Toronto Transit

Open the streetcar doors, TTC

4401: A Space Odyssey

As part of Doors Open Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission opened up the Leslie Barns for public tours. The new streetcar facility was built to house and maintain the new fleet of Bombardier-built low-floor streetcars. Of course, the streetcar delivery schedule has been disrupted by Bombardier’s incompetence; while there are only eighteen new streetcars currently in revenue service, there should have been 70 in service by the end of last month. Now the Bombardier problems have affected the Region of Waterloo’s light rail project, ION, which was to open in late 2017.

27309171006_5c7cb17a50_oView from the yard at Leslie Barns west toward the Toronto skyline

In any case, the TTC always puts on a great public event. Visitors to Leslie Barns were welcomed to tour the vintage streetcars — a 1923 Peter Witt, and a 1951 PCC streetcar. A new streetcar gave visitors a tour through the barns and around the (mostly empty) yard. Employees held a charity barbecue, there were giveaways for children and lots of friendly staff eager to answer questions. These public open houses are where you’ll find the TTC at its very best.

You could tell that some of the organizers had some fun. The CLRV on display (pictured below) was signed for Old Weston Road, a short turn point on the 512 St. Clair carline. Townsley Loop, once the terminus for Dovercourt and later Harbord Cars, was closed to streetcars in 2003 and the tracks removed during the St. Clair Avenue streetcar right-of-way construction. Streetcar 4401, parked in the paint shop was just asking for the title I gave it, an homage to the visuals in that great Stanley Kubrick film.

IMG_7410Yeah, operating a streetcar was a childhood dream for a while. Note the rollsign.

Also on Sunday (and every Sunday, from noon until 5PM until Labour Day Weekend), you can ride a PCC streetcar in active service along Queen’s Quay between Union Station and Fleet Loop, and rides are free. We did this yesterday between visiting several downtown Doors Open sites, before exploring Fort York. The two PCC streetcars retained by the TTC (the rest were sold to museums or sent to Kenosha, Wisconsin) were restored to their 1951 appearance and are used for special events, charters, and summer Sunday service on the Harbourfront.

The TTC is often maligned, often unfairly, for poor customer service, service disruptions, and delays. But I think events like Doors Open and free rides on vintage streetcars are a great way for the public to feel good about our transit system.

IMG_2138Streetcar 4500 on Queen’s Quay

IMG_2142Interior, PCC streetcar

PCC Streetcar 4500 at Fleet Loop
Streetcar 4500 at Fleet Loop, passing the 1861 Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse

Politics Toronto

Leadership, John Tory style (updated)

Updated May 29

I was frustrated this week by Mayor John Tory’s pronouncement that he’s “not in favour of adding any more politicians here,” referring to the proposed new ward boundaries released last week that would increase the number of city councillors from 44 to 47. This is despite a rigorous and solid process, with plenty of public and stakeholder consultation sessions. But to Tory, “politician” is a dirty word. Never mind that the boundaries were created in 2000, from even older federal/provincial boundaries that based on the 1991 census, Tory doesn’t like the solution developed after three years of work.

2014 Election - 2018 Ward Projections
The discrepancy between each ward’s population and the city-wide average in 2018

Instead, Mayor Tory wants staff to back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that he likes, following the fine tradition in municipal politics of ignoring the advice and hard work of staff and outside experts because you don’t like the answer they give. Tory’s hand-picked Executive Committee agreed with his motion to defer the debate until the fall. 

This is a problem. It’s necessary for aspiring candidates to be organizing right now if they want even a slight chance of knocking off an incumbent councillor. For that reason, the boundaries need to be decided as soon as possible. And adding three new councillors really shouldn’t be a big ask — it would cost $870,000 a year, including the costs of hiring additional assistants.

One reason why Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi is a great mayor is because he trusts his staff and praises their hard work. I was at a lecture in which Mayor Nenshi took very little credit for that city’s response to the 2013 floods. Instead, he spoke about how he. along with senior city staff responded in a coordinated manner, involving all city employees and citizen volunteers in the effort to minimize the flood’s impact and clean up the damage.

John Tory, on the other hand, shames city staff and local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam in a crass stunt for Jack Lakey, author of “The Fixer” column in the Toronto Star. This reminds me very much of Rob Ford’s modus operandi.

In the article, Mayor Tory is photographed cleaning up a planter on Alexander Street, as he explained that he was frustrated by the city bureaucracy who couldn’t get the planter repaired and looking good. Rob Ford was famous for this kind of stunt — filling in potholes, attending to residents’ complaints — often going over the head of councillors or city staffers. Urban forestry manager Dean Hart is named and shamed, but that department does not have responsibility for planters — that’s Transportation Services, which Lakey glosses over. To quote a friend: “so a city division which gets annual budget reductions declines to do work that’s out of scope, and in turn gets this response?” That’s not leadership.

Leadership means addressing the real problems. Perhaps there is a problem with buck-passing. Maybe there’s a way to improve communications between city departments. A good leader involves the parties responsible and encourages them to find a solution, not publicly shame them. Maybe a leader doesn’t demand annual budget cuts in all areas (except, of course, the police), then blames staff when the effects of the budget cuts become visible. Meanwhile, Ward 27 is the most populated in the city, and Councillor Wong-Tam one of the hardest-working on council. Yet Tory doesn’t want to implement a sensible ward boundary plan.

Running for election, John Tory liked using the word “bold” a lot, especially when he was touting his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. He promised leadership, but has instead dithered on or deep-sixed important initiatives, like a city-wide cycling network (He won’t back crucial sections of a new city-wide cycling network, saying only that he supports “sensible” bike lanes.

On police reform, Tory dithered on eliminating the racist practice of carding until forced to take a position when a group of prominent citizens spoke out against it.

As for social programs and revenue tools to fund essential city services and infrastructure, Tory would rather keep property taxes below inflation, despite the warnings of top bureaucrats. As Desmond Cole points out, Tory is pretty much carrying out Rob Ford’s agenda of low taxes, weak leadership on issues like police reform, and ignoring the plight of Toronto’s poor and lower-income residents. Car owners and homeowners (particularly the owners of single-family dwellings) rule in John Tory’s Toronto.

Yet, we’ll keep up a needless section of elevated highway. But, at the same time, we can’t build a new streetcar line in the East Waterfront.

As one person on Twitter pointed out, had we given central Toronto the representation it deserved, Council might have decided to go with the least-expensive Boulevard Option for the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway. And committees like Public Works and Infrastructure, which has control over items such as cycling infrastructure, are dominated by suburban councillors.


Bike Routes and Wards
Cycling infrastructure and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee membership by ward.

Sure, John Tory won’t embarrass us. He won’t smoke crack, he won’t be caught uttering blatantly racist remarks and he’ll march in the Pride Parade. But he’ll continue the Ford agenda of low taxes and reduced city spending, except for things like the Gardiner East. And it now appears that he will continue Ford’s legacy of crass photo-ops, pretending to care about “customer service.”

But the city will continue to grow, and we’ll see some progress on important issues, such as inclusionary zoning to build some new affordable housing. There are lots of good people — prominent advocates and people working behind the scenes, staffers and councillors at City Hall, community leaders and great organizations pushing for better — that desire a better city and continue to make Toronto great. There’s plenty of bold leadership for a city that needs it, but you’re not going to find it inside the mayor’s office.

Brampton Walking

Brampton’s Etobicoke Creek: floods, concrete, and new public spaces


Over at Spacing, I wrote about a recent Jane’s Walk that I led on Downtown Brampton and Etobicoke Creek.

Until a concrete diversion channel was built in the 1950s, Downtown Brampton would regularly flood as it was built right on top of the creek. The concrete diversion, fenced off and cut off from both the downtown core and the rest of the Etobicoke Creek ravine to the north and south, is an eyesore.

Happily, the City of Brampton is planning to revitalize the channel, which is nearing the end of its useful life and must be reconstructed. The proposed concept, pictured below, includes new public spaces and urban development.

Etobicoke Creek
Conceptual drawing of revitalized Etobicoke Creek 

Of course, during the walk, there was a discussion of the Hurontario-Main LRT, a subject I’ve written about here several times before. Some local councillors and one local advocacy group, Citizens for a Better Brampton, opposed the Main Street surface alignment, and want to push for an Etobicoke Creek route into Downtown Brampton. It would not only wreck a lovely ravine (where one can spot plenty of wildlife), but it would be located in a floodplain, and near the backyards of less-wealthy residents. There’s now a petition to nix that route. Of course, the cheapest and most logical route is along Main Street itself, but a dysfunctional and misguided Council continues to refuse to accept that fact.

It was a pleasure leading a Jane’s Walk, and I learned a lot myself from the conversations that we had along the way; a good Jane’s Walk is when local residents participate and share their knowledge. Leading a walk is a lot of fun, and something that’s quite easy to do. And it need not be on the “official” Jane’s Walk weekend (this year, it was May 6-8), but anytime of the year.

I’ll be leading another walk on Sunday June 12 at 3PM, in Bramalea, meeting at the civic centre across from the mall. Bramalea , billed as “Canada’s first satellite city” when planned and constructed starting in the early 1960s. There’s an interesting diversity of housing types, and an effort to build great greenspaces and linear parks, with a civic centre and shopping mall anchoring the large development.

Election Maps Politics Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s proposed new ward boundaries


Toronto is way overdue for ward boundary reform. Finally, in time for the 2018 election, Toronto will have reshaped ward boundaries — and probably three new wards. This will give quickly-growing Downtown Toronto and North York Centre more representation at City Council.

Consultants retained by the City of Toronto have been tasked with reviewing the size and shape of Toronto’s wards, and providing a recommendation for new ward boundaries. Back in August 2015, an options report was released with five distinct options. After further consultation, the final report was released yesterday, May 16.

The final report’s recommendation is similar to the “Minimal Change” option in last August’s options report, but there have been some minor tweaks to the ward boundaries. If the recommendations are approved by City Council, there will be 47 wards, up from 44. Each new ward will have an average population of 61,000, with a range between 51,800 and 72,000 (+/- 15%). These new wards are designed to last for four election cycles, and will be re-drawn again in time for the 2034 election.

The report will be considered by the Executive Committee on May 24, 2016, which will vote on a recommendation to take to City Council on June 7, 2016. If there are no further hiccups, this gives just over two years for aspiring council candidates and city staff to prepare for the next election, which will be held on Monday, October 22, 2018.

The recommendation brought forward is a compromise that improves representation in high-growth areas, while minimizing the loss of council representation elsewhere. It increases the number of councillors, but by a minimal amount. (Had Toronto maintained the practice of having two wards per provincial/federal riding, there would be 50 councillors.) Happily, proposals to cut the number of representatives at City Council were not a very popular idea. In terms of staffing and associated costs, each councillor costs approximately $290,000; it would therefore cost about $870,000 to add three new wards, which in my opinion, is a bargain.

While Downtown Toronto will gain three new seats, and North York gaining one, one seat is lost in Toronto’s west end, in current wards 14, 17, 18. This probably squeezes out Cesar Palacio, a rather poor city councillor who remains in office despite strong competition in the last few elections. Otherwise, despite ward boundary shifts across most of the city, every incumbent councillor should easily find a home that’s mostly made up of their current turf.

I created the CartoDB interactive map, linked below, for Torontoist; my full article is available there.

I mapped the results of the 2014 election for every ward in the city — that was the primary reason why I started this blog in November 2014. That previous work should be helpful for predicting the results of the 2018 election with the new boundaries.


Cycling Toronto Urban Planning Walking

On Toronto’s newest ten-year cycling plan

The newly completed Finch Hydro Corridor
The Finch Hydro Corridor

The City of Toronto has released a new proposed Ten Year Cycling Network Plan, which establishes a minimum grid of cycling infrastructure across the entire city. It will be presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee next week; city staff, who have worked long and hard on this project, consulting many stakeholders and members of the public, recommend its adoption by City Council. It will create over 500 kilometres of safer cycling routes, while connecting existing bike lanes and trails to each other. The plan would cost just over $150 million over ten years, a bargain.

Of course, we’ve been down this road before. Only a fraction of the cycling infrastructure approved in previous plans has been built. And many new trails that were built — following hydro corridors and abandoned railways in suburban parts of the city — don’t connect to nearby ravines and parks. And railways and highways remain major barriers; there are only three places where the city’s designated cycling network crosses Highway 401.

Last week’s Council approval of the Bloor Street bike lanes between Shaw Street and Avenue Road — a simple pilot project — didn’t look like a sure thing, even though it ended up voting 38-3 in favour.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong warned of “bike lane creep,” afraid that a safe bike route would extend to Danforth Avenue (which it should). And Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) ridiculously claimed cycling advocates were “trying to build a wall” around the downtown core, ignoring the fact that there’s a subway along the same corridor, which moves many times more people than two lanes of Bloor Street, and there are other options — such as the Gardiner Expressway, which we are needlessly committed to keeping up — for getting downtown with a car.

Some of the highlights of the new plan:

  • Long distance cycling corridors, such as Bloor/Danforth from Etobicoke to Kingston Road in Scarborough, Kingston Road from the Beaches to West Hill, and Yonge Street from Downtown to Steeles Avenue.
  • New connections across railways, ravines and highways.
  • Extensions to popular off-road trails, such as the West Toronto Railpath.

Highways are very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists to cross: high-speed ramps are marked with signs telling pedestrians to wait for gaps. Cyclists must navigate cars quickly changing lanes and exiting freeways. And railways can create long, impenetrable barriers unless pedestrians trespass on railway property. I wrote about it at more length in Spacing.

The worst example might be where Bridgeland Road ends on one side of the Metrolinx-owned Newmarket Subdivision (GO Transit’s Barrie Line) and Floral Parkway ends on the other side. Highway 401 conspires to make this an exceptionally bad case. Happily, this is one of the places where the city seeks to build a new bridge or tunnel to allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross safely, and I am glad to see other gaps addressed in this latest plan.

An example of how railways and highways create barriers to active transporation

There are four large maps (large PDF files) that show the existing cycling network and the proposed new routes. They correspond to the four community council boundaries.

Toronto and East York
North York

It’s not only important that City Council approve this new plan, it’s also crucial that proponents of active transportation keep on top of the city to actually build the new cycling infrastructure and multi-use paths and bridges. We’ve seen this play out before: council approves a great plan for cycling, for transit, for urban development, and then rests on its laurels. Let’s do better this time around.

Toronto Transit Urban Planning

The TTC’s disappearing parking lots: why this isn’t a bad thing

IMG_6376New office development at the TTC York Mills Station parking lot

I’ve written several times on my blog about GO Transit’s problems with free parking. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) also operates many parking lots — 11,000 parking spots located at 13 of its 69 subway and RT stations — but has declared many of its lots surplus to its needs. Right now, the City of Toronto’s real estate arm, Build Toronto, is in the process of selling or leasing TTC lots for residential and commercial redevelopment. The TTC, unlike GO Transit, charges for parking at all lots, and it isn’t in a hurry to build more. For the TTC, redeveloping parking lots raise money (which, in the TTC’s case, goes to the city) while they generate additional ridership.

There’s a difference between TTC subway stations and GO Transit stations, to be sure. The TTC relies mostly on buses and streetcars, as well as walk-up traffic, to feed its rail system, while GO Transit relies mostly on suburban commuters driving to its stations. They are different models. But in urban areas like Downtown Brampton, I believe GO Transit should be much more innovative than deciding to rip down a city block to build yet another “free” surface parking lot.

GO Transit should rethink their model, encouraging more walk-up and local transit connections as it transforms into a regional rail system. Redeveloping some of its lots is a good way to go; commuter parking garages can easily be integrated into new urban uses and make their stations more attractive places to walk and cycle.

I have more to say about the TTC’s parking lot crunch over at Torontoist.