Rebuilding A Transit City

The waning fortunes of the Ford regime and its defeat on planning for the eastern waterfront have emboldened many to focus on the resurrection of the Transit City LRT plan.  Advocates despaired as the newly-minted Mayor Ford so unceremoniously and undemocratically cancelled the plan.  We watched as Queen’s Park, terrified of a “Ford Nation” juggernaut decimating Liberal ranks in the 2011 election, caved in with a “Memorandum of Understanding” completely undoing the principles of their own “Big Move” transit scheme.

Now we’re in 2012, rumour has the Liberals wanting a return to the original plan, but fearing a unilateral move without a request from Toronto Council.  Oddly enough, the absence of any Council approval for Ford’s actions, a requirement of the MOU, is never mentioned.  The economics of the all-underground Eglinton “LRT” and the private sector Sheppard subway don’t look encouraging, and Queen’s Park faces widespread constraint in public sector spending.  This is hardly the time to be blowing billions to gold plate projects, to cover them with “gravy” that would invite ridicule in other circumstances.

The left may engineer a vote at Council once the 2012 budget debates are out of the way seeking to resurrect Transit City as it was originally proposed and agreed to.  CodeRedTO has formed with the intent of seeking a way, preferably through compromise, to a revised transportation plan that will keep the best of competing views of our future.  They hope to copy the success of the waterfront’s CodeBlueTO.

Whether this will be possible given the bluster and intransigence shown by the Mayor whenever surface transit is mentioned remains to be seen.  Unlike the Portlands fiasco, a scheme hatched and promoted by the Mayor’s brother Doug, the transportation file is firmly part of Rob Ford’s agenda.  It was in his campaign platform, and the Mayor has often repeated his loathing for “streetcars” and his mantra that the war on the car is over.

Unlike Waterfront Toronto, transit agencies don’t have a string of projects to show off as a mark of their expertise.

The TTC still hasn’t lived down the St. Clair project even though many of its problems were not of the TTC’s making, and “St. Clair” is as much a conjuration of urban myth than today’s experience.  Local transit is more a collection of horror stories, of fights between the system and its customers, rather than of day-to-day triumphs.  Right at the top, the TTC is infected with the premise that transit is for somebody else, for the folks who can’t afford to drive, rather than an essential part of the region’s network for everyone.

Metrolinx does well as far as it goes, but has the comparatively easy job of serving a small, concentrated and select market.  It’s easy to do well when you deliberately ignore millions of potential customers and see high farebox returns as a mark of success without seeing all those trips not taken (because service isn’t provided) as a cost to travellers and to the region.

However the politics works out, a vital challenge for advocates is to avoid an endless debate on thirty years worth of future transit plans, pitched battles between various transit schemes, technologies and alignments.  Taxpayers who must fund whatever we build, and politicians who must get re-elected, need a focussed, clear objective.

The waterfront file was an easy fight in this regard:  a widely-praised, detailed plan already exists that was demonstrably better than what was proposed.  The rivalry between agencies (Waterfront Toronto vs Toronto Port Lands Corporation) and the desire to get quick sales to fund property tax breaks in Toronto exposed the shallow goals and cronyism of the Ford alternative.  The situation with Transit City is much different.

What is a Transit City?

Transit City is not just a map with a few LRT lines.  It is an attitude, a philosophy about what the city and the region could be:  a city where people have the option to choose a “transit first” lifestyle.  This is not anti car, but pro transit, ensuring that transit is an option everywhere and that transit gets the priority in space and funding.  That may seem “anti car” in a context where the network has been designed to serve auto trips for as long as anyone can remember.

The presumption by motoring advocates that transit will never compete and that, by default, planning must concentrate on serving cars is quite understandable.  One need only attempt to travel across the suburbs, or counterpeak from downtown, or especially beyond the 416 boundary to see how inadequate transit is as an alternative.  This is a powerful incentive for motorists to dismiss claims that transit can be their mode of choice.

When transit does get attention, the inevitable request is for express services — commuter rail and subways.  Everyone knows what these are and the type of service they are likely to find.  If a scheme for alternatives like LRT is to succeed, advocates and transit professionals must convince their target audiences that the plan will work and is worth supporting.  There is no room for a sense that we are “making do” with anything less than a subway network.

The term “Transit City” predates the LRT plan by two years.  Back in 2004, the Commission asked TTC and City staff to report on how transit would support the then-new Official Plan, and specifically to develop an LRT network plan.  The first response appeared at the January 2005 Commission meeting under the name Building a Transit City.

The objectives, quoted from the Official Plan, were:

Link land use and transportation planning policies to create an effective strategy for accommodating the City’s future trip growth in a way that reduces auto-dependency by making transit, cycling and walking more attractive alternatives.

“No one should be disadvantaged getting around Toronto if they don’t own a car”

The Official Plan has Council’s blessing, and unless there are moves afoot in the new plan to rescind this outlook, it remains the policy today.  Those who decry the “war on the car” would do well to remember that this is City policy approved and never revoked by Council.

Map 4 from the Official Plan (included in the staff presentation) shows a network of “higher order transit corridors for both the GO and TTC networks.  The TTC proposals are quite different from what we would eventually see in “Transit City” and they include a mix of subway, LRT and BRT on Finch (hydro corridor), Sheppard, Eglinton, Kingston Road and the Waterfront.  The Spadina and Yonge subway extensions are also shown along with an extension of the SRT taking it north across the 401.

Equally important is Map 5 showing a network of surface priority corridors for bus and streetcar operations.  A more dense version of this would appear in August 2009 in the Transit City Bus Plan.

The TTC’s priorities for subway expansion were little more than a rehash of plans from the early 1990s, and they reflected the constraints of planning for an expensive mode.  Only the Spadina extension to Steeles and the Sheppard extension to the STC were shown as “TTC Priorities”.

In a review of travellers’ reasons for not taking transit, service related problems such as speed and reliability ranked top by a wide margin while the cost of fares ranked right at the bottom.  Service issues were of particular concern for those who travelled by transit only.

Many of the proposals in “Building a Transit City” were for improvements to the bus network through provision of exclusive access and signal priority.  An LRT network was not proposed at this time, although one can see the beginnings of what would become the Transit City map in 2007.  The most important change by 2007 was that the LRT network started from a clean slate without the many vestiges of older plans that were still present in the 2005 report.  Moreover, it addressed the design concern of putting transit where people actually were and wanted to travel, not just where there was an available off-street corridor (e.g. Finch hydro lands).

An underlying premise throughout the report is that transit be improved, and that this continue with visible results year to year to sustain support for further work.  The same idea was a foundation of the provincial Move Ontario 2020 plan with initial investments to show people what could be achieved before asking for new taxes or other revenue tools.  This too is an important part of a “Transit City” campaign — development of political support for spending on transit through demonstrable improvements.

The Scope of a New Plan

If Transit City is to be revived, it is vital that advocates not overreach by redoing planning work of the past decade and attempting to solve every transit problem with one proposal.  Large scale planning is not really Council’s mandate anyhow, but rather lies with Metrolinx and Queen’s Park.  Parallel to anything that might happen in Toronto itself, there is a separate battle to get the planning and funding in place for an entire region’s services, and to integrate them in a more meaningful way than simply using one fare card.

A few principles must be settled at the outset:

  • Where will a Sheppard east line go — Scarborough Town Centre, Meadowvale, University of Toronto Scarborough Campus — and what technology will be used for the most expensive part, the crossing of the DVP?
  • How does Malvern fit in and what is the future of service on the SRT beyond STC?
  • Is a surface alignment for Eglinton east of Leaside and west of Black Creek (with some exceptions such as Don Mills and Weston) the preferred option?
  • Can the Finch LRT be revived from Keele to Humber College as a short-term project to open with or soon after the Spadina subway extension?
  • Can Waterfront transit be integrated with the plan so that a major development area isn’t left behind in our “transit city”?

Further out, many issues remain for debate including the Don Mills, Jane and Eglinton/Morningside LRT proposals, service to the Airport, the Downtown Relief Line, and the future role of GO Transit in serving inside-416 travel.  These will not be solved in the next few months, and a debate on “Transit City” needs to focus on work already in the pipeline.

Transit City is More Than a Handful of LRT Lines

A fundamental premise of pre-Ford transit planning is that “just enough” isn’t acceptable across the entire network.  We already know that people prefer subways because, relative to other modes, they are built and operated at a level of service generally exceeding demand except during peak periods.  They are fast and truly “all day” services for which timetables or concerns about frequencies are unknown.

If the subway lines were subjected to the same service planning criteria as surface routes, off-peak service would suffer and some might even close early for the greater good of releasing money to provide service elsewhere.  This doesn’t happen because the capital investment in subways is high, and running less than frequent service is seen as counter-productive.  Imagine, for example, opening a new line to Vaughan but providing trains only every 10 minutes or so.

On the surface network, the standards are completely different and the concept of good, frequent service is under attack.  Crowding standards will be relaxed in mid-February unless Council provides more TTC funding, and routes that cannot scare up 15 riders per vehicle hour are dropped with no regard to the network gaps this might create.  Express buses are a nice idea, but unless they can be operated at no marginal cost, they are unlikely to show up on TTC routes.

Recently the concept of “Transit Oriented Development” resurfaced in a report prepared for Councillor Peter Milczyn, chair of Toronto’s Planning and Growth Management Committee.  This report considers various options that could be incorporated in an updated Official Plan.  Few of the ideas regarding transit are new.  After all, the TOD concept has been around for decades.  Sadly, it’s a concept that fails in Toronto on two important counts:

  • Development occurs more or less where land has been assembled, not on a strategic basis to support the transit system.  Most lands are privately held, and publicly financed imposed land assemblies are illegal in Ontario.
  • Actual transit construction occurs so infrequently and on so small a scale that the idea of “orienting” development to it is meaningless.  Where transit is built, the surrounding land use may not be compatible with intensification.  Indeed, a forced change in land use following rapid transit construction could work against acceptance of a project.

Two views of a future “Transit City” compete with each other, and these mirror the debate over rapid transit technologies.

  • Nodal development plans tend to produce clusters of towers separated by open spaces and to focus on a few widely-space rapid transit stations.
  • Corridor development produces smaller buildings, but with redevelopment spread along a route whose stations/stops are close enough together that being right at at station is not essential to the attractiveness of a site.

Both of these will play a role in Toronto’s future, and we should not attempt to impose one view on all streets and sites.  Moreover, the built form debate turns on more than transit access and includes walkability, availability of local services and a wide variety of concerns about building neighbourhoods that serve a wide range of people (the 8-to-80 premise).

Paying for Transit

An overwhelming challenge for any transit plan will be how we will pay for more and better transit, and how we will convince voters that new revenue sources (whatever they be called) are justified and worthwhile, not the work of fiscal devils and incompetents.

Political leadership and a credible plan are essential, and half measures, the muddling-through so common in our politics, will not do.  At a time when government spending generally is under attack, when costs and expectations continue to rise, and the economy is, at best, wobbly, everyone needs to know what the options might be, what they will cost, what benefits they will bring (and when), and how they might be paid for in the short and long term.

The value of transit must be shown for its mobility, for its economic benefits, not just for the dollar value of construction projects or future development.  We hear often about how poor transportation systems hobble the GTA, but inevitably return only to the spending side of debates on new transit lines, not on their benefits.  Everyone understands that schools and hospitals have a value in delivering educated and healthy citizens, not just consuming tax dollars, but a comparable view is not extended to transit infrastructure and service.

Where to find the money is not a new discussion.  Back on June 13, 2008, the Metrolinx Board saw a presentation on the Investment Strategy.  Many public consultations have been organized or sponsored by Metrolinx since then, and they cover the same ground over and over.  What would the support be for new funding schemes?  Which are the least unattractive?  Unfortunately, the audience for such discussions tends to the the “usual suspects”, and those who advocate new revenue tools are mainly preaching to the converted.

Meetings like this do not bring leadership for difficult debates and choices.

Many options are available to generate the billions needed to build, expand and operate the GTA’s transit networks including higher fuel taxes, road tolls, parking lot taxes, regional sales tax, vehicle registration fees, payroll taxes and development benefit or worth capture.  Each has its advocates and detractors, and only a few offer revenue on the scale needed to fund plans such as the Metrolinx Big Move.

There is a philosophical problem here right at the heart of liberal/conservative debates about individual versus community benefits and costs.  Do we tie revenue streams to specific user costs and benefits, or examine the larger societal level?  For example, making motorists pay for everything ignores the wider benefits of transit and demonizes a major political group who feel they have no alternative way to travel.

We know Queen’s Park has no money in current revenue streams and has competing demands much bigger than the transportation and transit file.  How will new transit revenue tools fit into larger scheme of public revenues and programs?  Are new/increased taxes politically saleable? Should some potential revenue streams be reserved for other types of programs rather than going just to transit?

There is much hand-wringing over a long term decline in the quality of transportation, the cost of doing business, the attractiveness of region, but we don’t want to engage in discussion of how to pay for projects.  Even worse, a cost effective transit plan is discarded for political expediency.  This is leadership?

Where Should We Go From Here?

In the short term, advocacy should focus on getting existing, committed funding re-deployed to a more sensible network.  This will include issues such as tradeoffs between a limited Sheppard subway extension to Victoria Park, the design and choice of LRT routes in eastern Scarborough, implementation of the Finch LRT and proper funding for the eastern Waterfront transit lines.  These are matters for open, public information, not for backroom decisions at City Hall, Metrolinx or Queen’s Park.

Longer term issues should not be bundled into this debate even though many are important: the role of GO and its future frequent all day service including electrification, a Downtown Relief line (or lines) east and west of the core, regional planning for good, widespread service that is more than a fare card.

Selling new revenue tools will require that we make what we have and what we build short term a clear benefit, not a distant second choice.  The momentum of Move Ontario and of Transit City must be recaptured.

The integrity and attractiveness of what we have now — service quality, facilities and vehicle maintenance — must be maintained and improved.  Winning billions for a transit future is pointless if transit present is starved and forced into decline.

79 thoughts on “Rebuilding A Transit City

  1. How quickly would you guess any portions of the TC LRT plan be revived if council desired? The late 2015 opening date of the Spadina extension and your suggestion that the Finch LRT could be operational around then might suggest that construction could begin relative quickly?

    Steve: The real question is the timing of spending by Queen’s Park. Finch was pushed off into the latter half of this decade to save money in the early years. How badly do they want to show some results?


  2. I fear the transit discussions in this town tend to be between extremists; compromise isn’t in their nature. What gives me hope is compromise is in the nature of many on city council, despite what the media likes to portray.

    I suspect compromise will come from through an unexpected source – Gordon Chong maybe? One thing is certain – they have to come up with a different name for this. TC is toxic in right wing circles.


  3. Hi Steve,

    In your post you talk about both “nodal development” and “corridor development” in regards to viewing transit, but can’t both technically exist at the same time? Look at Yonge and Eglinton for example – we have high rise development all over the place there (so much that it’s considered one of the “major population centres” in Metrolinx report on Union station’s capacity), but if an above ground LRT line were to be built along Eglinton, we could still have low/mid-rise development across the city on Eglinton, save at Yonge St.

    In a map form, technically it would look like this:


    where the *s represent the “nodal development” and the -s represent corridor development.


    Steve: That’s basically the point I was trying to make another way. We don’t need a one size fits all plan, but need to recognize the benefits of both. When people say “build me a subway”, it’s not always clear that they would actually get the close station spacing found on the old Yonge and BD lines. I am sure that if Metrolinx hadn’t inherited the Transit City plan and all its stops, there would be far fewer on their version of an Eglinton express rapid transit route which is what they wanted to build originally. Great for long-haul riders, bad for locals.

    Another point often missed in these debates is that the suburbs are not virgin forest waiting for development, but they contain existing buildings and land use patterns that must be served for decades to come. It’s one thing to talk about major, short term redevelopment on some blasted heath that is a disused industrial district, but quite another where a street has housing, stores and businesses that will not vanish overnight.

    It’s interesting to compare Eglinton east and west of Yonge. The stretch to the east started to develop fairly early with the Union Carbide Building at Redpath and Eglinton (particularly memorable for me because it fell down while my my tenth birthday party was in progress a few blocks away). The building and most other midrise commercial properties on Eglinton predate the change in the city’s political attitude to redevelopment of low rise residential areas, and so this strip was already established when the “reform council” with Mayor Crombie came to power. To the west, the development is muted in scale and ends both because of parkland and because the city itself stopped just west of Avenue Road (Forest Hill Village lay beyond). East of Mt. Pleasant, the high rises are all apartment buildings until almost Bayview. IBM had a small office and data centre about a block west of Bayview on the north side, west of what was then a Dominion Store. High density development stops abruptly at Bayview which is the boundary with Leaside. Nimbyism had its effect only on the tonier parts of Eglinton.

    (By the way, if you’re wondering why Sunnybrook Plaza, the first strip mall in Toronto, on the northeast corner at Bayview has never been redeveloped, it’s a combination of multiple land ownership and the fact that the site is an old swamp.)

    This whole area has frequent local transit service provided by no less than six routes west of Mt. Pleasant, and used to have good streetcar service on Mt. Pleasant itself. Nobody would think of walking to the subway 1km away at Yonge. The idea that there will be long stretches without bus service after the Eglinton LRT opens is not popular with folks along Eglinton East.


  4. The problem with transit City is the WWLRT.

    Transit City lines were supposed to be standard gauge. TTC streetcars are not standard gauge.

    WWLRT was supposed to be from ex loop to Long Branch loop. So how can two gauges fit in one loop? (Ex loop), then between Roncesvalles/Queensway to Long Branch loop – 501 and WWLRT don’t have same gauge.

    WWLRT – another version it has it absorbing the 509 to Union Station – again, 509 and WWLRT have two different gauges.

    But the TTC just said sssshhhhhhh let’s not talk about it.

    Steve: Miroslav: You are making a totally false argument here. The WWLRT was always going to be part of the TTC streetcar system running with TTC-standard vehicles on TTC gauge track. There are problems with WWLRT not the least of which is that it’s not the most sensible route as currently proposed. Gauge is not an issue.

    Also, weren’t the stops going to be every 650-850 m apart? Try going from Kingston/Lawrence to downtown (Scarborough-Malvern).

    Steve: There was no Transit City route from eastern Scarborough to downtown.

    The ROWs would be taking car lanes from the roads they occupied (expanding roads means taking car lanes).

    Steve: No, in some cases, available space now occupied by road boulevards would provide the replacement road space. Also, the elimination of bus service will release capacity in the curb lane.

    We need the following:


    Have appropriate public transit for the population density.


    Fares by distance, if Steve and I go to City Hall for the next TTC meeting, I would use a lot more resources. Most transit agencies I have travelled in do fare by distance.

    We need to have EXPRESS ROCKET services from each end of the city and they only stop at the major intersections (think 190/199). Local branches do all stops.


  5. This would be a horrible time to (un)change transit plans yet again. 2012 is the year of cuts, cuts, cuts on the provincial level. They only thing the province is likely to announce is a promise to spend less money by building less.


  6. Steve

    Thanks very much for this post and commentary – it should be required reading for anyone who thinks that Transit City was somehow all about technology (specifically LRT) and not about planning for a better city for all.

    Somehow “Transit City” turned into something else, where “TRANSIT” seemed to mean “LRT”. I would rather have seen the plans presented with a focus on people and on the “city”, using three key ideas: movement, access, and development …

    *Movement – moving more people on corridors served by existing public transport services, in a more efficient and effective way
    *Access – giving more people access to public transport and therefore, better access to their city, with all the related economic opportunities they can handle..
    *Development – creating a more effective city where development is tied to transport planning, and the resident or visitor has lots of choices in where to live, work and play … and many ways to get there.

    By the way, the initials are “MAD” … coincidence? Possible new slogan for the project formerly known as Transit City?

    Maybe the problem was in the way Transit City was packaged and marketed to the public? Instead of a “Transit City LRT Plan” and “Transit City Bus Plan”, there should have been one plan for all (with 4 or 5 phases, primary, secondary & tertiary corridors and all of that).

    And instead of the “Eglinton-Crosstown LRT” and all the other LRTs (each with their own button), why not just have street corridors (Sheppard, Eglinton) with actual passenger demand projection.

    Meaning, instead of Eglinton-Crosstown LRT we would have had a map that would have looked like this:

    (think of this as a “map” of the east-west corridors, where each number – randomly pulled out of my head – represents the number of passengers moving per hour *in both directions*)

    Finch Ave. West              6,000
    Sheppard Ave. East          12,000
    Eglinton Ave.       6,000 | 12,000 | 6000
    Bloor-Danforth              48,000
    Downtown "U"                36,000
    Waterfront West              8,000
    Waterfront East              8,000

    Imagine the above as a map of Toronto as a Transit City, focusing on how many people could be moved on all these corridors. Now imagine the map presented in “Before” and “After” versions, with the number clearly showing the benefits…

    The point is, this kind of a description would focus on the actual numbers of people being moved, rather than promoting one technology over the other. And the other nice thing is that this way, we can include subway improvements and buses as part of “Transit City” rather than making it all about one type of technology.

    And why not? Subway extensions (and improvements) and BRT and frequent buses and even articulated buses should have had a place in Transit City as well. That would have helped silence the arguments that subways and buses were being ignored or excluded.

    Now, you could argue that the Vaughan or Richmond Hill subway extensions would not build a “transit city” but they would help reduce the number of cars entering Toronto. And while subway extensions are often spaced further apart (2km intervals between stations), sometimes you can get a subway extension that provides “local” service (1km spacing). The Yonge extension arguably provides “local” service between Sheppard & Finch, while the Spadina line offers “local” service between Eglinton West and Wilson. And certainly, there could have been promotion of a downtown “U” subway line as part of the proposal as well.

    The Transit City plan was certainly not perfect, and if it is revived, I hope that the focus will be less on technology and more on more people, being moved, faster.

    Maybe the new “transit city” should be given a name that focuses less on the transit side and more on the “M, A, D” benefits. I like “Rapid City” but I suppose that Rapid City might have a problem with that. “Mobile City” sounds a bit boring, and “Mobilicity” is already taken. I suppose that “MAD City” speaks to the crazy turns that transit planning have taken, and “Necess-CITY” speaks to how important it is that we actually get something done!

    Cheers, Moaz


  7. I really have no idea how you get Toronto’s populace, outside of the core, to understand merely what other cities have already done with their transit, and how poor it makes Toronto look. It staggers me to imagine the political and psychological shift needed to draw in the areas outside of 10km from Union station to a connected urban transit web. We have a long way to go yet.

    Mind you, Southern Ontario’s ruinous bending-over to ‘cul-de-sac’ and ‘strip-mall’ developers (and now condos) is not much more perverse than games in other cities. Here in Tokyo, employers give a $175/month transit benefit, which has the effect of crowding suburban trains and hollowing the core: it makes a 40km rail commute ‘free’, whereas the higher cost of renting/owning in the city is not subsidized.


  8. Thanks to Steve for providing the link to the story on the Union Carbide Building collapsing. I couldn’t help but think as I read the story that, based on things I’ve been told by a TTC operator, if it happened today, TTC driver Joseph Kelly would have been reprimanded for going off route without permission. The operator I speak of had that happen to him when his quick thinking had him do the same when his bus was caught in thick smoke from a nearby fire.

    Steve: And people wonder why TTC has such lousy labour relations? How can they hope to deal properly with customers when they are so thick about their own staff?


  9. Calvin Henry-Cotham said:

    “…if it happened today, TTC driver Joseph Kelly would have been reprimanded for going off route without permission. The operator I speak of had that happen to him when his quick thinking had him do the same when his bus was caught in thick smoke from a nearby fire.”

    Steve replied:

    “And people wonder why TTC has such lousy labour relations? How can they hope to deal properly with customers when they are so thick about their own staff?”

    Truer words have never been spoken. This is the management mentality that we put up with daily. We are not to think, but rather to just do as we are trained. The TTC talks about initiative but will punish you if you actually show it. I have been diverted the wrong way on one way streets and when I protest, all I get is “oh – let me get back to you”.


  10. It doesn’t help that the Transit City’s very own EA’s state numerous times that transit must compete with the automobile (and then later discloses the slow speeds of LRT). If we are talking about providing good cost-effective and accessible local service with LRT, competing with the car is simply not possible, nor should it be a priority.

    If people want reasons to advocate for the original Transit City plan, they need to use real arguments based on the true benefits and capabilities of surface LRT, not based on the capabilities of some fantasy mode like teleporters.

    For example, Transit City will likely not reduce car congestion. It can, however, increase capacity and reduce operating costs, and to a smaller extent, speed. These are the arguing points TC advocates need to stick with.

    Steve: You can mark the decline in Tardis availability to the disappearance of pay phones. I’m sure it is a plot.


  11. Steve said:

    “Where will a Sheppard east line go — Scarborough Town Centre, Meadowvale, University of Toronto Scarborough Campus?”

    I’ve always felt that the line should split somewhere east of Kennedy with one branch continuing along Sheppard while the other heads to STC and possibly returning along an extended SRT line. The problem though is whether there is enough demand to justify the costs of getting passed the great barrier known as the 401.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the extended SRT would cross the 401 as well. The question then becomes whether more STC-bound traffic (including through traffic destined to the south) originates east or west of STC and whether a Don Mills to STC LRT route should be optimised or not.

    As for the province getting cold feet over the rising cost of the Crosstown, I’ve often wondered if it would cost significantly less to put the eastern section back above ground and complete the line to the airport as originally planned than to keep the line completely underground. That way, the province would have a “more for less” option when it came to selling cost cutting.


  12. Steve: You can mark the decline in Tardis availability to the disappearance of pay phones. I’m sure it is a plot.

    Um, I’m not sure I understand your response. Were you talking about my remarks about Teleporters?

    I’d also like to add that it’s entirely unrealistic to replicate the benefits exclusive to the private auto in public transit.

    Steve: You are obviously not familiar with Doctor Who or his usual mode of transport.

    As for autos and public transport, those who attempt to duplicate the one with the other are doomed to re-invent “Personal Rapid Transit” and try to find a cost-effective implementation (or at least lots of funding for research from a Ministry with an inflated sense of its ability to influence the future of mankind).


  13. Steve said:

    “Most lands are privately held, and publicly financed imposed land assemblies are illegal in Ontario.”

    Steve, could you elaborate on this?

    Steve: In HK, land is owned by the government and developers take long-term leases. This leaves complete control of development and profits from those leases in government hands. In Ontario, to begin with most land around potential transit routes is already privately owned. Governments must pay market value for land, and I believe that municipalities do not have the power to undertake land assemblies using expropriation just to turn around and resell the land for development.


  14. “I believe that municipalities do not have the power to undertake land assemblies using expropriation just to turn around and resell the land for development”

    I believe the City of Toronto did exactly that to get the AMC building across from Dundas Square built.

    Steve: I’m not sure about that, because I don’t know how many of the landowners were “willing” sellers or if the city had to force them to give up their land. Also, the AMC building was not the original development here. The original scheme took a long time to get started, then sat barely started for ages, and finally was taken over by another developer. Hardly a sterling example.

    In any event, I very much doubt that Council (be it of the left of right variety) would be willing to finance large scale interventions in the real estate market. The most important point is that land around potential transit stations is not in public hands today, unlike the situation in HK, and so the public sector would face the cost of acquisition (including associated political fights) at market value.


  15. Very well done. Gives one a better understanding of what Transit City was trying to achieve. And where it can go. It’s reasonable to think that this could open up new dialogue if all councillors and the Mayor were required to read it, but…


  16. Steve:

    ….land around potential transit stations is not in public hands today, unlike the situation in HK, and so the public sector would face the cost of acquisition (including associated political fights) at market value.

    This is a good example of how development planning without giving due consideration to transport is a huge stumbling block for the City of Toronto and current transport planning.

    At the same time, it is a good example of why a clear, concise and consistent official plan – that actually leads to development – is necessary. If the government cannot buy up the land around potential transport stations (hubs, terminals, etc) then they can at least ensure that development is designed for the future when the public transport is made available.

    That means planning codes & requirements that lead to the right kinds of development, and revenue sources that are continuous (property taxes, development charges and other revenue sources that reflect the current and future value of the land when the public transpot projects are complete.

    Finally, while the city does not own all the land around public transport stations, they do own the air rights above public transport stations and terminals. There are many TTC-owned and City-owned parking lots that can be earmarked for development. If the private sector can develop downtown parking lots and turn them into condos & office towers, the TTC (and GO, and regional public transport operators) can do the same around stations, terminals and hubs – and ideally, still provide the parking or equivalent public transport service.

    Ensuring continuous revenue sources for the city (which would help put a dent in public transport operations costs) – rather than one-time sales of city assets (often at fire sale prices) would help city revenues and improve public transport.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: There is already a fair amount of development over rights-of-way and stations, but a lot depends on what and where developers want to build. For example, the Spadina corridor cries out for development, but the high rises, such as there are any, are on the streets nearby. Don’t forget that building over a subway line means you cannot put a parking garage in the basement unless the building is so much bigger than the rapid transit structure it can be wrapped around. However, if it’s bigger, it’s also probably on property that was not part of the public land assembly for the subway.

    One of the biggest problems with dreams of value capture to pay for transit is that there is far more land (and right of way) to build on than the market can absorb in new buildings, and a lot of the land around stations isn’t exactly in a hot market. There’s a reason that Kennedy Station parking lots are not covered by condos, and that it took decades for development at Kipling to begin. There’s nothing else there to make it attractive as a development site. Meanwhile, in the really desirable areas such as along the BD subway in the old City of Toronto (Jane to Woodbine), the subway lands are a narrow strip, most of the stations have a small footprint, and existing residential communities are not clamouring for redevelopment.


  17. RE: Speed and surface LRT

    The average speed of the YUS subway south of Bloor is 25.07 km/hr, measured from Wellesley to Queens Park Stations at 7:30pm on Tuesday evening. I imagine the results to be noticeably different during rush hour (maybe slower due to longer dwell times).

    Distances between stations were measured from intersection to intersection (I don’t know the precise location of the station box ends). If anyone knows the actual distances and locations, and believes that this info would significantly alter the results, please let me know.

    Preliminary Conclusion: The YUS subway south of Bloor is NOT rapid transit.


  18. Regarding the Bloor-Danforth line and its speed, the average speed through Greektown is upwards of 29 km/hr, but some of the stations are 700-800 metres apart!

    Is this considered adequate local coverage for the Bloor-Danforth neighbourhoods? Was is deemed adequate back in the 60’s, or did they just not care about local access?


  19. Steve said:

    “The most important point is that land around potential transit stations is not in public hands today, unlike the situation in HK, and so the public sector would face the cost of acquisition (including associated political fights) at market value.”

    Meanwhile, the publicly owned Richview lands where the future extension of the Eglinton LRT/subway will eventually travel along are in danger of becoming a part of the great Rob Ford Fire Sale.


  20. Jacob Louy said:

    “The average speed of the YUS subway south of Bloor is 25.07 km/hr, measured from Wellesley to Queens Park Stations at 7:30pm on Tuesday evening. I imagine the results to be noticeably different during rush hour (maybe slower due to longer dwell times).

    Preliminary Conclusion: The YUS subway south of Bloor is NOT rapid transit.”

    I think that YUS subway south of Bloor is a very special case. Stations are spaced very closely and all are well-used due to the high density of destinations not seen elsewhere on the system. Lower speed though that section is a necessity. Notably, it does not add much to the typical rider’s total travel time. Given that Bloor and Union Stn are about 3.2 km apart, the trip between these two point would take 9.5 min at 20 kph, versus 6.5 min at 30 kph.

    The fact that YUS subway runs at a lower speed south of Bloor does not imply that speed is unimportant through the rest of the system. The longer the trip, the greater the effect of speed on the total travel time. If all of YUS or BD subways operated at 25 kph instead of the present average 30 – 32 kph, many riders would have 10 or 15 min added to their trip each way. In that case, the subway lines would be less popular, and there would be more pressure on the parallel bus and streetcar routes.


  21. I doubt Transit City is revivable at this point, but the Finch W. light rail line did have a lot of merit. The other TC lines were preposterous beyond comment.

    If Miller had put Finch first, and if St. Clair had simply been rebuilt without a ROW (which it never needed), then the Transit City outcome would have been entirely different. There would have been nothing for Ford to rebel against.


  22. M. Briganti said:

    “I doubt Transit City is revivable at this point”

    I’d say it in general still has a fair chance of being revived. The residents along Finch West understand that the status quo is unsustainable and that some form of capital improvements, either in the form of a busway at minimum or LRT must be done. Likewise, Don Mills and the residents of Toronto east of Kennedy station are overdue for transit improvements on some level beyond what they have now.

    However, I will say that the well for improved transit along Sheppard has probably now been poisoned so badly by false expectations that it’ll probably take decades just to get anything done beyond shuffling the number of buses.


  23. M. Briganti said:

    “I doubt Transit City is revivable at this point, but the Finch W. light rail line did have a lot of merit.”

    Perhaps Finch West LRT can be revived now. I can think of the following compromise plan:

    1) Sheppard LRT is deferred, and none of provincial money are directed to Sheppard East at this point. Technically that allows the mayor to continue his search for the private sector money to build Sheppard subway, although that is unlikely to succeed. In that case, the Sheppard corridor will be left for the next round of transit expansion.

    2) Finch West LRT and the Scarborough LRT extension are back on the table.

    Steve: SRT extension (I presume you refer to the part beyond McCowan Station) requires a new carhouse and was going to share Conlins Road with Sheppard.

    3) Eglinton LRT does not go undergound entirely, but some critical sections are enhanced using the funds diverted from Sheppard. That includes being underground through Weston, elevated near Black Creek, and using the south side of the road instead of street median between Laird and the Don Mills Stn portal. Between Don Mills and Kennedy, it can run in the street median as per the original plan.

    4) If any funds are left over from Sheppard, there is a number of smaller-scale projects where they can be used:
    4a) Restoring the section of Finch between Keele and Yonge, to avoid the LRT-to-bus transfer for those who travel from Etobicoke to the Yonge cluster in North York.
    4b) Restoring the section of SLRT between Sheppard / Progress and the Malvern Centre.
    4c) Building the Waterfront East streetcar line. This line was not funded originally, but it is a relatively small project, and is probably cheaper to build in parallel with other works in the area rather than fit into afterwards.

    I don’t expect the Sheppard funds to be sufficient for all of 4a – 4c in addition to Eglinton enhancements, so some choices will have to be made.

    Steve: The “Sheppard funds” you refer to are, at this point, only the $300-million odd that the Feds had on the table, and that money may evaporate soon if the project does not go ahead. There is no other Sheppard money.


  24. Great analysis, unfortunately wasted on the 99% of people who do not understand transportation planning and think anything on the topic is lefty nonsense. As a movement, what is needed is a photo translation of the above analysis told entirely through real-world photos of BRT, LRT, subway, etc. in other cities. Joe Leaside will not understand acronyms or service levels, but he just might get it if he sees 30 images of successful new transit in other cities.

    Torontonians are extremely insular because they were told for decades that they were living in the cleanest, safest city with the best subway and best streetcars while American cities burned to the ground and other Canadian cities lagged out in the hinterland. Decades! And it was actually true for a while too. And if there was anything to aspire to it was to be more like New York and Chicago (read: subways). Very hard to undo that deeply ingrained smugness. “What’s that? Jersey City built a new LRT line? F that, that place is a s***hole. Toronto has nothing to learn from them.” Never mind that Jersey City is very similar to the Toronto waterfront, with a similar mix of new offices, hotels and condos, running trains on a combination of mixed surface and elevated ROW. Nothing to see here! Only photos – close up, aerial, contextual – will help overcome this bias.

    There is simply zero awareness of how other cities are building transit links in recent years (almost all of which is LRT, commuter rail or BRT), what those systems look like, what they cost to ride, what their effect has been on development, etc. You have to absolutely hammer them with picture after picture of gleaming new transit in other North American cities until they understand that they are missing the boat through lack of vision, lack of funding, and lack of acceptance of anything but a subway line that they have no idea how to pay for.

    Maybe I should contact the CodeRed people and get them up to speed on US systems. They all look to photos of Toronto when selling their local populations on surface rail — time to return the favour.


  25. Great post, Steve.

    Does any city in the world have as active an online community devoted to transportation issues as Toronto? As many people wanting to share their opinion about how things could or should be better? If you Google “fantasy subway map” the hits are only for a few places – Austin, New York, Toronto, Washington. Somehow all this talk needs to be translated into action, or we’re wasting our time and energy. Could this CodeRedTO initiative be a good opportunity to bring people together under a common advocacy banner? Thoughts, anyone?


  26. @Michael Forest

    What I was getting at is the claim that an underground line is significantly faster than a surface line of comparable station spacing. Of course, one can also say that the omission of stations also speeds up service, but whether the remaining stations can adequately serve the neighbourhoods along Finch without the need for a parallel bus service is another debate (actually, no debate, you definitely need a parallel bus in the suburbs if stations are 800 metres plus apart).

    Transforming suburban arterials like Finch into corridors lined with destinations in their own right was one of the visions for the OP (the Avenues Plan). Less focus was on passengers interested in only speeding through neighbourhoods.

    I have to correct myself that the highest average speed of surface LRT with 400-600 metre station spacing is 25 km/hr. This number is the projected average speed for the east surface section of the original Eglinton-Crosstown line, and I had assumed that this number applied to any surface LRT line with the same station spacing.

    I literally found out today that the projected average speed for Sheppard and Finch is 23 km/hr, not 25 km/hr. I suspect, though have not confirmed yet, that the Transit City team assumed an increase in surface speed through the use of downstream left-turning systems. As discussed at length elsewhere on this blog, this increase in speed through the downstream left-turn systems is hard to buy without detailed modelling analysis.


  27. I like this talk of reviving Transit City. I wonder how many times Ford can put his foot in his mouth before city council simply votes to proceed with Transit City? (wishful thinking?)

    I’ve been wondering about the Sheppard LRT: construction was already under way, as I understand it, when Ford took office. But that was just the Agincourt GO grade separation, which I’m guessing is now done or near done. By now I’m guessing further construction would have been but has not been started.

    In the event of a simple revival of Transit City, would the next step be track construction, or are there still other “preparatory” jobs to do like utility relocation?

    Steve: Some watermain work along Sheppard was also done. If Council took a stand, work could begin immediately on a Sheppard LRT, but the single largest job within the project is the tunnel under the DVP into Don Mills Station. It’s not clear how this would be built, and whether there are plans to recycle tunnel boring equipment now busy on another project for this.


  28. @Jacob Louy

    I have no problems with the Finch LRT design. Finch is a secondary corridor that does not have to work as a trunk route with multiple feeders, and does not need a subway. Surface LRT running at 23 kph or 25 kph will be a significant improvement over the existing mixed-traffic bus service.

    In my previous post, I tried to point out that the YUS subway pattern that exists south of Bloor (close stop spacing and lower speed) is reasonable for that stretch but would not be optimal if applied across the whole subway system.

    For LRT, it is OK to run at lower speed and make more frequent stops than the bulk of subway system.


  29. Steve said: “The “Sheppard funds” you refer to are, at this point, only the $300-million odd that the Feds had on the table, and that money may evaporate soon if the project does not go ahead. There is no other Sheppard money.”

    That’s because Ford re-purposed almost all of the Sheppard, Finch, and SLRT extension funding to Eglinton in order to make the latter fully underground. But at this point the funds are not spent and there are no contractual commitments to build all of Eglinton underground.

    If the Council is willing to reopen the issue, technically it is possible to restore 2 out of 3 canceled lines; but not all 3 if we want to fund a somewhat improved Eglinton design.

    Steve: Strictly speaking, it is Queen’s Park who repurposed the money for Eglinton, and it is they who will decide where or if to spend this if Eglinton reverts to something like its original surface design. The money is not Mayor Ford’s to shuffle around as he sees fit.


  30. Re: Ray – the Seattle Transit blog is the only other city specific blog besides this one I’ve seen where the author(s) and commentators know more about the city’s transit system and how it should be planned than the people that work for the transit system.

    I don’t mind Transit City being resurrected, but I wouldn’t want the Eglinton subway being delayed because people want to go back to the way it was going to appear in Transit City. I can imagine a nightmare scenario where every 5 years the wind changes and any progress made in those years is wiped out.

    Steve: As the debate and the project now stands, the central underground section of Eglinton is common to all schemes, and will be built. The design work hasn’t even been finished to the point of doing an EA amendment for the extended tunnel section, and so nothing is being delayed by having this debate.


  31. “Longer term issues should not be bundled into this debate even though many are important: the role of GO and its future frequent all day service including electrification, a Downtown Relief line…”

    I don’t think you’ve ever tried riding the subway from a downtown station during rush hour, watching trains go by and not being able to get on because they are full of people from outside the city.

    I also don’t think you know what if feels like to pay $3 for a 3 km journey while subsidizing a 20 km journey for someone from York region.

    Steve: I beg your pardon. I live downtown. I know what it’s like trying to get on an overpacked subway, and if I were not using a Metropass, I too would scream loudly about paying $3 for a short journey with the TTC’s transfer regulations. The point I am making here is that in any political fight, if you try to accomplish everything in one go, you use up a lot of effort on issues that are not central to the one you want to win — saving Transit City in some form today.

    Perhaps you also don’t know what it’s like to take a streetcar on Queen during rush hour, watching people on foot move faster than you.

    Steve: I was on the Queen car, or at least trying to be on one, this morning and watching lots of people walking while looking over their shoulder to see if anything was coming. Eventually, I gave up and walked down to King where the first four cars to appear were not going far enough to take me to my destination.

    I’m trying to figure out why you keep on shoving issues regarding transit expansion south of Bloor to the back-burner. And I’m trying to figure out your motive for this, because it makes no sense. Have you not seen what a subway system looks like for a major city?

    A bunch of stub lines from nowhere (i.e. Transit City) feeding into the YUL that is already at capacity is a recipe for disaster. I find your lack of insight, in addition to your reputation as some sort of transit advocate, some sort of bad paradoxical joke.

    Steve: South of Bloor? In case you have not noticed, I have been advocating for the Downtown Relief Line for years, back when all the subway jocks in this town wanted to do was build more subways off into the open fields of suburbia (and thereby overload the YUS). As for lines feeding into Yonge, well, let’s see. Eglinton would feed the Spadina line from the west, and, if the DRL were built, the “Don Mills” line from the east. The Finch line runs west from Keele, and the Sheppard East LRT runs east to Morningside. There is a lot of demand on all of these routes that has nothing to do with the subway or core area travel. Should we not give them better service?

    If you want to insult Transit City without proposing some alternative, be my guest. I will lump you in with the no-brainers who were terrified by a streetcar as children and now have a pathological hatred for the mode. If you want to talk about transit without assuming I am some hermit living in a cave up around North Bay who never rides the TTC, then we can have a conversation. Otherwise, I will assume you yourself live under a rock and have nothing better to do than insult people without knowing their history, their positions or their arguments. Don’t bother leaving more comments here.


  32. I am uncertain if it is possible to revive the Sheppard East LRT. I may be wrong but it does not look like the underpass under construction at the Agincourt GO station can handle four lanes of traffic plus two LRT lanes. Does anyone know if they are constructing this underpass with enough room to install LRT tracks in their own dedicated right-of-way in the future? I know that was the original plan but did the construction continue with that ROW allowance after the LRT line was cancelled?

    Steve: The underpass is built to the original plans including provision for the LRT.


  33. If Ford is so concerned about getting his Sheppard Subway that would only reach STC anyway, why can’t we just build the Sheppard LRT beyond this point along with its planned carhouse? The intended routing of the SRT extension as far as Sheppard can claim money for the trackage not built further west on Sheppard from the interchange point. (Are the structures for the SRT extension wildly more expensive than the Don Mills-Victoria Park tunnelling and station work?) We also initially avoid sending this traffic to the Yonge Line. None of this prevents either the Sheppard Subway or LRT from being extended in the future over the ‘middle-ground’ in dispute. Of course this scheme depends on reversal of the complete Eglinton burial.


  34. Thanks for your response to my query about Sheppard LRT construction. And thanks for still being here even with trolls biting.

    I want Transit City resurrected enough that I want it to go ahead even if it means that Mayor Ford gets to cut the ribbon on the Sheppard LRT (which from what you say I believe would be done before the end of his term, with the possible exception of the underground link into Don Mills Station).


  35. RE: Sheppard LRT

    I have no doubt that part of the Sheppard LRT, at least east of Markham Road, will have the required political support.

    Firstly, there aren’t any other competing transit visions for that part of Sheppard, since the Sheppard Subway would veer south at Kennedy.

    Secondly, out of the four councillors along Sheppard east of Kennedy, 2 are confirmed supporters of surface LRT (Lee and Cho), and the other two are maybe’s (Del Grande and Moeser). I don’t think Del Grande has explicitly condemned surface transit, and even back in the winter of 2010 expressed doubts about the Sheppard Subway. Same with Moeser.

    Thirdly, this part of the Sheppard LRT would not be isolated, since a possible connection would exist around Markham Road with the Scarborough LRT.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this were to be the proposed compromise with Ford, and then we let Ford try to extend the Sheppard Subway to meet with the Sheppard LRT. While people wait for the Sheppard subway extension, I wonder if its feasible to confine the #85 Sheppard bus to run from Don Mills to Markham Road only, after part of the Sheppard LRT is open?

    Steve: This sounds like a really kludgey way to do things. I am really getting fed up with the attitude that we have to “compromise” with Rob Ford if this means letting him have everything he wants and we get a few leftover crumbs. If there is going to be a break between subway and LRT on Sheppard, we need to much better understand the demand flows and how they would be served (or not) by various configurations. Having a bus bridging between an LRT and a subway sounds like a recipe for unhappy riders. After all, the subway jocks keep telling us about the problems of going across the city (as if millions do this every day) with the extra connections imposed by the Finch/Sheppard offset, and the short ride on the Sheppard subway.


  36. @Michael Forest

    I think one reason why Transit City is adequate is because it wasn’t the only transit plan in place for Toronto. If one takes the entire Big Move plan into account, there won’t be many commuters that would choose to stay on surface LRT lines over long distances.

    The need for express trunk lines on surface portions of Eglinton and Sheppard is debatable as well, and I guess that would depend on their ridership.


  37. Not that I would actively support this compromise, but that’s probably what the pro-Transit City councillors would do. And if we insist “No Sheppard Subway”, I doubt we can get the required support to give Transit City a bit more time.

    Whatever the compromise is, it is only for the short-term. I sympathise with those unhappy Sheppard bus passengers, but they need to direct their frustrations toward Ford and Lastman, not toward Transit City supporters. And it’s not like they’ll be 100% happy with a completed Sheppard Subway extension either.


  38. Come on Steve. In response to Cassandra’s post, I remember a thread a few years back where you annihilated the Queen St. subway supporters (including me). Your argument at the time was that “there weren’t potential riders living in Lake Ontario (the catchment area) to draw from”. Well, as we all know, the Queen line and the DRL are essentially the same thing. Then, you changed your stance and supported a DRL, but only as light rail. One poster, whose name I can’t remember, called your switch to supporting a DRL with full subway technology a “damascene conversion” (after Metrolinx released its ridership projections for the route).

    Transit City looked good on paper and in theory, and would be a railfan’s ultimate paradise, but its benefits were severely limited. The only reason people thought we should build it was because it was “cheaper than a subway” and “all we could afford”. These are not very compelling reasons to build anything.

    In 1980, the King/Queen corridor absolutely did not need a subway, but it clearly does now. If anything, Eglinton should have yielded to King/Queen. We have the money — first it was to be diluted over a large area in a new light rail network, and now we’re wasting it all on Eglinton, when Queen/King would have been a better first choice.

    Steve: There is a huge difference between a Queen subway which has often been portrayed as a complete replacement for the 501 at least from Roncesvalles east, and the DRL. The “DRL” I advocated would be better called a “Don Mills” subway because it would run from Eglinton and Don Mills to downtown, and would not be intended to provide local service in the Queen/King corridor.

    Along with many Transit City supporters, I don’t and never have supported the complete undergrounding of Eglinton — that’s a deal with the devil cooked up by Queen’s Park and the Fords — and you can’t blame TC advocates for wasting money on Eglinton that could be “better” spent on Queen/King. Moreover, Transit City was not promoted as “all we could afford”, but rather as a responsible way to improve transit capacity and, to some extent, speed and coverage in the suburbs at a scale that will never happen with subway technology.

    You are completely distorting the history and intent of Transit City, not to mention my own support for a DRL, to suit your argument.


  39. RE: Station spacing and parallel bus service

    Yonge south of Bloor still sees parallel bus service during rush hour, even when the stations are only 400-600 metres apart.

    Why is there no parallel bus service, not even rush hour service, anywhere along Bloor or Danforth when the stops are 700+ metres apart?

    Steve: The 97 Yonge south of St. Clair survives despite many attempts by TTC staff to kill it off. Some of the loudest cries in favour of the route have come from seniors. Also, it only runs every half hour, hardly a “parallel service”. Even Sheppard gets better service.

    At this point, the 97B is a vestige of the old “Downtown” bus. The Bloor-Danforth corridor had no equivalent.


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