A Rainbow of Rapid Transit

In Toronto’s never-ending fascination with new transit maps, the City Planning department has released a vision for our rapid transit network as it will be in 15 years.

201602_15YrPlan

Despite much talk of “evidence-based” planning, this is a very political map, and I cannot help remembering then-Premier David Peterson’s announcement of 1990 (not long before he lost an election and Bob Rae wound up as his much-surprised replacement) that amounted to a chicken-in-every-pot map.

There is nothing wrong with network-based planning, and indeed I have been beating a well-worn drum on that subject for years. But let us also remember that the Scarborough Subway exists because of the political clout of Brad Duguid, a former City Councillor, now Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development. Mayor John Tory, in Toronto Life, cites Duguid as saying that “if anyone tries to cancel the [Scarborough] subway, they’ll do it over his dead body”. “Evidence” apparently includes having a large cudgel to keep wandering pols in line.

The map also includes the Mayor’s pet project, SmartTrack, and it’s no wonder that he steers clear of the Minister’s position given the need for a provincial agency, Metrolinx, to accommodate SmartTrack on their network.

All of this is part of the “Motherlode” of public consultation sessions now running in various places around the City, and through Metrolinx in the wider GTHA. Background information and links to related material are available at Toronto’s TransitTO web site.

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TTC Budget Meeting: November 9, 2015 (Updated)

Updated November 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm:

The Budget Committee meeting was not the best-organized or well-informed of TTC meetings thanks to a combination of factors. It was held in the boardroom at TTC headquarters which is no longer configured suitably for such events and cannot handle a large presence by the media who were out in force anticipating a story about 2016 fares. Almost all of the material was presented by one person who, unfortunately, trusted to memory rather too often and got the odd fact wrong as the meeting wore on. Moreover, there simply was too much material to absorb in the manner it was presented.

Committee members, for their part, tended to view the situation through their personal lenses of which hobbyhorse needed attention. This did not necessarily make for a broad view of TTC issues, and many erroneous assumptions, often uncorrected, crept into the debate.

We will go through this and much more all over again at the November 23, 2015 meeting of the full Board when we can also expect a very long parade of deputations on the subject of fares.

The entire exercise of having a Budget Committee has been useful, up to a point, in that some Commissioners have been exposed to the gory details, but they remain confused, and we have yet to see an actual philosophical discussion of just what the TTC should be as a basis for the budgets for 2016 and beyond.

The following motions were approved by the Committee:

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SmartTrack Update: Many Reports, Many Unanswered Questions (Updated)

Updated October 21, 2015 at 9:30 am:

The Executive Committee spent a few hours discussing this report. As the morning wore on, it was clear that Mayor Tory was becoming unhappy with questions about his scheme. By the end of the debate when he spoke, he said:

I think a number of the questions raised by members of council today are perfectly legitimate questions which I’m sure our staff have taken note of and if they weren’t already being asked and answered, those questions, they will now be.  I just hope and I sense a generally positive sort of sense around here but I hope that we don’t get into being either sort of Douglas or Debbie Downer about these things. [Adapted from a quotation in the Toronto Sun]

Tory went on to say that he had “a mandate” from voters to build SmartTrack in a manner distressingly reminiscent of Rob Ford’s “mandate” to tear up Transit City. The problem with both claims is that voters did not elect Tory or Ford for those specific purposes, but in a reaction against the previous administrations, particularly in Tory’s case. Moreover, that “mandate” does not mean that the platform necessarily made sense as proposed, only that it was an attraction to voters that a candidate had concrete ambitions. We have already seen Tory backtrack on his claims that Toronto did not need more bus service (responding to Olivia Chow’s half-hearted support for transit), and there is no reason for SmartTrack to be treated as a divine plan on stone tablets.

As answers from staff to various questions made abundantly clear, there is a lot of work to do between now and first quarter 2016 when all of the details are supposed to return to Council. Staff went out of their way to avoid giving any indication of the way preliminary work might be headed lest they be drawn into a debate about “conclusions” before the supporting studies are in place.

The Executive Committee made a few amendments to the report’s recommendations:

1.  Requested the City Manager to forward the report (October 15, 2015) from the City Manager for information to the Toronto Transit Commission, the Ministry of Transportation, Metrolinx, the City of Mississauga and York Region.

2.  Requested the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report to the Planning and Growth Management Committee on the results of the public consultations arising from the Preliminary Assessments of the Smart Track Stations, as set out in Appendix 2 to the report (October 15, 2015) from the City Manager, particularly with respect to the development potential of new stations.

3.  Requested the City Manager to work with Toronto Transit Commission, Metrolinx, and GO Transit, to develop a One Map Strategy where by major intersections and/routes of these transit operators are shown on future hard copy and electronic local and regional transit maps, once SmartTrack routes and stations are established.

The first recommendation is the original staff proposal simply to transmit the update report to other agencies. The second arose from a concern by Councillor Shiner, chair of the Planning & Growth Management Committee, that implications of and potential for redevelopment around SmartTrack stations be understood as soon as possible. During debate, he spoke about the success of development a long the Sheppard line, an ironic stance considering how strongly he had opposed development around Bayview Station when it was at the design stage.

The third recommendation arose from Councillor Pasternak, who never tires of advocating the “North York Relief Line” (otherwise known as the Sheppard West extension to Downsview). His desire is that maps show all of the projects that are in the pipeline during studies, not just the one that happens to be the subject of debate.

A notable absence in the staff presentation was any reference to the Scarborough Subway Extension as an alternative route for travel to downtown. That presentation covered substantially the same information as the background reports, but it included a few new charts about comparative travel times with SmartTrack in place.

STvsTTC_TravelTimes1

The important difference between this map [at p23] and the Tory SmartTracker website (which shows comparative travel times) is that the TTC includes the access and wait times for SmartTrack in its calculations. This reduces the proportionate saving over a trip. Another issue, of course, is that many riders do not work at Union Station, and taking SmartTrack there would be an out-of-the-way trip. This is not to downplay what SmartTrack might do, but to point out that if ST is to be part of a “network”, then advocacy for it must look at how it benefits all of the trips originating in some part of the city (say northeast Scarborough), not just those that conveniently lie on its route. This will be an issue in comparative ridership projections for ST and the Scarborough Subway Extension because those who are bound for midtown will almost certainly have a shorter trip simply by taking the subway rather than ST.

The original article follows below:

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Yonge Relief Network Study: June 2015 Update

At its board meeting on June 25, 2015, Metrolinx will consider an update on the study of capacity relief for the Yonge Street Corridor in Toronto.

The report states that projected demand on the Yonge line can be handled for the next 15 years:

1.a. Significant relief to the Yonge Subway will be achieved with currently committed transit improvements underway including:

i. TTC’s automatic train control and new subway trains;

ii. The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension; and

iii. GO Regional Express Rail

1.b. Based on [the] above, more rapid transit service and capacity that is currently funded and being implemented will meet the future 15 year demand, assuming current forecasts on the growth rate of downtown employment and the implementation of TTC automatic train control on the Yonge Subway.

Continued work is recommended:

2. Direct the Metrolinx CEO to work with the City of Toronto City Manager and the TTC CEO to develop an integrated approach to advance the Relief Line project planning and development, incorporating further business case analysis and the findings of the Yonge Relief Network Study to:

  • further assess the extension north to Sheppard Avenue East to identify a preferred project concept,
  • inform the planning underway by the City of Toronto and TTC to identify stations and an alignment for the Relief Line from Danforth to the Downtown area
  • continue to engage the public in this work as it develops

3. Direct staff to work in consultation with York Region, City of Toronto and the TTC to advance the project development of the Yonge North Subway Extension to 15% preliminary design and engineering.

The emergence of a variation on the Relief Line that would operate north to Sheppard is quite a change from days when even getting discussion of a line north of Eglinton was a challenge. The context for this emerges by looking at the alternatives for “relief” that were considered and how they performed.

The next report to the Metrolinx Board will be in Spring 2016. The challenge will be to keep planning for a Relief Line “on track” in the face of the excitement and political pressures for GO RER, SmartTrack and a Richmond Hill Subway.

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Platform Edge Doors: Motherhood or a Vital Addition to the TTC Subway? (Updated)

At its meeting of February 11, 2015, Toronto Council debated a report from the Medical Officer of Health on Suicide Prevention. In response to this report, Council approved the following motion (which is a modified version of one of the MOH’s recommendations):

1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission to consider the following improvements to passenger safety and suicide prevention in future budget submissions as the automatic train control project is completed:

a. in the design of stations for all future extensions or new lines include Platform Edge Doors or other means for restricting unauthorized access to the subway tracks by members of the public;

b. retrofit existing stations with Platform Edge Doors or other means for restricting unauthorized access to the subway tracks by members of the public.

Please refer to the update at the end of this article for comment about the content of the debate which is now available online.

During the debate, various claims were made for the benefits of Platform Edge Doors (PEDs) on the advice of TTC staff, notably that it would not be possible to increase subway service from 28 trains/hour to 36/hour without the installation of PEDs.

28 trains/hour is equivalent to a headway of 128.6 seconds, somewhat shorter than the current scheduled level of 141 seconds, but within the capabilities of the existing signal system. 36 trains/hour is equivalent to a headway of 100 seconds which is well below the current infrastructure’s capacity.

This is the first time that the TTC has advanced PEDs not just as a “nice to have” option, but as a pre-requisite to improved subway service. The MOH cites a TTC report on the subject, but does not comment on its technical merit only regarding PEDs as a way to eliminate subway suicides, a noble goal.

The TTC received a presentation on this report in September 2010, but only a two-page covering report is online. (The TTC plans to post the longer version, but as I write this it is not yet online.)

According to this report:

In May 2010, SYSTRA Group (an affiliated company of Paris Metro) was retained to conduct a business case study for the installation of PEDS at TTC subway stations.

The SYSTRA report is not publicly available, but the presentation summary will be posted by the TTC soon. It is not yet on the TTC’s site as I write this article, but was provided to me by the TTC’s Brad Ross and is available here.

PEDs Business Case Presentation Sep 28, 2010

This presentation is misleading in that it combines benefits expected to flow from reduced headways through Automatic Train Control (ATC) and those specific to PEDs. A major benefit of the doors is to keep debris from falling onto the tracks where it creates a fire hazard. However, a separate review of TTC operations by an international consulting group noted that the TTC’s ability to operate its advertised service is compromised by several factors including equipment reliability and passenger illness (some of which is a result of overcrowding). Continue reading

Neptis Reviews Metrolinx: A Critique (I)

In December 2013, the Neptis Foundation published a review of the Metrolinx Big Move plan authored by Michael Schabas. This review received prominent attention in the Toronto Star and is regularly cited in their coverage of transportation issues. Some elements also appear in recent comments by Transportation Minister Glen Murray, and it is reasonable to assume that his view of Metrolinx priorities has been influenced by the Neptis paper.

Since its publication, I have resisted writing a detailed critique in part because of the sheer size of the document and my disappointment with many claims made in it, and a hope that it would quietly fade from view. Recent Ministerial musings suggest that this will not happen.

The stated goals of the report arose from four basic questions posed shortly after The Big Move was released in 2008:

  • What evidence suggests that the projects in the Big Move will double the number of transit riders and significantly reduce congestion in the region, as promised by Metrolinx?
  • Does each project offer good value for money?
  • Do all the projects add up to a substantial regional transit network or is the Big Move just an amalgam of projects put forward by diverse sponsors?
  • How do the projects in the Big Move relate to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, its land use equivalent? [Page 2]

The report itself addresses a somewhat different set of questions and notably omits the land use component.

  • Will the Big Move projects achieve the Metrolinx objective of doubling transit ridership?
  • Are these projects consistent with Metrolinx’s own “guiding principles”?
  • Are they well-designed, consistent with international best practice, and integrated with other transport infrastructure?
  • Will they support a shift of inter-regional travel onto transit?
  • Are there alternative, more effective schemes that should be considered?
  • What changes would help Metrolinx produce better results? [Page 14]

Schabas’ work is frustrating because on some points he is cogent, right on the mark.

Metrolinx has bumbled through its existence protected from significant criticism, swaddled in a cocoon of “good news” and the presumed excellence of its work. To be fair, the agency operates in a political environment where independent thought, especially in public, is rare, and years of planning can be overturned by governmental whim and the need to win votes.

That said, Metrolinx is a frustrating, secretive organization conducting much of its business in private, and tightly scripting public events. Schabas rightly exposes inconsistencies in Metrolinx work, although his own analysis and alternatives are, in places, flawed and blinkered.

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Neptis Reviews Metrolinx: A Critique (III)

This article is the third section of my critique of the December 2013 review of the Metrolinx Big Move Plan written by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation. It should be read in conjunction with Part I and Part II.

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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (4)

Public meetings regarding the Metrolinx Yonge Corridor Relief Study and the City of Toronto/TTC Relief Line Project Assessment have been announced:

  • Saturday April 5, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Sheraton Centre Dominion Ballroom (Queen Street opposite City Hall)
  • Tuesday April 8, 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church (10066 Yonge Street, north of Major MacKenzie) (Metrolinx study only)
  • Thursday April 10, 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm at Riverdale Collegiate (1094 Gerrard Street East at Jones Avenue)
  • Saturday April 12, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon at Holy Name Parish (71 Gough Avenue, Danforth one block west of Pape) (City/TTC study only)

A new website has been created under the name regionalrelief.ca with links to various aspects of these studies.  There are three main branches only one of which contains new content.

  • The Metrolinx branch takes readers to the Metrolinx Regional Relief Strategy project page which reflects the status as of the February 2014 board meeting.
  • The City of Toronto branch goes to a subsite dedicated specifically to the Project Assessment for the Relief Line.  This includes a mechanism for public participation in formulation of the Terms of Reference for this study.
  • The York Region branch goes to the VivaNext page for the Yonge subway Richmond Hill extension.

I will update this article if new material appears before the public meetings.

Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (3) (Meetings Postponed)

The meetings originally announced for the week of March 1st in Toronto and Richmond Hill have been postponed by joint agreement of the parties involved.  New dates later in March will be announced.

Metrolinx will hold three public meetings to discuss the Regional Relief Strategy on March 1st and 3rd in Toronto, and on March 5th in Richmond Hill.

Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (2)

This article is a continuation of a previous commentary on the Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Strategy.

On February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board considered the presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study, but little information was added in the debate.  One question, from Chair Robert Prichard, went roughly “shouldn’t this have been started two years ago”, but it was left hanging in the air without a response.  Two years, of course, has brought us a new Provincial Premier and a recognition that her predecessor’s timidity on the transit file wasted a great deal of time.

Moreover, there is a long overdue acknowledgement that Metrolinx cannot simply plan one line at a time without understanding network effects including those beyond its own services.

Originally, I planned to leave the next installment in this discussion until public consultation sessions began, but I have now decided to make some brief comments on the various options that will be on the table.  (See Yonge Network Relief Study, page 11.)

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