Inside The Planners Studio

Updated May 1, 2013:  The presentation slide decks and a video of the event are available from the City’s website (linked below).

On April 30, 2013 from 10:00am to noon in Toronto Council Chambers, the City of Toronto Planning Department will present the first in a series of events where planners (and inspired amateurs) will:

talk about key planning issues from a historical perspective, to talk about innovative emerging ideas and research concepts, and to learn how other Cities have tackled complex planning issues currently facing Toronto.

These sessions are intended as a development program for City staff, but because of the large venue, this one will be open to the public.

The topic will be Transit Planning: A Tale of Two Cities with three presentations and a Q&A.

Edward J. Levy will speak on “Rapid Transit in Toronto: A Century of Plans, Progress, Politics & Paralysis”.

I will speak on the past, present and future of the streetcar system with specific emphasis on its role in handling the growing population and travel demand in the near-downtown areas.

Students from the Environmental Studies program at YorkUniversity will speak on “Transit growing among the Vineyards: Lessons from Montpellier, France”.

For those who cannot attend in person, the session will be webcast.  A link to this is available on the City Planning website.

See you there, or online.

23 thoughts on “Inside The Planners Studio

  1. “Walk in”? That means the suburbanites might not attend, if they have to walk not drive.

    Steve: Now now, let’s not be unkind to our friends in the suburbs many of whom walk, a lot, and even attempt cycling. I may be an eeevil downtown dweller, but I try not to stereotype anyone, not even people from Etobicoke, many of whom are quite reasonable, literate and moderate in their political views.


  2. W.K. Lis: “Walk in”? That means the suburbanites might not attend, if they have to walk not drive.

    I’m coming in from Mississauga … probably by bus+subway since there’s little chance of my finding parking at the GO stations nearby 🙂

    Cheers, Moaz


  3. A joint appearance by Ed Levy and Steve Munro discussing Toronto transit planning? The Metrolinx and TTC Boards’ and Byford’s worst nightmare…

    Pull no punches, Steve!- will be watching online

    Steve: Thanks for watching. We had a great time, and I only wish we could have seen more of our audience.


  4. Great talk Steve … I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I was somewhat surprised by Ed Levy’s assertions that the Eglinton line is going to need subway capacity after 20 years. I’m paraphrasing as I believe he said the LRT will get us through the next 20. I obviously do not have his training or experience, but I fail to see how that is possible.

    Given the layout of lots and the highly fragmented land ownership along Eglinton (mainly west of Bathurst) I don’t think we are going to see quite the massive build-out that some people expect. It took one of our clients 15 years to assemble land for one of their projects along Eglinton, and frankly I think that was only possible because they are a disciplined family owned firm that can follow through with time horizons like that. I expect that the majority of riders will be transfer traffic from arterial bus routes.

    He was a very informative and interesting speaker however.

    Steve: That’s a situation where Ed and I part company. The reason is partly strategic. The more one says that “a subway is inevitable”, the more there is pressure to build one now and thereby preclude the surface LRT option for parts of the route. This can have a knock-on effect as other parts of the city get subway envy, and we wind up building almost nothing.

    Similarly, I am not as convinced as Ed of the need for the Sheppard link, and really want to see some demand and origin-destination projections to support this.

    There are always problems with demand models because one needs to know what assumptions were built in — for example, the “justification” for the Sheppard Subway decades ago was a level of development for office space in Scarborough that never materialized. The suburban “centres” in Toronto are an abject failure compared to what was foretold, but they played to the suburban pols who saw their cities as bright, shining competitors to the hated downtown Toronto. The employment density maps show where “the market” chose to build.


  5. I attended this session and one comment by Edward J. Levy was that the east west route of the relief line was no longer Queen Street, but further south, given the developments and densities to the south. Can you provide more detail? Thanks

    Steve: Yes, a great deal of new density is going up, both residential and commercial, south of Front, and in many cases south of the rail corridor. Queen, on the other hand, is on the northern edge. Any new capacity should be added far enough south to serve the new development, not a corridor that might have seemed appropriate three decades or more ago.

    As I said when talking about the DRL and its route, I don’t think anyone foresaw the shift in types of employment and in residential locations, and certainly none of the plans from the 60s through 80s mentioned what might happen “south of downtown”.


  6. A good point that Ed made, and one that even Councillor John “Thumbs’a’Clickin’ ” Parker has picked up on, is the lunacy of burying the western Eglinton LRT- the below-grade stations, the catenaries, the pantographs.

    Steve: any comments on the cost/operational limitations/other of such nuttiness? Have these people never ridden the Dublin LUAS or Minneapolis or…?

    Steve: The issues are context and service levels. I very much doubt that Dublin or Minneapolis contemplates operating a 2-minute headway of 3-car trains on their street trackage. Moreover, the streets on which their LRT runs likely don’t have to deal with miles of merchants who feel, rightly, that they would be put out of business if a surface right-of-way were shoehorned into the street. Eglinton is narrower than St. Clair which was challenging enough.

    The real issue is to come back to the surface as soon as practical, but Metrolinx seems to be nibbling its way outward with the tunnel. There are arguments to be made for the Don Mills and Mt. Dennis alignments as now designed, but beyond these points, surface operation is a must. If the Sheppard and Finch LRTs had not been delayed by Queen’s Park, we would have an example of surface operation up and running next year. McGuinty, however, was long on announcements and short on delivery.


  7. Hi Steve,

    Regarding the extension of the Sheppard subway WEST to the University subway line. The conventional design connects Sheppard Station to Downsview Station by tunneling under Sheppard Ave. This will cost approximately $1.5 billion, if I recall correctly.

    Is there a better and cheaper alternative? What if Sheppard/Yonge station connected to Yorkdale station (6 km) instead of Downsview station (4.3 km) ? These are the advantages:

    1) The majority of the route can run on the surface of the 401. Therefore, this option should be cheaper than tunneling under Sheppard Ave.

    2) Some tunneling or overpasses may be needed to travel from Sheppard station to the 401. Can the existing Yonge tunnel be utilized for this purpose?

    2) An elevated train station can be built on the south east corner of Bathurst and Wilson Ave, thereby connecting rapid transit to 2 bus routes.

    3) The distance from Sheppard to Yorkdale is 6km using the 401 route instead of 7.6km using the Downsview interchange. This will reduce travel time.

    4) There is ample room at Yorkdale station to build a parallel, elevated platform for the Sheppard extension.

    5) Since Yorkdale is a busier transit hub than Downsview, the Sheppard extension should be better utilized.

    An alternative design is to build a University spur line from Yorkdale station to Sheppard/Yonge station over the proposed 401 route. This will split the University line into east and west branches. The west branch will travel via the Vaughan Corporate Centre, while the east branch will travel via Yonge/Sheppard station (the east branch resembles the letter “d”). Depending on demand, more trains can be added to the east branch. The terminus of the eastern branch will be at Sheppard/Yonge, using either a north/south or east/west platform.

    What do you think? Is the cost of running the Sheppard west extension over the 401 less expensive than tunneling?

    I look forward to your comments.

    Thanks, George

    Steve: I am trying to wrap my brain around your geography. You want to connect a subway at Sheppard and Yonge to a point 3km further south on the Spadina line at Yorkdale. By “cutting the corner”, you save travel distance and time, presuming that Yorkdale is the centre of the universe for travel demand. In the process, you need to get through an existing residential neighbourhood and across the Don Valley to reach the 401. Then structurally you need a way to hold up the elevated without interfering with traffic on the 401. Possible, but there are limited options for where to put the footings. With the need to thread among highway ramps, access between the new and old Yorkdale stations would be tricky, and anything that makes for a complex transfer path is a disincentive.

    Finally, connecting the Sheppard line to the University line will be just about impossible. The Sheppard line connection at Downsview is designed to link into the University line and Wilson Yard, something your Yorkdale proposal cannot do.

    Your scheme may be cheaper, but I doubt it will save much. It also goes against the arguments that a direct link across Sheppard is good for people in northwest Toronto, and that a Sheppard line could stimulate development on that street. The fundamental question before we talk of alternate alignments much be “what is the Sheppard link supposed to achieve”. Answer that before drawing lines on a map.


  8. “The Sheppard line connection at Downsview is designed to link into the University line and Wilson Yard”

    This reminds me I’ve been meaning to ask: if I understand correctly, Downsview station is designed to allow a future connection to the Sheppard line. I’m not clear how this is supposed to work — would a new platform level be built, or the existing platform allow access to all trains? Also, what connections between the lines were envisioned (i.e., what turns could be made)? Does the design anticipate an extension of Sheppard to the West of Downsview? And finally, does the under construction Vaughan extension get in the way of any of what was originally put into the design?

    Steve: It’s my understanding that provision was only made for west-to-south and north-to-east turns so that Sheppard trains could turn south and run into Wilson Yard. I don’t think a through Sheppard-Spadina service could operate that would actually stop at Downsview. The extension doesn’t get in the way, but people who have fantasies of direct service from Vaughan to Scarborough Town Centre via Sheppard would be quite disappointed.


  9. It was a very interesting session and I look forward to the next one. It was great to see see different ‘generations’ of planners, students and enthusiasts all together.

    Cheers, Moaz


  10. Steve:

    It’s my understanding that provision was only made for west-to-south and north-to-east turns so that Sheppard trains could turn south and run into Wilson Yard. I don’t think a through Sheppard-Spadina service could operate that would actually stop at Downsview.

    Similar to the connection between the Yonge line and the Sheppard line … the turns exist but TTC is not (at least for now) planning a through service connecting York Mills station to the Sheppard line without a stop at Sheppard-Yonge.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: More to the point, a north to east service on Yonge/Sheppard cannot physically stop at Sheppard station. A west to south service could stop there, but would then have to pull west past the station and double back to run south down Yonge.


  11. Was Ed trying to say that the Bloor-Danforth line should have run directly under Bloor St. itself? His presentation was full of historical inaccuracies. After watching it, I went and read his book online, and even there, he talks about how the tracks at St. George should have been twisted so that the eastbound and southbound tracks “landed” on the same level. Hearing things like that in his book and on Transit Toronto drives me nuts, because it’s impossible to do inside a grade-separated flyover without creating at-grade crossings. I simply can’t visualize it with the grades in that area. Can somebody please enlighten me with a 3D diagram? I thought he was a transit expert — he should know better than that.

    Steve: Yes, he wanted BD under Bloor itself, something that would have been quite impossible with cut-and-cover construction and a major operating carline overhead. Even Yonge only did that in the part of the city where diversions on nearby streets could reasonably be undertaken.

    The “flattened” view of the wye is taken, I think, from a signal diagram layout. I am not sure exactly what alternative scheme Ed wanted for that junction. He blamed the failure of integrated service on signalling limitations when the real problem was the way the TTC scheduled and managed the line. It’s a moot point now anyhow with the addition of the Spadina leg. The wye’s physical geometry is complicated by the need to incorporate two stations — Bay and St. George — and had these not been present, there might have been more flexibility with track placement. For example, the north-to-west and west-to-south curves could cross at grade, but that only works if one of them were going to be used for rare carhouse moves. That wasn’t the original intent, and so every possible move had to avoid conflicts.

    Yes, there were some inaccuracies in Ed’s presentation as, I am sure, there were a few in mine (or at least convenient elisions to simplify the argument in places). However, I wasn’t going to call him out on the details as each of us had our presentations to make.


  12. Hi Steve. I watched the recording online and wanted to say thanks to both you and Ed for doing this. You’ve definitely inspired a young person to take a more public and vocal stance on the importance of our transit network.

    I have a question for you though. With the Union Station revitalisation efforts now underway. What do you think they could have done better to make the station more usable from a capacity and technical perspective. I’ve personally always felt that putting in place a mall/retail concourse under the station was a poor space use choice and that since the were digging down they should have had the foresight to add provision for a separate set of underground tracks to boost future capacity. I understand the collected proceeds from the mall will offset the construction costs somewhat but this seems like a fairly obvious and logical but glaring omission from the plans. Thoughts?

    As always thanks,

    Steve: It is important to remember that the Union Station project was in the works for years, and that the lion’s share of the funding is from the City of Toronto, not GO/Metrolinx. The rate of future growth of GO was not fully understood, and GO was not throwing large amounts of money around to go beyond renovation of the existing layout. Also, GO was not (and still is not) strongly committed to electrification, but going underground through Union forces that issue.

    The mall performs an important pedestrian circulation function linking the “old” downtown north of Front to the “new” downtown south of the rail corridor, and future revenue from the mall supports the cost of rebuilding the station. If a new set of tracks were added at the mall level, the route through to the south side would be blocked. Any new track really needs to go below the mall, and the cost of that would have added substantially to the overall project.

    There are good arguments that the station renovation should have actually removed some tracks to allow platforms to be widened. Pedestrian movements will be a major problem at track level as GO expands service. However, the current favoured option is a new station at Front and Spadina where the Bathurst Yard sits today. This would take much of the traffic coming down the northwest corridor and shift it to the new station freeing up capacity at Union. The west end of the DRL subway is integral to this plan.


  13. It’s interesting that he [Levy] feels Eglinton should be built as a full subway now.

    It was a catch-22 — if they had let trains leave the trailing junctions out of sequence, the alternating service pattern would have become disorganized downstream. That would have frustrated riders who would have let a train pass on the next inbound trip only to find that the following train was not going to their destination either. Plus, the three routes all differed in length. The different route lengths led to the schedule that was built, and all the intricate run # dependencies and route changes at the terminals. The biggest problem though was that the equipment could not detect run numbers in those days. The only way that operation could have worked smoothly was to simply toss out the schedule and run the entire thing on the fly. For anyone running a railroad, such a concept is tantamount to heresy. The schedule is the bible.

    Steve: Route length does not affect the way service is integrated — it is a question of common headways and running times being a multiple of that value. But yes, that schedule (I have a copy) is a complex wonder with trains switching between lines every time the headway or running time is adjusted. Those interchanges required everything to run like a clock, something totally foreign to TTC operations.


  14. M. Briganti wrote:

    … he [Ed Levy] talks about how the tracks at St. George should have been twisted so that the eastbound and southbound tracks “landed” on the same level.

    If permanent integrated service were the intent of the line, then St. George would have been built that way so that all Keele-bound trains would use the same platform. Similarly, Bay would be designed so that all Woodbine-bound trains used the same platform.

    Perhaps the design we got was because of the cost and engineering issues with building “proper” stations on the wye. Some more cynical might suggest that the original plan was to build a totally separate Bloor-Danforth line, but getting funding was only possible by letting the politicians believe this was an ‘extension’ to the existing line. Building it with separate operation in the design, but running it as an extension for the first six months, then reverting to the separate line operation because it wasn’t working (and a survey ‘showed’ riders were split 50/50) gets what was originally intended.

    Of course, that could never happen. We would never see the TTC try a new form of operation in a way that was destined to fail. Can anyone say split service on Queen?


  15. M. Briganti said:

    It’s interesting that he [Levy] feels Eglinton should be built as a full subway now.

    That’s one reason why I asked about the Eglinton line, specifically the dropping and reviving of the portion serving the east side of Toronto.

    Some years ago Chris Hume wrote that the Eglinton West subway planned for Allen-Black Creek (meant to connect to a future GO station on the then-Georgetown line and the proposed York City Centre) should have been built from Dufferin to Bayview instead … serving a cross-town function rather than a radial branch of a radial branch.

    I’m not saying he was right or wrong (he has also said that the Crosstown should run above ground)…but it would have been very interesting if we had built a Crosstown subway and we were now arguing over the extension.

    Truth be told, if we had built a subway under Eglinton from Bayview to Dufferin then (in the 90s), we’d probably be arguing over whether to extend east to Don Mills or west to Black Creek … and we’d probably only be able to afford one.

    Cheers, Moaz


  16. Calvin Henry-Cotnam said …

    If permanent integrated service were the intent of the line, then St. George would have been built that way so that all Keele-bound trains would use the same platform. Similarly, Bay would be designed so that all Woodbine-bound trains used the same platform.

    In other words, what you’re saying is that the westbound track coming from Bay and the north-to-west track (which is currently above it) should instead merge just east of St. George on the same level — the lower level. The eastbound track at Lower St. George then has to fly under that trailing junction on its way to Bay. But, you want cross-platform moves as well, so the southbound University track has to be on the same level in between the eastbound and westbound tracks. That track then has to fly over the same trailing northbound/westbound junction on its way to Museum.

    WESTBOUND TRACK … remains level east of station [trailing switch here]
    SOUTHBOUND TRACK … quickly rises east of station to clear westbound track
    EASTBOUND TRACK … quickly falls east of station to clear westbound track

    This single platform layout assumes there is a facing junction just west of the station to split eastbound and southbound trains.

    This would never work. By the time the southbound track was clear of that mess for its turn, it would be too far east. There are limits on turning radii and grades.

    You’re also forgetting that the station was laid out for maximum flexibility and to potentially support both types of operation at different times of the day. In that respect, the stations were laid out correctly. Even if the turn were magically possible, the design above wouldn’t allow St. George to act as a turnback. Hopefully Ed Levy will read this and understand why the current layout is the only possible layout.

    As Steve said, it’s all moot now.


  17. I watched the entire Planners Studio presentation today, and found it very interesting – great to see your part, as well as everyone else’s contributions. Some good questions are at long last getting the public airing and attention they’ve long deserved. At least some of Montpellier’s ideas and concepts could be tailored to fit Toronto’s needs and circumstances and hopefully result in better planning for and prioritization of transit.

    Silo thinking must go – leave that for the wheat farmers in the prairie provinces!

    I hope that those in positions of power in city and provincial governments pay attention to these discussion forums. As you so well pointed out, city councilors must get away from a “ribbon-cutting, what’s in it to make me look good?” mind-set and instead focus on planning for and supporting projects that have the most meaningful and lasting value for the community at large.

    One trivial parting question – what were those thank-you gifts you and Ed Levy received? From the remote camera location they appeared to be large hard-bound coffee-table books.

    Steve: The book is “Toronto Places / A Context For Urban Design” published in 1992 by the City and UofT Press. The volume has the old City of Toronto coat of arms stamped on the cover in silver ink.


  18. Concerning a couple of comments prior to this one, about making the Eglinton a “subway”. Until 1945, both Yonge and Queen “subways” were planned to use the streetcars of the time (including prior plans as well). Only until 1948, did the Yonge “subway” plans switch to the heavy rail vehicles, but the Queen “subway” was to remain to use streetcars.

    Only since the Yonge heavy rail “subway” was built did the term “subway” change to be heavy rail only. People forget that the first “subway” in North America was in Boston, and it used the streetcars of the time.

    The Crosstown LRT is to be a subway between Keele and Don Mills, under the current plans.

    Steve: Yes, and “streetcars” became a dirty word thanks to the auto lobby who wanted those pesky tracks and large vehicles out of their way. Even today, some TTC planners talk about how we can’t improve streetcar service by putting more cars on the road as they will just be stuck in traffic. That’s a cop out because at many times of the day and sections of routes, traffic is not a problem, but the level of service is. This reinforces the idea that we need complete grade separation to get decent transit.

    Toronto has been badly served by “professionals” who can’t seem to find it in their hearts to advocate for LRT, presuming they even know what it is.


  19. In my opinion, the subway that we really, really need is the DRL and talking about other subways (Eglinton, Sheppard, Finch, etc.) is as distraction from what needs to be done now.

    Perhaps Eglinton will be over capacity for LRT in 20 years. That future demand may exist. The Yonge Subway is over capacity right now, and the demand for DRL subway service exists right now.

    Suppose a magic genie were to grant me three wishes and one of them was to miraculously build a DRL that would open tomorrow. I predict that there is such a high level of induced demand on the Yonge line that both subway lines would be quickly at capacity. In otherwords, for every existing Yonge passenger lured to the DRL, a new person would start riding who is presently deterred by the current lack of capacity.

    I predict that this will be a major problem with the east end of the new Eglinton LRT Line: Many passengers will want to use it to get downtown, but once they get to Yonge there is inadequate capacity for them to transfer to the Yonge subway. They get to watch packed train after packed train roll by while they are unable to get on board.

    I also predict that the same will be true on the West side. The expansion of the University line to Hwy #7 plus the traffic from the Eglinton LRT will push the University line over capacity.

    Conclusion: We need the DRL so badly that it should be a much, much higher priority than any other subway line.


  20. I agree with Kevin 100 per cent. I also believe that the DRL should go all the way to at least Eglinton, if not Shepperd. My own feeling about Eglinton is that while I’d be one of the biggest boosters of a full subway under Eglinton if that’s what was being pursued at this point, I’m infinitely more than happy to go along with LRT for now. Far be it for me to push for a full subway right now but I really do believe that once the LRT’s running, it will only be a matter of time before it reaches capacity and then goes over capacity. History may well prove me wrong but that remains to be seen.


  21. M. Briganti said:

    It’s interesting that he [Levy] feels Eglinton should be built as a full subway now.

    W.K. Lis said:

    The Crosstown LRT is to be a subway between Keele and Don Mills, under the current plans.

    The guys at CodeRedTo are happily tweeting that a 3 car Eglinton line trainset will carry more people than a 4 car Sheppard Subway trainset carries today.

    I guess the debate is not going to be put to rest even after 2020 when the Eglinton line opens. My guess is the first day that it gets crowded, people will be saying things like, “This line is already packed. They should have built this line as a subway. The Sheppard subway never gets this crowded.”

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: The projected peak demand on Eglinton is above the current scheduled level of service on Sheppard. Sheppard trains, with a design capacity of 670, are scheduled every 5’30”, or 10.9/hour. This gives a design capacity of about 7,300. Obviously this could be increased by running more frequent service if the demand materializes. The Sheppard line is probably not capable of much better than a 2’10” headway given the terminal layouts, or 27 trains/hour. This would give a theoretical capacity of about 18,000 with four-car trains.

    The Eglinton line is planned, eventually, to operate with 3-car LRV trains on a 2’00” headway in the central section of the line. With a service design capacity of, say, 150 per LRV, or 450 per train, this would mean that 30 trains/hour would have a capacity of 13,500.

    The fundamental question is whether either of these lines will ever achieve a peak point demand sufficient to exceed their capacities. With relatively frequent interruptions by north-south lines (including the DRL), Eglinton should not be building up a demand pattern with everyone trying to get to one point, and this should keep its peak point demand within its capacity.


  22. once the LRT’s running, it will only be a matter of time before it reaches capacity and then goes over capacity.

    Remember that the relatively low cost of LRT allows more lines to be feasibly constructed. If Eglinton ever approaches capacity, a parallel line could be constructed on Dixon/Lawrence. At a guess, based on what I understand the Sheppard East LRT is supposed to cost, $2-3 billion could span the city. In a previous comment (not on this thread) I made a fantasy shopping list of LRT lines that I guessed would cost around $50 billion. It was denser than the Blue Night network. Of course, real life isn’t quite that simple, but I think the capacity constraint of LRT really only comes into play in situations where nearby routes are not feasible (DRL) or where the density is extremely high (probably only Downtown, in Toronto, for the foreseeable future).

    Steve: Another important point is that additional LRT lines further north would not face the same problem of requiring extensive underground construction due to right-of-way constraints that we face on Eglinton.


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