The Tangled Web of Waterfront Transit and Sidewalk Labs

The Waterfront East LRT (streetcar) is a years-overdue project. Development marches east from Yonge to the Don River along Queens Quay while transit service amounts to a handful of infrequent and unreliable bus routes. I strongly support the LRT plan, and participated in various advisory groups at Waterfront Toronto and the recently disbanded Sidewalk Labs Mobility Advisory Committee with the hope of seeing the LRT project come to life.

Toronto as a city talks a good line about “transit first” in the waterfront, but does nothing to support this. There is always some other project more important. During the early days of SmartTrack, there were even claims that it would make the Waterfront East LRT unnecessary. That was complete balderdash, along with claims that ST would replace every other project, including a Relief subway line.

Now Mayor John Tory has shifted his position on ST’s benefits somewhat, but keeping his personal project alive diverts attention and funding. A Waterfront Reset study now underway by City Planning, Waterfront Toronto and the TTC owes more to the demand for better transit to the Humber Bay Shores than to the new developments in the eastern waterfront. Political dynamics on City Council are such that the western extension could be first out of the gate leaving the eastern waterfront high and dry, so to speak, for better transit. Design for an extension of the existing streetcar track at Exhibition Loop west to Dufferin with provision to go further is already underway. [See the Exhibition Place Streetcar Link tab within the Waterfront Reset page.]

The most contentious part of the Waterfront Reset has been the link to Union Station. One might think that simply expanding platform space there would be the obvious solution, but there are competing interests. Some residents and other activists argue for a surface LRT straight through the Bay & Queens Quay intersection to the eastern waterfront, while the existing Bay Street tunnel would be repurposed for various other technologies including a moving sidewalk or some form of “people mover”. For a while, Waterfront Toronto’s former CEO was pushing for a “funicular”, although the term is more applicable to transit routes on steep hills than in a relatively flat tunnel.

The existing underground streetcar infrastructure, consisting of a ~540-metre long tunnel under Bay Street from Queens Quay Station to Union Station, opened in 1990. This existing link provides connections between the central-western waterfront, TTC Line 1, GO trains and buses, and the lower downtown core. The existing streetcar loop at Union Station is currently inadequate for present service levels, to and from the west only, because of its single, curved streetcar platform, on a single track, with insufficient space for present volumes of waiting and alighting customers, and the loop would not function effectively or safely if additional service from the east was added.

Currently, options for the link between Union Station and Queens Quay have been narrowed down to a short list of technologies: expanding the underground streetcar capacity at Union Station (loop expansion); or, repurposing the existing underground streetcar tunnel with an automated dual-haul cable-pulled transit system. The study area for the Union Queens Quay Link is illustrated below. [Waterfront Reset web page]

Two designs were presented at a recent public meeting, but I did not report on them here as there are still many details to be worked out. Drawings for these options are not available online.

  1. Two new north-south tracks are added under Bay Street, one on either side of the existing structure. Platforms would be built beside these new tracks so that passengers would load and unload along straight segments rather than on the congested curve at the north end loop. Two configurations are possible: in one all unloading would occur on the east (northbound) side with loading on the west (southbound) side, while in the other each side’s platform would serve one of the two waterfront routes. (For example, cars bound for Waterfront East could serve the east side platform while those going west stopped on the other side. The four-track structure would allow cars to bypass each other.
  2. The streetcar tunnel would be repurposed with a “People Mover” using one train in each half of the existing structure. Queens Quay Station would be substantially modified both as a southern terminus for the People Mover, and with a new underground LRT station. A surface option for this setup was dropped from the short list because of the volume of passengers who would be transferring between the PM and the LRT.

It is ironic that the impetus for removing streetcars from Bay Street came from the hope that the existing portal between Bay and York streets could be filled in, and that a new portal east of Yonge would not be required. However, the People Mover option, with its underground station, does not achieve this goal.

The next public meeting of the Waterfront Reset project will be held in the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront, 235 Queens Quay West, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm on Monday, March 4, 2019.

A third route into Union, the Bremner LRT, did not appear in the City proposals. It would, in any event, be impossible in the People Mover configuration. This proposal never made sense as Bremner is not wide enough to host an LRT route separate from Queens Quay West. A third service competing for platform space and track time at Union would make that interchange even more challenging than with only the west and east LRT services. City Planning could do everyone a favour by formally removing the Bremner route from their maps. This would also end a rather contentious debate about how a this route would affect the area west of Bathurst and south of Fort York.

The Union loop should and could have been expanded during the extended shutdown of streetcar service for the reconstruction of Queens Quay West and the nearby work on GO’s Bay Street Concourse (to which the expanded loop will connect), but there was no political will to spend money on streetcars at Union.

The Union Station connection will be the most expensive part of any upgrade to waterfront transit facilities, and this cost has been a drag on political decision-making. The Waterfront Reset is supposed to report to Council in April as part of an omnibus report on transit projects in Toronto. Once again, the waterfront could take a back seat to the favoured projects: SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension.

This is the context in which Sidewalk Labs and their proposed Quayside development join the story.

Quayside

Development of the waterfront has followed a standard pattern. Waterfront Toronto, funded jointly by all three levels of government, upgrades infrastructure (mainly utilities and roads), and manages the process for inviting development on public land that is serviced by the new facilities. Private developers bid for the sites, and Waterfront Toronto maintains input through its desigmn review process. (Some privately owned sites ignored WFT, but the majority of the land is in public hands.)

The Quayside site spans Queens Quay mostly between Sherbourne and Parliament Streets. What is quite striking here is the huge size of the Port Lands to the east and south compared with Quayside itself. [Map from Sidewalk Toronto website] The Port Lands are almost 30 times the size of Quayside and the same size as a large chunk of downtown’s business district. A share in any development there is a big prize.

Waterfront Toronto took a different tack with invited bids for a futuristic centre where new technology would be at the heart of the Quayside development. This would not simply be another new set of condos on the water. The winning bidder was Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. which is also the parent of Google. This company has very deep pockets. Sidewalk Toronto is their local presence.

Original concepts for the area stirred both excitement and skepticism, but the debate quickly focused on technology issues related to invasive monitoring of activities at Quayside, the ownership of data collected, and the role of technology generally including autonomous vehicle (AV) technology from Waymo, another Alphabet company.

Central to the Quayside proposal is the reduction of the carbon footprint both through building design (construction and operating effects) and by shifting much transportation demand to modes such as walking, cycling, shared vehicles and transit. Transit is particularly important because the projected volume to and from the eastern waterfront exceeds 3,000 passengers per hour. The origin-destination pattern for these trips is not conveniently within the Quayside precinct, but spread over downtown. Incoming school and work trips originate even further afield. This is not a demand that autonomous vehicles can touch both for capacity and for reach of service in the foreseeable future, certainly not in the period when the waterfront will develop and be populated.

For me, the Mobility Advisory Committee was a frustrating experience. There was a clear conflict between Sidewalk telling us about their wonderful technology and the committee’s ability to review and comment critically, if only thanks to time constraints, the number of committee members and infrequent meetings. There was far too much “sizzle” and far less hard detail, not to mention a sense that Sidewalk was rather full of themselves about their brave new technology world. The design for Quayside includes provision for AVs, and to some extent the proposed road layout was gerrymandered to increase the contiguous territory where AVs could operate without having to deal with a major artery such as Lake Shore Boulevard.

A fundamental problem with any discussion of AVs is that Quayside is quite small, and most of the local trips within it would be taken on foot or by cycling. AVs might be handy for some journeys, but they would not be the backbone of travel because most trips started or ended well outside of the Quayside area. If AVs were going to have any meaningful presence in Quayside, the project scope had to expand, but how this would occur was not obvious until the Star’s revelation of Sidewalk’s and Google’s designs on the wider waterfront.

A parallel and much more high profile controversy related to the data that would be collected by a very technologically active environment integral to the Quayside proposal. This is a transit blog and I will not delve into all of the threads that debate took, but the discussion served an unexpected purpose. With all of the focus on privacy and the integrity of personal data, other aspects of Sidewalk’s scheme and their wider designs faded into the background. The cynic in me suspects that for all that this might have annoyed Sidewalk, there was an advantage that the bigger picture of development scope and infrastructure funding did not receive the same attention, at least until the Star broke the story.

There was always a nagging suspicion that the real prize for Sidewalk was the wider waterfront, but most discussions looked only at the comparatively small Quayside district. The problem with only reviewing that small precinct is that neither transit nor any AV scheme will rise or fall on the comparatively modest demand of one development district, but of the combined effect of building throughout the waterfront.

A Leak at Sidewalk

On February 14, the Star’s Marco Chown Oved revealed that Sidewalk had designs on the entire Port Lands. His article is based on a presentation deck that has not been released. I asked, and he replied:

A revised presentation was issued by Sidewalk, but it does not include some of the more contentious text cited in Oved’s article.

The foundation of Sidewalk’s proposal is that they would not only finance infrastructure installation throughout Quayside and the Portlands, but that they would be repaid by tapping into future municipal revenues. They would not become developers, but would reap their reward as others built in the area they had serviced.

Internal documents obtained by the Star show Sidewalk Labs plans to make the case that it is “entitled to … a share in the uptick in land value on the entire geography … a share of developer charges and incremental tax revenue on all land.” … estimated to be $6 billion over the next 30 years. [Oved]

This sounds promising if you are a politician accustomed to finding someone in the private sector to take costs off of your hands, at least in the short term. However, it is a form of borrowing just like any debt, and there is no indication of the return Sidewalk (or its funding parent, Alphabet) would expect on its investment. Moreover, there is a risk that economic circumstances will change over coming decades and development could slow or stop in Toronto. Would that risk be part of any deal, shared with Alphabet, or would they expect payment even for infrastructure supporting vacant lots?

Development Charges are poorly understood in Toronto. They are levied city-wide against all new buildings, both residential and commercial, to recoup part of the cost of infrastructure upgrades. They are not site-specific, and buildings everywhere pay the cost of new infrastructure regardless of where it is needed. For example, new buildings downtown helped pay for the Spadina subway extension. (Provincial rules on the DC formula require that the portion of any benefit to existing properties be excluded from the calculation.) It is far from clear that the DC revenue from the Port Lands would be needed only to pay for infrastructure there.

As for tax revenue, property taxes support many municipal services of which only a small portion is capital debt service. Scooping marginal new revenues to pay back Sidewalk’s investment would starve the city of money it needs to support the new population, and this would also dilute the funds available to service City debt overall. (I will avoid the black hole of explaining how City debt financing works here.)

The idea of “Tax Increment Financing” (TIF) has been floated before and it was central to John Tory’s SmartTrack scheme. This something-for-nothing mirage has evaporated. We will now see the City investing substantially in new GO stations while having no control over the service provided to them or the fares charged. Indeed, some of the waterfront lands Sidewalk eyes for TIF benefits were likely also part of the original SmartTrack scheme. One can only collect a tax increment once, and one might even debate which of several projects (SmartTrack, GO RER, Relief Line, Waterfront LRT) contribute to the uplift in land values and taxes.

The revenue streams Sidewalk seeks are municipal, and their proposal is silent on any investment from the provincial or federal levels. Waterfront Toronto, by contrast, is built on a tripartite arrangement with all governments, notably in its signature project the Don Mouth regeneration. If Sidewalk expects to be repaid for its contribution, where are the other “partners”?

Looking more broadly, other financing entities might be interested in this project, and Sidewalk/Alphabet should not be given any preference. One way or another, the investment has to be paid back, and the affected governments will have to get the best deal (including possibly some self-financing) among whatever is on offer.

Earlier I mentioned that it was clear that Quayside alone was too small to be significant in its own right for some of Sidewalk’s goals. Oved quotes Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff:

“We don’t think that 12 acres on Quayside has the scale to actually have the impact on affordability and economic opportunity and transit that everyone aspires to,” Doctoroff said.

This is not exactly news, but a great deal of “consultation” took place on the basis that only the 12 acres were under consideration.

Brand new in the Sidewalk proposal is a new Google Canada headquarters located on the west side of New Cherry Street, a prime spot within “Villiers Island”, a new island that will be created as part of the Don Mouth project. [From p. 10 in the updated Sidewalk presentation deck]

This would have an interesting effect on the initial size of Sidewalk/Google’s presence by placing a major employment node on Villiers Island. If Google/Waymo want a testbed for AVs, this would put their HQ firmly in the neighbourhood and would increase the initial scope of “AV territory”, although this requires that streets be “AV friendly”.

One big concern about AVs is their co-existence with the LRT line. In an illustration of the new Queens Quay, an AV is clearly shown in front of a streetcar on the “LRT” right-of-way. Bad enough that there is a conflict with AVs stopping on the right-of-way, but with the expanded scope possible to serve the Google HQ, will Waymo expect to use the LRT right-of-way throughout the eastern waterfront? Would this be a condition of the contract for any financing of the LRT project?

Sidewalk knows that the LRT is an important component of waterfront development.

To encourage development, Sidewalk will finance an LRT expansion through the area and fund the construction of “horizontal infrastructure” such as “the power and thermal grid, and waste removal.”

“This is something that is on nobody’s realistic drawing board. We would ensure it gets financed and all we want to do is get paid back out of the increase in value in terms of property taxes and developer charges that are only possible when that LRT gets extended,” said Doctoroff.

“To be clear,” Doctoroff said. “We would not own the LRT. It would remain public.” [Oved]

However, it is not clear how much of the LRT Sidewalk would actually finance, and if this were only the eastern end through Quayside, this could leave the critical link to Union Station in doubt.

In the wider scope, Sidewalk envisages a second phase with an LRT extension south of the Ship Channel to serve land that is now intended to be primarily industrial (at the east end) and recreational (at the west). There is no sense of whether this is a tactic to increase future returns, or simply blue-skying by Sidewalk’s planners. Going over the Ship Channel (twice) will be an expensive proposition as lift bridges will be required to provide clearance for ships entering and leaving the channel. (The existing bascule bridge on Cherry Street will remain, but it cannot carry an LRT line.)

Conclusions

I cannot avoid the sense that Sidewalk has badly overplayed their hand, and in the process has compromised whatever discussions were in progress on their plans.

According to Oved:

One slide states there have been “weekly briefings with officials from the three levels of government,” and “regulatory dispensations,” have been drafted to allow the plan to go ahead.

The whole Sidewalk process has been shrouded in confidentiality agreements, and this has not engendered trust with folks like me, not to mention Council members, who try to keep tabs on what is happening. It is a classic problem of public-private partnerships where all critical debate and decisions happen behind closed doors beyond the ability of anyone outside an inner circle to review.

How much has actually been committed is impossible to know. Sidewalk may have been told “if you want to do X, then you will need dispensation Y”. What we do not know is whether those dispensations are simply for discussion or have the active support of staff and politicians in the various governments.

Sidewalk’s position is further undermined when they reveal that they view problems with public perceptions to be related to the narrow issue of technology use and control [see Oved]. The broader implications of a runaway development scheme cooked up behind closed doors are not mentioned. Implications of widespread information technology presence are understood by a relatively small group, but questions of “done deals” and influence in high places are political issues everyone understands.

The entire proposal contains many sweeteners including sustainability, support for the emerging industry of wood buildings, and supposed improvements in the infrastructure of delivering services to a community. These may offset concerns about invasive technology, but are all of these simply a smokescreen for a much bigger grab for control of the Port Lands?

The ink was barely dry on the Oved story when David Rider reported that a source at Queen’s Park told the Star’s Robert Benzie that the plan “had no chance of proceeding”.

“There is no way on God’s green earth that Premier Doug Ford would ever sign off on handing away nearly 500 acres of prime waterfront property to a foreign multinational company that has been unable to reassure citizens their privacy and data would be protected,” confided the high-ranking Progressive Conservative insider.

All public agencies and officials involved in this project need to go on record about their knowledge of and support for the Sidewalk proposal. This is not the time for bromides about the wonders of new technology and much-needed development.

If we are giving away control of the waterfront, it’s time we all knew what is going on.

Challenges Ahead For The 2019 TTC Board

January 10, 2019 brings the first meeting of a new TTC Board with a new crop of Councillors and a new Chair while, for now, three non-Council or “citizen” members carry over from 2018.

Jaye Robinson, formerly Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure, was appointed as the new Chair of the TTC replacing Josh Colle who did not stand for re-election. She will be joined by Councillors Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie, and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, only Carroll and Minnan-Wong have sat on the TTC Board before, and two members, Bradford and McKelvie, are new to Council in this term. The geographic distribution of members is unusual in that none of them represents a ward west of Yonge Street.

Three citizen members remain pending a review of these appointments by Council: Alan Heisey (who was Vice-Chair in the previous term), Joanne De Laurentiis and Ron Lalonde.

The first meeting includes housekeeping activities of selecting a Vice-Chair (who must be picked from the citizen members) and setting up the Audit & Risk Management Committee. Two previous committees will be disbanded in the interest of reducing the call on Councillors’ time:

  • Human Resources and Labour Relations: The TTC is at the beginning of a four year labour contract and does not foresee the need for a standing committee to deal with these matters. Any related matters would be brought either to the full Board, or to a committee struck for the purpose.
  • Budget: Although the TTC had a Budget Committee in the past term, it hardly ever met. For the new term a two-member “Working Group” is proposed, and this means that any budget meetings will take place in private except when the finished product comes to the Board for approval.

Also on the agenda for January 10 are:

  • “Richard J. Leary, CEO will give a presentation to the Board about the TTC, its accomplishments, challenges, vision and next steps.” [This presentation is not yet online.]
  • “Brian M. Leck, TTC General Counsel and John O’Grady, Chief Safety Officer will give a presentation to the Board about Member Legal, Safety & Environmental Responsibilities.”

The legal background emphasizes the Board’s role in providing oversight, general direction and strategy, as opposed to micromanagement of the system. However, this does not make for a completely hands-off arrangement as the Board has specific responsibilities and liabilities under legislation notably relating to worker safety and the environment.

Sadly, there is no legislative requirement to ensure high quality transit service.

The Board will meet again on January 24 with a meatier agenda including the Capital and Operating budgets. They are both huge documents, and the Board is unlikely to understand how their components fit together.

With the increased workload for members of the 2019 Council, moves are afoot to trim agendas and shift decisions to lower levels. In the case of the TTC:

In order to manage the number of items being presented to the Board for consideration while simultaneously seeking opportunities to improve decision making efficiency, it is recommended that staff begin to review options where delegated authority from the Board to staff is feasible. [TTC Board Governance at p. 5]

Staff will report on this in the next few months, but it is important that changes do not stifle public debate and that new “policy” does not appear out of thin air from a delegated responsibility.

Important Board roles are strategic planning and oversight of management. For the past two terms, TTC Boards have been less than engaged with overall strategy and the potential future of transit in Toronto. There are the inevitable debates about a few subway lines, but the larger question of the TTC’s purpose goes unanswered. One might argue that Council (or at least the Mayor and his allies) don’t want ideas that will add to costs getting a full airing at the TTC.

The political direction might well be to limit growth in fares and subsidies, but this should not prevent the Board from engaging in “what if” discussions to gauge the possibilities and implications for service levels, fare structures and technology, and large scale planning for system growth and maintenance.

One past example of TTC advocacy was the August 2014 “Opportunities” report produced by former CEO Andy Byford and staff. It contained many proposals including the Two Hour Fare which has only recently been implemented. The 2018 Ridership Growth Strategy contains many principles, but is lighter on specifics.

We cannot, as a city, understand what transit might do if the agency and Board charged with this are content to avoid discussions of what transit could be if only we had the will to pursue a more aggressive outlook on system improvement. The Board needs to actually do its job – be informed and make strategic plans for transit even if, in the short term, we cannot “afford” some options.

This will be a difficult term for the TTC Board who must wrestle with the proposed provincial takeover of the subway system, but this should not divert attention from several major issues affecting the transit system.

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PTIF Phase 2: The Lottery Win Is Not As Big As It Seems (Updated)

Updated March 16, 2018 at 5:15 pm: The Fire Ventillation Project which includes second exits from several stations was omitted from the list of major projects in the original version of this post. It has been added.

Updated March 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm: The Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure has clarified that the Ontario funding for the Scarborough Subway is separate from the $4 billion in matching dollars shown in the table below.

On March 14, 2018, the Federal and Provincial governments announced the scale of the second phase of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) to be spent over the next decade. Some of the details are in a backgrounder.

Funding allocations for the Toronto area are summarized in the table below. The amounts are based on transit ridership, not on population, and so Toronto gets by far the largest share of the pie.

Source: Infrastructure Canada Backgrounder

If one believed the ecstatic response of politicians and some media, one might think that all our transit prayers have been answered.

Not quite.

An additional $9 billion is not exactly small change, but Toronto has a huge appetite for transit spending and a daunting project backlog. The new money will help, but with it comes the requirement that Toronto pony up about $3 billion for projects that are not in the city’s long-term budget.

Capital planning for many years understated the infrastructure deficit by hiding projects “below the line” outside of the budget, and even more by leaving important work off of the list completely. The infrastructure deficit is much larger than the TTC reports and city financial plans indicate.

That, in turn, affects the city’s financial planning, subject of a recent report from the City Manager. Despite assurances from city staff that all known TTC costs have been included in their projections, there is a long history of the TTC leaving significant projects out of funding lists to keep their total “ask” down to a politically acceptable number.

Much needed work is not the sexy, photo-op rich stuff of subway extensions, but the mundane business of buying new equipment to replace old cars and buses, and to increase system capacity.

The new plan is to run for ten years. The money will not all land in Toronto’s hands this year, but will be parceled out as projects are approved and actual spending occurs. There is no guarantee that a future government will stick to any commitments especially if the “funded” projects are not the subject of a binding agreement. Toronto has its share of cancelled projects including the Sheppard Subway, cut back to Don Mills, and the Eglinton West Subway (both victims of Mike Harris), not to mention Transit City and the pliable attitude of various governments to the worth of a subway in Scarborough.

Updated March 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm:

Before we even start into the possible projects to be funded, some money is lopped off the top based on a past commitment.

  • Ottawa will provide “up to $660 million for the Scarborough Subway extension project, pending submission and approval”.
  • It is unclear how much of the provincial commitment to the SSE of nearly $2 billion is included in the $4 billion under the new program.

This brings the available federal funding down to about $4.237 billion.

Whether the total available from Queen’s Park is $6 billion ($4b new plus $2b for the Scarborough Subway), we do no know. I have a question in to the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure to clarify this. They have acknowledged the question, but have not replied as of 11:45 am, March 16.

Update: The Ministry of Infrastructure has clarified how the previous SSE funding fits with the newly announced program:

Ontario is committed to cost-matching federal funding for municipal projects at 33 percent. This equates to $4 billion from the province to match the City of Toronto’s $4.9 billion federal allocation. No previously committed funding for Toronto projects is included in this allocation.

Ontario’s commitment to match this new federal funding at a 33 per cent share is separate from and above the province’s previous commitment of $1.48 billion in 2010 to the Scarborough Subway. [Email from Alex Benac, Press Secretary to the Minister]

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Waterfront Transit Reset Phase 2 Update

This article is based on the public presentation held on September 18, 2017 at Harbourfront Centre. A similar presentation will be held in southern Etobicoke on September 26.

The “Waterfront Transit Reset” project was launched by Council at the end of 2015 to review all of the outstanding plans for transit from the Mississauga border to Woodbine Avenue. The first phase of this review reported in July 2016, and that provided the springboard for Phase 2 which will report to Executive Committee on October 24, and thence to Council at its meeting beginning on November 7.

Given the geographic scope, the review has been broken down into segments (and a few sub-segments) to focus on problems particular to locations across the waterfront. The four main segments are:

  • Southern Etobicoke
  • Humber River to Strachan including Parkdale and Exhibition Place
  • Strachan to Parliament including the Central Waterfront and much of East Bayfront
  • Parliament to Woodbine including the Port Lands

The presentation was done west to east, and in a single go without questions. This was something of a marathon for the audience, and I am not sure this was the best approach given the complexity of issues in some areas. As someone who has followed the detail of this study since its inception and participated in consultation sessions, I am quite familiar with the issues and was just getting an update. Those who came to this fresh, as many did, had a lot to take in.

A further problem is that the presentation included no cost estimates, and limited information on issues such as construction effects and complexity that could inform a choice between alternatives. This is particularly true of the review of Union Station. There are no travel time estimates to show what time savings, if any, various options present. Such estimates must exist as they are a critical input to the demand modelling process.

For this article, I will take a different approach and deal with the simpler parts of the study first just to get them out of the way, leaving the knottiest problems to the end.

Updated September 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm:

The presentation file is now available as a PDF. The display boards can be viewed on the project website.

Projected Demand in the Waterfront

The heart of any transportation study is the demand projection for various components under review. The chart below shows the 2041 AM peak hour demands forecast by the City’s planning model.

There is a fundamental difference between the projected demands from the western part of the line and the eastern one. From the west, the demand has the conventional inbound-to-core pattern for the AM peak. At the core and to the east, the peak flow is outbound, south to Queens Quay and east to new office and school developments.

This chart is missing some vital data that would put other parts of the discussion in a better context:

  • It assumes the presence of the Bremner link although this is the least likely to be built beyond an upgraded bus service.
  • There is no screenline west of Bay Street to indicate the demand arriving and leaving to the west right at the portal. With 2,350 going east and 3,700 coming south, this implies a substantial outbound demand to the west. Without the 750 each way on Bremner, these numbers would be higher.
  • The comment about higher demand in the east without the Relief Line does not explain whether the modelled values shown here include that line or not.

It is impossible to evaluate the demand numbers when there is no sense of staging of projects or of networks with some pieces “in” or “out” of the mix.

There is also no sense of the time frame over which the various demands will evolve, only that this is the 2041 end state. Any decision of the order of projects (and indeed their worth relative to other parts of the transit network) must be in the context of changes that are anticipated in the short, medium and long terms. This also begs the question of whether there are changes in the pipeline that will require heroic efforts in building up transit service to avoid short changing growing parts of the city (much as we already see in Liberty Village).

Another factor in any plans for the Waterfront network is the degree to which it serves major entertainment and recreational destinations. This will bring substantially stronger off-peak and seasonal demands that would be found on the transit network as a whole.

Ridership growth on the TTC has been stronger during the off peak period, if only because there has been so little growth in peak service. Strong off-peak demand is good for transit economics because the fixed cost of infrastructure is spread over more hours and riders, but the flip side is that peak riders have more incentive to abandon the TTC.

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Waterfront Reset Public Meetings

My apologies to readers for not posting this sooner.

Waterfront Toronto, the TTC and the City of Toronto are holding two meetings to present the results of work on the “Waterfront Reset” project, a review of the various waterfront transit plans.

After the September 18 meeting, I will post a commentary on the proposals.

Pantographs Up On Harbourfront

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the TTC began operation of its new Flexity streetcars with pantograph power collection on the 509 Harbourfront route. This is a short, comparatively isolated route running entirely with Flexitys where problems, if any, can be ironed out on a small piece of the network. Any off route moves including carhouse trips are done with trolley poles, and the normal changeover point between modes is at Exhibition Loop.

Here is a small set of photos of the route.

Metrolinx to Buy LRVs from Alstom

The Globe and Mail reports that Metrolinx has entered into a deal with Alstom, who are already building the LRV fleet for Ottawa, to produce cars for at least some of the Metrolinx projects in the GTHA. In effect, Metrolinx is looking to cut its ties to Bombardier whose car deliveries are long overdue, although the actual mechanics of this will depend on contract negotiations and whether Bombardier actually does manage to produce cars in time for the Eglinton Crosstown line’s opening.

The Alstom cars will go to Eglinton, unless Bombardier comes through, in which case they will be repurposed for the Finch and Hurontario lines. Given the opening dates planned for those lines, a decision to extend the Alstom order would come well before opening day unless the current target dates for Finch and Hurontario were changed.

Metrolinx and Bombardier still must go through a dispute resolution process, but is it clear that Metrolinx feels that they are on solid enough ground to make this move.

Metrolinx press release (May 12, 2017):

METROLINX STATEMENT ON ALSTOM / BOMBARDIER

TORONTO: May 12, 2017 – Metrolinx is taking a major step forward to ensure that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT opens on time, and that our other LRT projects are on track.

We are making great progress on the Eglinton Crosstown and are well on our way to launching this outstanding new service as scheduled in 2021.

Now, we are pleased to be able to say we have certainty that there will be trains to run on this line.  That is because we are entering into an agreement with Alstom as an alternative supplier of light rail vehicles.  Alstom will build 17 vehicles for the Finch West LRT project and, if necessary, 44 for Eglinton Crosstown. If Alstom vehicles are not needed for Eglinton Crosstown, they will be reassigned to the Hurontario LRT project.

We know for sure that Alstom’s light rail vehicles work.  They are currently producing quality vehicles on-time for Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT project.

We are going through a dispute resolution process with Bombardier, but that could take 8-12 months, and we can’t wait that long to determine whether Bombardier will be able to deliver.

We are hopeful that Bombardier can get its program on track.   However, the steps we are taking give us a safety net if it turns out Bombardier is unable to fulfil its contract.

Our end goal remains opening our LRT projects on time with high-quality vehicles that will provide excellent service to the people of this region.  This new contract with Alstom provides flexibility to ensure that happens.

John Jensen

President & CEO, Metrolinx

Bombardier Statement (May 12, 2017)

From Marc-André Lefebvre, Head of Communications and Public Relations, Canada

Bombardier is ready, able, and willing to deliver these vehicles to the people of Toronto on time. As the Minister and Metrolinx are well aware, these vehicles can be ready ahead of schedule and well before a single track has even been laid on the Eglinton Crosstown.

In fact, the Metrolinx pilot vehicle is ready, undergoing qualification testing, and Bombardier is right now producing vehicles for the Region of Waterloo that are identical to those that will be used on the Eglinton Crosstown. All 14 of those vehicles will be delivered to Waterloo by the end of this year.

We believe what’s best for the people of Toronto and Ontario is that we work together to ensure taxpayers are not on the hook for another cancelled contract. We’ve met each and every major LRV delivery milestone in the last eight months and the proof will be in the performance of these vehicles in Waterloo and on Eglinton. We have addressed the issues raised in the past and we are confident this will be upheld in the dispute resolution process.

We are committed to working with Metrolinx to find a clear path forward; one that ensures the transit riding public has the most efficient, comfortable and reliable transit system in the world.

I will update this article as more information becomes available.

Minister of Transportation’s statement (May 12, 2017)

Youtube video of Alstom Citadis cars for Ottawa

Alstom product page for Citadis Spirit

Alstom press release (May 12, 2017)

Toronto Star article

Just think, this could have been Scarborough. While Toronto has utterly cocked up its transit planning, with substantial help from Queen’s Park, Ottawa has built and is about to open the first phase of their line.

An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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Has John Tory Discovered Life After SmartTrack?

With all the flurry of transit funding and construction announcements lately, Mayor John Tory added his own contribution with a media statement at that busiest of stations, Bloor-Yonge. What prompted such a high-profile event? Rumour has it that Queen’s Park plans to fund the Richmond Hill subway extension in its coming budget, and Tory wants to be sure he defends the existing downtown system against overloading from the north.

(See coverage in The Star and The Globe & Mail)

Specifically, Tory wants to ensure that funding will be available for:

Building new transit lines including the Eglinton East LRT, waterfront transit and the downtown relief line

This is brave stuff, our Mayor rallying his city to the barricades [cue inspirational and very-hummable anthem here] were it not that Tory himself is responsible for much of the confusion and misdirection in transit plans today. His election campaign promoted “SmartTrack”, a single city-wide project that would solve every problem and magically be funded through taxes on new development the line would bring. A “surface subway” would speed riders from Markham to Mississauga via downtown with frequent service at TTC fares. Nothing else (except for a politically unavoidable subway in Scarborough) was needed, certainly not better bus and streetcar service to fill all those spaces in between major routes.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. SmartTrack has dwindled to a handful of new GO stations to be built on the City’s dime, some of which Metrolinx might have built anyhow, and a few in locations of dubious merit beyond their soothing effect on local politicians. With the demise of a scheme to run GO trains along Eglinton from Mount Dennis to the Airport district, the Eglinton West LRT extension is also on the table, but it stops short of its necessary end, the airport, because Toronto lopped off the outside-416 segment to reduce the cost. Whether Mississauga and/or the airport authority itself will contribute to the LRT remains to be seen.

Tory discovered that surface routes suffered under his predecessor, and vowed more money for buses. Toronto bought the buses, but money to actually operate many of them is harder to come by. The only thing that saved the TTC from widespread service cuts in 2017 was a last minute City budget fiddle to bump the expected revenue from Land Transfer Tax.

Meanwhile in Scarborough, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension vie for the same pool of riders, and it is only the comparatively infrequent GO service that preserves any credibility for the subway extension. Planners who once argued that an east-west line through the Town Centre precinct would better serve future development now compliantly endorse the supposed benefit of a single new north-south station between McCowan and the shopping mall.

Mayor Tory might now think of both ST and the SSE as “done deals”, although there’s a lot of ground to cover before the final cost projections and approvals by Council. Those extra GO stations and the express subway might still cost more than the preliminary estimates shown to Council, but there’s no more money coming from Queen’s Park. Indeed, the two governments cannot agree on how to calculate inflation in the provincial “commitment”, and Toronto thinks more money is on the table than is likely to be available. After all, Tory is in no position to tell a funding government how much they will pay out. Even those numbers are subject to change if the Liberals lose control of Queen’s Park to the Tories, as seems very likely in 2018.

Then there’s Ottawa and Trudeau’s huge infrastructure program, just the thing a politician who is desperate to make everything seem affordable could wish for. Except, of course, that the infrastructure pot isn’t bottomless. Once it is divvied up across the country, Toronto’s share is well below the level John Tory hoped to spend with his shiny new Liberal red credit card. Holding press conferences about the need for projects won’t change the amount of money available, and the federal program requires that municipalities, even big irresponsible ones, must set priorities. Tory’s plans also require Queen’s Park to come in with funding equal to the Fed’s contribution at a time when provincial budgets are tapped out, and Toronto’s ongoing game of holding down taxes rather than pay for its own services and infrastructure plays poorly beyond the 416.

What does the Mayor do? John Tory, the man who had a one-line plan to solve everything, now looks to a world beyond SmartTrack.

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Selective History Colours Transit Commentary

In a recent column in the Toronto Sun, Gordon Chong advances the argument that transit developments are too much about politics without enough professional planning.

The politics of transportation, published Saturday March 4, 2017

Up to that point, he and I agree, but our analysis of the situation quickly differs. Chong writes of decisions that were influenced by political considerations. He uses the Wynne flip-flop on support for tolls, and the ongoing question of how much the Scarborough Subway will cost, as jumping-off points, but then lists:

  • Cancellation of the Spadina Expressway by Bill Davis in 1971
  • The TTC/City decision to reverse plans to eliminate streetcars in 1972
  • The current emphasis of reimagining King Street rather then concentrating  on a Queen Street subway

Chong is acerbic, to put it mildly, in his remarks about Davis and the Spadina calling it

One of the most egregious examples of political self-interest and, some would say, spinelessness in transportation planning …

He goes on to say that stopping Spadina was important:

Holding the downtown riding, where the Spadina Expressway was deeply unpopular, with a tough, capable and popular Jewish cabinet minister was important to the Conservatives.

It is amusing to think how readers would react if some other group were the target of Chong’s ire, especially considering the role of the Shiner family in fighting for the expressway. Regardless of how one feels about the issue, it is the planning merits that should be debated.

Citing former Transportation Commissioner Sam Cass, certainly the “black hat” of the expressway battles, Chong argues for “balanced” road and transit networks. Nobody has ever been able to define just what should measure this so-called balance, and cynics among us translate the term as “an expressway for me, transit for everyone else”. Toronto is about to spend $1 billion to maintain that sort of “balance” with the Gardiner East rebuild project.

Chong goes on to talk about how the Spadina would have provided relief from the northwest into downtown instead of the current status, a “virtual parking lot”. He ignores the effect the expressway would have had on the city. Unlike the DVP which was built through an unpopulated area, the Spadina would have torn through established neighbourhoods setting the stage for a Crosstown expressway parallel to the CPR tracks at Dupont, and an eventual extension south to the Gardiner. The renaissance of downtown’s west side could not have happened with an expressway in place.

Relief and the Queen Street subway? Yes, there was another transportation plan on the books in the 1960s, and it was a Queen Subway that would have turned north to Don Mills and Eglinton, what we now call the “Downtown Relief Line”. That didn’t get built either thanks to a shift in attention from the downtown to suburban rapid transit lines.

As for the streetcars:

Another misguided political decision occurred when the Toronto Transit Commission’s Streetcar Elimination Program was stopped in its tracks by an alliance of local citizens and aldermen (now councillors) delaying the sensible transition to subways and buses capable of maneuvering more easily in traffic.

Unfortunately, the streetcar lovers prevailed and motorists are now stuck behind slow moving and frequently disabled streetcars and LRTs in the downtown core.

Chong has been beating this drum for years, and he forgets that the subway to which streetcars might have “transitioned” has never been built. I was part of the group who fought to retain streetcars, and our argument then as now was that the routes streetcars serve require higher capacity that would be difficult to provide with buses. In the early 1970s, the TTC ran almost twice as much service on most streetcar routes as it does today, and the problem with a shortage of vehicles is not a recent one. Ever since the 1990s recession when ridership fell and the TTC was able to cut back on the size of the fleet, there have been almost no improvements in streetcar service. A fleet well beyond its design life limps along attempting to provide service.

Buying more cars is long, long overdue, especially now that the near-downtown areas served by these routes are starting to redevelop. King Street is the most pronounced example, but more residents and potential transit riders are coming to the other routes even though the TTC has no way of providing better service. Bombardier’s glacial delivery rate for new streetcars is only the latest of problems, but the TTC’s inaction on buying more streetcars predates that order.

Keeping the streetcars was not just a matter for the existing network, but for suburban expansion, something that would have been ruinously expensive with subways back in the 70s and 80s, let alone today. But Queen’s Park preferred its high tech trains (now known as the SRT), and the promise of inexpensive suburban expansion evaporated with them.

Suburban transit in Toronto has been badly served by a succession of administrations going back to pre-amalgamation days. In 1990, then Premier David Peterson announced a “network” of rapid transit lines amounting to “a chicken in every pot” planning. This included a Malvern extension of the SRT, a Sheppard Subway from Yonge to STC, a Yonge/Spadina loop subway via Steeles, an Eglinton West subway from the Spadina line out to the Airport, a Bloor subway extension to Sherway, and a Waterfront LRT to southern Etobicoke. The first the TTC heard of this plan was when the Premier announced it.

Peterson lost the election, but the Rae government, looking for make-work projects in the face of a recession, kept the Sheppard and Eglinton projects alive, although the latter didn’t get far, and was killed off by Mike Harris five years later. The only part of the Waterfront line built was the new connection via Spadina and Queen’s Quay into Union Station. (The Spadina streetcar and the Harbourfront connection to Bathurst came later.) The Sheppard line survived the Harris regime only because he needed Mel Lastman’s political support for amalgamation, and that subway was part of the deal.

By 2007, David Miller proposed the Transit City LRT network with the intention of bringing better transit to routes that were not all aimed at downtown Toronto. The lines served the city’s “priority neighbourhoods”, not necessarily locations where civic egos dictated prestige transit lines. That network was sabotaged first by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cutbacks in transit support, and later by Rob Ford’s visceral hatred of any plan that had Miller’s name on it, not to mention his loathing for streetcars.

LRT (as streetcars on some degree of reserved right-of-way are known) is used in hundreds of cities around the world, and two substantial networks in Calgary and Edmonton are the core of their respective transit system. But none of that matters to the subway boosters in Toronto.

Chong argues for both a Queen subway and a Relief Line, but presents this as an alternative rather than as a complement to the streetcar service on King.

Now, city council is considering a King Street traffic mitigation plan giving priority to streetcars and pedestrians over cars, when it should be looking at Queen Street and how to complete the planned subway along it, linking it with the long-awaited downtown relief line.

They are two completely separate projects, especially considering we are unlikely to see a DRL until the early 2030s at best. Meanwhile, King needs substantially improved transit service with larger streetcars and priority for transit movements over cars.

The Relief Line suffers, as we have repeatedly seen, by its characterization as “Downtown” by those who would exploit suburban feelings of transit inequity. Politicians prefer to play to their voters with inaccuracies and slurs, always implying that “someone else” is getting what their voters deserve.

Finally, Chong puts in a plug for the Sheppard West subway connection.

There are many other examples of short-term thinking and aborted transit plans requiring a 50- to 100-year vision, such as completing the Sheppard subway.

The Sheppard connection from Yonge to Downsview was one of two options before Council, and it was in direct competition with the line to York University. That route, and the possible further extension to Vaughan, had better political connections, and a higher likely demand. The subway ends today at Downsview (soon to be renamed Sheppard West) because that was common to the two possible routes. It was the only extension Council could agree on. But now, integration of a Sheppard service with the Spadina line is impossible due to mixed train lengths and incompatible headways on the routes. At best there would be a transfer between the lines.

Political intervention in transit planning? Certainly, but this goes well beyond the few battles Chong trots out. Transit battles have led to the bizarre combination of paralysis, the inability to actually build, and intense pressure to build specific projects with high political profile, one that has been artificially inflated by populist rhetoric, not by good planning.

Why write an article about an opinion piece in the Sun by a has-been politician? Simple. Gordon Chong is a Tory, and he was both Vice-Chair of the TTC, and Chair of the predecessor agency to Metrolinx. He can be expected to lobby for some position of influence over Toronto’s transit plans if Patrick Brown’s PCs take control at Queen’s Park. His selective view of history is something we can do without.

Toronto and the GTHA have major transit and transportation issues for any government after the 2018 election. Fighting old battles on long-expired pretenses is no way to plan the city.