Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.

With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.

There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.

This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.

Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:

“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]

This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.

The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.

A few illustrations in the announcement show the guideways in various environments where they are claimed to be unobtrusive, but this was the first of many times the government would always show the elevated system in a way that minimized the visual impact. Street running is shown in the middle of Spadina at Harbord (even though this location was not part of the proposed network) and in Thorncliffe Park, as well as a single track guideway in the Exhibition grounds. Never do we see a station with its extra width for platforms, stairs, escalators and landing structures on nearby sidewalks.

This was the grand plan of almost fifty years ago. Imagine where Toronto would be if the focus had been on building with technology the world already had rather than pursuing a boondoggle that cost momentum at a key time when new transit lines could have shaped suburban growth.



20 thoughts on “Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

  1. It almost looks like the line through Scarborough called the Malvern route is on the Gatineau Hydro corridor; plus a connection through the Don Valley, but there’s not that much ‘new’ in possibilities it seems eh?

    Steve: Yes, I thought that you would like the alignment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh, the seventies! The zeitgeist centred around the phrase “technological innovation”. Say that and you were the man behind the curtain, but that was about it. People still fell for it, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a loosely connected historical question. Under the Transit City plan, was there the provision for through service between the Scarborough LRT and the Crosstown (the lines are coloured differently in most illustrations of the plan)?

    Looking back, giving Scarborough the direct connection it wanted to the rest of the city via the Crosstown seems like a small concession to politics, compared to the immense cost of the Scarborough Subway.

    Steve: That’s a bit tricky. When Transit City was first proposed, there was an obvious idea to include a converted SRT in the network, but politically that was thought to be “a bridge too far”. It was one thing to propose a network that wasn’t all subways, but to include in that, in effect, an admission that the SRT had been a bad idea in the first place, this wasn’t going to happen. It would have opened up a battle distracting from the larger idea of a network and focused everything on an SRT/SLRT conversion.

    For a time, the idea of rebuilding the SRT as RT technology stayed on the books, but it was not long until the idea of keeping an orphan line in the middle of a large LRT network didn’t make sense. If the SRT were only rebuilt from Kennedy to McCowan, it was cheaper to leave it “as is”, but the extension was another matter. It would have required an expanded carhouse (McCowan was too small to handle the fleet for a longer line), and there was to be a big LRT carhouse on Sheppard at Conlins that would have served the SLRT, the Sheppard LRT and the Eglinton East LRT. The decision to switch, officially, to LRT on the RT line came along after the fact.

    At that point the question was whether to through-route with Eglinton-Crosstown, or to operate the lines separately. Originally, the scheme was a through route that indeed could have meant a direct, if somewhat lengthy, run from Malvern to the Airport without transferring. TTC planners did not want this operation as they estimated that more service would be needed from Kennedy Station outward to Malvern than on Eglinton, and didn’t want to run a mixed short turn and through service. So the idea was scrapped.

    Other machinations at the time included an attempt by Bombardier to get an untendered contract to “extend” the SRT west to the airport in place of the Eglinton LRT, in effect resurrecting the ICTS line that had been in the provincial plan back in 1972. They were rather hungry for a vote of confidence in their technology which, outside of Vancouver, really never caught on in the world market. That scheme was spiked, but I am sure there are people still involved in the Ontario line who have been hungering to build another RT line in Toronto for years.

    Vancouver is interesting because the Canada Line does not use Bombardier technology. I understand that the specs for the bid were written in such a way that Bombardier would not have a lock on that contract, and as things worked out the vehicle techology is much closer to standard (if miniature) subway cars. These are not interoperable with the existing Skytrain network, but that was not part of the spec.

    Skytrain itself came about because Bill Vander Zalm, the BC Minister in charge at the time, didn’t like streetcars. There was a demonstrator car shipped over from Germany, but it never ran to “demonstrate” anything. Meanwhile in Ontario, there was a deal done between the Conservative government and the folks in BC that Ontario would guarantee performance on any contract the Urban Transportation Development Corporation entered into even though it was an arms-length entity that normally would not have this protection. The legislation was introduced during a minority government and forced through on the threat that if the government were defeated, this would be considered as a vote of non-confidence and it would force an election. That’s how desperate they were to find a market.

    Anybody who thinks that the RT technology was implemented on its merits needs to understand the political pressure brought to bear to get its acceptance and support.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sheer negligence, incompetence, and political pandering since then has left us in the congested mess greater Toronto has been in for quite some time now. Thanks to all the ‘parties’ for F****NG it up so badly for so long.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cancelling the Spadina Expressway to downtown was a mistake. It dumped a lot of downtown bound traffic onto Eglinton backing up from Lawrence congesting local streets. It leaves a missing link in the city network as there is no easy way to/from North/West parts of Toronto. You have to travel via 427/Gardiner or local streets all the way. NorthEast traffic has choice of DVP/Bayview or local streets as best suits their needs.

    Steve: The fact that the 400 south would have destroyed several neighbourhoods enroute to the Gardiner where, by the way, there would be no capacity to absorb the traffic, is a minor concern to you, no doubt.


  6. Steve said: The fact that the 400 south would have destroyed several neighbourhoods enroute to the Gardiner where, by the way, there would be no capacity to absorb the traffic, is a minor concern to you, no doubt.

    My further comment/reply is: Not necessary for it to be a 400 style highway. The Spadina Expressway could have been continued southward in the style of Black Creek which isn’t as disruptive to a neighbourhood with easier access on/off and slower speed and less noise than a highway.

    Same thing could apply right now to extending Black Creek southward from Weston Rd to overcome congestion through the Junction to points south and east inc. Parkside Drive to Lakeshore.

    Steve: Those roads already exist — Weston, Keele, Parkside. If you plan to “extend” anything, you must also plan to widen the existing streets which will be challenging given the location of buildings along the route.

    Spadina could not have been extended as a narrower road further south without causing a jam-up of traffic coming from the north.

    You have probably never looked at the expressway plans for Toronto from the 50s, but preserving neighbourhoods was not a top priority. That’s why the plan was killed.


  7. Steve, thank you so very much for the history of the SRT. It seems like neither politicians nor voters learn from the mistakes of the past.

    I have in the past offered some solutions for the current, so- called “obsolete” SRT (which overall seems to be performing incredibly well).

    I had previously suggested a couple of ideas for replacing the SRT – upgrading to a newer mode of linear induction; converting to LRT. But, not my top preferences, replacement of the SRT by the SSE, for which I prefer the 3 station version as long as Queen’s Park pays for all of it.

    Raymond said: “Cancelling the Spadina Expressway to downtown was a mistake. It dumped a lot of downtown bound traffic onto Eglinton…”

    I totally disagree. I drive that area regularly. However, the City needs to protect the neighbourhood southwest of Eg-Bathurst to keep rush-hour traffic out, especially with the Crosstown construction underway.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now, granted, the Bill Davis days were obviously not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but looking back they sure seem to have been better than some of the times that have come and gone since then. The best example I can think of is when Harris was Premier. I’ve always referred to his so-called common sense revolution as the common nonsense revolution. lol

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Response to Mike:

    By the time I started following the debate, which is close to a decade now, the reason SRT was not connected to ECLRT [was that there were] too many riders on the Scarborough portion – although it seems to be a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario.

    There were two option for Eglinton – either grade-separated or on-street:

    1) If Eglinton is on-street, the number of passengers staying on a connected SRT/ECLRT would be so large that the on-street LRT could not handle it. The whole thing would have bogged down and the Eglinton stretch would have become so slow and unreliable. The only solution to this was to force everyone off the SRT and onto B-D to lower demand on ECLRT. Of course, this forces all passengers through the critical Y-B station – basically the same result we are getting now with the B-D extension to Sheppard.

    2) If Eglinton is grade-separated, the passengers could stay on ECLRT and go all the way across Toronto. They would have the opportunity to transfer to the Yonge Line, the Spadina Line and the Relief Line. Yes, this would have been the plan to consider if a Relief Line to at least Eglinton was anywhere in the plans. This would also more evenly distributed the transfers between Y-B and Y-E stations.


  10. One of the other things that stuck out to me in that 1972 statement from Bill Davis was the section titled “Staggered Or Flexible Working Hours”.

    How many times has that idea been thrown around since then? The TTC’s suggested that numerous times over the years to try to shave peak crowds on the subway. More recently they’ve been making that request due to the pandemic to try and avoid peak hour crowding in general. The question is, now, due to COVID-19, are employers going to be flexible about this once things start to subside?

    The maps in the 1969 plan posted by Greg Gormick plus the ones in the 1972 statement are depressing. If some of those lines had been built using technology that was readily available then be it private right of way streetcars or subways, the mess that Toronto’s in now wouldn’t be nearly as bad. Also, notice the TTC chairman in the 1969 plan was Ralph Day. I thought that name was familiar so I did some checking. It’s the same Ralph Day who was the mayor in 1938 who appears in a press photo out there of the ribbon cutting on St. Clair when PCC cars were introduced.

    One last thought on the Bill Davis statement: Hamilton’s the WRONG place in Ontario to try piloting anything new. Even in 2020, there’s a large section of the population there that’s still angry about having to buy a new TV set to get CHCH in colour and lamenting that cars don’t come with tail fins anymore, and the more recent debate about LRT is pretty indicative of where a lot of the local thinking is. They don’t want any modern public transportation there. That’s such a forward thinking tech hub Kitchener-Waterloo thing that would detract from the offgas flares at the mills or PCBs seeping into the lake from the site of the demolished capacitor factory.


  11. Ralph’s Day Job was running a funeral parlor; staggered hours.

    I don’t recall Doug actually ASKING anyone in Hamilton whether they wanted an LRT. It was during his money saving blitz that included the minimum wage and nursing home inspections.

    “Promises made, promises kept.” We don’t hear that one today, for some reason, and we sure won’t hear it in the future, when The Ontario Line and the Scarborough subway promise are dropped off The Bluffs.


  12. So returning to the map in Scarborough – is it that very Wide and Long Gatineau corridor or is it maybe an existing rail line that my sense says it isn’t, ie. too far north?

    For the billions in possible savings from surface transit or minimal cut/cover, (perhaps with the burial of a hydro line and re-imagining one to be an easily solar-inputted line), surely we can have a good explanation of the ‘why’ it isn’t used, even for Scarborough alone/401 Relief?

    Steve: Yes, it is the Gatineau corridor. This is mentioned explicitly in the plan on the page immediately following the map. Interestingly the Finch corridor is described as being along Finch Avenue, not in the Hydro right-of-way which runs into problems at the west branch of the Don River.

    Burying a Hydro transmission corridor of this capacity is far from cheap and brings maintenance issues that do not exist for overhead lines.


  13. Thanks for that gentle reply on Gatineau being in text; RFM as it were, but I’m kinda pressed on some other s(hi)tuff, some of it my own of course. With the costs of doing a different hydro line:
    – we could likely use some renewable resiliency in hydro tower lines in case of an ice storm;
    – we have climate goals to begin to adopt and there’s a LOT of roof in Solarborough;
    – we are likely to have some big-project desire for make-work for machines/men;
    – and any project like this would be likely cheaper than doing anything nuclear, plus not radioactive for millenia.
    And maybe we could have a renewable-powered transit ride, catching up with Calgary? Alas, our energy/climate policy is about aligned with the transit/transport policy – pretty awful, even ahead of Mr. Ford becoming Premier, and yup, Fordwards was/is backwards.I hope someone, somewhere, gets digging in to what Medical Officers of Health have said about climate change.


  14. Steve: Bill Davis had a plan.

    What good is it now that it has been confined to the dustbins of history? Dalton McGuilty had a plan too, it was called the BIG Move. What happened to it? After all the money that Dalton McGuilty wasted to pay for his multi-billion dollar scandals, there was no money left to implement any plans.

    Steve: That’s my whole point. It’s easy to have press conferences and announce plans, but they are built on sand.


  15. Gord: What good is it now that it has been confined to the dustbins of history? Dalton McGuilty had a plan too, it was called the BIG Move. What happened to it? After all the money that Dalton McGuilty wasted to pay for his multi-billion dollar scandals, there was no money left to implement any plans.

    That is the difference between Liberals and Conservatives. Liberals only plan but Conservatives actually build.

    Steve: Mike Harris killed a subway expansion plan for Toronto. McGuinty and Wynne built the Spadina extension and the Crosstown, a project Ford inherited, as well as getting the Finch LRT started to a point that Ford did not cancel it. Your comment is a great sounding slogan, but totally out to lunch.


  16. And we’ve just gotten to 417 ppm CO2; highest in 17,000,000 years apparently. Maybe we should start counting concrete usage in cities and in projects? And think of surface triage ASAP and not mega-projects in a decade, maybe, and likely in the wrong place(s)?


  17. ICTS cost more than many other systems with similar capacity.

    TTC was forced to build the SRT.

    Montreal new REM (first section to open in 2021 the rest in 2023) is a different ICTS and probably cheaper.

    Metro Vancouver keep extending its SkyTrain but the “truth” is hidden.

    Any rail system could survive if you continue spending lots of money on it. Underground subways are very expensive to construct in the 21st century when London and NYC build their underground network it was way cheaper and easier, so that’s why Montreal REM looks very promising.

    Adding bus lanes and busways is a cheap way to get more out of our buses and increase ridership.


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