.
Other issues raised by the TTC regarding the Knox option include:
- Additional crossings of cycling trails along Lake Shore would be created, and one of these would be less than ideal for cyclists’ safety.
- Additional time would be needed for streetcars to enter and leave service. Compounded over the extended lifespan of the carhouse, this would add to the effective cost of the Knox option.
- A new crossing of Lake Shore would be added just east of the Leslie Street intersection.
- A change in the route would delay construction by requiring an amendment of the Transit Project Assessment.
Capacity and Service Loading Issues
Two additional issues are linked in this debate:
- Regardless of which route is chosen, the TTC must operate a large number of streetcars out of the Ashbridge site during a fairly short period to build up service at the beginning of the day. Similar problems exist at other times (such as the ends of the peak periods), but they are not as severe because fewer cars enter or leave service during these periods. The number of car movements may exceed the capacity of the streets and intersections causing both transit delays and interference with other traffic.
- Once the new LRV fleet is in operation, 75% of the fleet will be concentrated in the east end of the system at Russell and Ashbridge carhouses. This inbalance will add to the running time overall of building service up and down compared with the existing arrangement where roughly half of the fleet is at Roncesvalles and half at Russell. If the fleet were dispersed to another location, this could both reduce the traffic effects of loading service at Ashbridge and reduce dead-heading costs of cars travelling long distances to their routes.
The Knox option affects the combined capacity of Ashbridge and Russell by taking space that would otherwise be used for storage and making it part of the route linking Ashbridge to Queen Street. This problem has been reduced by the TTC’s redesign of service buildup plans. However:
- Original plans for Russell Carhouse included expansion of the building for a major collision repair facility. This plan has been dropped, but the capacity represented by it does not appear to have been added back into the yard.
- One track in Russell yard is reserved for “run around” operations so that cars can be moved within the site. The function of this track could be included in the new connection to Queen releasing its capacity for storage.
During previous debates, the question of alternate sites for LRV storage came up with proposals including:
- Storage of some cars at the Hillcrest site where there is a large parking lot and the former Davenport Garage.
- Storage of some cars along the Hydro right of way on the south edge of the Hillcrest site.
- Storage of some cars at a yard to be added to Exhibition Loop under the Gardiner Expressway.
- Re-activation of Danforth carhouse.
Any new yard will require at least office facility where operators can report for work and service can be dispatched. Moreover, cars stored there must have at least minimal running maintenance performed such as cleaning, and the site must be secure.
Exhibition Loop was dropped from consideration because it does not have room for a servicing facility.
At Hillcrest, 24 cars could be stored and serviced using land in the existing parking lot and Davenport Garage (see diagram in the report). Although this would reduce the capacity required at Ashbridge and shorten dead-head times for some routes, the TTC argues that the life cycle cost for this arrangement would still be considerably higher than concentrating the fleet at Ashbridge.
Use of the Hydro corridor lands is not recommended because of electrical interference, the cost of burying Hydro’s plant, and the added cost of a property lease. The statement about interference begs the more general question of the use of Hydro corridors for transit operations, but this is not addressed in the report.
Reactivation of Danforth Garage as a carhouse was also reviewed, but this option was rejected on cost grounds. Unlike Hillcrest, Danforth is not connected to the existing network and would require a track connection on Coxwell of roughly equal length to the Leslie connection at Ashbridge.
What Should Be Done?
There are three fundamental questions that must be answered, and quickly:
- What is physically involved in relocation of the utilities on Leslie Street, how will this be accomplished, and what will be the effects on the neighbourhood to complete this work? Comparable construction planning and staging information is also needed for the Knox option.
- What is the real traffic situation with respect to Canada Post? Observing their actual operations is a simple, if tedious, process, but we need real numbers, not claims that appear to misrepresent how the site actually operates.
- What are the traffic operation implications of the Knox and Leslie options compared with each other?
The TTC focuses on the alleged shortcomings of the Knox alternative, but does not present the offsetting benefits of staying off of Leslie Street. Community and traffic effects, both during construction and for eventual operation, have never been contrasted. Whatever benefits there may be by leaving Leslie Street “as is”, these are never shown as part of the overall evaluation.
My underlying desire in this entire debate is that the Ashbridge project not be delayed. Sadly, the TTC has not helped the situation by giving the impression that alternative schemes and sites were given only superficial consideration, and that the “fix was in” for the Ashbridge/Leslie combination from the beginning.
The new LRV project and the general renovation of the streetcar system have taken far too long, and the anti-streetcar politicians at City Hall will use any excuse to halt this work. The appearance of a design foul-up coupled with community opposition is a dangerous mixture, and the TTC needs to do everything it can to show co-operation and openness in this debate.
There will be a community meeting on this issue on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at Leslieville Public School, 254 Leslie Street (north of Dundas) at 6:30 pm. TTC Chair Karen Stintz and I have both been invited to speak.