The Scarborough-Malvern LRT May Live Again

So much has been going on with the gradual disintegration of the SmartTrack plan and its replacement, at least in part, with elements from the Transit City network that it has been hard to keep up. I will write about this in more detail as reports and other information become available.

Meanwhile, there has been an interest on Twitter in the original EA documents for Scarborough-Malvern which vanished from view years ago in the anti-Transit City years.

I have created a repository for these files on my site.

Happy reading!

A Smarter SmartTrack

The SmartTrack scheme was born of an election campaign, but it was John Tory’s signature project, one he is loathe to relinquish despite its shortcomings.

What’s that you say? I am just being one of those “downers” who cannot see our manifest destiny? What’s that line about patriotism and scoundrels?

At the recent Executive Committee meeting, Tory actually had the gall to say that during the campaign, he didn’t have access to a squad of experts and had to make do with the people he had. Funny that. This is the crowd that estimated construction costs on the back of an envelope, who “surveyed” the line using out of date Google images, who ignored basics of railway engineering and capacity planning to make outrageous claims for their scheme.

When the dust settled and John Tory became Mayor Tory, I thought, ok, he will adapt his plan. Indeed, it didn’t take long for a reversal on TTC bus service and the recognition that Rob Ford had stripped the cupboard bare and then started to burn the lumber at the TTC. A campaign attack on Olivia Chow’s (far too meagre) bus plan changed into championing the restoration of TTC service to the days of the “Ridership Growth Strategy” and beyond. Good on the Mayor, I thought, he can actually change his mind.

SmartTrack is another matter, and what Tory, what Toronto desperately needs is a fresh look at what GO, SmartTrack and the TTC could be if only the fiefdoms and the pettiness of clinging to individual schemes could be unlocked. That would take some leadership. I wonder who has any?

Inevitably comments like this bring out the trolls who say “so what would YOU do” (that’s the polite version). Here’s my response as a scheme that bears at least as much importance as a way of looking at our transit network as the competing visions in the Mayor’s Office, Metrolinx, City Planning and the TTC.

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Memo to Glen Murray & Karen Stintz: Are You Really Serious About Transit in Scarborough?

With all the upheaval of transit plans for Scarborough, politicians fall over each other to tell Scarborough residents how downtrodden and ignored they have been, how they always get the short end of the transit stick.  How will we fix this?  Build them a subway!

Mind you, that subway won’t open for 10 years, and riders on the Scarborough RT will have to endure more cold winters and overcrowded service, not to mention bus routes that run occasionally and unreliably.

We should remember what Scarborough was originally promised with the Transit City scheme announced years ago by then-Mayor Miller and now-Candidate Adam Giambrone:

  • An LRT line from an underground station at Don Mills & Sheppard with a direct connection to the Sheppard subway running east to Morningside and beyond.
  • An LRT line from Kennedy Station east and north via Eglinton, Kingston Road and Morningside to Sheppard serving the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).
  • An upgraded and extended Scarborough RT using LRT to reach east and north to Malvern Centre.

The Sheppard LRT is “funded” by Queen’s Park, but actual construction is a moving target with completion now planned for 2021.

The Eglinton/Morningside line (aka “Scarborough-Malvern”) drifts in limbo not even a part of the Metrolinx “Next Wave” implying completion at best by the late 2020s.

The Scarborough LRT has been replaced by the Scarborough Subway.  Although Council attached many conditions to the financing for that line, you can bet that no politician in Toronto is willing to pull the plug, to return to the LRT scheme, with provincial and municipal election fortunes in play.  One way or another, even by the simple expedient of giving Ottawa more time to pony up “their fair share” (whatever that means), the subway scheme will stay alive, and the Scarborough LRT will start to resemble Monty Python’s “dead parrot”.  It will be “sleeping” only in the minds of its most ardent advocates.

Politicians love to tell us how much they support better transit in Scarborough, and they could start by talking about something more than the subway.

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Feeling Congested Part 2: Setting Priorities

The City of Toronto’s Planning Department is consulting with the public for the development of an updated Official Plan.  The plan’s transportation component falls under the rubric of “Feeling Congested” with a website devoted mainly to transit issues.  In the first round of meetings, the focus was on “what is important”, what goals should the new plan try to achieve.  In the second round, the topic is the prioritization of goals and how these might drive out different choices in a future network.

This parallels work that Metrolinx is doing on their Big Move plan, but it includes additional options for study that are city initiatives such as transit to serve the waterfront.

A survey now in progress (until June 30) seeks feedback on the evaluation criteria for transit projects, and also for the goals of the cycling plans.  Some of this makes more sense if one first reads the toolkit, but even then the presentation will leave skeptics unhappy because there is no link to the detailed study explaining how the proposed criteria have been measured for each of proposals.  (A summary chart on page 14 does not include the subcategories within each of the eight criteria that generated the total scores .)

Even with this background, an exercise asking whether the methodology is sound seems to be an odd way to survey public attitudes without a stronger discussion of the implications for a preferred network.  This is rather like discussing the colour of a magician’s hat rather than the effect this might have on the rabbit he pulls out of it (or if there’s even a rabbit at all).

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OneCity Plan Reviewed

The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.

The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme.  Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling.  A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.

On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built.  Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled.  Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance.  Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.

Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic).  Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion.  If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto.  Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.

On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project.  Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.

Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power.  Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight.  A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.

Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy.  Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not.  Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.

In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3.  If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.

The briefing package for OneCity is available online.

My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.

To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.

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“One City” To Serve Them All

Updated June 27 at 5:20pm:  I have written a political analysis of today’s announcement for the Torontoist website that will probably go live tomorrow morning.  A line-by-line review of the plan will go up here later the same day.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Glen De Baeremaeker will formally announce a new plan called “One City” on June 27 at 10:30.

The plan already has coverage on the Star and Globe websites.  Maps:  Globe Star

I will comment in more detail after their press conference, but two points leap off the page at me:

  • The proposed funding scheme for the $30-billion plan presumes 1/3 shares from each of the Provincial and Federal governments.  This money is extremely unlikely to show up, especially Ottawa’s share.  From Queen’s Park, some of the funding is from presumed “commitments” to current projects such as the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion which would be replaced by a subway extension.  The rest is uncertain.
  • The “plan” is little more than a compendium of every scheme for transit within the 416 that has been floated recently in various quarters (including this blog).  What is notable is the fact that glitches in some of the existing ideas (notably the fact that the Waterfront East line ends at Parliament) are not addressed.  The whole package definitely needs some fine tuning lest it fall victim to the dreaded problem of all maps — once you draw them, it’s almost impossible to change them.

For those who keep an eye on political evolution, the brand “One City” surfaced in April 2012 in a speech made by Karen Stintz at the Economic Club of Canada.  This idea of a new, unifying transit brand appears to have been cooking for some time.

A Grand Plan: 2011 Edition

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a long paper about the role of transit and what a truly regional plan would look like.  To avoid extensively quoting myself, I suggest that any newcomers to this site read that as a starting point as it contains not just a list of routes, but a philosophy of how one should look at transit.

Since 2006, we have seen Transit City, MoveOntario2020 and The Big Move.  The GTA appeared well on its way to real progress in transit although problems, notably the question of local service funding, remained.

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 redraw we must, then let us do so with a view to a transit network and to a view beyond the end of next year.  What does Toronto and the GTA need?  How much will that cost?  How do we pay for it?  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.

The discussion below is Toronto centric because this is a Toronto blog, and that’s where most of the GTA’s transit riders are.  All the same, the philosophy of what transit should be affects everyone, especially in those areas where so much transit growth is needed just to catch up with the population.

Some of the info here will be familiar to those who read my commentaries regularly, but I wanted to pull it all together as a starting point.  My comments are not intended as the one, definitive “solution”, but to show the need for debate on a large scale, integrating considerations from many parts of various schemes.

[While I was writing this article, the Pembina Institute published its own critique of the Ford transit plan.  I do not intend to comment on that document here because it addresses only one part of a much larger collection of transit issues.]

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Furious George Has A Plan (Update 2)

Updated June 8, 2010 at 11:00 pm:

The Smitherman campaign has posted a backgrounder to his transportation plan which has been updated to reflect the funding of inflation by Queen’s Park.

In a previous update, I noted that there was a bit over $1-billion still unaccounted for.  This is explained in the backgrounder as follows:

Once the provincial government formally approves their contribution escalation the Smitherman construction cost increment is reduced to $3.87­billion, or $5-billion once financed to 2021. [Page 3]

Although this issue has been addressed, the method of paying for transit investments has not been changed.  Smitherman still depends on revenue from gas tax and dividends from City agencies, money that is already spoken for by existing budgets at the TTC and the City.  He also depends on new tax revenue from developments along the routes to be built.  However, those taxes traditionally have been at least partly spent to serve new residents and businesses these developments would bring.

While I applaud Smitherman for at least producing a detailed plan, I still do not agree with elements of it such as the Bloor-Danforth subway extensions or with his financing scheme.  (For the record, at Council today TTC staff responded to a question from Councillor Thompson about a subway extension and explained that any subway extension could not be built along the existing SRT corridor.)

The original content of this post follows the break.

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Transit City: Half a Loaf? (Update 4)

Today, May 17, 2010, Metrolinx CEO Rob Prichard addressed the Toronto Board of Trade with an overview of plans for Transit City projects.  The presentation slides are available on the Metrolinx website.

The final transcript version of the accompanying speech is also available online.

Updated May 18 at 6:20pm : An updated version of the Metrolinx plan is now online.  This includes more information about the staging and cash flows for each of the five projects, and confirmation that Metrolinx will be ordering 182 LRVs for the four Transit City lines.

Queen’s Park announced the Ontario Budget in March 2010 including a $4-billion cut to the short-term funding for the “Big 5” Metrolinx projects — VIVA BRT, Sheppard East LRT, Eglinton LRT, Finch West LRT, and Scarborough RT to LRT conversion and extension.  This triggered a vigorous debate between Provincial and Municipal politicians about the real effect of the cut and the true extent of Provincial commitment to transit funding.

The primary concern at Queen’s Park is constraining the growth of the Provincial debt.  In the short term, the Metrolinx projects were seen as easy to shift into future years, beyond the point where debt would be a problem.  However, in political circles, deferral can mean outright cancellation especially if the government changes or another portfolio takes precedence for spending.

Only half of Transit City has any funding commitment to date, and now half of that commitment is in question.  Where does this leave the plan and, more generally, the growth of a robust transit network in the GTA?

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