Can Toronto Still Be A Transit City?

As someone whose blog on transit affairs approaches its fifteenth birthday, I am often asked “so what would you do”. Usually the context is limited – how to improve bus service, which technology should be used for what line, and of course the perennial request to “draw a map”.

All of these are valid up to a point, but a common problem I and anyone else attempting to plan for the GTHA run into headlong is the accumulation of fixed plans that cannot be changed. They are like boulders on the landscape left by retreating glaciers, and they are almost immovable. It does not matter that many of them are invisible — they exist only as promises and dreams, not as actual built and operating systems.

With something tangible, we can at least debate how things might be improved, how they might be better used as part of a regional network. With dreams, we are dealing with egos, often large political ones held tightly, like security blankets, to the chests of politicians who would otherwise be intellectually naked.

A recent article by the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro traces the history of the Scarborough LRT and subway projects through many political twists and turns. This is required reading both as a refresher for long-time followers of the debate and as an essential primer for newcomers on how we got to this sorry point. A summary of the article also appears as a Twitter thread with branches off to other work, notably John Lorinc’ series for Spacing Magazine.

In 2006, I wrote about A Grand Plan, my then-answer to what our network should look like, and I revisited that in various articles over the years. Metrolinx did not yet exist, and the context was the pending creation a regional transit plan that would set the stage for transit expansion in coming decades. We are now in the last days of 2020. The co-ordinated, prioritized, considered plans of Metrolinx’ early days have been replaced by the interventions for political, not planning, reasons. The only questions that matter now are “where are the votes” closely, but more surreptitiously by “where do my friends own property”.

A selection of comments from these articles appears at the end of this post. It is disheartening to think how long we have all been debating these issues and how little has been achieved.

Late in 2004, TTC staff prepared a plan to argue what could be done to improve Toronto’s transit. The then head of planning, Mitch Stambler, bounced ideas off me asking what they might call this plan. I wrote:

“Better Late Than Never” would be a good description for some TTC services, not to mention for a plan that we could actually achieve rather than endlessly debating.

As I said when we chatted last week, it is important that we somehow emphasize that this is something we really can do, and can do in a reasonable timeframe at a cost we might be able to afford. Also, we have to tie this in with the idea that Toronto is growing through transit to support the OP [Official Plan].

As a sidebar, somewhere the plan has to acknowledge that the TTC is NOT the only game in town, and that some of the growth will be handled by other systems, notably GO Transit. What is vital is that we do not repeat the errors of “Network 2001” which planned for lots of growth but ignored the potential contribution of commuter rail. That’s where the so-called justifications came from for the Sheppard Subway and for the scheme to massively expand Bloor-Yonge station.

Somewhere, we have to say that we should not try to handle all of the regional demand on the subway, and that this approach will leave resources (and subway capacity) free to handle comparatively-speaking local demand.

The LRT (or whatever) study needs to acknowledge this context — that it is NOT trying to be a mega solution to all transportation problems of the 416 and 905, but that it is trying to address the growth of population on The Avenues, and more generally in a built form that is not suitable for a network of subway lines.

“Toronto, A Transit City” is generic and it shows the focus we want for overall growth using transit (be it on the Avenues or elsewhere). It’s also broad enough to embrace a larger scheme of studies … “Toronto: Building a Transit City” … which would probably come to be shortened in general parlance as the “Transit City” plan or something like that.

Email to Mitch Stambler, December 29, 2004. Note that the Bloor-Yonge scheme mentioned here was much more heroic, complex and probably impossible to build than the recently-approved version that will add a new eastbound platform to Yonge Station.

That was 16 years ago.

The Short Version

I know perfectly well that some readers want a quick hit, a cut to the chase, and their eyes glaze over when they see that a long epistle awaits. Here are the high points:

  • The Scarborough debate has been entirely about new capital projects and spending, but not about state of good repair and service quality which leads directly to operating subsidies. We need not just one pot of gold to address new builds, but two more to keep and improve the existing systems especially where transit is less competitive and many trips are poorly served.
  • We need to decide what we should achieve with transit. Is it a fundamental investment in mobility for everyone and in the region’s economy, or is it a service for “them”, the people who cannot drive?
  • Are transit promises just to buy votes, and are proposed new lines only to serve well-connected landowners, or is their intent to make lasting, valuable changes for the region?
  • How much are we prepared to spend on transit building, operations and maintenance, and how will this fit with competing demands from other sectors such as health care?
  • Transit should not exist as a mechanism to underwrite an industrial strategy or to develop new technologies, beneficial though they might become. Even “green” technology should not be viewed as inherently good without a commitment to carrying more people by transit and diverting trips from autos. We should not let spending on green transit detract from spending for more and better transit.
  • There is much unmet need for transit in the region, and this should not be held hostage to redevelopment schemes as a pre-requisite to improving the network. People need to travel between many locations, and they should not have to wait for every point in between to sprout towers around new transit stations.
  • Transit construction is often touted for job creation, but could all that work could be distributed among more, less expensive projects rather than one or two megaprojects? Just because we spend billions of dollars and create many short-term jobs in the process, we have not necessarily spent well.
  • The 905/416 border is cited as an obstacle to “regional integration” when the problems it brings are largely questions of revenue allocation and jurisdiction for carrying passengers. These are not difficult problems by contrast to the very different service level found on routes in the 416 versus the 905. Much better funding of transit at the local level is needed to overcome this, especially with buses as the likely way that travel between areas outside of Toronto’s core will be handled for the foreseeable future.
  • Getting around the region is an everywhere-to-everywhere problem, but much transit (even within Toronto itself) is focused on the core to the detriment of travel between outer parts of the city and region. If we are serious about transit as a regional entity, then the ability to travel across the region and between its many parts is as vital as expanding the existing core-oriented rapid transit network.
  • Road space is shared to varying degrees between different groups of users – motorists, transit, freight, pedestrians, cyclists. The most difficult areas to change this balance are typically the most congested because space is at a premium. Improved transit priority is not achieved just by drawing lines on a map, but by detailed review of how streets work and how their use can be rebalanced. Access to transit is as important as service – if riders cannot easily access service, transit cannot serve its purpose.
  • “Governance” is touted as a solution to problems, but it is really code for centralization of power and decision-making. The agency that might have at least provided central coordination, Metrolinx, is a direct tool of government policy with little accountability, cherry picking which services it delivers and leaving local transit systems to muddle through.
  • The question must be asked: has the region already passed beyond a point where transit can become the choice of travel for many, if not most, journeys? Have we delayed or compromised transit improvements for so long that transit can never catch up as a competitive service? Stripped of all political posturing, what is really possible in our transit future? Without honest and transparent planning, we cannot answer any of these questions.

New Projects, State of Good Repair and Operations

The sad history of Scarborough’s transit focuses on the technology choice for what would become the SRT and of routing details for various schemes to add components to the network. Big dollars are involved, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.

Two other funding black holes pose grave threats not just to Scarborough, but to the entire concept of transit as an essential part of Toronto’s mobility.

First is the “state of good repair”. This phrase goes back to the David Gunn era at the TTC and the August 1995 Russell Hill subway crash that claimed three lives. That disaster shattered the TTC’s long-held belief in its own invincible place at the top of transit systems and opened a debate about the spending needed just to keep the system running safely.

The early 1990s were a time of deep recession, and yet the TTC steadfastly maintained that it could make do with diminished financial support by tightening its belt and finding “efficiencies” under the reign of Chief General Manager Al Leach. He left in early 1995 to enter provincial politics eventually in the Harris government. David Gunn succeeded Leach and inherited his legacy including deferred maintenance that led straight to Russell Hill.

Fixing the existing system so that it would not collapse became a fundamental part of TTC planning, but you would never know this from the political fixation on announcing new lines. The scale of this problem was hidden from public view until the TTC published a capital plan with everything on the table whether it had “committed” funding or not. For years it suited Toronto to pretend that its transit capital deficit (planned versus needed spending) was only a few billion dollars, but the TTC report was an eye-opener at over $30 billion.

The second long-ignored area is the need for operating subsidies to run the trains, streetcars and buses. TTC may hold a pride-of-place with a very high farebox recovery of operating costs, sometimes over 70 percent, but that still leaves 30 per cent of what is now a $2 billion annual budget to come from the public purse. That gap has, of course, widened to a cavern thanks to the pandemic and lost revenue while the TTC continues to operate at 85 per cent of full service.

The operating budget does not just pay for service, but for routine inspection and maintenance to ensure that the system remains safe, and that small costs do not turn into big ones thanks to deferred repairs.

The subsidy challenge has another dimension particularly outside of Toronto. Not only is the farebox recovery lower than the TTC’s, the overall level of service in route coverage and frequency does not match levels Toronto riders take for granted. Making the Toronto Region a “transit city” is a daunting task where the transit market share is low and much travel does not lend itself to focused improvements in one or two corridors.

Any plans for the future of transit must contemplate all three major spending areas. Anyone who touts their project – whether it is called the Ontario Line, or SmartTrack, or Transit City, or RapidTO, or Regional Express Rail, or self-driving minibuses – as the single, magic solution is selling snake oil.

What Is Transit Really For?

Before we launch into a discussion of what any transit plan might look like, we must ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish.

Is it a development tool, an investment in regional and local growth?

Are the primary clients really employers who need to get their workers to job sites, stores who need to get customers browsing in their aisles, theatres and stadiums who need bums in seats, schools who need students in classrooms?

Is it a social tool bringing mobility to would-be riders for whom car travel is impractical or impossible?

Is transit something we will build for “us”, or for “them”?

The answers will be very different depending on where you live, what transportation modes you grew up with and how you see the future evolution of travel in the GTHA.

In a political context, is your goal to build mobility options or simply to make promises to voters? Is the goal to move people whose travel is constrained today, or to increase the value of land around new services to the middle of various fields?

How Much Are We Really Willing To Spend On Transit?

“There is only one pot” as critics of public sector spending often chorus. The real debate, of course, is just how wide and deep the well is, and who gets to draw from it first and often. Transit is not alone in clamouring for higher spending. Education, health care, housing and more crowd the field with claims at least as valid as the transit sector.

The fiscal situation in the GTHA for transit was not exemplary even before the pandemic. Yes, billions were announced for new transit lines, and there was hope for a renewal and expansion of GO Transit’s mandate beyond a commuter rail and parking service. However, money to substantively improve transit was thin on the ground with little support from either the provincial or federal governments, particularly for operating subsidies.

Municipalities were on the hook for the lion’s share of costs and big spending on transit was not high on their priority list except, possibly, in Toronto. Even there, the TTC has been forced to make do with limited subsidy growth, barely at inflationary levels.

There are parallels in other sectors. Spending on building something new is seen as an economic stimulant, a way to create construction jobs and the hope for improved services. However, actually operating these services whether in a new hospital, school, public housing project or transit system, that is quite another matter. Toronto absorbed the $30 million annual cost of opening the Spadina Subway Extension into its budget with no support from other governments, and future new lines will likely carve their own operating funds out of money that might otherwise be spent on system-wide improvements.

There is no detailed projection of future transit spending in part because nobody knows how much money will be available under any of the three key areas. Moreover, the creative accounting of privatized transit development and financing under P3s (or “AFP”, alternative finance and procurement) only addresses new builds, not ongoing state of good repair and operations. Even at that, the bloom is off of the P3 rose as the private sector appears less than enthusiastic about taking future spending risk off of the province’s hands.

Just how much money reasonably could be expected for the transit portfolio in coming years? Will we continue to get dribs and drabs with one-time funding announcements, or will we see a sustained revenue stream from something like a dedicated share of sales tax?

The problem has political complexities because spending priorities for major cities vary across the country, and for large chunks of Ontario and Canada, “public transit” is an utterly foreign concept. Add to this the shifting priorities of governments depending on their party stripe after each election, and “stability” is not a word one would associate with transit funding.

Technology Is Not Transit

Transit spending often comes with claims for environmental benefits. The greatest of these is simply to shift motorists out of their cars and onto modes that produce lower emissions for their travel. However, the monetary value of this shift is fairly small, at least as calculated in current analyses. More often, the benefit is stated in the supposed value of time saved by commuters who now have better travel options.

That value cannot be captured or monetized to help pay for new projects, and business cases that depend on it are amusingly socialist in an otherwise capitalist framework seeking “value for money”. We will spend billions because it will save commuting costs for individuals.

Yes, there are other savings such as reduced accidents and their effect on health care costs, as well as the green benefit of carrying riders in something other than private autos. These pale, however, in magnitude to the value of “time saved” and in turn that skews analyses to projects where travel speed is a high priority.

That both downplays the role of local transit service, and places the focus on moving people quickly and, if possible, cheaply.

A well-known technology boondoggle was the development of the “Intermediate Capacity Transit System” (ICTS) by the Davis government. This was to be the transit system of the future providing a network of routes across Toronto and beyond at a cost much below conventional subway construction. Things did not work out as planned, and the development was scrapped after the German government withdrew support from the project. The idea lived on, however, driven by the premise that there must be something cheaper than subways. There was, but nobody wanted to look at it: Light Rapid Transit or LRT, a more digestible term in the political realm than “streetcars on private rights-of-way”.

There is a huge debate about just what “LRT” is and of how bastardized versions (including some in the Transit City plan) have devalued the term, but I will leave that for pitched battles in other forums. The fundamental problem was that all of the hopes for better and more extensive rapid transit in Toronto rested on a new technology that, in the end, did not deliver on its promises of lower cost and reliable service. In the process, an era when spending on transit had political support and was affordable was wasted with little real progress in transit expansion.

At the risk of offending my friends in the environmental movement, I must also turn to “green” technologies including hybrid and battery buses. Both of these draw interest because they promise to reduce transit-related emissions. However, there is a strong risk that money that could have gone to transit improvements will instead be siphoned off for technology development. Green technology has a cost, but spending millions extra to outfit a fleet and charging infrastructure does not necessarily translate to more transit service.

Toronto once had a small network of electric buses serving mainly old industrial districts. Many of these routes were remnants of a once-large streetcar network where conversion from one electric mode to another was quite straightforward. The Lansdowne, Ossington, Weston and Junction routes were all former streetcar lines, while Annette acted as a connector and served the industrial corridor parallel to the CPR North Toronto line. The Yonge and Nortown routes partly covered old streetcar lines, but also might have been part of a larger network including Eglinton West that was never built. The Bay trolley bus was added much later, but had the advantage of being in streetcar territory where electrical infrastructure already existed.

Toronto recycled the electrical equipment from its late 1940s generation of trolley buses into new bus bodies in the early 1970s, a transition made possible by the simple and robust nature of the original technology. Such a scheme is no longer practical because electronic controls evolve by generations within the lifespan of a bus, but this was a tactic that kept trolley buses running in Toronto until the early 1990s.

At that point, there was a proposal to expand the network and buy new vehicles, but it was sabotaged by a combination of forces inside the TTC, at the Ministry of Transportation and in the private sector who embraced natural gas buses as a “green” replacement for the trolley buses. Look! A new way to have the benefits of low pollution without the expense of electrical infrastructure! And so the trolley bus network ended. The natural gas buses did not perform as well as hoped, and they are long-gone from the transit system. To see modern trolley buses in Canada, one must visit Vancouver which has a much larger fleet, including articulated TBs, than Toronto ever operated.

The next technology iteration was the “hybrid” bus that ran with a diesel engine but also included a battery to store energy from braking and to assist during acceleration. These vehicles reduced pollution from engines, but their specs were often compared with older diesels to give a worst-best case view of their benefits. Toronto embraced hybrids thanks to available subsidies. This drove up the average cost per bus, but contributed little to actual fleet and service growth.

In recent years, the TTC reverted to buying “clean diesel” buses because of technical problems with the hybrids, but now hopes are pinned on electric “battery” buses. A small fleet (60) of these is in its trial period with a key winter-weather test in the near future.

All of this spending on green bus technology is nice, as a goal, but it has not expanded the amount of service the TTC operates. Indeed, buying green appears to be more important than either expanding the fleet or making greater use of the fleet the TTC already has. More service would, needless to say, add to subsidy requirements because more buses translate to more drivers and mechanics. Restraining, not expanding, subsidies is the order of the day. We will have green buses, but not enough of them.

Meanwhile on the rail front, Metrolinx claims to going full steam ahead, so to speak, with electrification of its major corridors. This faces several challenges:

  • There are up-front costs for electrification that are required just to launch the first train into service.
  • Corridors that Metrolinx does not own are beyond the scope of the project because CN and CP refuse to allow electrification in their parts of the network.
  • There are performance issues with electric locomotive-hauled trains compared to electric multiple units (the same technology as a subway train). However, GO Transit has a large existing fleet, and a transition to electric operation must include plans to add new equipment and to keep existing equipment running during a long transitional phase.
  • The provincial government has a fascination with hydrogen technology and at one point in the McGuinty era appeared poised to foist this on GO as an alternative to electrification. However, hydrogen is more appropriate for small trains on little-used lines where the cost of an electric distribution system is not warranted, not on main lines running long trains on frequent service. Hydrogen appears to have fallen off of the table as a currently-touted option, but played a role in muddying the technology debate.
  • The level of service GO Transit might actually operate could be in a gray area for investment payback depending on future demand and on the growth, if any, of Metrolinx operating subsidies. Metrolinx’ characteristic silence on details of their plans further complicates any public evaluation.

All of this may sound like a mind-numbing debate for transit technology nerds, and yet too often transit plans are held hostage because somebody has a new technology they want to sell. There are willing ears in government, and much time can be wasted talking about technology rather than about actually building and operating transit service. This is not just a “tail wagging the dog” situation, but one where we risk starving the poor dog by spending all our time and money grooming its hind quarters.

Development and Job Creation Are Not Transit

The value of much proposed transit spending is couched in its “value” either for stimulus of commercial and residential construction, and/or jobs created by construction of new transit lines. There are places where transit and development go hand-in-hand with profits from new buildings and the trips they generate underwriting the transit system.

However, the Toronto region has a huge unmet need for transit which in many locations will be nothing more than better bus service. That will not translate into Honk Kong-like towers and shopping malls. We cannot hold transit expansion and improvement hostage to redevelopment schemes. Where higher order transit is built, there should be reasonable expectation of development that fits with the overall network. We do not need to spend millions making friends of the government rich or gerrymander the transit maps to suit the location of their holdings.

The region contains many built areas that will not redevelop soon, but there is much travel through them on roads today. We should not mistake demand on a line with development immediately adjacent to it. One need only look at the bus-fed subway system in Toronto, or GO Transit’s rail network dependent as it is on parking. Even if all of those lots were replaced by condo towers, this would not improve commuting prospects for those who do not live in walking distance of stations.

This is not to argue against intensification, but to break the assumption that only with intensification can we have transit. Existing demand must be addressed, and that demand is where the buildings and people are today, not where we might wish them to be.

As for construction jobs, the idea of paying people to dig holes long predates subway construction. There is nothing wrong with make-work projects in times of need, but the challenge is what kind of work, and what is the product. If you have a billion dollars or two in your pocket, how might it best be spent to good, lasting effect? If you are evaluating project options, do you automatically reward the most expensive simply because it generates the most work?

We need to understand what transit and transportation needs are, and find how to serve them all, something that does not always involve digging the largest, deepest, longest hole possible.

Falling Off the Edge of the Map

“Regional integration” has been a buzz phrase in transit circles since at least the time of Metrolinx’ creation, but it has an odd ring considering the huge difference in transit’s role within Toronto and outside of it. What this usually translates to is:

  • Getting rid of the fare boundary at the city border. The resentment about paying a second fare is reminiscent of arguments fifty years ago about the elimination of “Zone 2” within what was then Metropolitan Toronto, but with a key difference that residents of the outer zone actually paid taxes that supported the transit system.
  • Integration of services running across the border. This is, in part, a question of jurisdiction and how the 905 agencies choose to organize their routes. The TTC operates some buses outside of city borders on contract, although grumbling about the price they charge has been heard. Cross-border carriage is allowed, but the City of Toronto Act forbids anyone but the TTC from handling local travel within Toronto. This is partly a concern about revenue, and partly one of jurisdiction. With Presto, figuring out who rode where should be comparatively easy. As for jurisdiction that can be settled between municipalities without opening up the whole question of private carriers poaching on the TTC’s turf.
  • A desire for centralization. Metrolinx never tires of lusting after their much larger cousin, the TTC, and will use any excuse no matter how trivial to justify consolidation of local services. The irony, of course, is that Metrolinx has never been interested in local operations. A unified, single agency is not needed to “solve” what are basically trivial problems at the 416-905 boundary. There are far more substantive issues with Metrolinx (and Ontario’s) refusal to integrate its fares and discounts with the TTC.

The biggest problem with “integration” is that service levels and an ongoing commitment to transit expansion vary immensely from one municipality to another with Toronto being well ahead of its 905 neighbours. The lack of provincial support for operating dollars forces municipalities to prioritize transit among competing demands, and in many cases it does not fare well. If Toronto cannot bring itself to aggressively expand and improve transit service, imagine the uphill battle in areas where transit’s market share is much below the TTC’s.

Until there is good quality transit service on the 905 side of the border, integration is a hollow promise.

Does the Network Serve the Region?

The most recent iteration of the Metrolinx regional plan includes a coarse network of rapid bus services. The routes would be widely spaced and would not operate on frequencies that would attract, or indeed could carry, substantial demand. They would be a transit network in name only. Moreover, it is unclear whether these would be truly integrated as part of local transit systems, or would charge separate GO Transit fares as part of a regional network.

A great deal of travel across the region cannot use services whose primary objective is to get people to central Toronto. Metrolinx has no plans for long-haul rapid transit service except on its rail corridors that are radially oriented to Union Station, and yet the unmet travel needs lie elsewhere.

Although there is a handful of regional centres that might become transit hubs, these account for a tiny fraction of potential destinations. Within Toronto, the Planning department dutifully reports on development in various parts of the city, and so-called centres typically show low growth while other parts of suburban Toronto (and of course the core) thrive. Marking a few spots on the map as “centres” may please politicians who think that these may become mini-downtowns, but the actual development, and hence the need for transit, is elsewhere.

This brings us to the “last mile” problem where a combination of poor local transit and a parking-obsessed commuter rail system make transit a difficult option. Trips that begin after the parking lot is full, or after local bus service timed for the inbound peak, are not well served. Neither are counter-peak trips where a rider can have difficulty getting beyond the “regional” network. Again, local transit must exist at a level able to complement the regional trains just as Toronto’s subway depends on a network of bus routes for its passengers. The challenge of providing this service will grow as GO Transit evolves to an all-day frequent service because this cannot work without local networks.

We hear a lot about ride sharing and automated vehicle technology. One depends on small vehicles and a willing operator, rain or shine, and the other on a technology whose promise fades as the complexities of real-world operation emerge. There is a place for demand-responsive service where demand is comparatively light, but this will not address network-wide travel.

Finally there is a difficult question: can transit really compete in all markets? Is there an upper bound of the market share it can reasonably serve? By extension, will large-scale development push the density of demand beyond what cities designed around a mid-20th century view of automobile access can handle?

We already see places in suburban Toronto where the roads are clogged and employers fear they cannot attract riders on the limited available transit. The scheme that became SmartTrack was intended to link workers within Toronto to jobs in Markham and the district south of Pearson Airport making land there ripe for development.

But people who might work in Markham do not just originate to the south, nor do those who might work near Pearson only come from the east. The challenge for regional “centres” like this is to provide service from many origins to serve as many workers as possible, not just those lucky enough to live along a convenient rail corridor.

A huge challenge for transit planning is the everywhere-to-everywhere nature of travel that has developed on the road network, but which is not served by a transit network that focuses on the core of Toronto.

What Are Roads For?

Plans to improve transit inevitably reach a point where we ask for transit-positive choices such as reserved lanes and even segregation for bus rapid transit (BRT). But where do existing road users go? What service level should trigger an entitlement to dedicated road space as opposed to red paint and the hope motorists will stay in their lanes? Are there others such as pedestrians and cyclists whose needs are ignored in the rush for transit priority?

The issues are very different on narrow old streets of Toronto oriented to pedestrian traffic with shop fronts, off peak parking, and cycling, versus wide suburban roads and buildings that invite little pedestrian traffic. A one-size-fits-all solution cannot simply be dropped on every street. Even within Toronto, conditions vary between neighbourhoods. In the 905, BRT and LRT schemes run aground in comparable “old town” areas.

Transit priority is hardest in the areas where it is most needed, where space and capacity are at a premium. Building dedicated lanes is a snap where a wide right-of-way exists or can be created, but lanes alone do not provide service. More lanes can make roads more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians with wider intersections and fast traffic in curbside transit priority lanes. Purpose built roads can move buses, but how do their stations relate to pedestrian traffic and access?

Access to transit is as important as service. What are the walking distances and routes to stops? Can pedestrians navigate these routes or are they there on sufferance, unwanted intruders in an auto-oriented realm? Are stops located where they are useful for riders or for transit operators?

Roads do not just serve transit and motorists. Freight traffic is fundamentally different in its behaviour and access needs to buildings along streets. Much freight cannot “walk” to its destination. Should or can deliveries be shifted off street or to off-peak times? What are the implications for all-day priority schemes if the curb lane cannot be reserved 7×24?

A great deal of planning the use of road space is, or should be, at a micro level. This was essential to the King Street pilot in Toronto, and even that had its rough edges after a detailed, block-by-block review. By contrast, the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside RapidTO project suffered from poor consultation and an arbitrary assumption that fewer stops meant better service. So out-of-touch was the process that the media event launching the red lanes was held at a stop that the project eliminated in the name of efficiency.

Regional planners are used to drawing lines on maps and letting the details work themselves out, but changing the allocation of road space requires much greater attention to how the road works for all of its would-be users.

“Governance” Is Not The Problem

Whenever I hear someone say that if only the “governance” of transit were changed, if only we could centralize decisions all would be well, or so the story goes. This inevitably is followed by a pitch for a scheme that puts the speaker, or the speaker’s close friends, in control.

Centralization will not cure political interference nor will it make a more responsive mega-agency. We have already seen with Metrolinx what happens when a master agency becomes a tool of government policy with all of the power and secrecy this brings.

Without an overall goal for what transit might achieve, any centralized structure left to its own devices will not necessarily produce desired results because nobody knows what the goals are. Indeed, we cannot begin to talk about funding transit and the complex issues of ownership, privatization and alternative service if we cannot or will not first decide what transit should achieve.

For example, Metrolinx would love regional integration of fares, but on their terms – travel further, pay more. That scheme that could work counter to transit equity and would encourage continued auto use for longer commutes even within Toronto where service is comparatively good. Metrolinx is happy to talk about the need for “integration” but without a concrete discussion of its implications for all riders.

Continued on its current path, Metrolinx will continue to expand GO Transit provided they can find someone to pay for this, but they have little interest in the difficult problem of serving trips that do not lie on their rail corridor.

Metrolinx GO expansion plans took various guises for years, but we still do not have a definitive service plan, nor do we have any idea of the upper bound to GO’s capacity? There is a hint of future trouble in Metrolinx’ desire to offload core-bound traffic onto the Ontario Line at Exhibition and East Harbour, but how severe is this problem? Should there be more local service (aka SmartTrack) or a mix of local and express? How critical is electrification to more finely-grained stopping patterns? How can urban stations be part of a local network if trains stop there infrequently?

There is a big issue with service standards even in Toronto, let alone the region. Who gets to decide how often the Queen car shows up and what constitutes “reasonable” service? Is “efficiency” seen as minimizing cost and packing in riders serving only the strongest of demands, or is the goal to provide good service across the region and build transit demand?

Complete decentralization can have its problems too – lack of coordination, inconsistent fare and transfer policies, service level mismatches, and the perennial question of local versus central funding.

What is needed is a way for agencies to work together without starting from “what will it cost me” that works against cooperation. Municipalities that want and need higher quality of service should be able to get it without being held back by others, including the province, who don’t think that they deserve it.

Can We Get There From Here?

Toronto is a car-centric region.

The only regional network we have is GO Transit and that is strongly focused on the core. The almost total collapse of GO’s demand during the pandemic is a testimonial to how little it serves riders going anywhere else. GO’s service model depends on park-and-ride access that serves car owning commuters while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

How can we serve demand that is not going downtown or along major corridors? Can we, should we build subways, skytrains, LRT, BRT everywhere? Should we concentrate on local or regional service? Where does the humble bus fit in the transit technology wars?

Which of the competing visions for GO should prevail between regional and local travel and fares? Should riders pay for what they use or should GO, like the subway, be priced for convenience and attractiveness? How much service is physically possible on the GO network?

All of these questions presume that a transit solution is possible and viable physically, financially and politically.

For decades, planners have fretted about the growth in population and travel demand. Congestion that was once laughingly seen as a “city” problem now strangles the suburbs. Car-oriented planning assumed that there was road space to travel and that all travelers could afford cars. This failed as demand grew and demographics shifted away from the traditional view of suburbs.

Do we simply give up on certain types of trips and leave them to autos? When does inattention to transit lock in a future where transit cannot gain a larger share of the travel market? Have we passed that point already?

We need to understand what we have today and what we can build with it stripped of political posturing and agency turf wars.

What are the physical and operational constraints to better transit of all kinds from buses right up to subways and frequent regional rail service? How wide is the gap between “today” and “tomorrow”? How much will it cost to close that gap? While we spend on expansion, how do we keep existing systems running and improve them? Does every existing plan still work?

This should not require a ten-year study that will report after nobody remembers why we started, or worse provide yet another excuse for inaction.

Factors too often absent from transit planning – technical and political honesty and transparency – are essential.

Looking Back

Past articles included observations that ring true today. I offer this not as an “I told you so” but to avoid having to revisit all of this history with new text. What passes for transit planning in Toronto has been a sorry mess dating back to the oft-sainted Bill Davis who set us on a course of bold promises and little delivery.

March 2006: For too long, we have wrangled over where the next kilometer or two of subway will be built while the region becomes more and more car oriented by default, and the existing transit system dwindles around us. This is no way to build a city.

[…]

We need to know what we can do if only we have the political will to really commit to transit and to break from decades-old models of a future transit system.

September 2006: Current planning remains project-oriented rather than system-oriented with schemes advanced by separate agencies and governments that take little account of alternatives in other jurisdictions.  Funding constraints compound this problem because people talk only about “their” problem, not the region as a whole.

[…]

We have just gone through the exercise of building a new Official Plan where development and transportation fundamentally differ from our old thinking. However, decades-old “approved” transit plans are still alive and will go ahead whether they make sense today or not.  This is nonsensical, and the TTC’s reliance on old plans is counterproductive.

April 2008: [Many transit proposals] … have been around one way or another for some time, but inter-agency rivalry, intergovernmental sloth, and the inability to let go of old, worn-out plans prevented a lot of this from being discussed.

October 2008: Any budgetary cutback discussion must first consider whether to make the “death of 1000 cuts” or to look hard at big ticket items. 

[…]

A major problem lies in the dearth of information Metrolinx has published about the detailed performance projections and roles of each component in the plan.  … There is no way to understand which links are cost-effective, and there is no data for intermediate states (such as after the “first 15” are built) to show whether they are an appropriate use of whatever resources might be available.

February 2010: [Proposing a recipe for a new transit system is difficult] … without first knowing just how much any government, future mayor or council might want to commit to transit, it’s very hard to pick a “solution”.

Indeed, we have seen exactly this conundrum with Metrolinx, a body formed to sort out the details and priorities of MoveOntario2020. With much effort, they whittled a $90bn plan down to $50bn and change, only to find themselves in a recession and a desire by Queen’s Park to limit spending. All the same, having a network view of things is absolutely essential.

January 2011: Now we have a new Mayor in Toronto, and plans that came from years of work and debate lie in pieces on the floor. Metrolinx and Queen’s Park seem content to “plan” by carving up funding that’s already committed and redrawing their map to suit the whims of a new regime at City Hall. The fundamental problem in this exercise is the phrase “funding that’s already committed”. When you draw a map with a half empty pen, you make compromises, and you run out of ink leaving huge areas bereft of service.

If we start with the premise that we cannot afford anything, we should stop wasting our time on planners, engineers and the myth that transit can actually transform travel for the next generation.

November 2011: By now, we could have had a network of LRT lines plus frequent GO service in two or three corridors serving Scarborough. What we got was the Toonerville Trolley to STC.

December 2014: The Big Move is … largely based on locations of existing or likely transportation corridors such as the railway network. As already noted, this was the force behind industrial, goods-oriented, transportation and land use, not commuting. New rapid transit lines, wherever we may build them, inevitably suffer from limitations in the connectivity they can provide between a dispersed workforce and development nodes, to the degree that these exist throughout the region.

The core area is served by a combination of GO Transit commuter rail lines and a subway network that stretches out as a funnel bringing workers into a high-density office district. Because it lies on Lake Ontario, the “core” is actually at an “edge” and only requires capacity from three, not four, sides. This is a mixed blessing because of the historical importance of Yonge Street and development patterns that concentrate demand north of the core. For a suburban node with four “sides”, no single rapid transit line can possibly address access patterns that have grown up around road networks that bring workers from all directions.

[…]

The problem we now face is that development, rather like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, continued unchecked to a level that the transportation infrastructure cannot sustain. No developer wants to be told that they cannot build because there is no capacity left in the road system, and politicians are unlikely to stand in their way.

[…] we have the premise that simply making areas “transit oriented” will magically transform them with amenities taken for granted elsewhere like cafés. Second, there is the implication that having planned and built poorly, we must compound the error with transit investments. This outlook completely misses the fact that there are “transit deserts” and areas of low amenity beyond the stranded suburban office parks, namely the large, underserved residential districts far from good transit.

[…] we have the development beyond Toronto in the 905 which is totally dependent on travel by car. Even with promised future transit, developers are concerned about the lack of parking imposed through controls on parking-to-employee ratios.

[…]

We cannot build subways everywhere. Lower taxes will not fix the ills of what has already been built. A neighbourhood is more than a Starbucks in a mall. People do not live and work conveniently along existing or potential transit corridors, but in a wide (and widening) range of developments with complex origin-destination patterns.

Market forces are already shifting demand back to the core area, although suburban growth has not stopped. Will the auto-dependent areas of the 905 be the next area of stagnation like the outer parts of the 416 are today? Reasonably, how much can we “fix” with transit alone, and are we willing to pay the price? Who is “we”, and does the definition recognize that transportation investments should be funded not just by the direct users (commuters, shippers, tourists, students) but by the business community that thrives on their existence?

April 2019: Completely absent from [Premier Ford’s] announcement was any mention of the Eglinton East or Waterfront LRT projects, and these appear doomed unless Toronto, possibly with help from Ottawa, takes them on.

Eglinton East was part of the grand deal sold to Council when it backed the Scarborough Subway option, but we now know that it was never going to be built within the funding earmarked for the subway. The Waterfront has very strong growth rivaling anything in the suburbs, but very little transit. Toronto talks a good line on “transit first”, but never quite gets around to building lines to serve major developments.

May 2020: [In 1972] 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. …

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 [this] 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. …

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.

57 thoughts on “Can Toronto Still Be A Transit City?

  1. I think we can still become a transit city thanks to the Trudeau government providing permanent transit funding to transit agencies across Canada. Together we can “Make Toronto Great Again”.

    Steve: The funding from Trudeau is all oriented to construction, not to operations, and it is nowhere near enough especially when huge chunks of it are soaked up by wasteful projects like the Scarborough subway extension. When the feds start to talk about points on the sales tax and allow this to go to operating subsidies, then we can talk about making Toronto better, if not great.

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  2. How would things change if road pricing was implemented? Or the notion of “free” parking?

    Steve: There would be a battle royal over road pricing and the political support simply is not there. As for parking charges, we already have them on main streets. The real question is whether your goal is to reduce road use, or simplyu to charge more for it as a revenue stream.

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  3. Shame on all political parties at all levels for interfering with transit plans.

    I wrote a few years ago that Manchester UK has thrived from the mainly LRT lines they have built over the last 20 years. what has Toronto done? Just plan after plan all to be destroyed, money wasted and not their money but taxpayers money!

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  4. Your point on new technology is correct and germane today. The TTC (and the city/province) needs to stop grasping for the shinny new toys and stick with the old tried and true. If they had stuck to streetcar multiple units for the SRT instead of ICTS where would we be now? I still think the TTC should have agreed to the ICTS for one route, the other should have been built using the old tech, so a true comparison of the systems would have been possible.

    The new fad for “green” buses is the best example. So you want an electric “green” bus to replace your fleet of dirty diesels? Well I have some flashy new battery buses right over here with all these bells and whistles…just a few kinks to work out. No you don’t want that old trolley bus, sure it works great, but it doesn’t have the glam factor.

    I would love to see a cost comparison of electric buses, one being the new-fangled battery bus and its associated costs (charge set ups, revamped bus garages, etc.) vs the proven technology of trolley buses (overhead, revamped or new garages). I used to ride both the Nortown and Mount Pleasant and they worked well. Costing based on the buses Vancouver uses could be the base line to compare the competitive (dis-) advantage of the battery busses. Some of the routes that ran trolley buses still exist in TO, run the new electrics on the routes and do a cost comparison with the old trolley costs shifted to 2020 dollars. While overhead is not glamorous, it is robust and effective – you can make it long enough for any route, and with the additions of the Crosstown and Finch LRT’s the basic framework to tap into is bigger than ever.

    And I agree that the fastest way to improve transit in Toronto (or the GTA) is to firmly commit funding for operational subsidies. Not as flashy as the new line mega project, but more immediately impactful. Funding ops would allow the TTC to put more drivers behind the wheel, get more buses out on the road, increase service on routes, add new routes, and supervise the routes, leading to better transit in less time than a mega project. The TTC has the bus fleet now to run a lot more service, they just can’t (or won’t) fund the drivers to provide the extra services – why – lack of funds.

    Steve: Vancouver did a trolley bus vs battery bus study early in 2020. Their conclusion, which must be verified by actual experience, was that the existing TB system should be kept but not expanded, and that they would revisit the future of TBs sometime in the 2030s when the current fleet would be up for replacement based on the then-current performance of battery buses. I will have to root around in Vancouver info to see if there are any updates on battery bus performance there allowing for the difficult operating circumstances of the past year. The main report is item 4 in the Mayors Council Agenda for February 2020.

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  5. Thanks for this Steve. I’m sure I will refer back to it often – as I did to the original Grand Plan.

    There were two key things that, from my perspective, radically shifted our approach to transit in the 2000s. The first was the Ridership Growth Strategy (RGS). By clearly setting out practical ways to make transit more attractive by offering better service it gave us something we could campaign on (in the 2003 election) that wasn’t a big capital project. Many routes that were “over capacity but requiring alternate treatment” (to improved bus service) became Transit City LRT lines.

    The second was the 2007 election, when Miller ran on the idea of a network of light rail and busways serving suburban areas, rather than announcing specific projects. Transit City was developed based on the principle of a network by the TTC (collaboratively and with discreet outside help) instead of direct political direction.

    So, keys to success:

    1. Focus on practical, affordable service improvements with immediate impact.
    2. Clarify the roles of politicians. Specifically, that they set priorities and approve projects but to not actually get to decide where projects go and what technology they use.

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  6. Steve, thank you for another comprehensive look at transit in Toronto. And particularly at the missed opportunities and mistakes of the past. I will be making a few comments, and will start with something that has always puzzled me.

    Capital spending is often touted for its jobs-creation benefits. It does have such benefits, but a great deal of the employment, particularly at the beginning of a project, is of professional engineers, architects, planners, consultants, etc. These are highly paid professionals, not blue-collar workers.

    However, operations spending is rarely touted for its jobs-creation benefits. Who do the politicians think is operating the buses, streetcars and subway trains? Who is doing the maintenance on vehicles and tracks? Oompa Loompas? And yes, these tend to be “ordinary Joe” blue-collar jobs.

    My cynical side tells me that’s a feature, not a bug. Politicians want to throw lucrative contracts and jobs to their cronies and hangers-on. Who tend to be consultants, etc, not blue-collar workers.

    Steve: Something I omitted in the article because it takes us down another rabbit hole is the issue that those “high paid professionals”, not to mention many of the workers who are employed building infrastructure, tend to be men, not to mention white men. There is a knotty problem of equity in access to various professions and trades, although things are improving now compared to a few decades ago. If one’s goal is job creation, generically, is spending on highly-paid jobs that are not equally distributed in the population a valid policy? Does the “benefit” (a new subway) outweigh the bias in the job market?

    In recent years, projects like the Crosstown have been required to include a component of bringing young workers into jobs as training/apprenticeship. The fact that this is needed shows that there is some distance yet to travel to simply assume that employment will be equitable.

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  7. Technology is not Transit

    That statement alone is enough to cause an aortic episode in any vote grabbing politician.

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  8. I agree with Jim G.’s comments about electric trolleybuses. But will add that it is not an either/or with battery busses. There are electric battery buses that recharge their batteries from overhead trolly wires for part of their route while running on battery alone for the rest of the route. This is existing technology that works well. See:

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/12/19/opinion/battery-trolleybuses-ready-heavy-duty-climate-action

    This has the advantage that it is not necessary to deadhead busses back and forth from charging stations. And Toronto runs an all-night bus service. When are those buses going to recharge? There are various “fast charge” schemes, but the current technology for fast charging suffers from four major drawbacks:

    1. It is only possible to deliver 80% of a full charge.
    2. Fast charging is very hard on the battery, resulting in significantly reduced battery life.
    3. Even “fast” charging takes at least 1/2 hour.
    4. Fast charging requires a lot of electricity during a short period of time. This requires heavy-duty and expensive infrastructure to deliver that electricity.

    If Toronto goes for battery only busses, I strongly suspect that Toronto will need to buy extra battery busses because the all night busses will need to charge during the AM peak hours.

    Steve: The factor of distance per charge is on the TTC’s mind as this affects schedule design. As things stand they expect the majority of runs to be covered by battery buses. Some of this is a question of scheduling so that a bus does not start at 4 am with the first of the day service and stay out to 2 am at the end of the late evening period. Partly, it’s a question of whether battery technology will improve over the period where the eBus fleet builds up so that by the time we are at the end of the hybrid era, the battery buses have caught up. But, yes, enroute charging with overhead has its advantages over taking layovers (and extra buses) to recharge.

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  9. Steve referred to John Lorinc’s excellent investigative journalism series about the Scarborough Subway. I highly recommend recommend this series to anyone interested in understanding the political struggles of transit in Scarborough and Toronto. This series includes one of my all-time favourite examples of a Toronto politician’s hypocrisy, from John Lorinc’s article of June 3, 2014 where Karen Stintz said:

    “People still ask me why we can’t get transit built in this city and it’s because we don’t stick to a plan.”

    This is gross hypocrisy since as a Toronto City Councillor and Chair of the TTC, Mrs. Stintz played a key role in killing the Transit City plan and promoting a Scarborough subway. If it had not been killed, Transit City would be in place RIGHT NOW delivering service to Scarborough and all of Toronto. Instead, 6 1/2 years after this interview, we still have nothing in Scarborough but endless political hot air. I will repeat my prediction that I will be dead and buried before a Scarborough subway is built.

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  10. Steve wrote:

    “Transit spending often comes with claims for environmental benefits. The greatest of these is simply to shift motorists out of their cars and onto modes that produce lower emissions for their travel. However, the monetary value of this shift is fairly small, at least as calculated in current analyses.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    I disagree. For example, see the unanimous report of all the GTHA Medical Officers of Health entitled, “Improving Health by Design in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.”

    From page 20 of the Report of the GTHA Medical Officers of Health, we see that each year in the GTHA, due to their fine particles and other lethal poisons:

    *Motor vehicle operators poison and kill over 712 people each year.
    *Motor vehicle operators poison and injure over 2,812 people each year so seriously that they have to be hospitalized.
    *The cost of all this death and injury is over $4.6 billion. Yes, that is $ billion with a “B.”

    Those are real, hard dollars. Dead people do not pay taxes. Dead people do not make money working at jobs or perform non-monetary labour such as child care or taking care of their parents. Money spent on hospital and other medical care is actual dollars spent.

    Motor vehicle operators also crush and kill or injure people with their motor vehicle collisions. Transport Canada reports that the annual cost of death, injury and property damage caused by motor vehicle crashes in Ontario is $18 billion. Again, that is $ billion with a “B.” Note that this is all of Ontario. I do not have a breakdown for Toronto or the GTHA. If anyone has a source for that breakdown, please let me know. Since almost half of Ontario’s population lives in the GTHA, this would inevitably come to many billions of dollars. Source.

    Steve: What I said was that “the monetary value of the shift is fairly small, as calculated …”. The overwhelming value assigned to new builds is the imputed time savings for travel, and the job creation. This biases the methodology to faster rather than slower, more rather than less expensive designs.

    In addition to avoiding these negative consequences of motor vehicle use, there are also positive health and economic benefits to shifting our transportation mode share away from car driving and towards walking, cycling and public transit. One example that explicitly considers the health and financial consequences of this mode shift is the Toronto Public Health Department’s report, “Road to Health” at:

    Click to access backgroundfile-46520.pdf

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  11. Steve, the Nortown trolley coach route, running basically on Avenue Road and Mt. Pleasant, north of Eglinton, was not a former streetcar route.

    Steve: Your pedantic response shows that (a) you did not read carefully and (b) you forget that I grew up at Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and know perfectly well what was and not a former streetcar route. I said “The Yonge and Nortown routes partly covered old streetcar lines” and as you well know there was track installed on Eglinton between Yonge and Mount Pleasant although it was never used.

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  12. Hmmm… your reference to “business cases” in the next paragraph leads me to interpret your remarks as, “as calculated by Metrolinx in its Business Case Analyses.”

    Please do not allow me to put words into your mouth that you did not mean. However, if you intend to criticise the Metrolinx BCAs, I entirely agree with that. Particularly when you rightly criticise them for their tendency to create imaginary money out of time savings. For example, if I get home from work 1/2 hour faster, that is a very real benefit. I have an extra 1/2 hour to play with my children and dog or to talk with my wife. That is of great value to me; family life is more important than money. But that does not create any actual hard cash money.

    On the other hand, over 712 people per year being poisoned and killed by motor vehicle operators does lead to hard money consequences. People who are dead are not working and making money and paying taxes.

    Steve: Yes, my criticism is of the combination of factors. The “value” of time saving is ephemeral and cannot be captured to pay for infrastructure or operations. It is, in effect, a public gift arising from the investment. The concept is useful in comparing the relative benefits of schemes (allowing for my caveat about “faster” not necessarily being an all or nothing goal), but the real problem arises when the “business case” rests substantially on this “money”.

    A related point is that the “value” of an hour to a well-to-do commuter from Oakville is substantially higher than a low-wage worker on the Dufferin bus or a senior on a fixed income.

    The situation becomes more tangled when we consider how many riders on a new line will be net new to transit. If all we do is to give existing riders a faster trip (the case for many on the Vaughan extension), we have not diverted people onto transit and do not recoup the health care savings you speak of. Moreover, it could be argued that if diverting people to transit only allows roads to backfill with latent demand, then the metrics of accidents and pollution will not change. We will have more capacity in the network, but no less environmental exposure.

    My point here is that the various effects have to be teased apart to determine how they behave individually rather than throwing all of the numbers, unthinkingly, into a pot. When the results are presented to the public and to decision makers, the component factors are so abstract, including assumptions along the way, that it is impossible to critique them and a miasma of “professional analysis” descends like a fog over real debate.

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  13. It would be nice to see an argument that shifts from complaining about the foolish Scarboro subway, and consider what might actually be a more civilized instead of citified urban design. What if serious thought went into the parks and greenery and forests in a city and the transportation systems were made to complement that?

    Let us imagine dozens of smaller cities set in a green landscape, with strict laws against ruining that landscape for development. An express system could connect all those city centres efficiently, and focussed local transport would access final destinations. Because of the lack of interminable local stops, the express routes could be really fast; and the local routes could also be fast because they would be strictly local and short. It does not seem that our existing highly centralized cities could move in this direction, certainly not in any reasonable time, but it might be an ideal for the future.

    Perhaps some such system has been tried somewhere. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

    Steve: There is a big problem with your proposal in that the city exists now and we have to serve the population and job distribution as they exist. As for laws about ruining landscape, you might want to contemplate the policies of the Ford government that basically take all of the planning brakes off of the development industry. While Ford is the worst offender, there is a general political climate that thinks that developers should be free to build wherever and whatever they want. We might get a “green” government for a period, but their work will be undone the moment the vandals get back in power.

    I do agree that the transit and city building debate has to be more than the Scarborough subway, and if anything, the SSE discussion is a smokescreen behind which larger issues can hide.

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  14. Your comprehensive and meticulous review of what formulated the current state of public transit in Toronto is often painful to read. We can all be legitimately angry and frustrated as to why a transit decision was made. Your determined ability to provide the facts and, more importantly, the sound analysis, fills the vacuum created and sustained by all those “experts” with their “know-it-all arrogance”. The political sycophants of both these experts and “soap salesmen”at City Hall and Queen’s Park are all too familiar to both you and me. They never seem to go away.

    Congratulations, and many thanks, for fifteen years of stubbornly maintaining your blog.

    Steve: You’re very welcome!

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  15. Steve: Can Toronto Still Be A Transit City?

    What do you mean by Toronto? Do you mean it to include Etobicoke and Scarborough? Because this morning at John Tory’s news conference, Adam Vaughan used the phrase “Toronto, Etobicoke, and Scarborough”. It is obvious that Adam Vaughan and also Josh Matlow don’t recognise Etobicoke and Scarborough as part of Toronto.

    Steve: There are times I have to call out the trolls who think that it’s all about how we don’t care about Etobicoke or Scarborough or Vaughan or wherever by seizing on something like my article’s title.

    If you actually read the article you would know I was talking about the politics and planning of Toronto in the large sense of the Toronto region. There are huge problems in that so much planning has concentrated on how to get people to King and Bay that a large amount of the region has no choice but to drive or take barely adequate bus service, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. We talk about a regional plan, but we cherry pick projects either because they are easy (GO Transit running more service on lines that already exist) or because we’re out for votes (Scarborough “deserves” a subway, Etobicoke cannot possibly abide a surface LRT). Note that both of those projects are within Toronto, and they are the product of a puffed-up Premier who is more interested in pulling votes than in building a transit network. If it were not for the pandemic, the financial support for transit operations would poor.

    As for Adam Vaughan and Josh Matlow, you turn your argument on its head by saying that the explicit enumeration of Etobicoke and Scarborough implies that they are not part of Toronto. You can’t have it both ways. In Scarborough’s specific case, a great deal of effort has been expended on redressing Scarborough’s problems, and not just for transit. If that’s the context, of course Scarborough will be named explicitly. That is how much of the debate has been framed – Scarborough against the world.

    Either we list every hamlet on the outer reaches of the GTHA down to neighbourhoods like Riverdale so that they don’t feel left out, or we say “Toronto” in the context of the 416, or the region as appropriate.

    Get used to it, and stop inventing phony arguments.

    By the way, it was I who invented the term “Transit City” and it meant a city where transit would be the first choice. The TTC and later Mayor Miller used it for their plans.

    For the benefit of other readers, “Tim” leaves many comments that don’t get published. This kind of crap does not contribute one iota to the conversation.

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  16. Thanks Steve and commenters; there’s a LOT to digest, most of it not pleasant, though we’re in luck having the relatively good transit operations we do have correct?

    One broader aspect, touched on with Kevin Love’s comments/reference, is how we should set transit in context with automobility, and I do tire of referencing a quote from Vancouver of 1996, where they found that the less-obvious subsidies to cars were 7 times more than what transit got, and that sum was $2700 per car each year.

    I kinda ‘get’ why we’re in caronic denial about the scale of subsidies; but we should be rubbing all political noses in this figure, and yes, we still could have a Vehicle Registration Tax of $500 a year, some for road repair and some for transit ops and maybe capital, not that we can trust the pols to not ‘adjust’ things. Having respect for taxpayers is NOT what the ‘carservatives’ that rule want however; they’re anything but financial conservatives, given the subsidies, though yes, the cars are very helpful at times.

    Of course there may be more commentings eg biking, and what I think the best route to a ‘fix’ is; I haven’t fully digested all of this, thanks.

    On a bit of a lighter note; all that dismal near-decade of the Suspect Subway Extension, as noted in Ms. Pagliaro’s good thread (though she missed a superb cartoon from the Star by Corrigan of a money pit and multiple criss-cross tracks), has spawned terms like ‘sub-braying’ , ‘Clowncillor’ , and ‘Clowncil’, unfair to some, but the majority were clear in wanting to ignore best practices and reason about 4 years ago 23-19, and nobody elected really has any personal stake/salary/pension on any of those $$$ do they?

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  17. “…it could be argued that if diverting people to transit only allows roads to backfill with latent demand, then the metrics of [collisions] and pollution will not change.”

    Very true. Which is why it is necessary to talk about mode shift and set targets for mode share for walking, cycling and public transit. Some of this will happen automatically. The government’s projections for population growth are matched by the enormous number of construction projects building new housing. A large increase in population matched by little or no increase in street space means that these new people will not be travelling by private cars. It is a matter of mathematics, specifically geometry, that only so many large metal boxes can be placed upon a street. See [Jarrett Walker’s] The Photo That Explains Almost Everything.

    Moving into a non-nightmarish future requires a variety of specifically targeted carrots and sticks. There is no silver bullet.

    For example, consider the issue of travel to GO stations. Mode share for these trips is currently dominated by private car travel. Even although a large proportion of these trips are less than 5 km, people rarely ride bicycles. Why not? Because of the failure to provide protected Dutch standard cycling infrastructure. People seem to have a strange aversion to playing tag with two-tonne lethal weapons. Imagine that! To quote the noted philosopher Gomer Pyle, “surprise, surprise, surprise.”

    Yet in The Netherlands, even small towns such as Zaltbommel (pop. 27,536) and Maasdriel (pop. 24,126) have a bicycle mode share of almost 40% at their shared railway station. See description and video.

    This is all about protected infrastructure that makes cycling a fast, easy and convenient way of safely travelling to the railway station.

    There is no reason why the same cannot be done with GO transit to achieve modal targets for walking, cycling and public transit to GO stations. For example, suppose that from 6:00 AM – 10:00 AM on Monday to Friday there was a car parking fee of $10 at suburban GO stations. And the money was used to fund public transit and Dutch standard cycling infrastructure in those suburbs. With the result that walking, cycling or public transit became the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely getting to the GO station for a large percentage of passengers. I venture to predict that this combination of carrots and sticks will lead to the desired modal shift.

    I then look forward to GO selling off most of their surface car parking lot at any given station for a mountain of cash to developers to build high-density housing. Whose inhabitants can then just walk out their door into the train station. Building that “walk” mode shift even more. This is the sort of virtuous circle that has been attained in The Netherlands. Whose cities in the 1970’s were also dangerous car-dominated traffic sewers. They changed. We can too!

    Steve: I hate to bring up a point here that cycling advocates try to dodge around a lot: snow. A lot of GO territory is in areas where in snows more and stays on the ground more persistently than in the old City of Toronto. This will dissuade many from cycling for part of the year, and there has to be a viable alternative. Also, that cycling infrastructure (which includes keeping the roads clear) has to reach pretty much to someone’s front door, not merely to the nearest arterial. Finally, remember that a standard “commute” trip by car can also include child care or a stop at the store enroute because so much of suburbia is not set up for these services to be easily reached without a car.

    We have problems getting and keeping cycling lanes in comparatively liberal Toronto. Do you honestly expect Queen’s Park to take on the 905? The more likely “policy” would be to provide lots of bike parking but leave actual cycling infrastructure to the municipalities, sort of the way bus service is treated, and then wonder why nobody uses it.

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  18. Finally, the old Town of York is getting a rapid transit line. The Corktown Station will be near to the Parliament building, if they can find it.

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  19. Your blog started in 2006 (I still remember as I was the first commenter). It is now 2020. How is it 15 years as has been falsely claimed?

    Steve: This is the simpler kind of BS I have to put up with. The article clearly states that the blog “approaches its fifteenth birthday”. January 31, 2006 plus fifteen years will be January 31, 2021, about a month and a half from now. You are arithmetically challenged, rather like most of the Republican Party.

    Second, you were NOT the first commenter. All of the comments are still in the database and I can see who commented when.

    Consider yourself permanently banned.

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  20. Steve: I hate to bring up a point here that cycling advocates try to dodge around a lot: snow.

    It’s not about snow, it’s about how you deal with it.

    Of course clearing or sanding bike paths costs money and effort. So does clearing snow from square kilometres of car-centric or car-exclusive roads. Saying “snow” is a copout. You might as well point out that bike paths need to be asphalted.

    Finally, remember that a standard “commute” trip by car can also include child care or a stop at the store enroute because so much of suburbia is not set up for these services to be easily reached without a car.

    It’s not really in GO’s or Metrolinx’s remit to change it, but this is a vicious cycle: towns and cities are built for cars because everyone drives, and everyone drives because towns and cities are only built for cars. If you want to break the cycle, you have to start somewhere. But so far in the GTA we’re still building Miltons and Bradfords and Brooklins and East Waterfronts, and we seem to have trouble imagining anything else.

    Steve: Yours is one of two comments on my reference to cycling.

    I agree with many of the points you make, but the important thread here is that “cycling” is more than plunking a bunch of posts or a curb beside a reserved lane. It is a whole ecology of a network, not just a few “quick wins” getting cycling lanes here and there. Just as with transit priority, the tough parts are the locations where road space is at a premium and motorists have to give up something.

    Of course snow has to be cleared. The problem is that this is not done consistently, and that is a problem not just for cyclists but for pedestrians. Inconsistency in the attention to snow can have a cyclist or a pedestrian head out on a journey only to find their route impassible somewhere along the way.

    If you think I am going to enumerate all of the details of what should go into proper support for bikes and pedestrians, you will wait a long time. This is after all only a response to a comment.

    As for building “Miltons and Bradfords”, like it or not they exist today and with them an auto-oriented infrastructure and lifestyle. You cannot wish them away. “Solutions” must address what is there while providing guidance for how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Whether the development industry will listen given their sense of a god-given right to build anything they choose in the name of “what sells”, I am not hopeful.

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  21. “Steve: I hate to bring up a point here that cycling advocates try to dodge around a lot: snow.”

    That is just a matter of infrastructure maintenance. Scandinavian countries get lots of snow, but maintain a high cycle mode share year-round. For example, see this description and video of Copenhagen in a 45 cm snowstorm.

    It also snows in The Netherlands. See this description and photos of a 17 cm snowstorm.

    And here is a video and description of people cycling during a snowstorm and how the Dutch city maintains their infra to make that possible.

    But the all-time award winner has to be the city of Oulu, Finland. Which is above the Arctic Circle. And gets the sort of snow and cold that makes Toronto look like Miami.

    For those who want to dive deep with the help of an academic article, here is a 210 page case study of Oulu showing how they maintain a 20% cycle transportation mode share in the winter. Spoiler alert: It is about having proper infrastructure with proper maintenance.

    If Oulu can do it, we can too.

    As to funding, Queen’s Park already provides money to municipalities for many things, provided that they maintain certain standards. And Queen’s Park used to do the same with cycle infrastructure, under the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program. Which was recently (sigh…) cancelled by the Doug Ford government.

    Steve: Please see my reply to the preceding comment. Of course infrastructure maintenance is key. The problem in Toronto is that there is a huge fight to get small segments of what should be a large network built, and after the posts and the curbs are down on the pavement, the battle more or less ends. I know that there has been advocacy recently against the problem of the city treating non-auto lanes as a dumping ground for snow, and this maintenance is an integral part of the support a bike network should have. The same is true for pedestrian infrastructure which tends to come a distant second in snow clearing.

    I really wish that cycling advocates were not so sensitive that they feel the need to overwhelm any statement suggesting that cycling is a less than perfect “solution” especially in the half-hearted way it is treated here in beautiful Ontario.

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  22. Thanks again Steve, and many commenters, but especially Kevin Love and Jarek for nudging about better biking as a complement to transit mobilities, and yes, it is TOTALLY under what is possible and what was even planned, eg. Scarborough in the 2001 Bike Plan, which was to get a connected grid network, but on-road, though it’s perhaps maybe 8% done despite painted bike lanes being about $30K or so a km, so the cancellation fees for some LRTs etc, could have done Very Well at providing the entire area with bike lanes, except yes, it’s Carborough, and there’s an aversion to anything that has ‘plan’ in it, or so it seems.

    And yes, there is snow, but wind, and ice to contend with, but it’s also a matter of choices ‘we’ make, or don’t make. One might think Canadians would know how to plow snow out of places but alas, not necessarily so, and grimly, we have to thank climate change sometimes for doing a better job of snow removal than the City, so dominated by the suburban machines we are.

    With the fiascoes and near-scandals occurring with the transit costs, maybe, maybe, maybe we will begin to embrace supporting bike mobilities as the better way, if we respect taxpayers.

    An example: the cost of the Sheppard stubway could have let us GIVE each adult Toronto resident a decent bike, though it’d also be good to include training courses as many of us are closer to drivers in their respect for other road users. (A cyclist inspired the term ‘passhole’; but one doesn’t need a bit of coffee at ALL when a motorist buzzes your elbow by a few cms)

    There is a Problem though in that bikes are too much competition to transit in the core, and the suburbans/system that dominate the City/core almost seem to kinda LIKE the threat of violence and death to cyclists from bike riding, because it keeps captive riders on transit. And there are real hazards from streetcar tracks, and increasingly as set of widespread disrepair of cracked and shattered margin of the trackbed closest to the curb, that if the City/TTC really really wanted to pour concrete, they could do a widespread repair program, Notice of Hazard again.

    And it’s late in the game, but it’s not the fault of Parkdalians and other core residents that we didn’t have a Queen subway built as OK’ed by voters in 1948, so now, with the proposed and maybe next year rebuild of these tracks, dang, a real shame we can’t think of somehow moving them a half-lane to the north, so to provide a bike lane on Queen from Shaw to at least Brock.

    Such a move would be wonderful for Parkdale and cyclists; but because ‘we’ have refused to provide sensible transit in from the pinch point at the base of High Park, there’s not the option, and yes, it’s in the core where we need faster sub-regional transit likely underground, sigh.

    The federal level could be doing so much more in insisting that we provide sound planning for decisions of transit megaprojects, and otherwise, NOT any shovel of cash at all, since we are not doing well on climate issues, and transport choices are often political choices, where we have subsidized cars more than transit, but cars get the more hidden subsidies, and yes, details in Perverse Cities by Ms. Pamela Blais has our context detailed, if there’s respect for taxpayers anywhere. Maybe that’s why our Premier didn’t like libraries, especially the Urban Affairs library, which was smashed up and moved to save was it $100,000??

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  23. Steve: “I really wish that cycling advocates were not so sensitive that they feel the need to overwhelm any statement suggesting that cycling is a less than perfect ‘solution’ especially in the half-hearted way it is treated here in beautiful Ontario.”

    I totally agree with this. There is no one technology that is a silver bullet or perfect solution for all trips. The Ryerson University report, “Cycling Behaviour and Potential in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area” found that potentially cyclable trips are only 1/3 of all trips in the GTHA. Their definition of potentially cyclable trips are those between 1-5 km in length. Interestingly enough, 53% of those trips (or about 1/6th of all trips) are short trips 1-3 km in length.

    The advantage of cycling infrastructure is that it is amazingly cheap. The annual cost of the world-class infrastructure in The Netherlands costs a not-so-whopping 30 Euros per person. That is both capital and maintenance spending across all levels of government.

    My dear friend Hamish has asserted in his comment above that the cost of the Sheppard Stubway would pay for giving each Toronto resident a quality bicycle. I note that in the Toronto Star link provided in Steve’s article, the current price tag on the Scarborough Subway is an eye-popping $5.5 billion. With a current Toronto population of 2.7 million, that works out to $2,034 per person. Wow! That would not only provide a free high-quality bicycle for every person in Toronto but also pay for world-class Dutch standard bike infrastructure for every street in the entire City of Toronto.

    Steve: We have to save a few billion to build something in Scarborough, just not a subway. So you won’t have the entire $5.5 billion for cycling, disappointed though I know you will be.

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  24. The SRT is dead, long live the SBS.

    It is time to say goodbye to the SRT, say thanks for the memories – after all it did exceed it’s design life!

    We should renovate the line and refurbish for the deployment of the ultimate means of Toronto public Transit – swan boats. This could be the first step towards a new Transit City!

    Steve: Hmmm … we could divert Highland Creek with a branch south to Kennedy Station including a flume down to mezzanine level to make the transfers simpler!

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  25. Regarding recharging of battery buses. It would seem there are multiple ways to accomplish this. AM Rush buses return to garage to recharge. Repeat for PM Rush and repeat again for overnight. All Day Full shift buses layover at Subway Terminals where a few at a time can be recharged while the relieving Operator for next shift takes out a recharged bus. Repeat. TTC can arrange charging equipment at Subway Stations especially those with Green P parking adjacent that might well have similar public recharging for personal autos and bicycles.

    All of this should require a minimal of “spare” buses just to recharge. This in itself will extend life of these buses by reducing mileage run.

    Bring them on!

    Steve: This is easier said than done. Don’t forget that the number of buses that can charge at a time in the garage could be a limiting factor between the peak periods. As for subway stations, many of them do not have space to hold a few buses charging “offline” and those extra buses have to be built in the schedule including operators/garage drivers to shuffle vehicles around.

    As for extending lifespans, we could simply buy more buses than we need and not use them as much, but that’s a waste of capital and garage space.

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  26. The loss of the connected Eglinton-Scarborough LRT (ESLRT) was the death of transit in Toronto.

    Rob Ford had all the power, recently winning the mayoralty election, while Dalton McGuinty was faltering and heading towards an election. Despite Ford wanting a B-D subway extension during the campaign, he still compromised and went with the Provincial plan – obviously since Ford would not be smart enough to come up with it himself.

    That’s when the politics came in:

    i) Stintz’s mayoralty aspirations tainted her.
    ii) Liberals MP’s worked to essentially kill their own plan. They also hid key reports (June 2012 Business Case that said ESLRT was best and subway worst) from Councillors and the public.
    iii) City Councillor prioritized political revenge higher than transit.

    And virtually all knew that killing the connected ESLRT and reverting to the transfer LRT was temporary and just for politics, with the ultimate goals always being the “Scarborough subway” to connect STC with Yonge – when the ESLRT did exactly that.

    2012 and 2013, the decision was made to defeat Ford at all costs. What happened since was simply the consequences of those decisions working their way through the system.

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  27. “Whether the development industry will listen given their sense of a god-given right to build anything they choose in the name of “what sells”, I am not hopeful.”

    A major part of the problem is that developers do not have a right to build “what sells,” particularly the sort of liveable neighbourhoods where people want to live. My friend Jason Slaughter from London, Ontario has produced an excellent video entitled “The Lively & Liveable Neighbourhoods that are Illegal in Most of North America.”

    He talks about the zoning and other legal barriers to building the types of housing and kinds of neighbourhoods where people want to live… but cannot.

    Even straight out car-free neighbourhoods have immense demand. I am far from the only person who would mortgage their soul for a chance to live on the Toronto Islands. In the past, on the rare occasions when a few spaces opened up at the bottom of the 30 YEAR waiting list for Island housing, I’ve shelled out the big bucks to buy a lottery ticket for one of those spaces. But never won. That just shows how high demand is. Or compare housing prices in Venice to the immediately adjacent car traffic sewer of the Italian mainland. That shows how people are willing to pay a huge price to get away from car traffic. Particularly parents with young children, such as Jason Slaughter who moved to The Netherlands.

    When my oldest daughter was 11 years old, I was in the habit of writing that she would have more freedom of movement in downtown Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran than she would in downtown Toronto. Yes, she would have to take her younger brother to escort her so she would not be harassed by the religious police, but at least it would be safe, unlike Toronto.

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  28. I’m glad Steve’s provided Kevin Love’s bike option math – and sure, let’s squeeze the billions and only allocate $1,000 for each TO resident for bikes and perhaps some outfittings too. It’s still a far better deal, especially when factoring the usually avoided health care costs in, which brings up another point Kevin mention’s – relative safety of core TO, and yes, suburban areas too, where it’s a shame the Metro Marker program of rose-coloured concrete in the splash zones wasn’t done beside sidewalks on many of their carterials.

    The bike is good competition to the TTC, and is that why we’re so incredibly slow at making it much better? But as Walter observes, ain’t just City pols at fault, and what about the former Places to Grow Act applying to Caronto? It didn’t seem to, especially in the Sections 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 and maybe 3.2.4 in update that seemed to me to mandate automatic changes to all roads in a municipality with maintenance and upgrades, like repaving. So Bloor St. bike lanes would have been automatically done when Bloor W. was repaved west from Shaw a few years ago, and similarly Dufferin St. repaving south of Bloor to College would also have had change to make it not a highway, but something with bike lanes, which likely would have saved a life of a young cyclist recently killed there.

    So why wasn’t the Places to Grow Act applicable in Toronto? Or was there no penalty, or no interest in enforcing it by the province? More politricks?

    At least yesterday, the Council passed a motion to speed up various studies, and now includes looking at bike lanes, which south of Bloor to Queen make a lot of sense. Overall, Sufferin’ Dufferin should likely have a subway, especially as we could have a mall at both ends, not yet including a mall on the Ex grounds.

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  29. Kevin’s point that most bike trips are of 1-3 km long is a key statistic. Couple that with the expansion of Bike Share Toronto (a rack at every stop) and you have a decent possible solution for your first/last mile. Additional racks at subway stations and GO stations would increase use – add a “pay by Presto” feature and you would start to change commuter habits. Getting buts on seat posts is the best way to build demand for better cycling infrastructure.

    Using Bike Share, is a key to this, as quantifying private bike use is difficult – BS has published statistics. BS has been confined to the core of the city – expansion to outer areas where commuter demand is different might lead to some interesting numbers.

    To move towards a Transit City, we need to start educating our young in good transit habits. All school trips should be by public transit – the use of chartered buses should be banned. Some of my first exposures to the TTC was the annual school trip to the Royal Winter Fair. Having the kids plan (find the route, choose the best form (fastest, slowest, longest, shortest, most/least eco-friendly, most/least types of modes) the trips is a form of transit education that is subtle, but long lasting.

    And as parents we have to get tough – make’m walk (or bike) – the hordes who drive their kids to school and drop them off – take the time to walk them to the school or bike over with them. This walk/ride to drop the kids off, can become your “commute” for the work-from-home crowd. It is also great bonding time. And at the very least the kids will be able to say “I had to walk to school, uphill both ways, in the snow…”

    Small things like this will set good transit habits for future generations. The experiences in using transit at a young age will perhaps get them to become more interested in the nuts and bolts of better transit – one can hope.

    Steve: I have to point out a basic flaw about “last mile” trips and Bike Share: there has to be someplace to leave the bike at the destination, and if these destinations are scattered over a wide area in the typical pattern of suburban development (not to mention industrial parks), then the model does not work. It’s not just a case of setting up massive Bike Share depots at GO stations. Your example talks about rack at every TTC stop, but that does not address getting from the that stop to one’s eventual destination, especially buried inside a large block with no transit service. “Last mile” is a problem for locations where there is little transit, and leaving a bike at a nearby stop does not eliminate the walk from there to the destination.

    Also as a pedestrian, I have problems already with space taken by a lot of street furniture, and many locations do not lend themselves to adding a bike station at a transit stop.

    If you are going to get people out of cars, the alternative has to be truly competitive for a good proportion of trips, or the convenience of the car will win out.

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  30. When get around to recycle the rails on the SRT, what will happen to the old right-of-way and station buildings? Could the right-of-way and bridges be converted to a bicycle trail? They’ll probably have to add ramps in place of the steps and escalators. Maybe the station buildings could become homeless shelters?

    Steve: There is a proposal to turn the elevated structure into a Scarborough “High Line” although the view is nowhere near as entrancing as the one in NYC. The pickle vats are long gone.

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  31. Jarek: “It’s not really in GO’s or Metrolinx’s remit to change it, but this is a vicious cycle: towns and cities are built for cars because everyone drives, and everyone drives because towns and cities are only built for cars. If you want to break the cycle, you have to start somewhere. But so far in the GTA we’re still building Miltons and Bradfords and Brooklins and East Waterfronts, and we seem to have trouble imagining anything else.”

    It’s even more insidious than that. When municipalities try and build transit oriented development, they are often met with resistance by people who say things like “you don’t have the ridership to support transit”. So the transit doesn’t get built at the start. So they build car oriented development because the transit isn’t being built. It’s a chicken and egg kind of problem.

    One of the easiest example I can think of recently is the Kirby Go Station in York Station.

    It’s a relative empty piece of land and York Region wanted to plan the new development around the Go Station and have transit oriented development.

    And this is a GO Station on relatively empty land, the costs would be pretty minimal.

    Steve: You forget the little point about the then-Minister’s intervention in the Metrolinx analysis of the new station that originally recommended against it, but was then cooked to support it. The situation was not quite as open-and-shut as you make it out to be.

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  32. Kevin Love said: I note that in the Toronto Star link provided in Steve’s article, the current price tag on the Scarborough Subway (SSE) is an eye-popping $5.5 billion.

    The Eglinton East LRT (EELRT) price tag is $4.4 billion.

    The SSE ridership is 108,000 rides a day. The EELRT will be far less and its terminal is Kennedy Station. Pre-Covid the Bloor/Danforth subway (Line 2) was crowded. This crowding results in an upgrade to Yonge/Bloor interchange of $1.5 billion.

    $5.5
    $4.4
    $1.5
    ----
    $11.5 billion

    Toronto City Council is irresponsible to consent to spend $11.5 billion for very poor returns. It’s kick the can down the road politics. The Mayor and Councillors will be long gone, just like Lastman’s legacy – the Sheppard Subway.

    Steve’s post addresses the root of the issue -the need to define what public transit is for the GHTA and what is reasonable cost. Unfortunately, this is over the heads of both Council and Staff.
    All major cities have strategic transit plans, not Toronto.

    Provincially, the Conservative’s belief that Private Public Partnerships (P3) are the answer may not benefit citizens in the long run.

    The Liberal’s have a different view of public transit projects

    Globe and Mail March 22, 2006 “Subway plan could benefit Sorbara family” and Toronto Star December 2, 2018 “Metrolinx improperly approved GO stations under political pressure, Ontario’s auditor general finds”.

    A good way of looking at is from the Toronto Star March 27, 2017 “Metrolinx approves Vaughan GO station that will put more cars on the road” quote

    “Although the proposed station site is currently within Del Duca’s riding, the province’s electoral districts are being redrawn before the 2018 election. The minister plans to run in the new riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge, while the proposed station would be in the adjacent riding of King-Vaughan.

    Property records show that the land on which the station and accompanying development would be built is owned by a company registered to John Di Poce, a prominent developer and philanthropist. The records show the company bought the land in 2004 for $10.5 million.

    Elections Ontario records show that companies registered to Di Poce donated $1,300 to Del Duca’s 2014 election campaign, in addition to giving the Ontario Liberal Party a total of $3,862 in 2014 and 2015. Over the same period, Di Poce’s companies gave $9,350 to the Progressive Conservative Party.”

    The name of this blog: “Transit and Politics”

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  33. “There is a proposal to turn the elevated structure into a Scarborough ‘High Line’ although the view is nowhere near as entrancing as the one in NYC.”

    In October of 2013, Toronto City Council voted in favour of studying this proposal. In February 2015, Andy Byford stated that TTC staff are still studying this proposal.

    One big advantage of the proposal is cost. It costs $70 million to demolish the SRT structures, but only $20 million to turn the SRT into a bicycle path, including on/off ramps and converting the SRT platform at Kennedy Subway Station into Dutch style railway bicycle parking.

    Yes, the view of things like the recycling centre isn’t going to sell a lot of postcards, but from a transportation point of view, that’s a feature, not a bug. Those active industries are not pretty, but there are a lot of people working there. And the point of transportation is to connect A to B for places where people want to go. Having Kennedy Station and Scarborough Town Centre anchoring both ends of the path also provides two major destinations.

    For anyone living within 1 km of the SRT line, it will be much faster and far, far, more reliable to ride their bicycle to Kennedy Station using the new bike path than it was to travel to an SRT station, wait for the train and take it to Kennedy. The bike path will be 100% grade separated which means no intersecting roads, and therefore no red lights or stop signs. And it will be almost dead flat, with only slight gradients. People will be able to fly along.

    It becomes even more powerful as part of a network. For example, by extending the existing Birkdale bicycle path another 250 metres north to connect with the new SRT bike path. Then everyone living in Birkdale now has a fast, easy and convenient way to get to Scarborough Town Centre or to their jobs along the SRT bike path line.

    Steve: I’m not disputing this, but the term “High Line” was no accident. It was viewed as a park when originally proposed. The High Line in NYC is not a bike path.

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  34. With biking in Scarborough, the 2001 Bike Plan proposed a comprehensive on-road network of bike lanes, though at that time, paint-only. It perhaps is 10% completed, though on-road lines are quite cheaply done, relatively, so that cancellation fees alone would have completely made the network happen. As for other biking, Steve’s quite correct in noting that there’s a need to have bikeshare bikes returned to docks for someone else, but that would still perhaps be far le$$ than operating some Suspect Subway Extensions. And there’s this now-in-print swipe at many of the pols who are still supporting relative foolishness, and that includes now/still Councillors Bailao and Bradford.

    Steve: Bailao and Bradford are both part of Team Tory, and what the boss supports, they support.

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  35. “You forget the little point about the then-Minister’s intervention in the Metrolinx analysis of the new station that originally recommended against it, but was then cooked to support it.”

    Yes, as currently proposed, it makes no sense to have four GO stations within a little over 10 km of each other. There just isn’t the demand to support it. There is, however, one way to create this demand. Make the proposed 70,000 person new community a car-free community. Like the Toronto Islands, but with grocery stores. Because grocery stores and all the other amenities of urban life are a key part of creating a successful car-free community.

    For example, consider the car-free community currently under construction in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Although its population is only 1,000 the developers are carefully including a grocery store and a wide range of other shops, restaurants and amenities. And yes, it is anchored by an LRT station to provide public transit to the University of Arizona, downtown Phoenix and other places where people want to go. See:

    Phoenix has got to be one of the most car-enslaved places on planet Earth. If we can make it work in Phoenix, we can make it work in Ontario.

    Steve: Yes “we” can make it work, but in an Ontario where what you describe is never what we build? The owner of the land near Kirby Station is a chum of the current leader of the Liberal Party, and former Minister of Transportation and that’s where the station came from out of thin air.

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  36. I’m glad there’s noting of the ’tilt’ of planning by the former/current Liberals. The carruption of our planning processes by polluticians seems to be of all stripes, or at least of the two major parties, the ‘carservatives’ and the ‘carswervatives’. A third party seems happy with any big project because jobs for men, regardless of cost. Gashouse greens like myself, don’t have that good a sense of just how sprawled out everything now is and thus are ‘unrealistic’ eh?

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  37. Darn those bicyclers. They must think they’re already living in Amsterdam, because they’re high AF.

    They try to deny that winter in Southern Ontario is harsher than in their beloved European utopias. A quick check shows that while Oulu, Finland has an average temperature lower than Toronto in winter, Toronto has nearly double the precipitation in the winter months. And that’s Toronto. Outside the city, in the 905 it’s often heavier. Amsterdam only occasionally dips below freezing, so the precipitation during winter, which is in line with what you’d get in Toronto, is very likely to be rain and not snow. And don’t [citation needed] me. I Googled around and it’s easy to find the numbers. Suggesting that these countries, where the temperature is moderated by the Gulf Stream (until climate change completely ruins it) experience winters anything like what goes on in the 905 is just deceit, plain and simple.

    And no, I’m not some militant driver. I’ve never owned a car. But I hate people lying to forward an agenda that would waste limited transit resources. Being realistic about the role that bicycle infrastructure can play in overall transportation strategy is necessary.

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  38. Bikes don’t work for everyone, agreed, and the GTA is MASSIVE in its spread, though how much of the area/land is taken up by car infrastructure? And yes,some cyclists aren’t Gaia’s gift to the world, and yes we have winter, and away from the core with its thermal mass it can have more bite. Yet it’s not the cold that prunes the bike numbers as much as a set of safety concerns, the #1 likely being speeding traffic, and go to pretty much any intersection and monitor it for red-light-runnings.

    Bikes are far far far more energy efficient than either mobile furnaces or much transit sometimes, and what is the radwaste for moving those subways/streetcars? I think water is the #1 consumer of electricity in TO, followed by TTC.

    Bikes are really not contributing the climate emergency; indeed are a part of the solution, unlike most four-wheeled vehicles, which also should be seen as potential serial killers, as they are, and the subsidies are significant, including the health care costs.

    As for me perhaps being immoderate, I come by it somewhat honestly. My grandfather opined about 50 years ago we should be building a mile of subway each year and eventually be banning cars from downtown – and how’s that going Carontop?

    Hopefully we can leverage the Covid ‘listening to experts’ from some politicians to listen to experts on climate issues, which must include transit facts as well.

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  39. I just came across a fresh clip of cycling in Oulu, Finland.

    It seems like it’s a set of choices, and heck, we’ve not chosen to fund/do bikes that much, not yet, and the real $upport is going – in myriad ways, usually less obvious – to cars, not bikes.

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