Transit and the Urban Form of Toronto

This article contains a deck with my presentation and speaking notes for a guest lecture to Professor George Baird’s class at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto, “A History of Urban Form”.

It is not intended as a definitive document, but as an overview tailored to the course as a whole and to the time available.

Alas, you will not hear my dulcet tones. For some things you just had to be there.

The version linked here as of 7:00 pm, November 6, has minor corrections and typos fixed.

9 thoughts on “Transit and the Urban Form of Toronto

  1. Too bad the current crop of TTC commissioners, city hall councillors, Queen’s Park MPPs, and bureaucrats, don’t use public transit or do not know much about public transit as you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Steve this presentation was fantastic and bought back memories of the late fifties to present. Thanks for sharing this online. You must have spent sometime putting this together. I remember the street cars from the Witts and their end of life to present. This presentation was fantastic and brought me memories. My dad drove the steetcars from the Witts to PCC after the second world war. He worked out of the Lansdowne barns that is now torn down.

    Steve: Thanks!

    Some of the photos had I already had from past excursions through the archives, but that can be like going down the rabbit hole: looking for one photo you will find more of interest and start poking around in cross-referenced files. Then there was the work of putting it together in a decent arc for a presentation. Lots of work, but who knows, I might get asked back next year and this will be a starting point for an updated version.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Steve,

    Interesting article and good summary of the history of transit in Toronto. Looked at your point that transit shaped urban development up to the early 20’s but less so since then. To some extent, subway lines continued to shape development near subway stations. (Davisville comes to mind.)

    However, the outer suburbia was mainly shaped by automobiles (roughly, beyond areas served or once served by streetcars and early “LRT”–e.g. Richmond Hill, etc.) The radials were too slow to build much commuting business–since they ran on streets from the outskirts. (Wonder if the Guelph line would have done better if cars ran downtown on the CN from Keele and St. Clair? Doubtless better–enough better to make a difference?)

    As you suggest, a more transit-focussed urban development would need an environment where people *want* to use transit (and suburban trains) rather than driving. I think this would involve concentrating employment options convenient to transit–a lot of it “central city”. (For example, at present I truly prefer *not* driving into Toronto. Will be even better when the new Lansdowne station and subway transfer. However, since COVID, I haven’t been downtown at all.) However, it is yet unclear to what extent concentrated employment will recover, post-COVID. Until that becomes clearer, I’m not sure I, if a local politician, would be enthusiastic about major capital plans.

    Cheers, Andy


  4. Steve, do you know why The Queensway passes over Parkside Drive? It meets nearby Colborne Lodge and Ellis at grade. Was it overdesigned?

    Steve: Probably because Parkside, of the various intersections, was the primary way to get to Lakeshore Boulevard and would have more traffic on it than Colborne Lodge, Ellis or Windermere. South Kingsway is also grade separated, but the other way around because of the topography.

    Here is an aerial photo of the area in 1947 for comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Steve you never fail to amaze. Your such a wealth of knowledge, this presentation is excellent in every way. You really should run for mayor, or convince the TTC to make you CEO.

    Steve: While I appreciate your confidence, I have no ambition for high public office. As for CEO, that will require someone with an immense amount of energy and dedication for renewal of the TTC, not to mention extensive experience elsewhere. I have no delusions about the limits of my abilities.


  6. “I have no delusions about the limits of my abilities.”

    Well that rules you out as Mayor of Toronto, or any GTA City for that matter right there, Steve.


  7. Thank you for the hugely informative history of transit on Toronto. Your point that people should choose to take transit rather than have to is so valid but seemingly ignored by the powers that be. One can only think they themselves drive to work. Transit could be a pleasant experience rather than the chore it is now. Getting commuters out of their cosy & warm private vehicles, their favourite blog or music playing, steaming coffee mug in hand, to go find a parking place in order to then wait around on the cold and dark platform for a train that is invariably delayed is a huge challenge. Carbon taxes won’t do it. The customer needs to be lured with the assurance of reliability, convenience and comfort.


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