The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part III)

In the first part of this series, I discussed The New Geography of Office Location, 2011, and then in the second part, its successor A Region in Transition, 2013. Now, I will turn to The Business Case for the Regional Relief Line, October 2013. All three papers were produced by SRRA (Strategic Regional Research Associates).

Only a 17 page summary version of the Relief Line report is available online, compared to the full versions of the first two. Considering the clear influence this series of reports has had on transit policy and the recent election campaign, the idea that

Detailed research is available to Investment Partners of SRRA [Page 1]

leaves a big hole in the range for public comment and review. I hope that Metrolinx will rectify this situation as part of whatever studies might take place.

My thanks to those of you who slogged through the first two articles.

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The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part II)

In the first article of this series, I examined a 2011 report about the shifting location of office development in the GTHA. Here I will turn to a follow-up report, A Region in Transition, from January 2013.

These reports provided the underpinning for the SmartTrack campaign proposal from Mayor John Tory. It is important that we understand just where this scheme came from and what it was  intended to accomplish by authors who, in some cases, lent their support to the Tory campaign and the SmartTrack brand.

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Mayor Tory Fights Congestion, Maybe

Updated December 8, 2014: This article has been updated with a list of the intersections where traffic signal retiming has been done in 2014 and where it is planned for 2015. See the end of the article.

Original article from December 5, 2014:

Mayor John Tory unveiled a six-point plan to tackle congestion problems in Toronto. The text of his remarks is not yet available on his city web page, but the points were tweeted from his account @johntoryTO:

  1. Strict Enforcement Of “No Stopping” Regulations On Major Roads
  2. Enhance Road Closure Reporting
  3. Launch A Multi-Organizational Traffic Enforcement Team – Deploy 40 additional cameras on arterial roads, Another 80 in 2016
  4. Accelerate The 2015 Traffic Signal Retiming Program From 250 Signals To 350 Signals
  5. Establish More Stringent Criteria & Higher Fees For The Closure Of Lanes And Boulevards By Private Development Projects
  6. Speed up Public Sector Construction Projects By Extending Work Hours And Reducing The Duration Of Construction On Major Roadways.

Mayor Tory will also head up a co-ordination committee to ensure that conflicts between construction projects, service closures (such as subway shutdowns), and major events are avoided.

This all sounds good, in the tub thumping way one might expect of a former radio talk show host for whom the details are always someone else’s problem. What are the likely benefits? Will people actually see an improvement in their travel times?

Noticeable by its absence is any reference to Transit Signal Priority. Reduced congestion will help all road users, including transit, but there are transit-specific improvements that should be addressed.

There are three vital points that must be acknowledged for any plan to address traffic:

  • Congestion is a GTHA-wide issue that extends deeply into both Toronto’s suburbs and into the 905 regions beyond. Tinkering with a few streets downtown will not address the vast majority of the problem, but too much of the discussion seems to focus on this small part of the road network.
  • Congestion does not affect only a few peak hours a day, but a much broader period including weekends. The trucking industry, for example, is an all day operation affected just as much, if not more, by “off-peak” congestion as it is during the official “rush hours”.
  • No congestion-fighting regime is possible without a clear philosophy regarding the use of street space. If every squeaky wheel gets an exception for their business, their attraction, then “congestion fighting” is little more than a quaint slogan.

Toronto must recognize that we cannot “fix” congestion with a few tweaks here, a bit of new technology there. Always there is the sense that we can get “something for nothing”, that our problems will go away without someone making a sacrifice. That’s the sort of dream world that brings us tax-free service improvements and rapid transit construction with mythical pots of other people’s money.

The solutions, such as they may be, to congestion downtown will be very different from those in the suburbs, and a one-size-fits-all approach transplanted between locations will not work.

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Building the Connection to Leslie Barns (Updated December 8, 2014)

Progress continues, albeit slowly, on the Leslie Street connection. Much of the utility work is now completed, and a finished road, including streetcar track, is starting to appear in some blocks.

December 8, 2014

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