Memo To Toronto Planners

This article has been “in the hopper” over the weekend while I worked on other things, and even managed some non-transit entertainment lest my readers despair that I ever leave the keyboard behind. Royson James in The Star beat me to getting the idea out with his own article “Time for Councillors to Ask Tough Transit Questions” yesterday. I have questions too, and some of them will not be easy to answer.

A mountain of reports descended on Council for a bit of light weekend reading when City Planning released its March update on transit plans. I have already commented on the main report over at Torontoist, and more recently on the demand studies, land use assumptions and Relief Line alignment here on my own site.

Council has my sympathy, up to a point, but the sheer volume is, like deferred TTC maintenance, the product of dodging a hard, detailed debate about transit priorities for years, and substituting populist “I deserve a subway” rhetoric.

Here are questions Councillors should be asking of the planners. It’s a long list, but there are a lot of gaps in the reports, despite their volume.

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Transit Network Analysis, SmartTrack and the Mysteries of Future Growth

Among the many reports (scroll down to the bottom of this document for links) coming to Toronto’s Executive Committee on March 9 is a short paper on Transit Network Analysis, three detailed demand projections and a paper about  Growth Assumptions. Although this has the neutral title Population and Employment Projections, it is in fact a review of the effect of SmartTrack on development in the Greater Toronto Area. The main report is titled Commercial & Multi-Residential Forecasts For The Review Of SmartTrack.

The paper is authored by the Strategic Regional Research Alliance, or SRRA, whose primary focus is real estate market tracking and projection. This organization (or its principals) were involved in the reports leading to the original SmartTrack plan in now-Mayor Tory’s campaign, specifically:

A fundamental premise running through all three papers, and perpetuated in the SmartTrack proposal, was that downtown Toronto was more or less fully built-out, and that future commercial growth would occur primarily in two major centres outside of the city, the large area around Pearson Airport and an equally large area around Markham. The potential for additional growth within Toronto itself was regarded as low, and therefore major expansion of the rapid transit network would focus on the two big suburban nodes.

At the Mayor’s direction, SRRA was retained as a consultant to the planning work now underway by the City of Toronto. This raised eyebrows both at Council for the crossover from a campaign support role to consultant, and also at Metrolinx where SRRA’s principal, Iain Dobson, had been appointed to the Board during the latter days of Glen Murray’s term as Ontario Minister of Transportation.

Although there is reason to take the new SRRA report with a grain of salt, the document makes interesting reading including a shift in some of SRRA’s outlook compared to their earlier work.

Which Land Use Model is Toronto Actually Using?

This report is supposed to be background to the overall planning study coming to Executive, but its focus is exclusively on the effects of SmartTrack. There is little mention of the development effects of other initiatives including the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE), the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Also, in part because ST and the GO/RER proposal cover the same territory and share stations, it is unclear how much change to development patterns occurs specifically due to SmartTrack and how much to the two services operating in one corridor.

Other background studies examine ridership effects of various combinations of SmartTrack, the SSE and the Relief Line, and these clearly must have an underlying land use, population and job location model. How this was developed or relates to the SRRA study is not clear.

That said, for the remainder of this article, I will concentrate on the SRRA text and its underlying assumptions.

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