125 Years (And More) of Electric Streetcar Operation (Updated)

From 1861 to 1891, the Toronto Street Railway Company (TSR) operated a network of horse car routes serving the then small City of Toronto. By the end of the TSR franchise, the City was eager to see the new railway electrification technology replace the horses, and granted a 30-year franchise effective September 1, 1891, to the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) with the express requirement that electric operation begin within a year.

August 15, 1892 saw the official first run of an electric streetcar on the TRC’s Church Street route (Union Station to Rosedale), and revenue service began the day after. In keeping with the terms of its franchise, the TRC beavered through electrification of the horse car routes, and the last of these (McCaul Street) ceased operating in August 1894. Electric service began on this route in December 1894 completing the conversion of the system.

There was money to be made from street railways and related businesses including power generation. Niagara power would not reach Toronto until 1907, and until then the railway companies had to generate their own. It was no coincidence that ownership of the street railways and electric light companies were related.

The TRC’s operations were based out of many buildings near Front and Sherbourne, and several of these had been taken over from the predecessor TSR. The requirements of an electric railway were quite different from those of a horse car operation, and over time buildings were repurposed or rebuilt. Only one building remains on the southeast corner of Front and Frederick, and it is now the Young People’s Theatre. This began life as a TSR stable in the 1880s, but was converted to a power house with steam generation by the TRC. Even after hydro-electric power arrived from Niagara, this building remained as a standby facility thanks to the unpredictable supply. It was decommissioned by the TTC in 1924.

Front & Frederick Streets Power House 1925

 

Interior of Front & Frederick Substation 1927

 

Although August 15 is the TRC’s 125th annniversary of electrification, this was not the first such operation in Toronto.

Updated August 16, 2017: Based on information from John F. Bromley (see the comments), the first year of operation for this line was 1883, not 1884. During that first year, the line ran with power from a third rail, but from 1884 onward from overhead. The text below has been modified to reflect this timeline.

From 1883-1891, an electric railway operated from Strachan Avenue to Dufferin Street in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, then known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. The line was a demonstration by J.J. Wright of the Toronto Electric Light Co. and Charles Van Depoele, described in the archives as “a Belgian-American street railway promoter”.

For the first year, the line ran with third rail power, but from 1884 from overhead wire and a pole pickup that showed more promise for street operation.

The line was seasonal and ran only during the CNE linking the grounds with the horse car service on King Street. The fare was a princely five cents, separate from the TSR.

 

 

The next electric railway operation in Toronto was out in what were then the suburbs of Deer Park, Davisville and Eglinton. The Metropolitan Railway Company (later the Metropolitan Division of the Toronto and York Radial Railway Company) operated a horse car line from the then northern City limit at the CPR tracks (where North Toronto station now stands) to Eglinton starting in January 1885. This was extended to Glen Grove in 1886 where the Metropolitan’s owners built a “Park and Pleasure Ground”, an early example of street railways creating demand by building destinations.

The demonstration at the Industrial Exhibition and electrification of other networks (Windsor, Ontario in 1886; an interurban line between St. Catharines and Thorold in 1887) prompted the Metropolitan to pursue electrification in Toronto. The first electric car ran on September 1, 1890, with power coming from a steam plant at Davisville.

Early operations were less than ideal because the horse car track was not up to the weight of the heavier electric cars, and electrical bonding of the rails was poor. These problems were ironed out in the first year’s operation, and pressure for expansion northward quickly followed. By 1892 the line ran to “York Mills South” at what later became Glen Echo Loop, the northern extent of the TTC’s “city” network after it took over operation north of the CPR tracks. The line would eventually reach Sutton at Lake Simcoe.

The fare boundary at the CPR between the TSR, later the TRC, and the T&YRR was an annoyance quite reminiscent of complaints we now hear at Steeles Avenue.

Metropolitan Station at Birch Avenue circa 1910

 

Yonge & St. Clements looking north, 1910

The TRC sped through its electrification program in three years and continued to expand the system, but there were troubles ahead. Investments with decades to pay back and a growing population to support the railway were one thing, but as the franchise ran on, the TRC refused to expand beyond the City Limits as they were in 1891. This led Toronto to build the Toronto Civic Railway with lines in newly annexed areas such as the Danforth, St. Clair and Bloor West. By 1921, the City had no appetite for another private railway company, and it formed the Toronto Transportation Commission to consolidate all of the operations within the City.

That centenary is four years and many articles away.

Sources:

  • Street Railways of Toronto 1861-1921, Louis H. Pursley, Interurbans Special 25, June 1958.
  • The Toronto Trolley Car Story 1921-1961, Louis H. Pursley, Interurbans Special 29, June 1961.
  • Riding the Radials, Toronto’s Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, Robert M. Stamp, The Boston Mills Press, 1989.
  • City of Toronto Photo Archives

The Spadina Streetcar Turns 20 (Part II)

Part I of this article presented some of the background and construction photos of the Spadina streetcar line which celebrates its 20th birthday on July 27, 2017. In Part II, a look at Spadina in the early months of operation.

Much of the northern part of the street has not changed very much over the years, but the south end with its booming condo district is very different and changing still.

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The Spadina Streetcar Turns 20 (Part I)

On Sunday, July 27, 1997, the new 510 Spadina streetcar route replaced the venerable 77 Spadina bus. This conversion was over two decades in the making.

Back in 1973, fresh from the political victory of saving the streetcar system from its planned retirement in 1980 [when the Queen subway would open (!)], the Streetcars for Toronto Committee (SFTC) proposed that the Spadina route be converted back to streetcar operation.

The Spadina streetcar was abandoned in 1948 with the retirement of the small fleet of double-ended cars serving it (there were no loops, only crossovers at Bloor and south of King), although track between Harbord and Dundas remained in use until 1966 by the Harbord car.

It is intriguing to look back at the rationale we of the SFTC had for this conversion at the time:

  1. Provide the basis for future rapid transit needs between Metro Centre and the Bloor and Spadina subways.
  2. Provide more comfortable transit service now with increased interior vehicle space, elimination of lane changing, and reduction of vibration, noise and air pollution within vehicles.
  3. Provide a basis for comparing the light rapid transit mode of intermediate capacity rapid transit with a test “guideway” mode being constructed at the Canadian National Exhibition.
  4. Release needed buses for suburban service by replacing them with currently surplus streetcars.

We were rather optimistic, and hoped that service could be operating by 1974. Of course this assumed that a lot of the existing infrastructure would be recycled, the loop at Bloor would be on the surface, not underground.

At the time, there was a proposal for a large commercial development on the Railway Lands known as “Metro Centre”, although it never came to be in the form originally planned. The area is now full of condos (and the Dome), but they came much later.

As for “intermediate capacity rapid transit”, the guideway under construction at the CNE grounds never amounted to more than a few foundations for support pillars and the loss of some trees. The development project for what would eventually become the Scarborough RT technology was killed off before the test track could be built. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park had mused about using their technology on streets like Spadina, but were careful to provide illustrations showing the guideway from a distance in front of open space, not the massive infrastructure that would be needed at stations for tracks, platforms and vertical access. There was another problem: the province’s recommended design would have stations no closer than about 1 km apart, a huge difference from the bus service with many local stops.

The idea received approval in principle, but quickly ran aground for various reasons including the unsuitability of Clarence Square for the south end loop (SFTC had proposed looping at Adelaide via Charlotte and King with buses continuing to serve the then-industrial port area). The TTC wanted the streetcars to match the existing bus route which looped around the square. At the north end, a surface loop was not practical because of land constraints.

A decade later, the scheme resurfaced as part of the Harbourfront redevelopment, although only the Queens Quay service was built initially opening in 1990. This created the track connection from King to Queens Quay as well as a loop at the foot of Spadina that the original western end of the Harbourfront line. (Track was added on Queens Quay from Spadina to Bathurst in 2000.)

Further north, some merchants objected to the road changes a streetcar would bring including the reduction of parking (changing from angle to parallel parking), and the barrier effect of a streetcar right-of-way that would, it was claimed, prevent garment racks from being moved across the street between businesses. (This was a fictional recreation of New York’s garment district as the City demonstrated by conducting a survey to count this “traffic”. There was none.)

Thanks to the TTC’s presentation of the streetcar as a rapid transit line to the pending development south of King, there were fewer stops on their proposed route than were eventually built. (For the record, the SFTC proposal included all of the stops that were in the final version.) Combined with a curbed right-of-way, this was seen as a move creating a “Berlin Wall” down the middle of the street. As a result the original design had no curbs in some locations leading to many collisions with errant motorists, and the curbs appeared as a retrofit. Today, ironically, the streetcar right-of-way acts as a refuge for jaywalking across Spadina, a dubious and dangerous practice before the streetcar’s return.

This article is a photo gallery of the line’s construction. In a second installment, I will present a gallery of the line in operation.

In these photos, what is so striking is how little many parts of Spadina have changed and the low-rise street character is much the same today as it was in the 1990s, although change is spreading north from the condo district at King.

For more on the history of streetcars on Spadina, see Transit Toronto.

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City Hall Task Force Report: A Practical Blueprint for Change?

The University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance recently published a review of Toronto Council with a view to improving how it operates.

I disagree strongly with many parts of this report and note that among members of its task force opinions were not unanimous as noted in the body of the document.

This page has been created to hold the link to my response. I know that for many readers this is off of the beaten path of transit commentary, and both the original study and my response are long reads. However, the operation of City Council directly affects transit policy and funding in Toronto, and I felt that a rebuttal of the report was in order as publicity for it increases.

In brief, the review spends too much time “fixing” problems it does not understand. After starting from a premise that the Mayor should have more powers, there is a clear slant in how some of the options are presented. The report notes that on several issues, members of the advisory committee did not agree and recommendations had to be thinned out or removed. This begs the question of how much was taken out, and what disagreeable policy directions did these points entail.

Probably the most ridiculous point in the paper is a citation of a study from the Manning Institute, that bastion of liberal thought, about how Toronto Council works. The author claims that the vast majority of business at Council is “procedural” and implies through this that a great deal of time is wasted on items of little importance. However, the source data for that study shows quite clearly that the substantial majority of business at council is the passing of motions related to report approvals and amendments, the fundamental business of any such body. Moreover, the Manning Institute did not bother to assess the time required for each item, and therefore treats all votes if they were of equal merit as Council business. This is, quite bluntly, sloppy research that any first year student should be ashamed of. The School of Public Policy & Governance has no such qualms, it would appear.

Canada (er … Dominion) Day 1967

Fifty years ago, Canada celebrated its centennial, and is usual for our national holiday, festivities at City Hall triggered streetcar diversions.

In those days, the standard bypass for Queen cars was eastbound via Adelaide and westbound via Richmond. Adelaide has long been out of service except for a short stretch of track between Victoria and Church, and although Richmond has been rebuilt, there is no overhead yet between Victoria and York Streets. The abandoned track on Adelaide will be removed in 2021 according to current plans, but this is likely co-ordinated with whenever the City gets around to repaving the street after the many, many condo and office construction projects that have left it a pothole filled ruin.

Adelaide closed “temporarily” to permit the construction of the Bay-Adelaide centre, a project that itself sat incomplete for years thanks to a downturn in demand for office space. Over the years, with the track inactive, more construction blockages and related track cuts occurred, and any thought of reactivation vanished.

As a look back, here are photos of the diversion from July 1, 1967. Many of the buildings in these pictures no longer exist, a few have been cleaned off, and several vacant lots are no more.

[Updated July 1, 2017 at 7:55 pm: For those who don’t know, it was still called “Dominion Day” in 1967.]

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Is the TTC Really Number One?

Monday, June 26 saw Toronto’s media all cluster at Union Station for “a matter of importance to the TTC”. What, the assembled scribes wondered, could this be? The TTC brass on hand were an unusual group to see behind the podium with reps from all areas of the organization.

The news turned out to be [pause here for trumpet fanfare] that the American Public Transit Association (APTA) had given the TTC its 2017 award as “Outstanding Public Transportation System”. There is actually a separate category for large transit systems, and this means the TTC is competing against the likes of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta (who won in 2016), but not New York City because they are not APTA members.

Not that the New York transit systems are in shape to compete for awards except, possibly, the greatest frustration for riders. If anything, New York is a cautionary tale for Toronto about what can happen when you just make do and cut back on funding for maintenance and operations.

TTC CEO Andy Byford made a point of giving credit to his management team and the TTC staff for making this award possible. Yes, a little credit where credit is due is definitely in order even if none of the front line folks were actually there to share in the photo op. That oversight has been corrected on the award’s web page which notes that:

None of this could have been done without the passion, professionalism and commitment of the 14,000 employees of the TTC

Byford reiterated this sentiment both in his public remarks and in private comments to individual reporters afterward. The award is important to the people who actually move the TTC every day under sometimes trying circumstances and less than complimentary dealings with riders.

APTA’s Acting President and CEO Richart A. White is quoted in the press release:

The TTC’s successful implementation of a five-year modernization program demonstrates that it is a leader in the public transportation industry and a role model for other public transit systems.

Byford made a big point of the transformation his five-year plan brought, and looks forward to the next such plan now in the works. That plan will take the TTC through its centennial year in 2021, provided that Queen’s Park isn’t bone-headed enough to legislate the organization out of existence.

This was very much a self-congratulatory event, and riders might be forgiven for asking “Number One … really?”

The problem here is that APTA is rewarding the TTC for achieving (or at least being well on the way to) a plan that does not reflect a lot of day-to-day experience on the system. Things may be improving, but horror stories come often enough to undermine the award’s credibility.

Byford wisely guarded against the TTC becoming an awards junkie, a fate that befell it in the 1980s when the TTC actively sought out every award it could get as a way to prove management’s worth to the Board. The last thing Toronto needs is to aspire to win more awards per year than any other city.

The accomplishments cited by the TTC are a mixed bag, and include items Byford acknowledged were started during his predecessor’s term such as the soon-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan and the orders for new streetcars and subway trains. These were not really part of a five-year plan, but rather works-in-progress that were rolled into Byford’s list of goals. His achievements lie in getting these projects on track, wrangling with dysfunctional project design and management, and going head-to-head various suppliers and contractors.

Included in the list are service increases implemented, grudgingly, by Mayor Tory once he discovered just how bare the transit cupboard was after Rob Ford’s cutbacks:

  • Increased service on more than 40 routes, operating all day, every day and 52 routes now operate every 10 minutes or better
  • Increased service on the Blue Night Network so that 99 per cent of Toronto residents now live within a 15-minute walk of overnight bus and streetcar service

Certainly, getting many of the Miller-era improvements restored after Tory had run on a platform claiming they were not necessary was a worthwhile feat, but it reminds us that some of the “achievements” consist simply of getting Toronto back to where we were. Issues still remain with service capacity across the network, and that comes directly from making do with subsidies that do not keep up with the combined effects of inflation and hoped-for ridership growth. Indeed, the TTC goes into plans for its 2018 budget year facing yet another demand to reduce subsidies from a Council that cares only about keeping down taxes, not providing better service.

In the same vein, another achievement claimed is:

  • A more accessible TTC with the addition of external announcements on buses, subways and streetcars and more fully-accessible subway stations

Again, the question comes down to whether the service provided for accessibility actually meets the need. In that regard, legislation forces specifics on the TTC both in terms of passenger movement, information and availability of service, a situation not shared by the general riding public. Many accessibility features exist not because the TTC chose to implement them, but because they were forced on it by devoted advocates.

And please can we be spared the marketing:

  • Underwent a brand revitalization moving the brand from one of a utility to what it really is: a critical part of Torontonians’ everyday lives

Lines like this really undermine the TTC’s credibility. I cannot help remembering how often style ruled over substance in Byford’s early days under the Stintz/Ford administration. The TTC’s “brand” is defined by what it does, not by what it claims to be.

The most important line in the press release is that “there is still much to do”. The TTC is making changes internally that should bear fruit in better management, but the central issue of service quality requires strong leadership on two counts: one to gain political support not just for a few big-ticket extensions, but for better-funded service overall; the other to continue the fight to make “TTC culture” truly responsive to service and rider needs. This includes avoidance of success metrics that validate the status quo, that measure service via a standard so lax that merely showing up with a bus now and then is likely to win a gold star.

Advocacy is a difficult role for a CEO in a politically charged environment. Speaking his mind cost Byford’s predecessor, Gary Webster, his job. Going into an election year, the TTC needs to advance a strong plan for improvement, one that may challenge the “fiscal realities” politicians speak about except when their pet projects are on the line. The TTC cannot become the Nirvanna of transit systems overnight, but it must try harder.

An award for best sustained commitment to and delivery of excellent transit would be worth winning.

King Street Redesign Project Goes to TTC/City for Approval

The proposal to redesign the central section of King Street with priority for transit and pedestrians moves into its approval phase with a report going to the TTC’s Board on June 15, and to the City’s Executive Committee on June 19, 2017. Details of the study behind this proposal are on the King Street Pilot page of the City of Toronto’s website.

For those who have been following this project closely, there is little new in the report which consolidates material that has been evolving through a series of public meetings and consultations with affected groups along the route.

In brief, King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets would be modified as below:

  • No through traffic would be permitted, only local access, and vehicles would be forced to turn off of King Street rather than continuing in a straight line across the core area.
  • Transit stops would be shifted to farside locations so that pedestrian activity from riders boarding and alighting would be separated from right turning traffic movements.
  • No parking would be permitted, but specific locations would be designated as loading zones for short-term use and for taxi stands.
  • In some areas, pedestrian space would extend into the curb lane, and would be protected with measures such as planters to prevent vehicle access.

A generic view of this arrangement is shown below.

Each block would have four basic types of use in the curb lanes:

  • Farside transit stop (red/orange in the diagram)
  • Pedestrian realm improvement (green)
  • Loading zone (blue)
  • Right turn lane (gray)

The details will vary from block to block. For example, not all blocks have transit stops. Both the length of blocks and the nature of uses along the blocks will affect how much room is available/required for each type in each location. Transit stops and turn lanes are clearly “hard” requirements that must be met, and whatever remains would be divided for other types of treatment. Fine details of this plan are not included in the report, but will be worked out in detailed design over the summer with a target for implementation in fall 2017 after TIFF and its street occupancy is over. (Some aspects may not be implemented until Spring 2018 as they would be seasonal in nature.)

The enforced turning pattern is summarized in the diagram below.

The City expects that once motorists adjust to the new arrangement, the amount of traffic attempting to use King will drop and that these drivers will shift to parallel approach routes. Without this shift, the backlog of traffic awaiting turns off of King westbound at Jarvis and eastbound at Bathurst will present a substantial barrier to transit. This shift is easier for motorists to achieve east of downtown where parallel westbound routes are available via Front/Wellington, Richmond and Queen. To the west, options are much more limited because neither Front nor Adelaide runs west of Bathurst. This could affect congestion on Queen which is already a difficult corridor.

Shifting traffic onto Richmond/Adelaide also begs the important question of redesign of those streets and the degree to which their designated lanes are already abused. These are cycling streets, and part of the grudging acceptance of the absence of bike lanes on King by some in the cycling community was the availability of parallel routes. If these are not both enforced and physically protected so that they remain available, conflicts between cyclist and cars will inevitably rise. Moreover, if these streets allow incursions by motorists into the cycling lanes, then the their true performance will not be measured because cars will have more capacity available in practice than in the design.

Improved transit performance and capacity are obvious goals of any “priority” scheme. This raises important issues about TTC service that will be familiar to readers of this site.

  • Speed alone does not provide more capacity for riders, it only moves them faster. Capacity is a combination of vehicle size and service frequency, and only by improving at least one of these will riders see a difference. If the TTC does not actually run more cars/hour and/or larger cars, then the capacity will not change. In this situation, the main benefit of the pilot will be to insulate transit from events that might disrupt service in the core area, and allow scheduled service to be better maintained. However, changes downtown will not have any effect on scheduled service in Parkdale and Liberty Village.
  • Service reliability is important to riders because it makes their wait time for a streetcar predictable and distributes demand evenly among vehicles. The report states that congestion downtown “leads to unreliable streetcar headways along with bunching and gapping of streetcars”. This is true up to a point, but bunching and gapping are issues along the entire route including the spacing of vehicles leaving terminals. Indeed, the TTC’s own Service Standards accept a variation of ±50% from the scheduled headway so that cars intended to arrive every 4 minutes can actually show up on a pattern of 6-2-6-2-6 and be considered “on time”. The acceptance of bunching is baked in to the standards.

The TTC plans to increase service on King, subject to vehicle availability, but how this will be allocated remains to be seen. An important consideration for any scheduled short turn service, such as the 514 Cherry overlay on 504 King, is that of proper spacing. Adding a short turn car onto a route that comes out immediately behind a through car creates a “bunch” right at the origin and does little to add to service capacity or convenience. During peak periods when scheduled service is frequent, this does not matter much except when there has been a disruption and service spacing needs active intervention, not a laissez-faire attitude. (Irregular spacing is a chronic problem on all TTC routes where there are “blended” services that work on paper, but not in practice.)

They also plan increased supervision, but this runs headlong into “TTC culture” and scheduling practices. In an attempt to reduce short turns, streetcar (and some bus) schedules have been adjusted in recent years to have more running time. The premise is that the schedule should match real-world conditions. The problem lies in the amount of extra time which tends to suit less-than-ideal circumstances, but which causes streetcars to have more time than they require under “typical” conditions. This leads to slow operation along the routes, and backlogs of vehicles at terminals. (A recently retired operator of long acquaintance quipped that he was leaving “because he could not drive that slowly”.)

In an attempt to fix one problem, the TTC created another. Indeed, if the pilot is successful in reducing travel times through the core, streetcar operators may have even more excess time and may be forced to dawdle even more simply to avoid running early. The fundamental issue here is whether there is a way to move major routes like King to headway-based management rather than schedule-based. This brings problems of crewing because vehicles would not be in “scheduled” locations. On the subway, the TTC deals with this by making crew changes between trains along the route to put operators back on time even though the trains are in the “wrong” place. This practice is much trickier for on street routes, and it is simpler to short turn both the vehicle and the operator.

Although the TTC plans to provide more supervision of King Street service, this could be counter-productive if “staying on time” includes slowing vehicles down to match the existing schedules. To add to this problem, the lead time for a schedule change is close to three months, not the sort of nimble response one would want in response to changing conditions with the pilot.

Because this is a pilot project, an important issue will be that as problems arise they are identified and fixed (or at least an alternate strategy tried) quickly. To that end, the report proposes that the process for changing the traffic rules on King and many adjacent streets be delegated to the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. Normally, any traffic regulation change goes through a process of staff reporting to the local Community Council (in this case the one for Toronto & East York) and because these are transit streets, the report must then be approved by Council. For the pilot, a quicker process giving the GM the ability to make changes “on the fly” will be in place until December 2018.

The full list of proposed changes to regulations on turns and parking is included in an appendix to the report.

The City and TTC plan to monitor the project to see just what happens both with the quality of transit service and with the effects on traffic flows in the study area. One important aspect of any review will be to look not just at “ordinary” days, but at the effect of special events such as nearby road closures (e.g. events at City Hall and other central locations, parades and construction). Also of interest will be the behaviour of traffic in the entertainment district between Simcoe and Bathurst, especially west of Spadina which is very congested on weekend evenings. A plan that works on Mondays will behave very differently on Fridays and Saturdays.

This pilot is a big change from the more timid approach to traffic management we usually see in Toronto. There is only so much to be achieved by tweaking traffic signal timings and adjusting regulated hours for parking and left turns. At some point, the more fundamental discussion – who is the road space for – must come forward.

[Full disclosure: I have worked on aspects of this project both on a paid and a pro bono basis providing analyses of TTC vehicle movements.]

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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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.

Transit First For King Street?

Toronto’s Planning Department and the TTC hope to transform King Street as a realm primarily for transit vehicles and pedestrians with a pilot project aimed for fall 2017. Are the plans too aggressive, too timid, or just right? Is Toronto willing to embrace a fundamental change in the operation of a major downtown street?

On February 13, a crowd of hundreds packed into meeting rooms at Metro Hall for the launch of a new vision for King Street by the City of Toronto. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat introduced the session with an overview of the project’s goals and the framework for upcoming studies and implementation. Top of her list is “Transit First”, a fundamental view of the street as existing primarily to move people in transit vehicles and, by extension, to shift from a street designed around automotive traffic to one built around pedestrians. This is not just an exercise in transit priority, but also a shift in street design beyond transit lanes to expand and improve pedestrian spaces.

Transit service is beyond capacity, and fast and reliable service cannot be achieved while accommodating the existing volume of cars. For the duration of the pilot, the transit experience should be improved.

Improving the transit experience on King Street should also transform the public realm experience for increasing numbers of pedestrians to help address open space deficits along the corridor.

King Street users are overwhelmingly pedestrians, not motorists, and yet the lion’s share of space is dedicated to cars, not to transit and those on foot.

kingstreetpilot_usersvsspaceallocation

Inspired by trial street interventions by other cities, Toronto looks to take a short-cut in reaching a demonstration of what is possible with pilot configurations using a minimum of construction. This has several advantages. A trial avoids the lengthy, complex and finality of a formal proposal assessment, which can take years before anyone has a chance to learn whether a scheme actually works. A pilot can use temporary, movable installations such as planters, signs and road markings that can be quickly changed for fine tuning, to test alternate arrangements, or to undo the changes. Residents, businesses and politicians can buy into a trial hoping to see improvement, or at least to determine that side-effects are tolerable for the broader goals, without fearing they are locked into major expense and upheaval that might not work.

This is a refreshing change from endless studies producing little action, with the only downside being that some changes are simply beyond the limitations of a pilot. If a trial works well enough, then more lasting changes requiring construction can follow.

King is not a street like others in Toronto where transit priority has been attempted. Spadina, St. Clair and Queens Quay are all wider, and options for increasing road space on King are few. Traffic patterns and business needs differ on each street, and a layout that works in one place may not be appropriate for others. Equally, the benefits or horrors of these streets do not necessarily apply on King.

The city has three proposed layouts for a transit-first King Street. At this stage they exist only as general schemes, not as detailed, block-by-block plans. On that fine-grained level any new scheme will succeed or fail. Even if a plan achieves transit improvements, too many small annoyances, too many details overlooked could collectively derail a scheme. The planners flag this as a need for both a “micro and macro” view of the street – the big picture of better transit, and an awareness that every block, every neighbourhood along the street is different.

Common to all plans is a substantial reduction in the space available for cars and trucks. Some areas now used for loading, drop offs and cab stands would be repurposed either as through traffic lanes with no stopping, or as expanded sidewalk space into what is now the curb lane. Left turns would be banned throughout the area.

This demands a major re-think in how the street works for its many users both regular and casual.

The street is only four lanes wide, and along much of its length buildings come out to the sidewalk line. Only limited roadway expansion is possible, but not practically across the corridor. In any event, the focus is not on cars but on pedestrians and their transit service. Road improvements should not masquerade as benefits to transit.

In the illustrations below, the yellow areas indicate new space reserved for pedestrians while the blue lines show where cars would be expected to drive.

kingstreetpilot_blockoptions

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