At its meeting of March 31, 2016, Toronto Council passed several motions relating to the proposed rapid transit plan for the city.These evolved first as a set of staff recommendations, then amendments at the Executive Committee and finally amendments at Council. The changes along the way give a sense of how the attempt at a general approach taken in the new transit plan by staff can be warped into an emphasis on individual projects while losing sight of the overall purpose. This is not new in Toronto’s political theatre, but the city and region are at a crucial time when the “big picture” of the transportation network is essential. The challenge for those who would lead this process is to find a responsible balance between wider priorities and local concerns without making every decision only on political merits.
Many of these motions involve requests for additional reports, and at one point there was some concern about whether city staff could actually handle the workload. One might ask whether the city should be making such important decisions if staff are unable to produce sufficient background material and simply want approval trusting their recommendations. While studying issues to death is a well-known delay tactic, rushing decisions without all the details is a classic method of railroading through decisions the city might regret later. There is certainly nothing wrong with asking for a more thorough study of items that have been omitted, provided that the same requests do not surface over and over again.
If anything, Council has been woefully underinformed on transit options, priorities and tradeoffs, and such an environment “debate” often has little to do with the real world. Will every Councillor read every page of every study? No, but at least the material will be there to answer questions, support the good ideas and counter the dubious schemes. We hear a lot about “evidence based planning”, but this can be a double-edged sword where “evidence” might not support fondly-held proposals.
This article groups Council’s motions by topic so that readers do not have to sort through the relationship of recommendations and amendments.
Staff made the following recommendations (1.a to 1.c) and these were amended at Executive Committee on a motion by Councillor Palacio (1.b.i). The main recommendation is to nail down the definition of just what “SmartTrack” will be with the intent that Council would approve a specific concept in June 2016. The amendment relates to the possible SmartTrack station on the Weston rail corridor at St. Clair & Keele which is included in both surviving station configurations (C and D). The station is in Palacio’s ward.
The decision to drop options A and B is a major blow to SmartTrack because it substantially reduces the level of service that would be provided, and relegates “SmartTrack” to being little more than GO trains with a few extra stops. Needless to say, this is not the interpretation put on things by Mayor Tory who spins the motion as a Council endorsement for his signature plan.
1. City Council request the City Manager and Metrolinx to finalize the technical and planning analysis phase for SmartTrack and prepare background studies required for Transit Project Assessment Processes (TPAPs), by completing the following: [Staff except 1.b.i]
a. review the approved environmental assessment for the Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre (MACC) and Pearson Airport to optimize design, and remove the heavy rail options on the western corridor from further consideration;
b. complete the analysis for SmartTrack/GO RER integration options C and D, and remove from consideration the Separate and Parallel SmartTrack option, option A and option B, as defined in table 3 in the report (March 3, 2016) from the City Manager, the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning; and
i. that the St. Clair West Station being recommended in the integrated GO RER/SmartTrack Options C and D be further considered within the context of the ongoing employment growth in the immediate area, and the purpose of the St. Clair Avenue West (EROW) and St. Clair Avenue Study; and [Added at Exec/Palacio]
c. report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee and June 28, 2016 Metrolinx Board meetings with the recommended SmartTrack concept.
GO-RER is a Metrolinx project over which City Council has little control. The Executive Committee and Council added three motions to the original staff recommendations asking that City Staff and Metrolinx take certain considerations into account.
At Executive, Councillor Thompson asked specifically about a grade separation between the GO-RER/ST corridor in Scarborough and Progress Avenue in his ward. This is only one of the locations where a grade separation will be required.
2. City Council direct the City Manager to request Metrolinx to assess the requirement for grade separation at Progress Avenue as part of the infrastructure required by the Province to implement Regional Express Rail (RER) in the City of Toronto and include the results of the review as part of the RER costs and associated municipal impacts to be included in the June 28, 2016 report to Executive Committee.
At Council, Councillor Crisanti wanted to ensure that frequent service extends beyond Mount Dennis where the SmartTrack service would, originally, have veered off to Pearson Airport via Eglinton Avenue. In fact, the GO-RER service (which is all that is left of SmartTrack in northern Etobicoke) will operate frequently to Bramalea. Whether there will be a stop at Woodbine Racetrack remains to be seen.
7 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Carried)
1. City Council request the City Manager and Metrolinx to consider:
a. that service levels north of Mount Dennis on the Kitchener GO Corridor, should be similar to the service levels proposed under SmartTrack/Regional Express Rail integration options C and D, in order to provide improved service to northern Etobicoke; and
b. including an additional station in the vicinity of the Woodbine Racetrack in the GO Regional Express Rail Program.
Also at Council, Councillor Palacio added a motion regarding the other GO crossing in his ward at St. Clair & Caledonia (the former CN St. Clair Station). On this subject, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat advised that the location was not considered as one with high potential for growth. The Barrie line does not currently include this as a station location, and a new stop is already planned 2km further north at the connection to the Crosstown LRT.
10 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Cesar Palacio (Carried)
1. City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to further consult with GO Transit Regional Express Railway on the feasibility of implementing the Caledonia/St. Clair GO Transit Station on the Barrie GO Transit Line, in view of the ongoing employment growth and economic revitalization in the area due to the St. Clair Avenue Study, the Exclusive Right of Way, and the five-year Official Plan Review of the north-west quadrant of St. Clair Avenue West and Calendonia Road, and request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report back to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee Meeting.
Scarborough Subway Extension
The original staff recommendations regarding the Scarborough Subway Extension were:
3. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, to complete the review of corridor options and related work for the Scarborough Subway Extension, and in doing so:
a. remove the Bellamy corridor from further consideration;
b. remove the Scarborough Express Rail (SmartSpur) from further consideration;
c. [See Eglinton LRT section below]
d. report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee on Part c above, along with a recommended preferred corridor and alignment.
These were passed with one amendment adding text to clause 3.d on a motion by Councillor Josh Matlow:
… that includes an update, in consultation with Metrolinx, of Item CC39.5 Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions presented to the October 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2013 meeting of City Council, to determine whether all or portions of the Scarborough Subway Extension could be built at-grade along with the number and location of stations.
The effect of this is to keep alive the idea that the subway could be built on a surface alignment using the RT corridor. Replying to a question from Matlow, TTC staff stated that the cost of surface vs tunnel construction was $80m/km vs $150m/km. This statement is misleading in that it only speaks to the running structure and does not include trains or stations. The basic points have been made before, but a definitive TTC report on the subject would sort out exactly what design they have in mind when making claims about this option.
- An RT corridor alignment will require a large loop track to bring the subway from its east-west orientation at Kennedy Station to a north-south one in the RT corridor. Building a new Kennedy Station on the new alignment is no longer considered a viable proposition.
- “Surface” construction would only apply to a section from north of Kennedy to south of Ellesmere Station with the remaining structure underground. For the east-west section, cross streets are too close together between the railway corridor and STC for the line to surface. TTC staff claim that only 1.4km of the line would be on the surface, but do not explain why this number is so low given the almost 4km run from Eglinton to Ellesmere.
Staff recommended taking the Eglinton LRT to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, and also proposed that Avenue Studies (detailed reviews of specific sections of major roads) be identified to set the stage for development along the LRT line. The Chief Planner confirmed that the City is working with Metrolinx to expedite both the eastern and western extensions, although more work is required on the west side to finalize the design. She also noted that for the Crosstown West, work is underway to determine where the line should terminate – at the airport or at the Mississauga Corporate Centre as in the SmartTrack scheme.
2.c. develop recommendations to integrate the proposed optimized Eglinton East LRT into the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus secondary plan; and identify areas in need of an Avenue Study to facilitate intensification along the proposed LRT corridor in consultation with the Toronto Transit Commission, Metrolinx and the University of Toronto.
At Executive Committee, Councillor Ainslie added a recommendation that staff work out a “expedited” plan for the Crosstown East, and that the TTC revisit plans for bus service in his ward. Also, at Council, Ainslie moved that staff consider “enhanced” bus service to the Zoo. At Council, Councillor Mihevc amended the clause to specify “by 2021, if at all possible”.
4. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to work with Metrolinx to create an expedited project delivery schedule for the Eglinton Crosstown East LRT by 2021, if at all possible, and report to the June 28, 2016 meeting of Executive Committee.
5. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission Board to request the Toronto Transit Commission to add to its service plan the north-south bus route designed for Ward 43 in 2010, considered at its Board meeting on March 24, 2014 for further study, to facilitate ridership to support for the Eglinton Crosstown East LRT.
6b – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Paul Ainslie (Carried)
1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission Board to request Toronto Transit Commission staff to report on a possible enhanced bus service from the Eglinton Crosstown East LRT to the Toronto Zoo as a destination.
At Council, Councillor Mihevc moved a complementary motion about project timing for the Crosstown West.
2b – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Joe Mihevc (Carried)
1. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to work with Metrolinx to create an expedited project delivery schedule for the Eglinton Crosstown West LRT by 2021, if at all possible, and report to the June 28, 2016 meeting of Executive Committee.
Also at Council, Councillor Cho moved that staff report on the cost of extending the LRT line beyond UTSC to Malvern Centre. As the Crosstown is a Metrolinx project and a Malvern extension is not part of the shuffle among existing Scarborough project funding plans, it is unclear where the money to build this will come from. At the least, a number will be on the table so that the idea can be debated in the context of many other claims on transit spending.
Chief Planner Keesmaat noted that a decision on the Sheppard East transit line is not yet settled, and that the Malvern extension would be among the routes reviewed in early 2017 for the 15 year plan.
9 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Raymond Cho (Carried)That:
1. City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee on the cost of extending the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, to Malvern Town Centre.
None of the motions adopted referring to Pearson Airport were in the original Staff recommendations.
At Executive Committee, Councillor Thompson moved that the zone around the airport be incorporated in transit plans. This has been a challenge for years first because the Airport Authority (GTAA) seemed uninterested in transit as an important component of their operation, because the route of an Eglinton or Finch extension (and hence destinations served around the airport) was uncertain, and because SmartTrack completely derailed airport service in exchange for improved access to the Corporate Centre south of the airport itself.
10. City Council request that the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to review and consider the transportation needs of the employment zone surrounding Toronto Pearson International Airport in the development of the transit network plan and transit expansions on projects outlined in the report (March 3, 2016) from the City Manager, the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning.
At Council, the Finch LRT extension was added for study by Councillor Perruzza (with a minor amendment by Councillor Colle as to the reporting data). This motion also picks up on the Woodbine issue raised by Councillor Crisanti.
8 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Carried) as amended by 11 – Motion to Amend Motion moved by Councillor Josh Colle (Carried)
1. City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division, in collaboration with the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission, to study an extension of the Finch West LRT from Humber College to Pearson International Airport, including a review of the opportunity to create an interchange from Kitchener GO corridor in the vicinity of the Woodbine Racetrack, and to report back to the Executive Committee in the first quarter of 2017.
The staff recommendation was passed without amendment, and for now this has put to rest the Queen/Richmond vs King/Wellington debate on the downtown leg of the route. What remains is a decision on whether there will be an attempt to serve the Great Gulf/Unilever site with the RL, or only with SmartTrack. Again, the challenge here is that “SmartTrack” is not an extra service in its own right, only the GO-RER service planned for the Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors. Counting only on “SmartTrack” could short change this important future growth centre.
6. City Council approve Pape to Downtown via Queen/Richmond as the preferred corridor for the Relief Line project and request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning in consultation with the Toronto Transit Commission to report the preferred alignment and stations to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee.
The staff recommendation was passed without amendment.
7. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee with an update on the Waterfront Transit Reset Study.
The most important amendment was proposed by Councillor Perks and adopted with the Mayor’s support, a highly unusual situation for Perks and Tory. It directs City and TTC staff to report on the effect many new projects will have on City finances, and also requires than any new or amended agreements with Metrolinx come to Council for approval. Far too much work has been going on out of sight, and tradeoffs are made at the staff level (notably on fare policy and governance) without political debate. Toronto (and 905 municipalities) could end up bearing unexpected costs, or could face de facto policy changes that have been negotiated at a staff level.
Perks argues Toronto should not surrender control of tools such as service standards and fare policy and revenue to Metrolinx, and that their recent treatment of issues related to major construction on the GO corridors show they should not have additional responsibilities.
1 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Gord Perks (Carried)
1. City Council direct the City Manager in consultation with the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Executive Committee on June 28, 2016 information regarding the capital and operating cost sharing discussions related to the following projects and initiatives, and report any terms and conditions for City Council consideration in order to protect the City’s policy and fiscal interests, prior to entering into any new or amended agreement with the Province and Metrolinx:
a. Metrolinx Light Rail Transit Program
c. Eglinton West LRT and Eglinton East LRT extensions
d. Scarborough Subway Extension
e. Relief Line
f. Regional Express Rail/ GO Transit Capital including grade separations
g. Fare Policy
No motions spoke to the question of demand models, but the Chief Planner confirmed that updated numbers based on the proposed network would be included with the June 2016 reports. The follow-up question “what would happen to the plan if the model did not show the expected performance” was not asked. This is a critical question for SmartTrack, the Scarborough Subway and the Relief Line because claims about their relative importance were based on a SmartTrack service level that will not be provided, and on the presumption that TTC fares would be available on a service running in the GO corridors.
Exactly what “Fare Integration” means will not be known until Metrolinx reports in June. This begs the question of how one can model travel behaviour when fares are known to be a key determinant of rider behaviour. Deputy City Manager John Livey stated that discussions between the City, TTC and Metrolinx are ongoing, and that he will report and comment on Metrolinx fare integration proposals in June.
TTC Chair Josh Colle warned that a June date may be premature because work between the TTC and Metrolinx is still ongoing. On the contrary, to me this is a topic that has hidden out of sight for too long and Toronto riders could find themselves locked into new, higher fares thanks to secret negotiations. Council needs to review the available options and set clear guidelines for staff, especially considering that the Board who should do this work, the TTC, continues to avoid the issue.
Long Range Planning
The staff recommendation adds the transit plan into the fiscal planning pot. This is a procedural move to ensure that Council has actually approved the plan in principle as part of the overall fiscal framework.
8. City Council direct the City Manager and the Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer to include the transit network plan priorities for the next 15 years in the inventory of projects for funding consideration in the development of the City’s fiscal plan.
At Executive, Councillor Pasternak managed to get his pet project, the Sheppard-Downsview subway link, added to the overall list of future projects for review in the fall. The real question here is whether staff will finally say “this project is a non-starter” and be supported by Mayor Tory, or if the plan will be gerrymandered to keep the Councillor happy.
The “Feeling Congested?” exercise by City Planning underlines the actual development patterns of Toronto because it highly ranks new routes downtown – the Relief Line and Waterfront transit.
11. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, and the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission to include in their Fall 2016 re-evaluation of all candidate projects using “Feeling Congested?” criteria, a cost range and funding options for an environmental assessment for the Downsview Station – Sheppard -Yonge Line connection as outlined in Communication EX13.3.8.
Also at Executive, Councillor Shiner moved a report request to get a more explicit link between transit priorities and the plans for growth centres around the City. A not-so-subtle aspect of this discussion will be the very high growth rate in downtown as compared to the regional centres like STC.
12. City Council direct the City Manager to report to the Executive Committee by the end of 2016 on potential projects to be included in phase two of the City’s Transit Network Plan, such plan to include priority transit projects which connect urban growth centres across the City, in order to address the intensification that had already occurred and to ensure that the City’s transit planning keeps pace with the development of the City’s Urban growth centres.
Shiner was also concerned that future plans address areas of traffic congestion. The Chief Planner replied that there are already 25 projects identified and the next phase of work will set the priorities among them. This dodges the question a bit because a basic problem in the GTHA is that many potential transit corridors do not address severe suburb-to-suburb congestion. Toronto, of course, is only able to plan for routes within its boundaries.
At Council, Councillor Holyday asked that City Planning undertake a detailed study of the Eglinton West corridor. He argued that land use plans should be in place before the City settles on a transit plan. Amusingly, he referred to the “rural” nature of Etobicoke and was unconvinced that Eglinton was the best way to connect to the airport.
3 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Stephen Holyday (Carried)
That City Council direct to the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to commence a comprehensive planning framework review for the Eglinton Avenue West corridor from Mount Dennis to the Etobicoke Creek to articulate the future of this linear tract and catchment area, along with an integrated approach to the community’s long term vision, such review will:
a. build upon and extend the work of Eglinton Connects and the Mount Dennis Nodal Study, and better inform land use, transportation and transit planning with an aim to define specific future growth potential;
b. include, but not be limited to, Official Plan designations, zoning bylaws, Avenue overlays where they exist, a market feasibility study, nodal opportunities, roads, infrastructure and public realm associated with transit and transportation infrastructure investments, and an enhanced public communication and consultation process; and
c. incorporate Eglinton Avenue West itself, and significant points of potential such as plazas, apartment lands infill sites, and under-utilized sites within 750 metres of transit along the avenue.
Also at Council, Councillor Ainslie asked for a report on the possibility of an Avenue study for the Kingston Road area. This makes explicit a request for an area (as did other motions) even though there is a general staff recommendation (2.c above) addressing this issue.
6a – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Paul Ainslie (Carried)
1. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to include in her report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee meeting whether an Avenue Study in the vicinity of Kingston Road from Celeste Drive (Guildwood GO Station) to the intersection of Kingston Road and Old Kingston Road is beneficial given the impacts to the area.
Public Consultation and Process
The important motions here were amendments at Council to ensure that all reports for these complex issues be issued well ahead of their consideration by Executive Committee and Council, and that a special Executive meeting be called with only the transit plan on the agenda. These arise from a sense by many Councillors that information appears at the last moment, and yet major decisions are expected from politicians.
Whether all of the material will be available in time, and whether it will address all of the outstanding questions, is quite another matter. The next Metrolinx Board meeting is scheduled for the same day as the next Executive Committee meeting, although that conflict will be resolved if there is a separate session just for the transit reports. However, some issues require Metrolinx input, and policy options would likely not be made public before they go to the Metrolinx Board unless the Minister and the Mayor decide to pre-empt debate with a press conference.
9. City Council direct the City Manager, the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to undertake additional consultation and stakeholder engagement with respect to the transit network plan and rapid transit expansion projects outlined in the report (March 3, 2016) from the City Manager, the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, in advance of the June 28, 2016 report to Executive Committee.
13. City Council direct the City Manager and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to forward the report and appendices (March 3, 2016) from the City Manager, the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B and the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to Metrolinx for consideration in the review of the Regional Transportation Plan (“The Big Move”), and Regional Express Rail planning.
4 – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Josh Matlow (Carried)
2. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to release all reports identified for the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee on or before June 14, 2016.
3. City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to hold one public information meeting between June 14, 2016 and June 27, 2016 regarding all reports identified for the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee.
5b – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Janet Davis (Carried)
That City Council request the Chair of the Executive Committee to call a special meeting of the Executive Committee to consider the Toronto Transit Network reports and related matters, on a date prior to June 28, 2016 as determined by the Chair.