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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The Dubious Planning Behind SmartTrack (Part I)

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:

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.

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John Tory Launches SmartTrack Study

At the December 5 meeting of Toronto’s Executive Committee, Mayor Tory walked a motion onto the floor to launch a study process for SmartTrack in conjunction with various agencies and consultants. Of particular interest is paragraph 2:

2. City Council authorize the City Manager to retain the following specialized services to support the review of the SmartTrack plan:

a. the University of Toronto to support the planning analysis and required transit modeling;

b. Strategic Regional Research Associates for assessing development scenarios along the SmartTrack alignment; and

c. Third party peer reviewers of all SmartTrack analysis.

Paragraph 2.b refers to an organization, SRRA, which has been involved in proposals that evolved into SmartTrack before. Iain Dobson, a member of the Metrolinx Board, is listed as a co-founder of SRRA in his bio on their website. He is also listed as a member of the Advisory Board to the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute.

I wrote to Metrolinx asking whether Dobson has a conflict of interest with the consulting work contemplated by Tory’s motion and his position on the board. Here is their reply:

Metrolinx has strong policies guiding Board directors and employees on conflict of interest

• This matter has arisen today and discussions are underway to determine what is the appropriate course of action, after gathering and considering the facts

• In considering this, the most important factor is protecting the public interest

• While a final direction is being determined, the Board director will not be involved in discussions involving Regional Express Rail and SmartTrack

[Email from Anne Marie Aikens, Manager, Media Relations]

Background reports that led to SmartTrack can be found on the Canadian Urban Institute’s website and on the SRRA Research site.

What is striking, in brief, is that SmartTrack arose from a desire to link many potential development sites, some on the fringes of Toronto, while ignoring large spaces in between. Moreover, the claimed ridership is based on a high level of commuter market penetration and a level of service more akin to the core area subway system than to suburban nodes.

I will review these papers in a future article.

Presto Permutations

This article arises from a comment in a related thread by Richard White in which he reported a misinformed remark by a Presto passenger rep on car 4403:

I asked about the transfer situation and she said and I quote. “He (Steve Munro) is wrong. You don’t always need a transfer. You only need it when getting on buses” Then I asked her about transfer on streetcars.

She said “Oh yea.. you need it on the old cars too.. but not on the subways. He is wrong because he did not ask about the subways. You do not need a transfer if you are going to the subway!”

Well, for the benefit of people who don’t know Toronto’s transit system well, here are all of the permutations of when one might, or might not, require a transfer or fare receipt. The situation will change substantially if the TTC implements either of the proposed fare structure changes for 2015: a two hour timed-based fare and/or PoP across the entire system with all-door loading even on routes that are not Presto-equipped.

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