OneCity Plan Reviewed

The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.

The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme.  Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling.  A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.

On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built.  Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled.  Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance.  Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.

Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic).  Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion.  If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto.  Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.

On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project.  Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.

Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power.  Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight.  A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.

Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy.  Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not.  Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.

In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3.  If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.

The briefing package for OneCity is available online.

My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.

To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting, June 2012

The Metrolinx Board met on June 21 with a full agenda.  As is unfortunately the case with this quasi-public board, the fatter the agenda, the less time is spent on actual discussion of the material in it, at least in public.  Presentations were rushed, and there were few questions from the Board to staff.  Many issues on the public agenda have counterparts in the private session where, one might hope, there is more robust debate.

[This article has been in the hopper a bit longer than I had hoped while I chased some details from Metrolinx.] Continue reading

“One City” To Serve Them All

Updated June 27 at 5:20pm:  I have written a political analysis of today’s announcement for the Torontoist website that will probably go live tomorrow morning.  A line-by-line review of the plan will go up here later the same day.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Glen De Baeremaeker will formally announce a new plan called “One City” on June 27 at 10:30.

The plan already has coverage on the Star and Globe websites.  Maps:  Globe Star

I will comment in more detail after their press conference, but two points leap off the page at me:

  • The proposed funding scheme for the $30-billion plan presumes 1/3 shares from each of the Provincial and Federal governments.  This money is extremely unlikely to show up, especially Ottawa’s share.  From Queen’s Park, some of the funding is from presumed “commitments” to current projects such as the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion which would be replaced by a subway extension.  The rest is uncertain.
  • The “plan” is little more than a compendium of every scheme for transit within the 416 that has been floated recently in various quarters (including this blog).  What is notable is the fact that glitches in some of the existing ideas (notably the fact that the Waterfront East line ends at Parliament) are not addressed.  The whole package definitely needs some fine tuning lest it fall victim to the dreaded problem of all maps — once you draw them, it’s almost impossible to change them.

For those who keep an eye on political evolution, the brand “One City” surfaced in April 2012 in a speech made by Karen Stintz at the Economic Club of Canada.  This idea of a new, unifying transit brand appears to have been cooking for some time.

Service Changes Effective July 29, 2012

Mid-summer is a quiet time for service changes, but a few are planned for the end of July.  Major changes will come in September with the combined effect of the return to winter schedules and the implementation of recently funded service improvements.

Queen Diversion at Russell Carhouse

Work will switch to the west entrance of the carhouse making it impossible to operate streetcars east of Broadview.  Service on 501/301 Queen will return to Neville Loop, but will divert both ways via Coxwell, Gerrard and Broadview.  The 501 shuttle bus will operate from Woodbine Loop nominally to Broadview, but it will actually loop via Parliament, Shuter and River.  The 501 short turn service standing in for the 502 Downtowner will run from Broadview Station to Wolseley Loop.

A summary of the schedules shows how the Queen service has evolved through the construction project.

Service on Kingston Road remains a bus operation to Parliament because of watermain work.

Carhouse trips for routes served from Russell Carhouse will change to operate via Gerrard, Coxwell and Queen to Connaught.

Harbourfront Route Construction

Streetcar service on 509 Harbourfront will be replaced by buses for the reconstruction of Queen’s Quay.  Eastbound service will turn north at Spadina to Lake Shore, east to Simcoe or York, north to Front, east to Yonge and south to Queen’s Quay.

This operation will continue until spring 2013.

Bay Bus Extension

Service on the Bay bus will be extended from Jarvis to Sherbourne to add service to new developments on the waterfront.  During peak periods, the 6B Bloor/Dundas short turn will be changed to 6A Bloor/Sherbourne so that more service is provided to the southeast part of the route.  During off-peak periods, the 6 Dupont/Jarvis service will be extended to Sherbourne with no change in headways or hours of service.

Further changes are planned for September 2012.

Morningside/Scarborough Changes

Running times on 116 Morningside will change on weekends to improve reliability of the service.  Daytime service on 86 Scarborough will change to match the new Morningside headways for a blended service on the common section of their routes.

Woodbine Beach Service

Weekend afternoon and early evening service on 92 Woodbine South will improve to handle summer demand to the beach.

2012.07.29 Service Changes

So You Want To Be A Transit Commissioner (Update 2)

Updated June 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Two media reports indicate that the City Clerk has taken umbrage at comments in this article, and I feel compelled to reply.  As a general note, my quarrel was primarily with the TTC’s representative, not with the Clerk’s staff.

From Inside Toronto:

Recent information sessions held for aspiring civilian TTC commissioners were always intended as informal drop-in sessions rather than organized meetings, said a spokesperson for the city on Wednesday.

Martin Herzog characterized the four sessions, two of which took place Tuesday in Scarborough and North York, as an opportunity for individuals interested in applying to join the TTC board to get further information about the application process.

Herzog was responding to criticism that emerged this week on how the sessions were run.

“The sessions were never designed to be meetings with formal presentations,” said Herzog, the city’s acting manager for governance structures and corporate performance. “There was no formula for this.”

And later:

Online criticism of the information sessions is completely inaccurate, said Herzog.

“There’s some stuff trickling around full of factual errors,” he said.

There are no “factual errors” in my article, and methinks the Clerk doth protest too much.  Whether it was the original intent or not, Monday’s “drop in” turned into a 90-minute Q&A with the TTC’s Vince Rodo that had no prepared content, but lots of remarks that left a bad taste in my mouth particularly when coupled with earlier comments from a member of Council who sits on the Civic Appointments Committee.

As I reported, the Clerk’s Office had prepared a briefing package for those who attended and it contained a great deal of well-organized material culled from the City’s website.

From NOW:

Joe Borowiec of the city manager’s office dismisses the suggestion the external headhunting process has made outreach to the general public redundant. He says Munro misunderstood the intent of the public sessions, and that they were intended to be drop-in sessions rather than formal meetings.

Borowiec says that the city manager’s office is required to open the process to the public and insists that that all applications will be taken seriously.

“There’s no reason why someone who walks in off the street and picks up a form would not be a successful applicant,” Borowiec says. “We’re not looking to limit it to only corporate directors. We’re looking to reach out and communicate with anybody and everybody out there because we don’t know where those possible candidates are.”

That’s not what Rodo (the seeker of “Barons of industry”)  said, and it’s not what the specifications for the job state.  If Council actually intends director-level experience as a “nice to have”, not a “must have”, then they need to say that explicitly in the job ad.

Meanwhile, in answer to all who have asked, I will not be applying.  Becoming a Commissioner would severely compromise my ability to comment independently and to interact with various agencies and my now-peers in the journalistic/blogging community.  Much more can be achieved as an independent external voice.

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Congestion? Where’s the Congestion?

Recently we have heard a lot about congestion and its supposed causes.  The single largest ones, of course, are the lack of investment in transit and the continuation of building an auto-oriented GTA.  There are more people (and cars) hunting for space on a limited amount of roadway, and nowhere near enough capacity to handle all of the demand.

Transit will help, partly, eventually, but the sad fact is that development and travel patterns encouraged by auto-oriented planning cannot simply be reassigned onto a transit network.  There is no 905 equivalent of “King and Bay” to which we can conveniently funnel thousands of riders, let alone a network of routes focused on such a location from century-old travel patterns.

We can try, but there are limits, and the brave statements by Metrolinx about reducing congestion are at best optimistic.  Even Metrolinx acknowledges that their 25-year network, fully built out, will only keep congestion (or more accurately auto trips) at the current level, not reduce it.  Moreover, reductions in corridors where transit makes inroads will be offset by increases in travel where transit is not competitive.

In another thread, a discussion sprang up of problems related to congestion and to a list of the 10 worst intersections in Toronto.  Some have the temerity to point out that none of these has a streetcar line anywhere near it, and indeed a few are served by the Sheppard subway, that panacea for all our transportation ills.

To keep comments on this thread together, and to leave the original thread for its purpose  (Citizen Commissioners on the TTC), I will move the congestion-related comments here.

TTC v. Metrolinx (Again): Who’s In Charge Here? (Update 2)

Updated June 8, 2012 at 11:00am:  My comments about the Commission’s action appear in an article on the Torontoist website.

Updated June 1, 2012 at 9:15am:  The motions passed at the TTC meeting of May 30 have been added at the end of this article.  The Commission took a much more conciliatory view of their relationship with Metrolinx than the staff report.  I will be writing about this situation in a separate article.

The original May 29 article follows below.

The Supplementary Agenda for the May 30, 2012 TTC meeting includes a report “LRT Projects in Toronto — Project Delivery”.

This report deals with the proposed transfer of responsibility for the Transit City LRT projects on Eglinton, Sheppard, Finch and the SRT replacement from the TTC to Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario.

As TTC reports go, this one is rather oddly worded in that it:

  • asks the Commission to “note” a number of factors,
  • requests that provincial agencies respond to various issues,
  • sets an October 31, 2012 deadline for the transfer of project control, and
  • proposes that the TTC’s own staff now dedicated to the LRT projects be redeployed internally.

In effect, the TTC is taking their ball and going home rather than play with the guys from down the block.  This suggests a strained relationship between agencies notwithstanding the soothing words we hear so often, and a sense that a fed up TTC is telling Queen’s Park to get lost.

From a purely political and administrative point of view, Queen’s Park holds all the cards because they are paying almost the entire cost (with a small Ottawa contribution to Sheppard) for these projects.  It’s their money, and they get to say how it will be spent.  Whether it will be spent wisely, and how the projects might fare with the TTC on the sidelines, these are questions that won’t be answered for years until we see the results.

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Queen’s Quay West Construction Schedule Announced

Waterfront Toronto has announced the schedule for reconstruction of Queen’s Quay between Spadina and Bay based on the long-awaited design by West 8 + DTAH.

Stage I: Summer 2012 to Summer 2013

The first stage concentrates on utilities and on the streetcar right-of-way.  Works include:

  • Bell will install new duct banks and cabling during June and July 2012.
  • Toronto Hydro will install new splicing chambers and cabling to replace existing worn-out infrastructure.  This work begins in July 2012 and will run for a year.
  • A new sanitary sewer will be built in three stages (Rees to York, Bay to York, Lower Spadina to HTO West), and new storm sewers will be built in two areas (York to Bay, 350 Queen’s Quay to Rees).  This will replace existing aging sewers.
  • The TTC right-of-way will be completely rebuilt from the portal west of Bay to just east of Spadina.  The new alignment is slightly different from the existing one, and will include wider platforms (2.4m).  Streetcar service will end on July 29, 2012, but demolition of the right-of-way will not start until the fall with the new corridor to be completed by late spring 2013 when the line will be electrified and streetcar service will resume.  The TTC will also be replacing the track in the Bay Street tunnel (new rails are already in place in the tunnel).
  • During construction a replacement bus service will operate for route 509.  The service will run westbound on Queen’s Quay and eastbound on Lake Shore Blvd.  The connection to Union Station will be via north on York, east on Front, south on Yonge.  While Front is impassible due to construction, the route will be via York, Adelaide, Bay and Front to Yonge.
  • Also in 2012 (as previously reported), there will be interim improvements to the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure from Bay to Jarvis to better link the eastern waterfront to the central portion.

Stage II:   Summer 2013 to Early 2014

The second stage concentrates on the north side of Queen’s Quay to reconfigure the roadway, rebuild the sidewalks and install tree pits ready for planting (which will be timed to benefit the trees even if the civil works are ready earlier).

The TTC will rebuild the intersection and loop at Spadina & Queen’s Quay over three weekends (one each for the intersection, the loop exit on Spadina and the loop entry on Queen’s Quay).  Streetcar service will be suspended for these weekends.

During this work, all road traffic will use the south side (existing eastbound) lanes on Queen’s Quay.  When the new north side is ready, traffic will be switched to the new lanes.  A new traffic crossover with signals will be installed west of Spadina so that eastbound cars can get from the existing lanes south of the streetcar right-of-way to the new north-side alignment.  Eventually, when it is time to rebuild the section from Spadina to Bathurst, this crossover will be eliminated because all motor traffic will be north of the streetcar lanes.

Stage III:  Early 2014 to Late 2014

The south side lanes and the sidewalk will be demolished.  They will be replaced with a new expanded promenade and with the Martin Goodman Trail (bike path).  Planting of the new double row of trees planned for this part of the street may be deferred to spring 2015 to ensure that the trees will survive.

General

The cost of this project is about $110-million of which $90m comes from Waterfront Toronto, $10m from the TTC and the balance from various utilities.  Waterfront Toronto will lead the construction work so that all sub-projects are co-ordinated and the disruption to any one part of Queen’s Quay is kept at a minimum.  There has already been extensive consultation with business and residents, and this will continue through the project to head off problems as they arise.

Sidewalks on both sides of Queen’s Quay will be laid with granite cobbles in a two-tone mosaic with a maple-leaf outlined in the pattern.  The total number of cobbles will be about 2.3-million with about 40% on the north side and 60% on the wider south side promenade.  Granite curbs will be used at the sidewalk edges.

Two public meetings will go into this project in more detail.

Wednesday, June 6 at Harbourfront Centre, Brigantine Room, 7-9 pm.  This meeting will include presentations on many projects underway in different parts of the waterfront.

Saturday, June 9 at Waterpark Place Lobby, 20 Bay Street, 10am-2pm.  This meeting will show detailed construction plans for the various phases and is intended for residents and businesses who want to see the final design and ask detailed questions.

Some information and images are available on Waterfront Toronto’s website.  The Fact Sheet contains details additional to the summary above.