As I reported in a previous article, Mayor Tory has launched a study process for his SmartTrack scheme via Toronto’s Executive Committee.
One intriguing, if not surprising, admission to come out of this process was for Tory to admit that SmartTrack “was not his idea” and was simply a repackaging and rebranding of the provincial RER (Regional Express Rail) scheme. However, during the campaign, SmartTrack was regularly described as something that experts had studied, a solid proposal, not simply a line on a napkin.
The origins of a “Big U” looping from Markham through downtown and out to the northwest predates Tory’s campaign and can be found in three papers:
- The New Geography of Office Location and the Consequences of Business as Usual in the GTA, Canadian Urban Institute, March 2011
- A Region in Transition, Strategic Regional Research, January 2013
- The Business Case for the Regional Relief Line, Strategic Regional Research Associates, October, 2013
If we are to understand the claims made for SmartTrack, we need to understand its origins, and the degree to which campaign rhetoric and fantasy may have diverged from the earlier detailed planning. Also, of course, there is a basic question of whether the studies had the same goals for rapid transit network design as those that should inform the planning process in Toronto and the GTHA beyond.
This article reviews the 2011 paper on the changing location of office space in the GTA.
The New Geography of Office Location
The report’s focus lies in strengthening the core area and in improving transit access to areas now dependent on auto travel. The bulk of its recommendations deal with creating a more attractive market for land development that is focussed on transportation corridors, and by implication the need for transportation to focus on areas of development.
However, the report is completely silent on the unmet travel needs of existing users of the transportation network — be they transit riders, drivers or the goods movement sector. It is all about making things better for new development in specific areas with little thought for the problems we already face overall.
It is also silent on specifics of how the transportation network might change — that will come in later studies — and indeed does not address the complexities and tradeoffs required in our current situation.
This paper begins with a fundamental proposition:
Only about 20% of the region’s office capacity is in Toronto’s downtown core, and the downtown has a much narrower range of types of business. The head offices, publishing firms, and engineering companies have largely moved out to suburban areas, sometimes elsewhere in the City of Toronto, but mostly in the “905” region. For the most part, what remains are businesses in or affiliated with the financial services sector. The GTA as a whole recently passed the milestone of 200,000,000 sq ft of built office space, making it one of only four such regions in North America. Thirty years ago, 63% of the region’s office space was located in the Financial District or directly on subway lines. In 2010, that has changed and the majority of office space (54%) is located beyond the reach of higher-order transit. This may be the most significant change to the geography of the region since the mid-1970s, when some major institutions relocated from Montréal to Toronto. [Page 1]
The Four Sub-Markets
The report identifies four distinct office sub-markets, typified by their transportation access:
- The core (22%) containing mainly the financial sector,
- The transit-oriented submarket (24%) clustered almost entirely around the “lower U” of the Yonge subway with small outliers such as Scarborough Town Centre,
- The Toronto non-transit submarket (21%) made up of the older suburbs such as Don Mills, areas around the 400-series highways, and the new “brick-and-beam” districts of repurposed century-old buildings in the old City of Toronto, and
- The suburban market (33%) which is clustered heavily around the highway system with major nodes such as the airport, and the DVP/404/407.
The report argues that the rate of growth in the suburban market is strong because of the tax differential on land outside Toronto, the declining availability of land for commercial development in the core, and the more favourable, faster approval process for new development in the 905. Despite reclamation of buildings for office space in the brick-and-beam districts, the majority of the growth lies beyond even the reach of planned transit improvements.
The Role of Taxes
A large chunk of the report deals not with transportation but with taxes including inequities, real or perceived, of municipal and provincial tax policies. The first two recommendations focus on this problem.
1. The gap between high commercial realty taxes and low residential tax rates in the City of Toronto must be narrowed. The City recognized this in 2005 and has begun the process. This process should be accelerated.
2. Tax and land use policy must recognize that office jobs are the only form of high density employment, representing more than one third of all jobs (estimated at 1 million jobs) in the region. Steps need to be taken to modify public policy to create a competitive environment for office development in all four sub-markets identified in this report.
While one can argue that this is a benefit mainly to property developers, there is the more basic question of where in the region future growth should be encouraged. For all the land use “planning” of past decades, the easily predictable pattern has been that development is attracted by a magical combination of attractive construction costs and access to transportation. Subways are not a pre-requisite to high-density office development, although they certainly address the difficulties in network capacity it brings.
The report notes that two new taxes were made possible by the City of Toronto Act.
Perhaps the most controversial outcomes were the introduction of a municipal land transfer tax and a personal vehicle tax (the latter has been cancelled, as one of the first acts of the new administration at City Hall), which raised concerns at the time that the costs of doing business in Toronto will further erode the City’ s competiveness. Our interviewees, however, did not cite these new taxes among their concerns. [Page 12]
This is not surprising. Vehicle taxes affect people who are forced to drive to work and families where multiple-car fleets are the norm as a matter of necessity. Office space, especially in the core, is served overwhelmingly by transit, and more recently by cycling and walking. As for land transfer tax, this affects the cost of housing resales but as Toronto’s market has proven, the value of “location” trumps the small premium that an LTT brings compared with the relative cost of property in Toronto relative to a location such as Hamilton.
Real estate taxes form a relatively small but important component of total occupancy costs, but represent the largest single differential in markets. Sophisticated tenants take into account the gross costs of occupancy, which include the costs associated with how employees access their place of work and the need to provide amenities and services where these are lacking. [Page 14]
It is difficult to believe that the suburban development would not have occurred if only the tax situation downtown were more favourable — other factors were at work including the ease of access by a growing regional population. Moreover, the region’s road network was not under as great a stress as these areas first developed, and only now have we reached an era where demand greatly exceeds capacity with little hope for relief.
These are not core area trips, but trips between suburbs, and it is vital that the two types of demand not be confused or conflated.
After much handwringing about taxes and their inevitability, the report recognizes that a greater problem is the growth of congestion both for commuting trips and for goods movement. [See Page 15]
Where Does Development Occur
For decades, planning has been de facto led by the location of the road network. Older industrial lands clustered around rail corridors as the primary method of shipping, but even industrial uses are now mainly located where there is easy access to highways, not to rail. The airport, as a major freight node, is another obvious location, but its function as an office node is a combined effect of the highway network and of the airport.
The report notes:
Jobs located in office buildings are highly intensified. Other types of employment are dispersed. For example, First Canadian Place houses approximately 10,000 jobs on less than one acre of land, while a logistics centre in an industrial park may have less than five jobs per acre. [Page 10]
The primary transportation requirement for manufacturing, especially in today’s highly automated environment, is the ability to bring raw materials in and ship finished goods out. Labour is a lesser quantity, still needed, but goods movement determines what is a “good” site. Gone is the era that built the manufacturing node on King Street West where companies like Massey Harris generated very large transit demand for their work forces (who, by the way, lived a comparatively short distance away in the compact, old City of Toronto).
By contrast, offices are full of people and, if anything, the trend in office design is to increase the density of jobs by shrinking the average floor space per worker. The millenium may have come and gone, but the promises for a technology future of telecommuting have not materialized. There is still a demand for office space and a desire for people to work in physical proximity.
Offices depend on the ability of workers to access them in large numbers. When this was easily achieved via the road or transit systems, offices clustered where these provided the greatest commuting capacity, but the capacity is now strained, especially in auto-oriented locations.
The report recommends:
4. The province should work with local municipalities in the GTA to adjust priorities and fine tune the planned roll-out of rapid transit projects to better connect to approximately 108 million square feet of office space that is currently dependent on automobile access.
One vital point is missing from this recommendation — “connect to what”? It is not sufficient simply to have a high capacity transit line at a development node, but this must connect to the places from which people will travel to reach that development. As an extreme example, a subway to Toronto Island would do little to help the core area because most people who work in the core don’t live on the Island. Any transit network serving the auto-centric developments must recognize that the demand patterns evolved from the highway network and people commute from a wide variety of origins, most of which do not have conveniently underused rail corridors as potential connections.
The report goes on to talk about the need to preserve and increase the ability for office development to occur in the core area. This is a challenge because so much land that might have accommodated expansion of the office district has been developed as condos. A related problem is the rise of development in areas well away from the GO and subway networks including the waterfront.
Do the authors really expect governments to halt or redirect the condo juggernaut simply to preserve room for more office towers? Whose interests should drive a change from laissez-faire planning to one of strict land use controls? Does anyone actually believe that such controls are politically acceptable or likely to succeed? Does any land owner exist who would accept a government dictat that his land can be used only for use “x”, not “y” or “z”, and only to a certain density?
A further problem is the evolution of development away from “build it and they will come” speculative projects and the more conservative desire for pre-leasing commitments. Developments tend to be smaller and follow the specific requirements of a potential tenant.
From a public policy perspective, the shift in the risk of development significantly affects not only where the jobs will be located but the ability of public policy to affect the location decisions of private companies. [Page 16]
Attempting to Control Regional Growth
The regional growth plan comes under fire for its concept of growth centres, places like Scarborough Town Centre where, in theory, there will be concentrations of development and jobs. However, actual experience shows that these centres have been monumentally unsuccessful as development nodes, and I would argue that this is a direct result of the artificiality of the “centres” relative to the forces that drive actual development. [See Figure 1 on Page 11.]
In some cases, the centres exist as vestigial reminders of current or former municipal dreams of grandeur without which regional plans would not be politically acceptable. Others mark locations where one major landowner drove local development, but in an area that had no other natural reason to grow. STC is a perfect example — it would not exist without the combination of concentrated landholdings for a mall (Eaton’s) and the desire of Scarborough for a modern civic centre.
It is on a highway, but not at a junction, and rapid transit once planned on a regional scale actually only links inward to the city, not outward to the majority of residential neighbourhoods where its workers live. The RT station is more a connection point between rapid transit and feeder buses, not a primary destination for commuters in its own right. The recent evolution of STC as a location of condos shows its transition from a would-be destination to a source for commuters.
The report goes on to note the mismatch between proposed networks and travel in Metrolinx’ Big Move plan:
The vision is that by 2020, 81% of the population in the GTAH will be living within two kilometers of rapid transit, the problem is that those transit lines do not connect the majority of these individuals to their places of work. [Page 11]
The Big Move is, after all, largely based on locations of existing or likely transportation corridors such as the railway network. As already noted, this was the force behind industrial, goods-oriented, transportation and land use, not commuting. New rapid transit lines, wherever we may build them, inevitably suffer from limitations in the connectivity they can provide between a dispersed workforce and development nodes, to the degree that these exist throughout the region.
The core area is served by a combination of GO Transit commuter rail lines and a subway network that stretches out as a funnel bringing workers into a high-density office district. Because it lies on Lake Ontario, the “core” is actually at an “edge” and only requires capacity from three, not four, sides. This is a mixed blessing because of the historical importance of Yonge Street and development patterns that concentrate demand north of the core. For a suburban node with four “sides”, no single rapid transit line can possibly address access patterns that have grown up around road networks that bring workers from all directions.
The Creative Economy
In an aside [Pages 16-17], the report talks about amenities around office areas that attract the “creative economy”. This is the Richard Florida model of city development. There is, however, a basic problem: suburban development does not “create” the same sort of vibrancy that already exists in the old city for the simple reason that there is no “there” already in place as a context for office development. New centres may have the usual collection of stores, and may even strive to break out of the parking-lot-with-mall configuration that is so hostile to pedestrians. They cannot match the variety that grew naturally over decades in and around downtown. Building a new suburban “cultural centre” will not guarantee audiences or productions.
… many municipal governments in the United States are taking action to provide high-quality pedestrian-oriented public spaces, cultural amenities, transportation and other infrastructure, because they have found that these investments can attract creative and knowledgeable talent in an increasingly mobile world. This trend is highlighted by such investments as the closure of Broadway to automobiles through New York’s downtown, the creation of Millennium Park and other parks improvements in Chicago, and the development of transit and cycling systems in Portland. [Page 17]
Well, yes, but the important point here is that these are changes within existing, vibrant urban areas where pedestrianization improves access for people who are actually in the district as opposed to those travelling through it. Broadway exists. It did not have to be invented as a sop to some suburban politician dreaming they could put their burg on the map with one new theatre and a few restaurants. By contrast, in Toronto, we see ideas for pedestrianization under attack even in established parts of the old city such as central Eglinton Avenue where a scheme to widen sidewalks meets with scorn from politicians including our newly minted Mayor.
Meanwhile, “creative” industries are drawn to particular types of office space.
The one part of [the transit-oriented] submarket that is thriving is the “Brick and Beam” district to the east and west of the financial core. The principal source of demand for office space in this district comes from the so-called “creative industries” – software developers, new media, NGOs and the like. In addition to providing interesting office space in an exciting environment, the “Brick and Beam” area attracts workers who live within walking or cycling distance of their office, or who have reasonably swift access by public transit. Thus there is a clear relationship between the surge in residential growth in
Toronto’s central area and the demand for office space.
The role of the “Brick and Beam” area in the Toronto office market should not be underestimated. [Pages 34-35]
A basic problem, however, is that the supply of old buildings is finite and they are often located in areas that are not well served by the transit system, at least not to the degree that space near a subway station can be. An emerging problem for the TTC and City Planning is the rise of the “shoulder” core close enough to downtown to benefit from the character of the “old” city, but far enough away that transit access is dependent on the surface network, mainly the overloaded streetcar system.
Despite the success of the “Brick and Beam” district, the City is not at present moving to reproduce the same approach in other areas in need of revitalization. The same approach could benefit areas of the city in which there are underused industrial buildings, but to date there are no plans to create new “Brick and Beam” districts elsewhere in the City. [Page 35]
This rather odd statement presumes that “brick and beam” districts can be created and ignores the fact that they are more than a collection of old (or old-looking) buildings. They are part of a wider neighbourhood with a near-downtown feel. Some of those neighbourhoods may have industrial roots, but they are now resolutely residential. Others are so large that there is no contiguous neighbourhood (the eastern waterfront is a particularly good example).
The History of Development
A series of four maps shows the evolution of office development in the GTA.
- In 1950, almost all of the office space was downtown, and even some of the “satellite” nodes such as King West represented offices for industrial areas, not in the sense we think of new office space today.
- By 1980, clustering around the Yonge subway has intensified and spread further north, but almost nothing has appeared along Bloor-Danforth (as is the case today). Meanwhile, new nodes notably in the Don Mills/DVP corridor, not to mention along the 401 ,have appeared that are totally independent of transit access.
- By 1999, the shift begun in previous decades is even more apparent with substantial development in the 905 and a few parts of suburban Toronto. What is quite striking about this map is the large amount of white space in the 416. The driving force was lower development costs in the 905 and the shift of population to areas that could easily commute to the new offices by car.
- By 2010, even more office space appears in the 905 with strong clusters in Markham (Steeles, Don Mills, 407), the Airport Corporate Centre and other locations along the 401 west of Toronto. Almost all new space in the region lies in the 905 with little or no transit access.
Quite clearly, office development has completely decoupled from the location of major transit services and the choice of location is driven by other factors.
Contrary to the popular belief that construction of the subway preceded growth of the office market, the Yonge Street subway’s success on opening day was due to the fact that it served an existing base of high-density employment from the outset (Toronto’s core) and as well acting as the cultural, religious and educational centre of the region. This point is worthy of note in the context of current plans to build rapid transit lines outside of the more urbanized part of the GTA in advance of higher density development. [Page 19]
If anything, this remark should be a caution against overbuilding on the assumption that subways will create development.
The problem we now face is that development, rather like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, continued unchecked to a level that the transportation infrastructure cannot sustain. No developer wants to be told that they cannot build because there is no capacity left in the road system, and politicians are unlikely to stand in their way.
The report warns of the “business as usual” situation and the potential downside of inaction:
At the moment, statistics do not demonstrate any change away from the suburban development trend. Thus decision makers, planners and the industry all must ask themselves how conditions on the ground can be created to ensure that the long-term competitiveness of the region is not adversely affected. A report prepared for the Toronto Financial Services Alliance by the Boston Consulting Group (2009) stated that the sector ought to add 40,000 new jobs, but there is no accompanying strategy to create the office space (8M sq ft) needed to accommodate these jobs within the financial core. [Page 30]
This statement is somewhat out of date because planned development in the eastern waterfront will more than supply the required space. Whether this will be taken up by the market depends on the accessibility of these new near-downtown lands by transit.
At some length [Page 32], the report bemoans barriers to development both in the tax regime, land use policies and the approval process. Yes, this is the same report that earlier argued for stronger actions to direct development where it would best fit into a regional plan. Meanwhile, we hear of a beleaguered financial services sector:
Without greater recognition of the value of the financial sector, Toronto risks losing some of the key financial companies in the core of the city. An industry executive quoted in the Boston Consulting Group report Partnership and Action (2009) noted, “If any one of Toronto’s major financial institutions relocated, it would be a devastating blow, but nothing is being done to encourage us to stay.” [Page 33]
Cue the violins.
The greater problem lies in the development during the first decade of the 21st century being almost exclusively in the 905 [see chart on Page 19]. This is portrayed as being the direct result of policies that strangled growth within Toronto proper, notably taxation. The non-transit submarket within Toronto is squeezed between a resurgent central business district where location trumps cost, and the 905 where the planning and taxation regimes are more suited to new development.
A lament for the suburban worker:
The lack of amenities in these clusters may also discourage potential employees, who would prefer a more accessible location with better options for dining, shopping, and recreation. One interviewee linked the rapid decline of an office cluster in this submarket to the fact that “there was not even a
restaurant where anyone could have lunch. It was basically ‘drive to the mall’ every time.” The physical layout of suburban office clusters is also a deterrent to launching ancillary retail or other amenities, because relatively small buildings are separated by large parking lots, effectively eliminating the possibility of walk-in traffic.
Although these areas are perhaps the least competitive in the region, and can perhaps be expected to shrink over time, there is nonetheless a need to protect the existing investment in large office clusters in this submarket. Ideally, the expansion of transit services to underserved office clusters would mean that they would eventually be classified as “transit-oriented areas.” Diversifying land uses in office-only areas would also allow for the addition of amenities that would make them more appealing to workers.
What would be the consequences of business as usual for the non-transit submarket?
If the City’s transit plans do not reconnect these areas with the rest of the City, and the areas are not revitalized to add amenities, the future likely holds only further stagnation and decline in this submarket. [Pages 36-37]
These are fascinating statements on two counts. First we have the premise that simply making areas “transit oriented” will magically transform them with amenities taken for granted elsewhere like cafés. Second, there is the implication that having planned and built poorly, we must compound the error with transit investments. This outlook completely misses the fact that there are “transit deserts” and areas of low amenity beyond the stranded suburban office parks, namely the large, underserved residential districts far from good transit.
Finally we have the development beyond Toronto in the 905 which is totally dependent on travel by car. Even with promised future transit, developers are concerned about the lack of parking imposed through controls on parking-to-employee ratios.
Another interviewee commented, “The example of Vaughan Corporate Centre is instructive. Although there is promise of extending the subway to Vaughan, the municipality is insisting on reduced parking from the outset. This is counterproductive, because prospective tenants will not sign on to new development with reduced parking when transit is still years away. It is important to preserve opportunities to allow a transition to occur when the market is ready.”
What this comment reflects is not just a need for parking, but frustration at how long it is taking to create new transit lines in the areas around Toronto. An interviewee commented, “Get people on comfortable, convenient transit and the congestion will go away… It is like [road] tolls. You can’t limit
parking if there isn’t an alternative.” [Page 38]
Lurking below the surface is a difficult problem — how can we possibly build rapid transit linking all of the would-be job centres (never mind those that already exist) with residential communities throughout the region? Is there a self-perpetuating cycle with new buildings designed around cars because transit is not quite there yet, and in the process depressing the need for transit even to the point of political opposition to the potential loss of road space for surface options like BRT and LRT?
There is a desire for more investment in transit service to suburban development, but what are the priorities? How long will it take to catch up with the backlog from decades of auto-oriented growth? Will money be available not just to build new showcase lines, but to operate them and the extensive surface feeder networks they will require?
Unfortunately, the “something for nothing” mentality prevails:
Interviewees suggested that some degree of consistent, continuous improvement in transit service to suburban office clusters, coupled with major changes in approaches to regulating land use were essential ingredients in overcoming problems associated with congestion, and that funding needed to be made in a strategic way to improve access to the workplace by employees. “Senior levels of government need to fund transit. Transit strengthens the city core and cities are the foundations of economies today,” said one major tenant with interests across the region. At the same time, new or increased taxes – that is, disincentives – were not seen as a favourable alternative to leverage funding, but rather a realignment of spending priorities to ensure that tax dollars spent on any given project are being maximized. [Page 39]
In other words, “we have built our buildings and it’s the governments job to bring our employees to them”. The idea that this might have a cost that should be borne through taxes is completely foreign, and is not even examined by the report as an alternative viewpoint. Somehow, we will just shuffle existing revenues (that have been systematically reduced year by year) to “maximize” the benefit. Missing is the question of whether the actual need created by poor planning and auto-oriented development can possibly be addressed within available revenues.
A related problem emerges for developers in the 905 — the absence of amenities.
Most office parks and campuses in the suburbs have been planned as single-use areas (existing industry continues to co-exist with office buildings in many cases). Although the rationale behind restricting development to employment uses made sense during the early years of growth, today few of these areas offer much in the way of amenities or services.
As one business owner noted, “905 sites have challenges with providing amenities. The costs of providing amenities have to be borne privately until there is sufficient critical mass to support retail and related amenity development. Tenants and landlords tend to invest in suburban amenities to compensate for a sterile environment.” This means that a company that locates in a suburban location will have added costs for providing the kind of amenities needed to attract the employees they want – such as exercise facilities, cafeterias, and the like.
Other interviewees said that they simply avoid the 905 submarket, because the employees they want are young knowledge workers who would find the suburban office campus a deterrent. These workers want easy access to the amenities of downtown or midtown Toronto, including nightlife, upscale shopping, and cultural institutions. [Pages 39-40]
Again we have the problem that there is “no there, there” when an office appears in the middle of a field. Moreover, “nightlife, upscale shopping and cultural institutions” require a substantial population beyond the office buildings downtown simply to exist, and they will not materialize in the middle of that field just because a few office towers spring up. Some of those “savings” of locating in the cheap middle-of-nowhere have offsetting costs. To what extent should the public sector be on the hook to fix this problem gratis for the developer who couldn’t see beyond lower tax rates and cheap property?
A Call for Better Transit, But Where?
The report concludes with a string of recommendations aimed at reinforcing the competitiveness of the office sector generally through its four sub-markets. The maximization of use along existing and planned corridors is stressed, although this runs directly opposite to a desire that somehow the areas now remote from transit be better served.
We cannot build subways everywhere. Lower taxes will not fix the ills of what has already been built. A neighbourhood is more than a Starbucks in a mall. People do not live and work conveniently along existing or potential transit corridors, but in a wide (and widening) range of developments with complex origin-destination patterns.
Market forces are already shifting demand back to the core area, although suburban growth has not stopped. Will the auto-dependent areas of the 905 be the next area of stagnation like the outer parts of the 416 are today? Reasonably, how much can we “fix” with transit alone, and are we willing to pay the price? Who is “we”, and does the definition recognize that transportation investments should be funded not just by the direct users (commuters, shippers, tourists, students) but by the business community that thrives on their existence?
I am thinking that the location of office in suburban office parks was driven by how close the new office would be to the CEO’s or executives’ golf course.
The SRRA report shows an even weirder proposal to extend SmartTrack west along the 401 to Hurontario & 401 and Meadowvale. I can’t see why this is needed because the Hurontario LRT and Milton GO line would go to these areas.
This issue of connecting suburban office parks to the transit system needs to be fixed though, because these suburban office parks have been built and transit access to them needs to be fixed. Companies locate in these office parks because rent is a lot cheaper than downtown, and this is true even ignoring commercial tax rates. In general suburban office parks are less expensive but less desirable to employees than downtown, so there is a tendency for higher paying jobs to be downtown and lower paying jobs to be in the suburbs. SmartTrack is going to have to use a different route to get to Airport Corporate Centre because putting SmartTrack on Eglinton obviously isn’t feasible.
I don’t understand why there is so little demand to build new office space in intermediate areas like North York Centre, which are cheaper than downtown and more expensive than Mississauga and are much nicer than Mississauga office parks. Though I think that downtown is running out of space to build new office buildings, due to the dwindling supply of parking lots, mostly because of historical preservation laws. I think this might make office space in areas like North York Centre, DVP & Gardiner and Liberty Village more popular. This is why I think that the Sheppard LRT is such a bad idea, if a few office buildings like the North American Centre at Yonge/Finch got built near Yonge/Sheppard then it would be much easier to justify extending the Sheppard subway. Also the Consumers Road office park is located near Victoria Park/Sheppard just beyond Don Mills Station and the traffic on the part of Sheppard near there is horrendous, so I think that forcing everyone who works in that office park to take LRT then subway is a bad idea. I once got stuck in traffic for 1 hour (not making this up) going westbound on a bus from Victoria Park to Don Mills, though my guess is there was an incident on the 401.
Steve: But the LRT would be in its own lane (underground for the approach to the DVP) and the traffic on that part of Sheppard is not an issue for it.
Excellent article, Steve. I especially like your point questioning the supposed savings that developers use as justification for locating out in the fringes, and the implicit expectation that the public will be on the hook for providing access routes and services to make them desirable places to work. It is time that municipal leaders called these subsidies to developers what they are. Citizens who are swayed by appeals to reduce spending might appreciate knowing how much support for the dreams of developers isn’t attributed as such on the city ledgers.
I suspect that one of the issues that drove the offices to the 905 in the first place, along with the tax and rent differential, would be access for employees. National offices located places like Mississauga Road & the 401 in the 1980s and early 90s would have done so partly, as there was affordable and appropriate housing for workers of all levels, with easy access (via auto) for their workforces. They also had good access to the airport.
Congestion has changed this, the extreme levels of congestion stretching further west on the 401, and the cost of housing continuing to climb means these locations no longer offer the same benefit, and the lack of transit now makes these type of locations less attractive. If you connected these locations to moderate level frequent transit that was out of traffic I suspect they would again be very attractive. The issue is how many such locations can have high quality transit?
Mississauga has a few areas that would benefit from frequent bus in the AM and PM peak periods, but how does this tie back to origins when their workforces are so scattered to begin with.
The use of transit access to make places like North York City Centre, STC etc. attractive to employers, means having good transit access to the areas beyond them, providing good access to a wide variety of housing options. North York City centre requires good transit access into York Region, as does STC if they are to become stronger centres, as they require a hinterland themselves to house their workforces. The connection to a subway that flows downtown, makes them a hinterland to the core, not centres in their own right. The STC as an office location would benefit more from having a couple of LRTs flowing from the North, East and West than from being the last stop on a subway line. Unfortunately, connecting the NYCC to points north would cause huge issues, and the politics of the day seem to make it hard to use LRT (or any rapid transit) to connect STC to points beyond, as opposed to a subway to serve the riders to the core.
Steve, do you really think that a high profile business tycoon and high ranking politician like John Tory actually reads your blog and even if he did, then do you think that he will take the nonstop criticism and unsolicited advice that you are constantly shoving down his throat? You do have good advice (not all the time but sometimes) and if you really want to be heard, I suggest that you change the tone of your articles and make them less critical and your headlines especially look down upon the mayor excessively and needlessly.
Steve: I have been down this path before. Playing nice gets you nowhere beyond a pat on the head. Tory is not my primary audience, although I hope that at some point he realizes that he has been counting on bad advice on a number of fronts. Meanwhile, it is important that a broader audience understands that everything said by Mayor Tory, or in his name, may not be as well-informed as it appears.
After all, if David Miller or Olivia Chow were Mayor, I am sure many readers, possibly even you, would be very upset if I let them off lightly and overlooked failures in the policies and administrations.
By the way, you probably missed the articles where I tried to suggest that some of Tory’s policies could be improved and how this might be done. Constructive criticism, but not fawning sycophancy.
A few disjointed observations.
A company I used to work for moved its Toronto office from King St. to a spot north of Dundas. They were told by their Wall St. head office to get it back down to the business district.
Is there any reason that transit in the suburbs has to be seamlessly joined to Union Station? Why not a star-shaped network, possibly centered on the STC or other attractive node? The exurbs could have a nice network with a small connection going to Toronto.
I noticed, during my later years of employment, that along the 401/403 west of 427 there was more traffic going to Mississauga employment than the other direction.
Steve: The problem with a star shaped network is that it gerrymanders routes into structures leading to the major nodes. This is great if your travel happens to lie on this network, but not so great if you are going somewhere else. As for traffic on 401/403, I am not surprised at the volume, and this shows how “reducing congestion” is not simply a matter of building more ways to get to Union Station.
About twelve years ago, my wife had a contract job in the telecommunications section of TD bank. When the contract started, the job location was downtown in the TD bank complex but shortly thereafter, moved to a new location in Mississauga on Creekbank. Since we live in the west end of Toronto, it was not a problem for her: she even took Mississauga Transit from Islington Station.
However, many of the employees of TD lived in many locations in and around Toronto; some in Oshawa, some in Newmarket, some in Oakville. These people had all been commuting by GO Transit but, now, had to resort to driving. One individual, a young man in his late twenties, lived near Yonge and Eglinton and had never obtained a driver’s licence so, he started commuting via the Eglinton bus but immediately found his travel time to be excessive so, he took driving lessons and bought a car.
In the first year of driving to work, he had two “accidents”, the first, just a fender bender but the next, he totalled his car. He was badly injured and by the time my wife’s contract expired, he had not returned to work. We can not confirm this but we understand the he had a mental breakdown.
All this so the TD bank could move an office function from downtown that was convenient to most of their employees to a place in Mississauga that for all intent and purposes was auto reliant.
Steve: In my own professional life, I worked for the Toronto Board of Education at its office on College west of University until this building was sold to the University of Toronto, and the IT function of the amalgamated board (TDSB) shifted to Scarborough City Hall. Some parts of IT wound up at the Etobicoke Board’s offices on The West Mall, and others at North York Board’s offices at Mel Lastman Square. This grand shuffle moved employees hither and yon across the city with major disruptions to commuting patterns. Some who had been able to travel to the College Street location, even if coming in via GO to downtown, were now forced to drive because GO services and “connecting” TTC routes are not organized to support suburban locations.
I was one of the few people in our office who commuted by transit (subway from Broadview plus RT to STC).
Interestingly enough this was also in the “Move Mississauga” (.pdf) plan of Mississauga mayoral candidate (and former MP, MPP and councilor) Steve Mahoney. Aside from the obvious question of why a rapid transit connection between suburban office parks is even needed, there was the other question of where the line would go and frankly, why an all day version of the existing MiWay MiExpress 108 (The Meadowvale Business Express, a weekday, rush hour only bus connecting Islington Station to Meadowvale) would not be a better option.
Now, his opponent Bonnie Crombie had the “Mississauga Moves” plan, adding 5 stations to the Milton GO line, electrifying it and creating a rapid transit line for Mississauga, as well as an LRT on Derry Road.
Both candidates, it should also be said, had remarkably similar platforms and were firmly in support of the Hurontario LRT and Smart Track.
Also interesting is that the councilor for Ward 4 was selected as the Chair of Peel Region so there will likely be a byelection. I do not know if Mahoney will run again but another mayoral candidate has expressed interest in running.
Now why is this all relevant? Because Ward 4 includes “downtown” Mississauga … and interestingly enough despite all the commercial development in Meadowvale and at the Airport Corporate Centre … and despite all the talk about satellite “downtowns” there hasn’t been an office building built in Mississauga’s City Centre in over 20 years.
Oddly enough I would expect a successful business tycoon would the one who could hear criticism and react to it. This would have been a skill, admittedly rare, that would have allowed him to succeed in the first place. The best business leaders actively seek criticism to find what is realistic and can be addressed about it. I hope that was the case with John Tory, and will be as mayor.
You do not get better by listening only to those who fawn over you, and the remain competitive, you had better always be getting better. Long terms success in any business requires being able to see and hear what is wrong as well.
Steve: Even in cases where people might rant about issues, there may be threads of truth, of real concern, to be picked out of the “noise”. In my case, I hope that the “signal to noise ratio” is rather high.
This, along with the attitude that it takes forever to bring “promised” transit to an area like Richmond Hill Centre (RHC), are big parts of the problem with the politics surrounding transit.
1. Transit growth needs to be highly predictable, and based on real planning. It would have been clear that excessive extension of Yonge Subway would be a problem without major fundamental changes to its operations back to the early 1980s. Therefore if Toronto got to RHC running a subway there would be an issue.
2. Running much lighter rapid transit can be done early in a process, and make an area “transit oriented”, without needing to actually have a subway there, or expending massive funds. If an Eglinton Transitway (busway) had been built as in the suggestions dating back decades, this bus ride (Creekbank) would have been much quicker, and could/ should have been matched with a similar route in Mississauga.
Zoning, along with more moderate rapid transit would have permitted a moderately dispersed model for the GTA, without requiring massive projects. The problem now is, while we build a Mississauga busway, and Eglinton Crosstown (hopefully to meet it) can we actually operate a system to serve enough of the mess than has been made. From a transit perspective, dispersed is no longer the right word, but rather scattered, to the point where with even basic bus it is hard to create reasonable service to the outlying office areas.
Local transit needs to serve the GO stations in both directions, BRT & LRT need to extend the reach of the GO and subway through regional nodes, even though this may subvert some rides. Not all “centres” or rides can be served, and the question becomes can we serve enough of them, and create a system that will actually drive future growth in a pattern that can be supported.
The provincial government needs to dictate a policy to the region as to where growth should and should not be supported. Transit cannot be used to support growth everywhere, and the need to have plans and reality match needs to start now. If RHC is to be a growth centre, get rapid transit there now (and do away with parking growth), just do not use the Yonge Subway. Build a network beyond it to concentrate traffic to this point, and then have GO RER provide a link to the core. BRT on 7, LRT on Yonge or Bayview to the GO (have it run every 10 minutes or better at peak and every 15 off to the core).
The airport area is an existing hub and requires real support. There are others, but the region needs to not just designate hubs and say they will someday be served, but rather needs to build BRT there today. The areas municipalities need to be told, you cannot have large concentrations of retail, or office, and not make provisions for transit out of traffic today in your plans. The development fees, need to flow to building all required infrastructure, including BRT to support these not just roads and sewers. The local plans and requirements for parking can then be properly adjusted, with requirements for maximum walking distances to the bus, with excess parking behind/away from transit not between transit and the destination.
If and when these centres grow the the point where BRT will no longer serve, there will at least be reserved space for higher order transit.
Downtown Mississauga is amazingly dense and not just condominiums but a huge job centre as well. Mississauga now has almost a million people (40% of Toronto’s population) and I don’t know why people talk of extension to the heavily crowded Yonge Line further north to Thornhill and Richmond Hill where there is very low density and very few jobs while there is absolutely NO talk of a subway to Mississauga which is far more dense and has way more jobs. Furthermore, extending the subway to Mississauga will add more people to the University/Spadina section of the Yonge University Spadina Line which is far less crowded than the Yonge portion to which an extension to Thornhill / Richmond Hill would add riders. I think that extending the subway to Mississauga should be the next priority of Metrolinx and an extension to Thornhill / Richmond Hill should be scrapped. Thornhill / Richmond Hill just don’t have the density to justify a subway PERIOD. As a Mississauga resident, I would support a similar operational funding deal between Mississauga and Toronto as currently in place between York Region and Toronto which treats people from both jurisdictions with dignity rather than treating people from the suburbs as third class citizens.
Steve: The University subway is not as empty as you might think, and once the Vaughan extension opens, it will get even busier. Some of the spare capacity you are eying is already spoken for.
Steve, if you are going to criticise Tory for his SmartTrack, then perhaps you should criticise Kathleen Wynne as well for stating her support for SmartTrack. There is no way Tory can move ahead with SmartTrack without support from the Provincial Liberals who now have a majority and so please direct some of your constructive criticism to the Liberals as well.
Steve: Wynne is not giving a blank cheque to SmartTrack and has already signalled that she wants more detailed study of this and related projects as a first step. Metrolinx had a good plan with their RER scheme, and the last thing Wynne needs is to screw it up trying to shoehorn Tory’s proposal into RER.
What is this dignity stuff that people insist on getting? The last “Dignity” I dealt with was a funeral home chain, and you don’t want to go there.
Mississauga would be much better served if Dundas Street was an LRT, and the Eglinton and Finch West LRTs went to the Toronto/Mississauga boundary to create transfer nodes. This gives multiple options for travel to the west end of Toronto. It also gives more alternatives if the subway line is shut down. Extending the sole east-west line ever further east and west just increases the mess if there’s a problem. And as we’ve seen, service can and will get interrupted.
If the Mississauga residents are going downtown, then GO is a much better alternative than taking the subway all the way in from Mississauga.
Since Toronto is likely to take a bit hit on operational costs with the Vaughan extension, I demand to have dignity as a Toronto resident not to make the same bad deal with Mississauga.
But you will not condemn the completely unnecessary subway extension to Thornhill and Richmond Hill? University subway capacity is used up for Mississauga but Yonge subway capacity is not used up for extension to low density RICHmond Hill? Thornhill which is low density and lined with mansions, how many people from there even use transit? The riders coming down VIVA buses to Finch station are mainly from Newmarket, Aurora, and Markham (in the latter case, the people transfer at Richmond Hill bus terminal for a trip to Finch unless they are VIVA Pink which is already going there) and not from wealthier places like Thornhill and Richmond Hill where people prefer to drive luxurious vehicles and large SUVs and so if the Yonge subway is to be extended, then it must at least go to Aurora if not to Newmarket as there are few riders from Richmond Hill itself.
Steve: Just because I don’t reply to everything you write does not mean that I agree or disagree with you. If you have been reading this site regularly, you would know that I have always argued that demand to the north should be addressed first by GO improvements which are comparatively cheap to implement. Of course some people want to come from, say, Richmond Hill to Yonge/Eglinton, but the majority of traffic pouring into Finch Station is going downtown into GO territory. People want a subway because they see it as a way to get cheap (one TTC fare), frequent all-day service in place of a more expensive and limited service GO train on any of the northern corridors.
Please see the following article. It is clear that subways get built in rich areas and poorer areas like Mississauga, Finch, Sheppard East, Scarborough in general get dumped with LRTs and BRTs and in the case of Mississauga, we have been wanting LRTs for years but the governing Liberals only promise to build them in poor areas where they are not wanted (Sheppard East, Finch, Scarborough in general) and the poor areas where they do want them (Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton), they are given absolutely nothing. Hamilton and Mississauga/Brampton LRTs have already been designed and are ready to go as soon as the province agrees to funding but instead we have the province wasting money on studying a completely unnecessary Yonge subway extension.
Steve: Actually the Yonge extension has already been studied and its EA is completed. All that is needed is the commitment to build it. The LRT lines in Toronto were originally proposed by Toronto, not by Queen’s Park, at a time when Metrolinx didn’t want to hear about LRT. It seems that every part of the GTA is now talking about how hard done by it is relative to everyone else. As someone living in Toronto and paying taxes here, I am more annoyed by those who will accept nothing but the highest cost option, and by 905 residents who want to get a cheap fare, subsidized by Toronto (as the Vaughan extension will be), all the way to downtown.
As for the rich getting subways and the poor getting LRT, the whole idea behind Transit City was that we could never afford subways to every corner of the city, and an LRT network would provide much better service than buses, especially taking into account future growth in demand and in traffic congestion, at a much lower cost than subways, most of which would never get beyond the lines-on-a-map stage.
It does not matter how crowded the Yonge subway might be and how undeserved a Yonge subway extension might be (based on facts on density and ridership); mark my words, it will get built and the reason is the same as why a completely undeserved subway is being built to Vaughan and the reason as highlighted in the Metro article, subways and underground LRTs get built in rich areas. Why do you think that the super rich areas of Eglinton got subway like underground LRT and Scarborough got surface LRT? Not just that but Scarborough portion won’t even get built until much of the work on the underground richer portions to the west has been completed. Since Scarborough got an on-road LRT which can be built many times faster than an underground one, why has it not been built already? Instead, because of it’s economic outcast status, Scarborough has to wait until the underground portion is almost done and all the trip time savings that Metrolinx touts are from the underground portion and the LRT will in fact add trip time to Scarborough customers as half of the trips will short-turn at Laird and for the remaining half, they will have to wait for a driver to come in and get ready going east and for the driver to get ready to leave and leave at Laird station while going west. Why Metrolinx and the province not highlight this fact that the trip time savings been touted are for the underground portion only and that due to half of the trips short-turning at Laird and the driver coming in / leaving, Scarborough commuters will end up having their trip times increased “thanks” to the LRT? Those poor folks in Scarborough were duped into agreeing to an on-road LRT.
Steve: Eglinton’s line is underground for the simple reason there was no place to put it on the surface between Leaside and Mount Dennis, and it was always intended to be a surface line elsewhere (over 2/3 of the originally planned route). As for Scarborough, well, the proposed LRT replacement for the RT was to be on the surface for the simple reason that the RT was there already and the right-of-way, completely isolated from streets, was already available. Both Sheppard and Finch are wide enough (including lands the city owns beyond the roadway) to host a surface right-of-way. Your description of operations at Laird station is bizarre.
“For decades, planning has been de facto led by the location of the road network.”
You ask in your article the question, “What should drive development patterns?” The answer is that growth patterns should be based on how economic competitiveness and equality of opportunity can be optimized in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
A critical error that is prevalent in the literature on transit is the absence of a thorough consideration of the impacts that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), currently working its way to ratification, will have on our society. CETA is likely to have a profound impact, with significant potential for reward and risk. The only way our society can succeed is if our planning reflects and adapts to the full range of forces that shape it.
Any transit plan that does not consider the impact of macroeconomic forces on the future of travel patterns is critically flawed.
Steve: By which I presume you are talking about the shifts and rebalancing that might occur among types of economic activity and jobs, and the associated changes in travel patterns (not to mention freight requirements).
The official Mississauga web site has the population at 752,000, a long ways from nearly a million. The problem with extending any of the current subways into 905 suburbs is that there will be no room on them for the 416 residents who pick up most of the cost for these lines. The Province through Metrolinx should be responsible for building those lines, not Toronto.
But… Toronto did something dumb with Vaughan, why can’t Mississauga, Pickering, and Brampton get the same deal?? I also agree with your comment that there must be other ways into Toronto. However, I would reinforce the point of trips to the west end, these journeys are also not all likely to the core or even on the subway. Not only is there a need for multiple lines to the airport area of Toronto and to serve multiple destinations/origins, there is a need to serve the riders crossing from (and to) Mississauga. Mississauga has to have its higher order services and they must be linked. However, this is something that needs to be paid for, and if it serves Mississauga riders, this needs to be considered, and focused on in terms of the politics. (Don’t tell everybody this is more special treatment for Toronto). Also while there is concentration around Mississauga Town Centre it does not exactly extend all the way to Kipling, or come close to justifying a subway (and if it did, it would overwhelm the system as it stands).
There is also a need to be able move to/from GO, to more of the employment centres scattered around Toronto, and for that matter Mississauga, for those riding the other way. Meadowvale, with much more frequent 2 way service (although this will be a trick) could be better linked to local transit to serve the large concentration of offices in the area, including people who want to live near the services offered by the core of Toronto. Mississauga needs to look at how it will support Toronto residents heading to their jobs in Mississauga, much as it expects Toronto, to consider its residents heading the other way.
Not only has Steve indicated in the past that a subway link to Richmond Hill Centre would be an issue (by which I mean disaster), he has gone so far as to comment that.
So not only has he commented on the issue of Yonge being extended, but seems to have a problem even connecting an LRT there before there is a major diversion to GO. I would have said he was reasonably clear, on that occassion, amongst many. He has been equally clear about his dislike of the Vaughan Extension, and has not exactly been secret about the notion that he favours an LRT in the Scarborough RT.
He has been rather clear that we now need “parallel capacity” and that subway lines can extend only so far. If he had changed and suddenly supported this long extension west I would have wondered if some troll had hijacked the site.
Steve: Trolls visit from time to time with some rather outlandish idea, not to mention buckets full of insults, but I treat them as comic relief and only allow a sampling of their bilge into public view. I try, against all evidence to the contrary, to avoid thinking that every Ford supporter has only the most tenuous grasp on reality and a single-digit IQ, but there are days I worry about the future of our civilization if that’s what passes for intelligence.
This is just one reason why the western portion of the Downtown Relief Line be built first. Another reason is that the density in the western portion of the DRL is many times higher than the low density Pape/Broadview corridor. If anything, the north-south portion of the DRL east should be either moved to the higher density areas around Main / Victoria Park (where it would also be possible to provide convenient transfers to SmartTrack / GO / RER) or move it west to Parliament or Sherbourne citing very low density in the Pape/Broadview corridor.
Steve: I have written before about the fallacies in this argument and will not bother to repeat myself.
So Rob, do you agree that the subway extension to Thornhill/Richmond Hill should be scrapped?
I remember reading this report when it first came out. It is interesting because it illustrates how seemingly straightforward transportation and land use planning decisions made decades ago can wind up creating severe problems later on. I guess you don’t know if your planning is good or bad until it is far too late.
The 400 series highway expansion in the 70’s and 80’s such as the 404 and 407 were originally designed to service those low employment-density logistics centres far outside the city which generate more truck traffic than commuter traffic. Unfortunately, companies (especially ‘cheap’ companies) couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build high employment density office buildings in the same area. It wasn’t just a case of taxes being lower than in Toronto. These were low-budget developments requiring little or no excavation, using inexpensive pre-fab construction, and relying exclusively on surface parking which would be difficult or impossible to get approved in Toronto. I’m sure at the time this was portrayed by the planning departments of the 905 municipalities as a ‘good’ thing.
Well, we all know how that turned out. Unfortunately, I don’t think this report offers any viable solutions. The continuing and growing congestion in the 905 area is likely to be irreversible.
Improved regional rail service, be it the Metrolinx RER plan or some realistic variation of SmartTrack, will benefit commuters into Toronto’s core. But servicing the office parks in the 905? Seems like wishful thinking to me.
You completely missed the point of that article. First, I’d hardly call extension of the YUS to places such as Finch and Keele to be a sop to a “rich area”, and much the same can be said of the YUS everywhere north of Eglinton West. Have you ever been to Lawrence Plaza or the neighbourhoods south of Yorkdale?
Certainly there are numerous idiotic pandering politicians who “don’t want” LRTs and would sooner wait for subways that will NEVER get built. But it’s more than a stretch to say that people “don’t want” LRTs on Finch or Sheppard, since at least some of those people don’t even know what they “don’t want”, e.g. Ford’s claim that the RT replacement would operate in mixed traffic.
Why exactly would Mississauga need a subway extension? Is not a significant part of the problem the fact that people who work in Mississauga face terrible traffic getting to their jobs in, you know, Mississauga?
Since it isn’t built yet it can’t be scrapped but if you have been following this blog for any length of time you will know I think it is the dumbest idea since screen doors on submarines. The Yonge subway is almost impossible to get on south of Sheppard so encouraging any more people to get on in York is extremely dumb.
If people choose to live in the 905 they should not expect the 416 people to subsidize their ride while making it almost impossible for anyone in the 416 to get a seat. Yonge should be extended to Steeles to allow for two turn back stations, Steeles and Finch. On the Vaughan extension half the rains should turn back at York, one quarter at Steeles and only every fourth train should go into Vaughan unless Vaughan wants to pay for all the extra costs. None of the subways should be extended into the 905 because it would overload the subway in the 416. The province should be responsible for building the inter-regional lines as RER or SmartTrack. If you want subway service move into the 416.
p.s. I live in Brampton and I do not expect Toronto to operate service to Brampton.
Mississauga subway would travel thorough a wide low density zone before reaching high density at the City Centre.
Yonge North subway extension makes sense, however it should be built only after the Downtown Relief line, to manage the capacity properly.
Your statement about subways being built only in rich areas, does not really hold. Scarborough is getting a subway extension, through areas that are not particularly rich. Same applies to Spadina North (Finch West, or Jane / Steeles), and the west end of Bloor line (Islington, Kipling).
The only solution to Toronto’s gridlock is to move out of the city. We’re so far behind that, if you’re alive now and reading this, no significant improvements are going to materialize in your lifetime.
That’s exactly what I hoped Steve would think before publishing article after article suggesting that the Scarborough subway (which hasn’t been built) should be scrapped but he doesn’t. Robert, if you think that a project can only be scrapped after it has been built, then why has the money eating Sheppard subway not been scrapped? Please see this article showing what a waste the Sheppard subway is and should be closed today. According to the Robert Wightman Logic, the subway to Vaughan is probably only being built as it cannot be scrapped until it’s built.
Seems like both Steve and Robert are backing away from explicitly condemning the completely unnecessary subway to Richmond Hill. Instead Steve takes a lot of trouble and looks up past articles to quote a comment or two (in contrast article after article condemning the already approved Scarborough subway) he may have made against the unnecessary and unjustified Richmond Hill subway instead of spending far less time in just stating that a subway to Richmond Hill is just not justifiable PERIOD.
That leaves a lot of ambiguity. Why not just state plainly whether or not you condemn the Richmond Hill subway in just a line or two? Steve and Robert, may I put you in a difficult position by asking you for your valued opinion ordering the following four projects in order from least justifiable to most justifiable in terms of demand?
1) Sheppard subway
2) Proposed Yonge subway extension northward to low density Thornhill and Richmond Hill
3) Vaughan subway (under construction)
4) Proposed Scarborough subway
I bet that you would both declare the proposed Scarborough subway as the least justifiable even though it would have the highest ridership out of those four. Also why don’t we close the heavily unused Sheppard subway? On most trains not a single person gets on or off at Bessarion subway station and so do you support closing this least used station in the system? It is amazing that people can argue against the Scarborough subway citing heavy cost of building subways and yet let TTC bleed money by not arguing for closing of the Sheppard Line and not even arguing for closing of the rarely used Bessarion subway station.
Steve: This really is getting tedious. I can’t “scrap” the Vaughan subway because it’s already more than half built. Just today, Andy Byford was saying that it is possible to walk through the tunnel all the way from Downsview to Vaughan Centre. The Sheppard subway exists, although I think it was a mistake to build it. A subway-surface LRT would have done the job nicely. Do we close the subway? That’s a harder decision politically, and I am not sure it is worth the battle among the many other things I could be advocating.
The Yonge extension also has its problems. However, your analysis is faulty because it is not a question of the population of the area through which it would travel, but of the feeder services that would provide riders. For a simple comparison, look at the SRT which runs through low density areas including fields and a waterway behind a recycling plant. But it’s full. The challenges on Yonge include overloading of the existing line, alternative services that could bleed demand to parallel corridors, and the difficulty of choosing exactly where the subway should stop and something else (LRT? BRT?) begin. These factors are intertwined and one cannot address them in isolation.
Finally the Scarborough subway is a complete crock, but you know that’s my opinion already. This is especially true if we build SmartTrack because the combination of SmartTrack/RER at TTC fare levels in the rail corridor plus an LRT line from Kennedy Station to Malvern would do far more than the subway. This would be an “LRT” line only by virtue of the vehicle type because everything else — completely protected right of way, fare collection in stations, not onboard — would be identical to subway operation.
Full disclosure: I support Tory and NOT Ford.
Steve: I supported Chow, but now hope that we will get more of the “Civic Action Tory” than the “tax fighter Tory” we seem to have elected by accident, especially considering some of his choices for the inner circle. I also hope that some of his advisors read this blog (actually, I know that they do) and that ideas here will inform improvements in the Mayor’s policies.
You are trying to create an artificial fight by demanding that we “take stands”. Sorry, but I’ve been doing that for decades whether you have been reading my work or not. I most definitely do not take half-way positions trying to weasel my way out of commitment to a position on one side of an argument. That doesn’t stop me from looking at alternatives and even partly agreeing with them, if only to better improve my own position.
I hope that I have been abundantly clear. Don’t ask again.
Well Steve, I think you have been quite clear long before this, and while I was not following you when the stupidity of the Vaughan Subway came along, I would be quite surprised if you had supported it based on the very sarcastic comments you have made regarding it “and we call this progress”. Your position was clear based on the reactions you had to the costs of operations question I had recently. I suspect that going bus to LRT would have improved service and the financial position and I was expecting subway to make the financial one worse, and you strongly confirmed that expectation.
The idea that subway should be built just because someone else has one is silly. Vaughan was a mistake and was committed to prior to the TTC even considering LRT. It is a mistake that will consume TTC money for years to come, hopefully they will have some serious development in the area, to start to justify this excess construction. However, it should be realized that
1. The costs of capital are sunk costs, and are gone whether the line is used or not.
2. A true scrapping (i.e. a full decommissioning) is not free.
3. In terms of Sheppard replacing the service would not be free.
The mistakes have been made, however, just because we have shot ourselves in the foot once does not excuse doing it again, and the 2nd does not justify the 3rd.
The LRT plan (TransitCity) was one that would have provided much improved service to many more people, and done so in a way that the TTC could actually afford to deliver. Service should be provided to support real ridership and trips not be political baubles. The arguments with regards to rich vs poor etc. advanced by “Scarborough Subway Supporter” and Peter appear to be about politics not service. Build the service that will support the most riders in the best way, without expending ridiculous money. This means if you have a ridership in the area of 20K or more over a reasonable distance, subway is likely to make sense. If you have a ridership of 13K or less, well LRT is more reasonable. If you can have completely grade separated right of way the number for LRT goes higher. If you only have ridership of 2-3K well BRT might make more sense.
1) The Sheppard subway should not have been built as there was no justification for it outside of Mel Lastman’s ego. Since it is built and converting to LRT would be very expensive it should probably stay, though converting it to unmanned operation might make it less of a financial burden. It should not be extended. If it proves possible to convert the Sheppard Subway to LRT at a reasonable cost with minimal disruption to service then I would fully support it. The problems are:
a) The gauge is TTC 4′ 10 7/8″ rather than the standard 4′ 8 1/2″ that the new LRT lines will be built to.
b) All the platforms, stairs, escalators and elevators will need to be re-built.
2) I have said that the Yonge subway should never be extended beyond Steeles as it would overload an already overloaded subway. The rational for extending it to Steeles is to provide another turn back facility to allow for headways under 130 seconds and to get buses off Yonge Street south of Steeles. As I replied to you before:
What part of that statement did you not understand!
3) Vaughan subway extension should not have been built, especially in a bored tunnel. There will might be justification to build it to York or Steeles but that is marginal.
4) The proposed Scarborough subway is a waste of money and will not provide as much service as the proposed LRT network would have. It also will not serve the Scarborough Town Centre well. Most of the riding in Scarborough is not to the downtown and the subway will do nothing for them.
I think that you are playing semantic games with the word “scrap”. You cannot “scrap” something that does not exist. You can “scrap” the idea or plan to build it but you cannot “scrap” it until it is built.
If you have read my comments on the Yonge Subway extension you would see that I have always been saying “DO NOT BUILD IT NORTH OF STEELES EVER.” I am not sure what part of that statement you cannot comprehend! Also read Malcolm N’s comment below yours. He has a very good reply with which I am in total agreement.
So to repeat myself so you do not misunderstand my answers:
1) The Sheppard and York Subways should not have been built. I think that the extension as far as York U will be justifiable eventually.
2) The Yonge subway extension north of Steeles should NEVER be built.
3) The Scarborough subway extension should not be built. Be careful what you wish for because when you get it you may find it isn’t what you hoped it would be.
To Scarborough Subway Supporter;
I got carried away in answering the first part of you question so here is my ranking.
None of the lines are justifiable. Ranking from least justifiable to not so least justifiable because, as I believe, none are justifiable gives:
1) Neither the existing or proposed Sheppard extension has the demand to warrant Subway.
2) Scarborough does not have the demand and it won’t serve most of the riders on the slow buses who will still be on slow buses.
3) Vaughan extension does not have the ridership projections to warrant all the money being spent. It will be justifiable to York U.
4) Richmond Hill extension would overload the Yonge line so the problem might be too many riders.
The Downtown relief line might eventually be justifiable north of Eglinton if it could find an inexpensive right of way that would not require tunneling. Even if it is built their will still be capacity problems with the Yonge Subway. Neither RER or SmartTrack will alleviate crowding on the Yonge, University or Bloor Danforth lines, especially within the old city boundaries.
The Downtown Relief line will not provide relief to the downtown latte sipping elites as much as it will help the scores of people from the outer 416, especially in Scarborough and Eastern North York. The station spacing will be too great to help many people living within the old city core.
In fairness it will however allow those who live in southwest Rosedale immediately North of Bloor, to walk down to Bloor, instead of North to Rosedale, or to have their chauffeurs pull around and drive them to their destination.
But Robert, if we use the magical rail (?) technology suggested in the report, it should not be an issue. I mean it can carry 70,000 riders per hour, would that not be nearly enough to support extending the line to Richmond Hill.
I would love to see how that works, 1750 per train and get headway that would support 40 trains per hour. I would assume that there is no flow conflict of passengers (3 platforms?), and they have allowed for an ultra fast entry and exit from station (platform doors?) of course the line, stations, etc would all have to be redesigned, but it would be worth it to have those 160kph trains run in 10 car trains (280-300 metre long?). Shouldn’t cost much more than a couple of years GDP for Ontario.
Moaz: Aside from the MiExpress 108 Meadowvale Business Express I mentioned in an earlier comment, MiWay also offers a Sheridan Park express whcih runs from Islington Station to Erin Mills Parkway via the QEW, the MiExpress 109 Meadowvale Express (now “Via Transitway”) which serves the Airport Corporate Centre on the way to Mississauga City Centre and Meadowvale … 6 days a week. There are also numerous buses that serve the service areas of Pearson Airport.
MiWay could, I suppose, offer the 108 as an all day express like the 109 … but then I suppose the TTC could offer a 192A “Corporate+Airport Rocket” from Kipling, along with Rocket buses on Lawrence West and Finch West … or Metrolinx could offer 2 hour fares in the GTA so people coming from Toronto would not have to pay 2 fares to get to work in Mississauga.
I was expecting there might be 7 stations on the DRL phase 1 (University, Bay-Yonge, Jarvis, Parliament, Queen, Gerrard and Danforth) as currently planned. If the line were sensibly extended across the Don Valley into Leaside there could be a station at Cosburn and another at the west aide of Overlea & Millwood (which would be a good location for a bus terminal).
Of course whether 7 (or 9) stations are actually built is a whole other question but downtown certainly needs those 4 stations.
While I highly respect your opinions on Public Transit, when it comes to understanding the implications of tax policy I cringe. This report, while well done, has one major weakness. It underplays the significance of the tax rate differential on development patterns. It is not informative, in fact it it is misleading, to ask office tenants about the impact of property tax, as they are concerned only with gross rents. The incidence of the tax rate differential falls on the developer not the tenant. Hemson Consulting did a report showing in detail how this works. Developers who built the office space in Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham, etc. paid more for the land and much higher developments fees than they would have in Toronto’s suburbs. These areas generated a similar amount of gross rent per sq. ft. (which is the best proxy for demand) but higher net rent (due to lower property taxes).
It was not empty fields, cheap land and low taxes. As I and others have stated, and reports like the Hemson one shows, land and fees were more expensive outside Toronto than inside the suburbs. Despite all this it was profitable to build, so much so that it was done on spec, unlike in the city.
This is the same dynamic that has made it unfeasible to build multi-residential rental buildings. Build two identical multi-unit buildings in Toronto, side by side, zone one residential (condominium) and the other multi-residential (rental) and see what happens to the values. While units in either would fetch the same rental rates, having the same value to the tenants, they would have no where near the same value to the developer.
With the introduction of CVA, North York City Centre went from being an envisioned secondary downtown to a vertical suburb.
Taxes matter, a lot.
Steve: I understand the general argument you are making, but don’t know which part of my article you take issue with. Is it my text or the report being critiqued that you have problems with?
I have to say that I must take exception to your exception. The landlord/builder perforce if he is actually looking at a the costs of operations and relative vacancy rates in order to set rents to begin with. The higher costs of taxes will mean that the costs of operating the building itself will be higher. In order for the building to recoup its costs it will mean that rents would need to be higher, or builders will not pursue new construction as they are taking an operating loss, and would expect new space to add to that.
The costs of higher development fees will also be part of the costs of construction, and hence will part of the capital costs, the degree to which this affects rent will vary based on required return and borrowing costs (but unless the builder is making an error he will be recouping these).
Either way the tenant does see it, and the prevalent interest rates will determine which has more of an impact on the tenant. The exception to the tenant seeing all costs would be only when there is a period of high vacancy, otherwise all costs will in effect passed on. Periods of high vacancy generally do not persist in a growing city, as builders will not build space in order to take a loss. The exceptions only being where there are undesirable buildings, also known as mistakes.
P.S. The issue where the tenant will not be aware, will be things where there is no option to raise rents due to rent control. However, even here, over time the time will experience the increase eventually, although the owner will absorb much in the way of losses first. After some time the landlord will invest no money in maintenance, and the building will be sold to someone who can in effect extract return in other ways, which results in the horrible landlords and buildings that all complain about.
First off, we are not just talking about the tax climate downtown but that of the entire 416. If what you said above was true, this transition would have been gradual. It was not though. It coincides exactly with the introduction of CVA taxes and its poor implementation. The tax problem also explains why after reaching its peak in 1998, the number of jobs in Toronto declined for eight years. While surrounding areas had employment growth. Between 1991 and 1996 Toronto lost 110,000 jobs. Mississauga gained 8,200.
We are always being sold the line that there was some sort of inevitability to this. The recession, NAFTA, the GST etc. As if these only affected Toronto. Toronto’s record on employment growth is the result of its own policies.
Steve: Except that CVA was a provincial initiative, not a Toronto one. I have no problem with the claim that Toronto taxes are “high”, but between the effects of CVA and the disparity in education taxes, both provincial actions, not local, Toronto can hardly be blamed for this inequity. Meanwhile, Toronto is lowering its commercial:residential tax ratio to match surrounding municipalities and this process will be completed over roughly the next five years (the time length varies with property class).
The point I was making is this: assume that the tax inequity (however much it might be) had not existed. Do you honestly expect me to believe that the development and job pattern of the past decade would have been completely different? You cite total jobs lost in Toronto, but don’t break these down by sector or location. The industrial jobs are gone, and would have been gone no matter what thanks to shifts in production locale to be closer to transportation corridors, not to mention simply going off shore. We are now seeing the start of increased interest in commercial space downtown in part due to factors such as its attractiveness to potential employees and relatively easy commutes. Taxes are a factor, but they are not the only factor, certainly not to the degree claimed in the three papers I reviewed.
We have been listening to the bleating of real estate developers for years, and to too great a degree, there seems to be an attitude that everyone else should make things as sweet as possible. Meanwhile, we are supposed to spend billions so that folks who built unfriendly suburban office parks where transportation is capacity constrained can somehow be relieved of the effects of building in a wasteland. If they want better transit, they should be prepared to contribute to its cost.
While CVA was a provincial initiative how the burden was portioned was the decision of the city. Recall that before CVA there were properties which had there assessments frozen in the 40’s. You had some homes in Rosedale and ForestHill paying a few hundred dollars per year in taxes while newer homes worth a third or less were paying thousands. This was not sustainable. While you are correct that that CVA was a creation of the province, it is the city’s decision as to what the ratio between classes will be. Unfortunately so long as the Province gives the city enough rope to hang itself it will continue to do so.
Insofar as your comment;
I am well aware of city tax policies and programs. In the ETBC program the city states that the program, by its end, would bring parity to its commercial tax rate and that of the surrounding regions. This was calculated by taking the current far below average Toronto residential rate and multiplying it by 2.5. Then the percentage (mill rate) was compared to the current average of the surrounding municipalities.
This ignores the fact that within the years of the program, Toronto’s residential rate will rise, Furthermore it ignores the most important factor. That is the ratio of taxes between classes. Currently, for example, In Vaughan the ratio (inc. both tiers) is 1.21:1. Toronto’s tax rate is set to rise faster than the surrounding regions. In fifteen years it will be very close to the rates elsewhere, maybe even much higher. It is the multiplying of the future rate, times 2.5, compared to the future residential rates in competing areas (multiplied by 1 to 1.5) that Toronto needs to address. There is no way possible for Toronto to reach parity until its ratios are addressed. Using the mill rate is a red herring. In fifteen years the rate will still be 2.5 times the residential compared with a near 1:1 rate elsewhere.
Steve: Well, it is a matter of fact that tax increases year over year have been implemented for residential properties at three times the increase for commercial properties. This even includes the Scarborough Subway tax where the lion’s share of the new tax will come from the residential class.
They should have been campaigning before hand, and making allowances for its space to begin with. They should have all known there would be a need eventually. They developed in the area in many cases to get first mover advantage. First mover advantage implies by definition followers, and one should plan for this. I am sure if the major developers chose to ask the city to make an allowances for a busway, opposite the street, or even in the street in a nearly empty area (low present cost to the city) the notion would be entertained.
However, that would mean a higher development fee, and it is something that can be campaigned for later when it becomes an issue. The concern I would have is that there should be a provincial level edict covering the commuter shed that is the GTHA.
The areas that are being developed for moderate to high density over a reasonable area (in the plan) should have to make an allowance for a future BRT service. The city plan itself should allow for linkage and networks, however, the builders should be pushing to make sure that there investment is covered in terms of future value and accessibility. I am sure that the lead developers in Mississauga and Brampton are surprised by how fast the areas filled up, but not by the fact that they did. Assuming they are not surprised, it is hard to feel sorry for them now that they are having a harder time filling these buildings because of access issues.