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).
The most important part of this exercise, one that is downplayed both in the online survey and in a forum held on June 26 (discussed later in this article), is that regardless of which criteria and weighting one uses, some lines consistently perform well, some never appear in the top 10, and some have a middling performance. Advocates of these lines will not be happy to have their pet projects so thoroughly trounced, and they will no doubt attack the scoring system as biased.
Map 1 shows all of the lines that were compared in the background work to this presentation. Some are Metrolinx “Big Move” proposals, some are parts of the city’s Official Plan, and some are from the wish list tacked on by councillors looking to prove that their wards too deserve attention.
(Before anyone asks about the double line on the segment of the Relief Line from Danforth north to Eglinton, this shows that two options are under study — a northern extension of the DRL as well as the southern end of the original Don Mills LRT.)
All things being equal, the top ten include
- the eastern leg of the Relief Line including its extension (downtown to Eglinton),
- most of the unfunded LRT projects from Transit City,
- the eastern waterfront LRT,
- an LRT or BRT for Steeles West, and
- the Durham-Scarborough BRT.
The following maps show what happens when some criteria count for more than others.
In summary, although there are 24 proposals in the list (letters A-X in Map 1), only 15 survive filtering by the criteria as scored in the background study. The list below is grouped geographically.
Line Map 2 Map 3 Map 4 Map 5 Map 6 Equal Exper- Social Healthy City Weight ience Equity N'hoods Growth Yonge Subway Extn 6 2 DRL E to Danforth 1 1 6 1 DRL E to Eglinton 10 10 10 Don Mills LRT 2 2 1 2 7 Scarboro-Malvern LRT 3 4 4 8 9 Kingston Rd BRT 10 Durham-Scarboro BRT 6 6 Waterfront W LRT 4 5 9 4 4 Waterfront E LRT 5 5 5 Eglinton W LRT Xtn 7 3 2 7 Jane LRT 8 8 3 3 3 Steeles W LRT/BRT 9 9 5 9 Steeles E LRT/BRT 8 10 Finch LRT to Yonge 7 7 8 Dundas BRT 1 6
A few things jump out:
- The Yonge subway extension, measured as a “Toronto” project, does not do as well as other projects. This is understandable considering where most of the project lies.
- The basic DRL (south of Danforth) does well except when measured for “Equity” because its primary purpose is to bring commuters into downtown, not to serve priority neighbourhoods, none of which lie on its path.
- The DRL extension to Eglinton just makes the list at position 10 in some rankings, although the Don Mills LRT does consistently better. This begs a question of alternative designs given the near impossibility of an on-street alignment for the south end of the Don Mills LRT.
- The Transit City LRT network does quite well overall and, by their absence, has outranked schemes such as the Sheppard West and Bloor West subway extensions.
- The strong ranking for Steeles adds a corridor completely ignored in previous network studies.
The intent of this process is to influence Council decisions on lines it might fund on its own through, say, Development Charges (about which more in a separate article), and to set the city’s preferred priorities for the “Third Wave” of Metrolinx projects likely to get underway in the mid 2020s at best.
The last debate that came anywhere near this was filled with self-serving bilge that made little contribution to a city-wide view of transit. It even spawned a provincial demand that Council make up its mind once and for all on the “Scarborough Subway” issue [Star Globe]. This is not a debate that can be safely parked as an election promise by would-be mayors, and then shelved later or left as something for which councillors can blame Queen’s Park.
The whole package will not be back at City Council until late in 2013 after the third round of consultations that will address how these transit schemes fit into the larger planning picture — studies of cycling, downtown congestion and future development plans. (Parallel studies at Metrolinx are considering various ways to address growing demand from York Region as well as cross-region service and fare integration. I will deal with these in a separate article.)
Notable by its complete absence from the review is any discussion of the role of ordinary surface transit — buses and streetcars — which as usual must fend for themselves even though they are the first point of contact for many riders on the transit network. Surface transit lines are the easiest to improve because they require the least new infrastructure, but they are the most ignored.
In the coming 2014 budget debates, we will no doubt hear many fine words about the need to contain spending, provincial funding cuts, and the solemn duty to cut taxes. What this will do to our transit system as we spend billions in rapid transit investments remains to be seen.
Feeling Congested Forum of June 26, 2013
This forum was held at the Jane Mallette Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre, and attracted a good, but not standing room crowd. These notes are intended to highlight issues and comments, not to provide a full record of the meeting.
We began with an animated intro featuring Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (available on the Feeling Congested site). It contains a few historical errors such as a claim that the Prince Edward Viaduct was built decades ahead of its time for a future subway (the intent was to build a subway in the 1920s, not the 1960s), and the size of the streetcar system is overstated a tad. Amusing, but not terribly illuminating.
The important point here is that all the grand work and planning of past generations stopped dead in the 1980s. This corresponds to the first “gulf oil” crisis and the first economic and transit demand downturn after WWII. The shock of this to a generation of planners and politicians who had known only growth cannot be overstated. We have never recovered the momentum of that era.
Keesmaat talked about the importance of criteria and how they matter, as well as the fact that (as shown above) many projects make the cut no matter how they are evaluated. Others consistently fail to appear. She talked about a “rational evidence-based way to meet overall transit network needs”. This is consultant-speak for telling politicians to stop drawing lines on the map of their wards.
She also talked about the role of a cycling network for the entire city. If people will cycle to work, they need safety and roads need clarity about who goes where — cyclists, pedestrians, autos, transit.
Alan Jones, a long-time transportation consultant from Steer Davies Gleave (an internation company active on several projects in the GTHA) talked of his experiences in other cities. His starting point was the book Urban Planning for Dummies and the observation that “moving minds” was as important as the technical content of any plan.
Jones talked of his work in Dublin on the LUAS LRT system, and noted that it is so popular that there is now a “Tram” pub. This could be taken as a mark of success for future projects.
In Liverpool, the “Multiple Account Evaluation” technique (the sort of thing used in the Feeling Congested background study) focussed on five areas: environment, safety, economy, access and integration. This lead to a review of not just transportation issues, but public realm designs and development links. I could not help noticing that this was an iterative process as described by Jones, not a validation exercise as this tends to be used by Metrolinx.
In Sacramento, the goal was to make transit a lifelong choice, not a resented, second-class way of moving about.
Jones stressed that passengers should come first. They need information, they want a route to their destination, access to transit, safe waiting areas, a predictable journey including transfers if any, wayfinding, and a return trip when they need it. Many modes could provide this type of service but the important issues are high capacity and frequency, with a 15 minute walk catchment area.
Jones ran out of time before he could talk in detail about Portland and Vancouver. His presentation was interesting, and if anything showed how some work in Toronto loses sight of the larger purpose of transit, land use and urban space planning.
Next came a panel discussion with:
- Anne Golden, moderator
- Alan Jones
- Jennifer Keesmaat
- Karen Stintz, TTC Chair and City Councillor
- Barry Lyon, real estate consultant
- Dr. Mike Evans of St. Michael’s Hospital and other appointments
Jennifer Keesmaat noted that the last election threw priorities into question. If we are dedicated to building a network and all the good things that flow from it, then we need a plan that is stable and consistent. Have we (City Planning) picked the right ways to make decisions? If we can agree on priorities, then we can talk about investments and build what’s long overdue.
Barry Lyon argued that good planning is about ridership — crowded but not jammed. Taking lines through mature areas with little development potential is misguided. Youth and employment areas are essential, one to provide a future transit riding habit, and the other to provide somewhere for people to go. Eglinton’s LRT ending at Black Creek is an odd choice, and the line should go west to serve the airport district and connect with the Mississauga BRT. We seem to be missing the point of ridership. If planners and politicians don’t provide density, then they shouldn’t get a line. The DRL is best “decongestant” in the proposals.
We face 10-15 years of increasing congestion with 50,000 new residents coming south of Bloor Street in the next 5-7 years. How will we handle their travel demands?
Finally, Lyon asked whether affordability and ridership were taken into acct for some proposals, notably Eglinton. He fears “another Danforth”. What he seems to miss is that large sections of the YUS and BD subways are crammed with riders, but pass through low-rise areas of the city. They get their ridership from outer terminals and bus feeders, not from high density development on the subway itself. The concentration is at the destination, not at the origin.
Mike Evans talked about a “magic pill” that can reduce all sorts of medical problems — exercise, and emphasized the walkability of neighbourhoods. There are higher rates of disease such as diabetes in areas of low walkability. Activity is a more important marker than obesity for health. Change comes from many small factors in planning for walkability, and reducing commuting distances and times.
Keesmaat replied that we should make a connection between transit investment and quality of life.
Next the panel got into a debate about stations and development along Eglinton. There are many players. What about development sites? Some claimed that Metrolinx will require bidders (for the coming PPP construction project) to include infrastructure for future development. That’s an odd way to put things as this should be a basic design requirement, not something we hope that the bidders include.
Lyon observed that Eglinton has a problem with being an underground streetcar line with a large cost for stations. In a perfect world, Metrolinx would do land assemblies to spur development and help pay for the line.
Karen Stintz talked of the Spadina extension with stations that are architectural wonders, but which have no density around them. Alan Jones noted that there is an issue of timing. Mississauga looks to recreate its downtown linked with the LRT implementation, and spoke of how Liverpool demanded development designs that would aim for high transit market share, a technique unheard of here.
Evans spoke of our willingness to pay to fix things after the fact, and talked about quality of life. Stintz talked about maintenance of investment value and attractiveness (homes, businesses) comparing Toronto with Baltimore and Detroit.
Anne Golden decried the level of cynicism and distrust in public, and a pervading concern about government waste as an excuse not to pay any new taxes, let alone those we already endure.
Keesmaat stressed that we must shift from talking about taxes to investment. As a sidebar, she talked of a Toronto Sun reporter who no longer hates cyclists because she recently tried to cycle in downtown and discovered just what the cycling community faces. We need to move people, to shift conversations.
Jones spoke of quick wins and tangible benefits. When London UK introduced a congestion charge, it simultaneously invested heavily in the surface bus fleet and service levels to show that there really was an alternative and that the money was going somewhere.
Stintz observed that it costs $400 to take a family to a Raptors game, but people won’t pay a similar amount for the vague benefit of a future transit network.
The discussion ended with a “where do we go now” wrapup pointing toward a Council vote in November.
Anne Golden asked the audience whether they agreed with the approach taken by City Planning, and there was general agreement, although it was unclear what, exactly, they were agreeing to. Many hands were lifted in a “yes” vote, but with only moderate enthusiasm.