Development Charges and Transit Expansion

The City of Toronto Executive Committee will discuss the matter of a new Development Charges Bylaw at its meeting on July 3, 2013.  This is a statutory requirement as the current bylaw expires in April 2014, and it must be replaced in order for the city to continue collecting these charges.

Already press reports show a real estate industry apoplectic at the possibility that these charges will double.  With all the concern over a possible softening of the market for new units, the last thing they want is yet more cost added to the purchase price.  However, what we are seeing is a combined effect of the rising population and the exhaustion of surplus capacity in existing infrastructure, notably transit and water.  Much of the new development is concentrated in the central city in former industrial areas that do not possess the infrastructure needed to support their coming new populations.

(Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat observed at the “Feeling Congested” session earlier this week, about 70,000 people will call places like Liberty Village and the waterfront neighbourhoods their new home over the coming decade.)

There is bound to be lively debate, especially from the “no new taxes” brigade on Council, but the simple fact is that the city cannot have new development without some way to pay for the supporting infrastructure and services.  In this article, I will talk only about the transit component which is the single largest piece of the new DCs rising about 150% from the previous level for residential development.  (DCs overall will go up 86% because other categories have lower increases.)

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Feeling Congested Part 2: Setting Priorities

The City of Toronto’s Planning Department is consulting with the public for the development of an updated Official Plan.  The plan’s transportation component falls under the rubric of “Feeling Congested” with a website devoted mainly to transit issues.  In the first round of meetings, the focus was on “what is important”, what goals should the new plan try to achieve.  In the second round, the topic is the prioritization of goals and how these might drive out different choices in a future network.

This parallels work that Metrolinx is doing on their Big Move plan, but it includes additional options for study that are city initiatives such as transit to serve the waterfront.

A survey now in progress (until June 30) seeks feedback on the evaluation criteria for transit projects, and also for the goals of the cycling plans.  Some of this makes more sense if one first reads the toolkit, but even then the presentation will leave skeptics unhappy because there is no link to the detailed study explaining how the proposed criteria have been measured for each of proposals.  (A summary chart on page 14 does not include the subcategories within each of the eight criteria that generated the total scores .)

Even with this background, an exercise asking whether the methodology is sound seems to be an odd way to survey public attitudes without a stronger discussion of the implications for a preferred network.  This is rather like discussing the colour of a magician’s hat rather than the effect this might have on the rabbit he pulls out of it (or if there’s even a rabbit at all).

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Analysis of 501 Queen for Saturday, May 25, 2013

Normally, I would save detailed reviews like this to a general article looking at the Queen route over several months and configurations.  However, a deputation at the June 24, 2013 TTC Board meeting is worth comment now while the issue is fresh in Commissioners’ and management’s mind.

A regular attendee of these meetings complained that he had been severely hampered in attempting to use the Queen car late in the afternoon of May 25 to travel westbound to Long Branch.  As I have recently received the vehicle monitoring data for several routes for Mar 2013 from the TTC, getting an overview of what was happening was quite straightforward.  It is not a pretty picture.

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TTC Meeting Wrapup for June 24, 2013

Aside from the King Street transit lanes and the new streetcar rollout plans (covered elsewhere), there wasn’t much else on the agenda for the TTC Board (as it now styles itself).

One procedural change was that there are no longer any printed agendas for the meeting — reports are available only online.  If you’re not carrying a device that can display them easily, you’re flying blind making sense of the meeting.

CEO’s Report

Ridership for reporting period 4 (mainly the month of April) was 1.1% below budget, but 2.2% above the corresponding period in 2012.  Poor April weather (an unusually cold early spring) was blamed for the shortfall.  For the last twelve months (May 2012 to April 2013), ridership is up 2.4%.

For the year 2013, ridership is expected to be at the budgeted level of 528-million.  However, the average fare is lower than projected because of higher pass usage, and the revenue projections are down by $2.0m.  This is offset net savings in expense lines.  On the entire budget, this is a variation of less than 1.5%.

Yonge subway reliability has fallen due to ongoing issues with TR train reliability, “workforce availability”, passenger-related delays and fires at track level.

There has been no update on problems with the TRs beyond “we’re working on it”, and the time is overdue to ask whether the goals for reliability have been set too high.  Without a detailed report on the situation, there is no way to know whether the trains have chronic, difficult-to-solve problems, or if we can expect some resolution.  (According to minutes of an Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit meeting (ACAT), TTC staff have no prognosis for correction of the TR platform leveling problem that makes trains inaccessible.)

36 of the 70 TR trainsets on order have been accepted for service.  This leaves 34 trains still in the pipeline to hit early 2014, although the last 10 of the trains are intended for the Spadina extension that will not open until 2016.

“Workforce availability” is an odd term to use considering that overall attendance rates at the TTC are supposed to be improving.  Punctuality is affected by a number of factors including the effect of many small delays, but also by extended times required for some crew changeovers.  The TTC needs to sort out which effects are strictly due to staff and which to other factors.

The reliability index for Bloor-Danforth is also dropping, but still runs at a higher level than the Yonge-University-Spadina line.  The TTC does not break out the various sources of delay by line to report which problems exist system wide and which are more prevalent in certain locations.

SRT performance has been quite good since October 2012 when schedules were changed to reflect the actual capabilities of the aging technology.

Surface route performance for both modes is above the rather generous target levels, but we know from the Quarterly Report published earlier in 2013 that overall headway adherence is quite bad on some routes.  This is no surprise to anyone who looks at vehicle monitoring data.

Elevator and escalator availability continues to get a high rating, although, as I understand things, this is based on a once-a-day report of status.  There is no report of the prevalence of outages or their duration.  This is rather like looking out the window, seeing one bus, and deciding that all is well with the transit system.

A few new Sunday shutdowns of the subway have been announced in this report:

  • June 29 from Wilson to Downsview for track installation.
  • July 7, 14 and 28 for beam installation on the Prince Edward Viaduct.  This work is normally done during the night-time shutdown, but a provision for opening the subway later than normal gives more time to complete planned work.

Details will be announced for each planned shutdown.

Change Orders for Design Costs on the Spadina Extension

Four reports requested substantial changes in the contracts for design work at Steeles West, Vaughan Corporate Centre, Highway 407 and York University stations.  The magnitude of the changes attracted questions from the Board.

According to staff, TTC practice is to award design contracts based on interim amounts with change orders issued along the way as required.  A contingency budget line provides funding for these changes.  Some of the costs will be recovered from third parties such as York Region and GO Transit/Metrolinx who asked for design changes in the originally completed plans.  Other costs were incurred to reduce construction expenses and keep stations within the project’s budget.  The degree to which this may have compromised the original designs is unknown.

Oddly, some of the extra costs cited by staff were for activities at Finch West and the new Downsview/Sheppard West stations (changes to suit GO and the Finch West LRT project).  Neither of these was the subject of the four reports on the agenda.

CEO Andy Byford wants to improve the reporting of large project budgets and costs, but does not expect to have a proposed scheme for doing so until fall 2013.

Steeles East Night Bus

The Board approved the proposed extension of the 353 Steeles East route from Middlefield Road to Markham Road effective August 4, 2013.  This extension uses up excess running time in the current schedule and requires no extra buses.

Ossington Bus / Hellenic Home for the Aged

The TTC has been requested to divert the 63 Ossington bus to a home for the aged which is north of Davenport up a steep hill on which seniors have difficulty walking to service on the main street (see map in report).  A decision on the matter has been put off to July 24 to allow for meetings between staff and those requesting the change.

The staff report recommends against this diversion which was requested through Councillors Mihevc and Fragedakis.  Mihevc should know better as a former member of the TTC Board.  Off-route diversions are the bane of transit operations and compromise the benefit of straight routes for passengers.

It is worth mention that this home was built off of the Ossington route some decades ago, but long after the route was established.  The policy decision is whether transit routes should be tweaked to serve such sites, and whether the Board has the political backbone to say “no” when the greater good of the route and the precedent for future requests are at stake.

Bicknell Loop

The property at which the Rogers Road car, originally part of York Township Railways, ended has been declared surplus to TTC requirements.  Buses on this route use the nearby Avon Loop on Weston Road.

TTC Low Floor LRV Roll Out Plan Released (Update 3)

Updated June 25, 2013:  At the June 24 Commission meeting, CEO Andy Byford presented further details of the roll out plan.  This information is added to the end of the article along with additional information I received from TTC staff.

Updated June 23, 2013:  A section has been added at the end of the article discussing service levels and fleet planning during the transition from CLRV to LFLRV operation on routes.

The TTC has released its roll out plan for the new fleet of low floor light rail vehicles.

The TTC proposes to increase capacity on all routes during peak periods, although by varying amounts.  Off peak headways will be almost unchanged with an effective doubling of capacity on all routes using the 50-foot CLRVs, and a 1/3 improvement on routes with the 75-foot ALRVs.  As a general policy, this is a very good start because it avoids replacing capacity-for-capacity with concurrent widening of headways and degradation of service.

The new service levels are shown on the presentation at pages 7-8, and the changes in peak period capacity are summarized in the following table.


The amount of added capacity varies by route and between the AM and PM peak periods.  This is supposed to represent the TTC’s estimate of provision for unmet demand although some numbers are a bit hard to believe.

Oddly enough, by the time the new fleet is in place, all of it has been used up serving existing routes (with a 20% allowance for spares).

Off peak services are almost unchanged with the odd effect that there is better planned midday and evening service on some routes than in the peak periods.  The TTC claims that the off-peak levels are set based on a minimum headway policy.  However, it does not make sense to cut service during the peak period.  This seems more the product of two separate plans drawn up without cross-reference to each other than the outcome of careful planning.

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King Street: Twenty Years of No Transit Priority

Today, the Toronto Transit Commission passed a motion asking for a report on reserved lanes for King Street.  Yes, you read that correctly: this is a street that, in theory, has had peak period transit lanes since 1993.

Here is the motion moved by Chair Karen Stintz and seconded by Commissioner John Parker:

1. That the Board request the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to direct Transportation Services to prepare a joint City-TTC report on the feasibility and merits of implementing morning rush hour reserved streetcar lanes on King Street, including details pertaining to extent/boundaries of the lanes, means of designation or separation of the lanes, means of enforcement, means of monitoring effectiveness of the lanes, cost of implementing such lanes, and effects on other traffic in the corridor, as well as study of traffic management measures to mitigate delays at other pinch-points on the King Street route. The report should also include recommendations for a trial implementation of such lanes, including the earliest practical date for undertaking such a trial. If appropriate, this reporting-back could be contained within the forthcoming Downtown Transportation Operations Study. (From Chair Stintz’ blog.)

This is a substantial step back from a desire to ban cars completely on King, a proposal with which Stintz appeared to agree, at least for a Pan Am Games trial period in 2015, in the media [CBC Star].  The pre-amalgamation Toronto Council implemented peak period transit lanes on King from Parliament to Dufferin in 1993, but these were a complete failure thanks to lack of enforcement.  The downtown section, from John to Jarvis, was removed in 1997.  Stintz’ position on timing has changed also with a shift from the Pan Am Games to the “earliest practical date”.

In March 2000, TTC staff reported on “Operational Improvements on 504 King Streetcar” [this report is not available online].  Among the actions taken or under investigation were:

  • Adding a second on-street Route Supervisor “to manage the line and obtain better schedule adherence”.
  • Use of rear-door loaders at major stops to reduce dwell time.
  • Expansion of Proof-of-Payment to the 504 route possibly including reassignment of the ALRVs from Queen to King Street, or the use of coupled CLRVs (this was not implemented).
  • Improved enforcement of parking regulations (occasional blitzes have taken place, but nothing lasting).
  • Restoration of the reserved lanes between Jarvis and John including overhead signs such as those used for the reversing lane on Jarvis.  “Staff believe that the lanes can be made to work effectively, but this will require the lanes to be much more clearly marked and vigourously enforced.”  (This was not implemented.)
  • Continued enforcement of turn restrictions and of the exclusive nature of the streetcar lanes.  (Almost non existent.)
  • Further assessment of problem locations.  (Judging by actions to date, little has been done beyond a study.)

This is not a new problem.  What is very old is a lack of political will to do anything about the situation.

Simply reserving the streetcar lanes during any period of the day is unworkable if the curb lanes are not guaranteed to be free of taxi stands, parking and loading, not to mention construction occupancy arrangements for new condos.  The effect on King will differ between the financial district (east of Yonge to Simcoe) and the entertainment district (Simcoe to west of Spadina), not to mention the Bathurst/Niagara condo district (Spadina to Shaw).  A one-size-fits-all configuration is unlikely to work or be acceptable.

As a four lane street, and with only a temporary reservation, physical barriers are impractical.  Traffic must be free to move between lanes both when the reservation is not active, and when a curb lane blockage requires movement into the streetcar lane.

I have already written about the limited benefit an AM peak reservation will have even if it is well-enforced.  Running times on the 504 King car show little sign of traffic congestion until around 9:00 am when parking is allowed and commercial activity begins on the street.  If the TTC were serious about “fixing” King Street, they would look at the issue on an all-day basis, but that’s not what the Stintz motion does.  She goes for the least controversial option while still attempting to give the impression of doing something for the riders.

(For more of the history on previous King Street and transit priority schemes, please see Transit Toronto and a 2001 TTC report.)

The most disheartening part of the debate at the Commission Meeting was that nobody in the room, no other Commissioners, none of Management, piped up to say “but we already have a reserved lane on part of King, and used to have more”.  This is all treated as if it is a brand new idea, not a 20-year old retread from the days when Jack Layton was a City Councillor.

Was everyone too embarrassed?  Was it an attack of Emperor’s-New-Clothes syndrome?

TTC meetings are turning into friendly gatherings where good news is the order of the day.  There’s nothing wrong with good news, but some decisions involve difficult choices and political battles.  You can’t be an advocate for the good of transit riders and expect everything to be smooth, quiet sailing, especially with an administration so hard set against anything but subways we cannot afford.

The whole matter will now wander through the City’s committee structure, first to Public Works and Infrastructure from which it might not emerge given the Mayor’s anti-streetcar rhetoric.  Will Chair Stintz ensure that even this modest study proposal survives, or is this an empty motion showing concern without action?

Preliminary Analysis of King Car Operations AM Peak Downtown (Updated)

Updated June 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm:  In the original version of this article, I mentioned that charts for March 2012 would be added in an update.  These charts are now included, and there are minor changes to the text to reflect this.

Recently TTC Chair Karen Stintz and CEO Andy Byford proposed a trial operation of King Street between Shaw and Parliament as a reserved zone for transit vehicles and taxis during the AM peak period.  Their concern and claim is that they cannot provide better service without exclusivity over this area.

I believe that this proposal suffers from a lack of detailed knowledge both of the way the line actually operates and the causes of systemic delays (aka “congestion”) to service.  The AM peak is much less of a problem than midday, PM peak, evening and weekend operations on the King route.  The TTC would do well to concentrate its proposals on areas and problems where there would actually be some benefit.  Asking for a total ban on cars rubs motorists (and their political supporters) the wrong way, and needs to be justified by solid data showing how transit would be improved.  The TTC has not done this.

Normally when I write a post with analysis of a route’s operations, I prefer to wait until I have more of the data formatted for presentation.  In this case, the debate is already underway in the press and in social media.  To contribute some technical background, I have started analysis of route 504 King for the months of November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013.

As with past analyses, the information is taken from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system known as “CIS” which uses GPS to track the location of all vehicles every 20 seconds.  The GPS data are converted to a “flattened” view of a route which is a straight line (think of a piece of string pulled out taut).  Once this is done, plotting vehicle movements, headways at points and running times between points is greatly simplified.  (I plan to publish a separate article in coming weeks for those interest in the details of this process.)

Note that vehicles on 508 Lake Shore are not included in this analysis.  Only three inbound trips are scheduled during the AM peak.

Because the proposal addresses a reduction in running time and reduction of congestion in the central area, I will concentrate in this first article on movement of streetcars over the proposed exclusive area.  Other sections of the route and aspects of operation (e.g. headway reliability, short turns, time spent serving stops) will be the subject of future articles.

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Metrolinx Announces Design Changes and Public Meetings on Eglinton LRT (Update 8)

Updated June 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm:

In the comment thread for this article, there has been substantial discussion about a “south side option” for the Eglinton LRT between the portal at Brentcliffe and Don Mills Road.  I have after several requests obtained an answer from Metrolinx about whether this had ever been considered.  Here is their reply sent by Jamie Robinson today.

Placing the LRT on the south side of Eglinton Avenue East in the vicinity of the West Don River/Leslie Street was included in three of five options compared to the at-that-time base case (which was underground throughout the corridor) in the Don Mills River Crossing Study prepared in February 2012 by HMM. However, the LRT would have been in a completely separate right-of-way on a new bridge across the West Don River in order to maintain current vehicle capacity of Eglinton Avenue East (i.e., no conversion of travel lanes to LRT tracks).

That report recommended one of the options that included a continuation of the bored tunnel from the west to pass under the West Don River and portal east of the Don Valley Parkway. That option was selected because the cost differential with the at-grade options was minimal, provided that a station at Leslie Street was not required. If a Leslie Station would be required, then one of the at-grade south side options was the preferred option. MX decided to proceed with the first option, and further refined that option with a launch at Don Mills Road and continuing eastward with the EA alignment, which led to the preparation of the Eastern EPR Addendum.

The at-grade south side option was not compared to the EA Option.

Generally, however, It is very difficult (if not impossible) to relocate the portal from the centre of Eglinton (as proposed in the current design) and shift it to the south side of the right-of-way and continue to use the existing bridge. The “viaduct” option that HMM reviewed, was suggested by the public and was presented during the recent consultations for the changes in the East, was more expensive and required an EA amendment. Due to project implementation timelines the project is proceeding with the EA option.

In brief, yes they looked at it, although not in the context of the original EA.  Shifting to the south presents problems for the river crossing and the tunnel launch shaft, but might have survived as an option if Metrolinx had not decided to go all-underground to Don Mills.  Now that they’re back on the surface, they are sticking with the original plan.

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TTC Route Ridership and Service Statistics 2004:2012 (Updated)

Updated June 16, 2013 at 10:15pm:  An epilogue comparing system statistics for 1989 has been added.

The TTC publishes statistics on its surface routes showing the most recent all-day riding count, the resources (vehicles, vehicle hours and vehicle mileage) consumed by a day’s operation, and the estimated cost of one day’s service.

For many years, this information was included in the annual “Service Plan”, but the last one of those was published for 2008.  The TTC’s Transit Planning page includes the 2008 plan, as well as the 2011 and 2012 figures as free-standing tables.

(In earlier years, the tables included a “revenue” for each route based on the ridership, although the method of calculating this varied over the years.  This was eventually dropped because there is no way to allocate fare revenue in a system like the TTC’s without producing distortions in the resulting “profitability” of routes.  Fares, especially passes which make up the bulk of adult system use, are collected on a flat basis for an entire trip or for a period of time, not for distance travelled nor number of vehicles used in a trip.)

This information becomes more interesting when viewed over time to see the evolution of ridership, service and allocated costs.

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Waterfront West Update (Revised June 15, 2013)

Updated June 15, 2013 at 4:20 pm:

The shortest streetcar line in the world exists, albeit without service, as the first piece of new surface track appeared on the 509 Harbourfront route at the Peter Street slip.


On June 11, the eight expansion joints for the future bridge crossing were set more or less in place on the new bridge deck.


By June 13, the tangent rails had been added, although the expansion joints at the west end of the bridge (below) …


… had not yet been attached.

Note that, like subway track, the rails are mounted directly on the bridge deck, not on ties.  This approach is needed because the bridge design does not include the depth needed for the layer of ties normally found in TTC streetcar track.


The view below shows a close up of a test section of track built just west of the corner of Bay and Queens Quay.  The use of the rubber sleeve to mechanically isolate the track  is quite clear.  Under the plastic covers (with duct tape on them) are Pandrol clips holding the track to steel plates in the slab below.  The slab containing the track is separate from the base slab so that only excavation of the top layer is needed for track replacement.


The original Harbourfront track did not have the rubber layer and was quite noisy because the whole trackbed vibrated as cars passed.  This is one of the last pieces of mainline “thunder track” to be replaced on the TTC network, a process begun 20 years ago.

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