Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Street furniture

Spacing has a feature on the new street furniture proposals before city council. Several companies have bids for the contract to supply the city with bus shelters, bike racks, newspaper boxes, waste bins, poster poles, benches, and even public washroom cubicles. The city has published renderings of the proposal, which are also online, courtesy of Joe Clark.

Astral Media, CBS Outdoor & Clear Channel are the companies on the shortlist.

Since all of the proposals involve advertisement in some way, I wonder what the public advertisement regulation compliance record of these companies are:
Seems like it isn't as simple as "which bench is prettiest."

Thanks to Keep fighting the good fight.


A commute complete with a dining car - National Post

A commute complete With A Dining Car
Via picking up the T.O.-bound as far away as London

Jeanne Gagnon
National Post

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

on Roger lives in a 19th century house on an hectare of land in Port Hope. He has a view of Lake Ontario.

Weekdays, he takes the 7:11 a.m. Via Rail train, arriving at Toronto's Union Station at 8:20 a.m. and he's in his office at Torys law firm in the TD Centre -- Starbucks coffee in hand -- 10 minutes later. He has read the paper and caught up on the latest news of his fellow passengers.

He repeats this routine in the evening, although the coffee is replaced by beer or wine.

"It takes me longer to drive in, even on a good d ay," said Mr. Roger, who pays $575 for his monthly Via pass. "And if I was to park my car here, out of my building, it's as much as the train ticket."

In an often-gridlocked city where homes are unaffordable for many families and commuting by crowded subway can take many people 45 minutes or more, a civilized ride on Via is growing more attractive.

Every day, Via serves commuters from Cobourg, London and Guelph. Southern Ontario commuters made 118,000 Via trips in February, 2006. It was up 6% a year later, to 125,000.

''It's a big clientele or market for us, really for the past decade or so,'' said Via spokesman Malcolm Andrews.

"People [are] moving farther and farther afield and beyond the GTA to areas like Cobourg, Port Hope and even as far out as Kingston or in the other direction toward Brantford, Kitchener, London. The number of people that use our trains, I won't say on a daily basis necessarily, but several times per week, to travel back and forth between those communities and Toronto ... has been growing steadily.''

Via Rail introduced a monthly commuter pass last July for its frequent travellers, who still have the option of buying a 10 round-trip pass or purchasing the GO VIA Pak, which allows commuters to use either service.

Given the choice, many people choose Via, which has seen commuter traffic rise 7% in the last three years in markets served by GO. Some areas were much higher than that: Brampton saw a 30% increase in commuter passes between 2005 and 2006, while Oakville was up 15% and Guelph was up 10%.

"We certainly have not had any difficulty accommodating the growth to this point, and we don't anticipate having any difficulty continuing to accommodate the growth at the rate that it's been increasing. It's been a steadily growing market, and there is no sign that it's going to stop growing," Mr. Andrews said.

Many commuters prefer Via because of the more plentiful (and comfortable) seating, access to bathrooms and food service.

First-class passengers get a three-course meal with real utensils, while economy class travellers can purchase sandwiches, snacks and beverages.

This pampering is appreciated by Cindy-Lou Thibodeau, who faces a sixhour daily commute from her home on Nappan Island, near Campbellford, to Toronto.

She leaves home at 5:15 a.m. and drives an hour to the Cobourg train station, hops on the 6:59 a.m. train and arrives at Union Station about an hour and a half later. Then it's on the subway to her office near Yonge and St. Clair where she works as a payroll co-ordinator for Upper Lakes Group, a shipping company for the Great Lakes.

"It's quite the distance. I wouldn't recommend this commute for everybody. It takes a certain kind of person to do it," said Ms. Thibodeau, whose monthly pass costs her $601.

"In the beginning, I didn't [enjoy it.] But then, after a period of time, you sort of get used to it, get into the routine, get accustomed to it."

But for other commuters, nothing beats no driving.

Risk manager Scott Wylie has been commuting from Guelph to Toronto daily for the past year.

He said he doesn't drive to Toronto because he sold his car. "Although Via is more expensive than the GO train, I don't have much of an option. There is no GO train service to Guelph and if you work it out, it's more economical than the upkeep of a ca r," Mr. Wylie said.

Microsoft consultant Doug Santori makes the trip from Guelph to Toronto about every eight days out of 10. His monthly pass costs him $481.

''When I have to drive, I find it to be a very stressful way to spend my time," Mr. Santori said.

"When I'm sitting on the train, I can be comfortable, have coffee brought to me and read my book. It's a lot more relaxing.''

- - -


Via commuter trips in Southern Ontario: 2004: 521,000 trips 2005: 603,000 trips 2006: 656,000 trips Ridership on GO trains 2004: 45,031,300 trips 2005: 46,832,900 trips 2006: 48,292,000 trips
One of my professors, Dr. R. M. Keeble, MCIP, RPP, once told a story about a professor he had while completing his master's degree in the mid 1970s at York U. This professor lived in Montréal, and commuted every day. He would fly in to Pearson every morning, and have one of this teaching assistants pick him up at the airport and drop him off at the end of the day. The point that he was trying to make was that if someone can enjoy a particular lifestyle in a particular community and can afford to commute to work, they will, even in extreme cases.

The extreme cases of commuting from London, Belleville, Niagara Falls, and even Montréal are beyond the scope of GTA transit, which is why I recently updated my website to include the Greater Golden Horseshoe - as far east as Belleville, west as Waterloo, north as Orillia and south as Niagara. We couldn't possibly expect people to sit on GO Trains for that long, but joint ventures between the GTTA and VIA Rail could bridge the gap. VIA is comfortable and the customer service is excellent, but once you get beyond the built up areas, the conflict between freight and passenger rail rises up to new levels.

The federal government needs to give VIA the funding it needs to become more efficient, and failing that, we need to enter into a system similar to what Amtrak has in the USA, where individual states subsidize anything above bare-bones service.

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When POP goes horribly wrong

Saturday night found me downtown with my closest friends at a birthday party. After leaving the group and stopping at Shoppers Drug Mart at King and Simcoe, Jennifer and I boarded a 510 car and headed up to the subway. At Queen, we made a short stop at the McDonalds. I pulled the cord and the streetcar glided into the stop, but I noticed an abnormally large group of teenagers waiting, crowding the platform. We exiting through the back, but were immediately greeted by a swarm trying to board by the back doors. This foolishness is why POP will only work with intense enforcement. It makes a proposal out in Vancouver to put police officers on busy bus routes seem reasonable.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Market Research

In the past, I've published content in a format that can be viewed in Google Earth and on Google Maps. Google Maps is web based, allowing anyone to view the content within their web browser. However, Google Maps does not support all the features I use when creating route maps. You may have noticed that all the lines are blue and all of the place marks are red teardrops with black dots. This has prevented me from offering multiple lines in a single file. Also, Google Maps cannot handle large KML files, making the GTA Line in particular impossible to display.

Google Earth is a standalone program using the same maps as Google Maps, but offers many more features including terrain, 3-D buildings, and even geographic links to Wikipedia articles. There is also a fairly large Google Earth community, with endless points of interest built into the program, as well as download-able content. However, not everyone has this program, and can bog down an older computer when viewing multiple layers of content.

I am contemplating moving away from Google Maps. Ideally, I would like to use Google Earth for the system map, and reduce the individual route maps to simplified versions, much like the route map for GRT's iXpress. In order to avoid alienating my readers, I have posted the poll at the right so I can get a sense of the Google Earth penetration. I really appreciate your opinions, so please vote.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


I'm not a fan of renaming landmarks when they are purchased by new owners. In particular, the building, to me, will always be the Skydome. I might have accepted "Rogers Skydome" or "Rogers field at the Skydome", but I cannot call this building the Rogers Centre.

It turns out, as this snapshot from a friend's party shows, some things cannot be completely erased.

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City OK's free rides for vets - Brampton Guardian

City OK's free rides for vets
Sunday March 25 2007

Local war veterans will soon be getting a free ride on Brampton Transit, but the issue has raised questions about who else should be given the same break.

City councillors have agreed to allow veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War to ride local buses for free, despite a city staff report recommending against the plan.

City staff agreed it would be a gesture of respect and acknowledgement of the sacrifice and commitment to the community and the country the veterans have made.

However, they warned that it would set a precedent for other groups to make their own requests.

"In fact, some of the rationale expressed by Mr. (Ian) Drummond could be applied to all seniors aged 80 years and older in the city," Brampton Transit Director Suzanne Bass wrote in her report to Committee of Council Wednesday.

Local war veteran Drummond had made the request of council on behalf of local veterans, and thanks councillors for approving the free passes.

The paperwork will take some time to complete, he was told, and formal approval is still needed from full council Wednesday, but the majority of councillors were present for the committee vote.

Immediately after the vote, Wards 7 and 8 City Councillor Sandra Hames expressed concern about other groups.

"To me, if we are looking at transit subsidies, we should be looking at more than vets," Hames said.

"There's more that we need to do in the way of transit for lots of people than we do today," she said. "I will support this motion, however, we have a committee of disabled people today that can't ride our transit because they can't access it. They're paying $10 to get where they need to go."

Many members of the city's Accessibility Advisory Committee have to take a cab through Transhelp to get home from city hall after the monthly night meetings, which forces them to wait and leave one at a time, she said.

"If we are going to use the philosophy that some groups need to help more than others, to me, that's wrong. We should be looking at what we can do to help their people that really need it."

Committee Chair Grant Gibson told her to tell the Accessibility Advisory Committee members to bring their request to council.

She said she would.

Wards 7 and 8 Regional Councillor Gael Miles echoed Hames' concern about others in the community.

"We should really be looking at all seniors over 80," she said. "I know there's a cost for it, but if we're going to do it for vets, we should do it for all seniors."

In other communities that offer free rides to veterans-- Guelph, Stratford and Windsor-- a photo identification is used. Brampton currently doesn't have the equipment to produce such a photo identification and would have to spend $2,000 to get it, a cost that was not included in the just-passed 2007 budget.

Transit staff said it is difficult to determine how much revenue would be lost to the system because statistics are not available to show how many veterans or seniors use the bus. However, if there are 200 veterans in Brampton eligible for the free pass, the potential revenue loss could be $108,000 a year, assuming those veterans are currently purchasing a seniors monthly pass.

Using 2001 Census data, the lost revenue would top $2 million to give free rides to all local seniors age 80 and above, according to the staff report.
Veterans don't get the respect they deserve in this country. The wars currently being fought may or may not be justified, but there is no question as to the honor in the sacrifice our World War II and Korean War veterans gave. However, city staff recognized that such a policy could open up the door to other groups, especially seniors groups. I don't normally buy into the "it will leave the door wide open" arguments, but with the baby boomers aging, this is a real possibility. I believe all seniors should get discounted transit fares, but offering free transit to such a large group would result in the money having to come from somewhere else.

Regardless of what happens, the city should bite the bullet on the $2000 and buy the photo machine - or use the ones already installed in every recreation centre in the city.

There was also an editorial in the Guardian with another idea. It splits the difference, but I'm doubtful that the money they propose to use will make a meaningful difference in the price of a transit pass. Either way, its good to see someone is posing alternatives rather than ragging on the situation without contributing anything else.
Another option for veteran riders Another option for veteran riders
Sunday March 25 2007

Allowing local war veterans to ride Brampton Transit for free has wide-ranging ramifications that city councillors may not have thought through before they turned down a city staff recommendation against it.

For example, what about the spouses of veterans? The women who kept the home fires burning, went to work in the factories, and raised the children while their husbands went off to fight? Did they not contribute to the war effort as well and our freedom? If their husbands are given a free ride, they should be given the same courtesy.

How about veterans who fought in other wars? As they age, they will need transit, too.

Some councillors already made mention of how far this idea can be carried. Set the precedent and it will be difficult to argue seniors 80 years and older and the disabled should not be given the same break.

It is a political hot potato, to be sure. How do you say no to war veterans? But there is another way.

Perhaps the Legions might use the money donated by the public in annual poppy sales every year to subsidize the transit needs of veterans. After all, the money is supposed to be used to help and support veterans.

What better use than to set up a fund to pay for transit passes for local veterans? The need is clearly there. Thousands of dollars are collected every year, and every year there is a surplus of dollars, which is then donated, not to the veterans, but back to the community through a gift to the fire department or hospital.

So why not use that money for this? This would ensure the municipality is treating all residents fairly and equally, and money will not be drained from our transit system, which is just starting to come into its own.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Service fit for a king

A comedian once said:

"I live at King and Dufferin. I take the Dufferin bus. I would take the King streetcar, but it is a myth. You have a greater chance of seeing a dragon than the King streetcar.

I once saw a dragon. I would have gladly climbed on his back and valiantly ridden him downtown... But he said he was turning at Bathurst."

Service on King is run as frequently as two minutes, which, according to the TTC, is unheard of for street railways operating in mixed traffic. Streetcars often get bunched up and crush loaded, to the point where the commission operates 30% more cars than necessary during the morning peak period. Yet, the problems continue. Something must be done, and a new TTC report poses some solutions and calls upon the TTC to get the city (who has jurisdiction over some of the proposals) on board. Here's what's on the table:

Approve a demonstration project for July and August 2008 which would temporarily implement a plan that was first proposed in 2001. This plan calls for a type of streetcar right-of-way where one curb lane would be converted to an extended sidewalk, alternating each block. Car traffic would only be allowed to make a right turn onto King, then would have to make a right turn off at the next intersection. Left turns would be banned, and streetcar tracks would only be used by cars to get around a stopped delivery truck. It's hard to visualize from the description, but here's a few images from Transit Toronto, which posted them from the original report:

Note in figure 2 how there is a car in front of the streetcar in the foreground. If that car is making a left turn then the streetcar will be delayed, likely for the entire traffic cycle. At two minute frequency, bunching is the end result.

I am in favour of this plan, but the business community is already (like they were in 2001) against it, citing the loss of parking among other things. Like some of the other proponents of the plan, I question how much on-street parking actually adds to the total parking along the King corridor. With Steve Munro saying that the 504 car has a 60% market share of transit between Strachan and Yonge, the argument that on-street parking is vital to allowing people to access the area doesn't seem as believable to me.

Here's what else is being proposed:
  • Rescind the bylaw that bans traffic from using the streetcar tracks on certain sections of King during the peak hours because it isn't being enforced.
  • Designate King between Dufferin and Parliament a "Transit Priority Zone", where traffic violations are more severely punished.
  • Expand the red light camera program to catch people who do illegal left turns and park and stop illegally.
  • Construct taxi bays in the business district to allow taxis to stop without blocking traffic.
  • Direct the police to arrange ongoing enforcement of the traffic laws.
I'm in favour of all of those proposals except for the first one. Simply because we don't enforce the bylaw doesn't mean we should repeal it. We should keep in on the books, just in case the political will to enforce it comes back. The TTC isn't considering a proof-of-payment system yet, but with the fare card likely allowing all-door boarding on the streetcars of the future, they might as well wait. Also, the extended sidewalks from the plan could allow for restaurants to increase the size of their patios, a peace offering they will no doubt appreciate.

King Street is synonymous with the entertainment district, an area on anyone's shortlist of what makes Toronto what it is. We need to ensure its success, but success has to be measured in how many people can access the neighborhood, not how many cars we can cram onto the road. Success of the 504 car helps the success of the neighborhood.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Federal budget a 'step backwards' for cities: Miller - CBC News

Federal budget a 'step backwards' for cities: Miller
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2007 | 9:12 AM ET
CBC News

Monday's federal budget may have appeased Ontario, but Mayor David Miller says it left cash-strapped cities worse off than a year before.

"The budget really, for the City of Toronto and Canada's other major cities, is a step backwards," Miller told CBC News.

Citing last week's census population data, Miller said Canadians are increasingly urban dwellers and he had hoped the budget would recognize that with much-needed funds for cities.

The federal budget ignored Miller's two big demands — one cent of the GST for cities and a sustainable national transit program.

A national transit program would have meant predictable, long-term funding for Toronto's public transit.

"I think it's a matter of the federal government catching up to where people are. People get it. They live in cities. When they're stuck in traffic, they know they need public transit," said Miller.

Days before the budget, the Toronto Transit Commission revealed its ambitious $6-billion plan to build a network of streetcar lines across the city over the next 15 years — but it was contingent on the federal and provincial governments providing more than two-thirds of the money.

Without any promised funds from federal coffers, the plan is left up in the air.

Ottawa also rejected Miller's call for one of every six cents collected from GST to go to cities. It's not the mayor's first rejection, and he says he doesn't plan to give up yet.

Miller also criticized the lack of money for affordable housing and called child-care pledges inadequate.

"For Canada to succeed, we need investment in our cities. We need investment in the housing that allows people to live in those cities, in public transit and other infrastructure," said Miller. "This budget does not meet the needs of Canada's cities in any substantial way."

He's decided to take the budget up as an election battle cry, urging citizens to punish the Conservatives by voting against them in the next federal election.
In all fairness, it's difficult to add something to such a complex piece of legislation over the weekend. It takes weeks, if not months to draft a budget...

What am I saying?

Even the Toronto Sun thinks this budget is bad for cities. As I watched the finance minister appear on channel after channel, repeating the same talking points about how we have to "live within our means," I was shaken out of my post-subway announcement bliss. Cities cannot live within their means - not in Ontario anyway. Cities process, ship and consume the products that the conservative-stronghold rural areas produce. If cities fail, we all fail.

Mr. Flaherty. Do not dangle subways before us and hope we will give you a free pass. We won't.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Streetcars no answer for disabled riders - Toronto Star

Streetcars no answer for disabled riders
March 18, 2007
TTC plans light rail web
March 16.

I am pleased that public transportation is getting a boost, but new streetcar lines will not do much for passengers on crutches, in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or hauling large loads of groceries. I am offended that decisions continue to be made about GTA transportation without taking mobility-impaired customers' needs into account.

Sara Scharf, Toronto
I recognize that the TTC and the city needs to do a better job differentiating between the system we've had now and the system being proposed, but come on, the words "low floor" and "accessible" had to have been used no less than 86 times in the report and from the mouths of the Mayor, the TTC chair, and other city officials. I'm all for people having their opinions, but they have to be informed opinions. People like this drive me crazy.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Welcome To Transit City

"The Toronto Transit City plan is a bold vision for public transit. It will allow us to tackle climate change and reduce congestion, while improving service in all parts of the city." - Mayor David Miller

The mayor took the words right out of my mouth. This vision is bold and achieves many of the priorities the TTC has set out, builds many of the routes I've proposed in my GTTA plan, and brings transit to all corners of the city while allowing for extensions into the 905. There is literally something for everyone in this plan.

Lets go into detail:

The Don Mills corridor runs from Steeles to Bloor, via Don Mills Road and the Don Valley. The estimated annual ridership would be 21.2 million in 2021, and the line would cost $675 million for 18 km of surface LRT.

Since this line is pretty close to my GTTA proposal, I'm very excited. Its been a priority for some time, and with the line already in the EA process, its likely to be one of the first ones built. I recommend extending the line north into the Beaver Creek business area in Markham, to at least Highway 7. There's a huge number of workers in that area and condos under development, and it would connect to VIVA. I also recommend an extension southwards, paralleling the Don Valley. It could then swing west to Union Station via the railway corridor or via the Waterfront.

The Eglinton Crosstown Corridor runs from Kennedy Station to Pearson Airport, along Eglinton Avenue. The estimated annual ridership would be 53 million in 2021, and the cost will be $2.2 billion for 31 km of surface LRT with an underground section between Laird and Keele.

Another line which I proposed, this corridor is necessary as a crosstown alternative to the subway. It cuts through the some of the most dense areas outside of downtown, and provides the key rapid transit connection to the airport. Connections with the Mississauga busway will be sufficient for now, but the ultimate plan should be to incorporate the busway into an LRT branch. Out on the east end, this line should be merged with the proposed Scarborough Malvern corridor.

The Etobicoke-Finch West Corridor runs from Finch Station to Humber College, along Finch Avenue. The estimated annual ridership would be 25 million in 2021, and would cost $835 million for 18 km of surface LRT.

The line that surprised me the most, as every other proposal to date was to use the hydro corridor to get to Eglinton and Martin Grove from Finch and Weston. This will probably serve more people and will definitely provide a connection to Humber College. Extensions into Mississagua are possible, or into the far east end of Brampton.

The Jane Corridor runs from Steeles to Bloor, along Jane Street. The estimated annual ridership in 2021 is 25 million, and the cost is $630 million for 17 km of surface LRT.

There's definitely a need for rapid transit on Jane. Its one of the most frequent routes, and normally ends up bunching up. Possible extensions should take the line down the Humber River and into Union Station either by the Waterfront or by the railway corridor. There's also a connection to an extended St. Clair streetcar.

The Scarborough Malvern Corridor runs from Kennedy Station to Malvern along Eglinton, Kingston and Morningside. The estimated annual ridership in 2021 is 14 million, and the cost is $630 million for 15 km of surface LRT.

The line completes my GTA Line proposal, so I believe it and the Eglinton Crosstown Corridor should be one and the same. It will provide service to West Hill and to the University of Toronto, and provides a back-route into Malvern. Possible extensions go into Durham Region, or if not, by the Sheppard East corridor.

The Sheppard East Corridor runs from Don Mills to Malvern along Sheppard. The estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 17 million, and the cost is $555 million for 14 km of surface LRT (which a short underground section at Don Mills).

I think I have a real problem with this line. If constructed, the cost of extending the subway goes up because of the financial hit we'll take demolishing the LRT. Essentially, it means that the Sheppard Subway dies. I do like the possible extensions into Durham Region, but I can't get over the fact that it will economically preclude subway construction. If this line is built as BRT (cheaper to build, cheaper to demolish), or if the existing subway tunnels are converted to LRT standards (to offer through service to Yonge), then it will have my full support.

The Waterfront West Corridor runs from Exhibition Loop to Roncesvalles & Queen, offering through service from Lake Shore and the Queensway to Union Station via the waterfront. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 21 million, and the cost would be $540 million for 11 km of surface LRT.

In lieu of improving service on the 501 Queen, this is the next best thing to bring more people in from South Etobicoke. I'd like to see it connect with a southern extension of the Jane Corridor, and see connections with the Waterfront East corridor and the Don Mills Corridor.

As for the other plans on the books, there's:
  • The Harbourfront / Waterfont East LRT - To serve the eastern waterfront, and possibly to bring the Don Mills Corridor into Union Station.
  • The North Yonge busway -Speeding up buses on Yonge between Steeles and Finch.
  • The Spadina Subway Extension - To bring the subway into Vaughan.
  • The St. Clair Streetcar - To be completed and extended to at least Jane.
  • The Scarborough RT - To be extended to at least Sheppard.
  • The Kingston Road streetcars - To be extended to Eglinton.
All of these projects are in various stages of the planning process, but are integral parts of the whole transit picture. They should not be forgotten.

And so ends the post I had begun at 4:00 this afternoon. Transit city has been revealed, and aside from answering the funding questions, we he have a good plan to move forward with. If we make the commitments and stick to them, this plan stands a chance to bring about real change for a real city.

The button logos are from the City of Toronto.

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TTC plans light rail web - Toronto Star

TTC plans light rail web
March 16, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
John Spears
Staff Reporters

Only three days before the federal government releases its budget, the Toronto Transit Commission is unveiling an ambitious blueprint for a light rail system that would crisscross the city far beyond existing and planned subway lines.

The 60- to 80-kilometre web of light rail would cost about $2.4 billion, said TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

Some insiders say the plan would improve transit access to virtually every corner of Toronto. It's expected to closely follow the blueprint Mayor David Miller laid out in his election platform last fall, which emphasized dedicated light rail lines along the waterfront, Sheppard Ave., Finch Ave., and north from the Scarborough Rapid Transit line.

The hitch?

The city doesn't have the money yet, despite an announcement last week of new federal and provincial funding that will allow the extension of the Spadina subway line into York Region.

Giambrone stopped short of calling today's announcement an implementation plan with firm schedules and costs.

But he said, "You'd be hard-pressed to build an entire light rail network, looking at the existing environmental assessments, in under 10 years."

He also said the city expects to move ahead with the help of a share of gasoline taxes.

That would be in addition to a substantial slice of the $2 billion federal transit strategy for which Miller and other big city mayors were calling last week.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged about $1 billion last week for regional transit improvements. But with a budget, federal and provincial elections looming, and unprecedented public concern for the environment, some transportation experts say there's hope more money will flow for transit.

"There's a tremendous amount of concerted, multilateral pressure that I've never seen before," said transportation consultant Ed Levy.

The mayor's election platform spoke about light rail vehicles running on dedicated rights of way as part of a network of transit lines, including:

  • A dedicated transit corridor on Finch Ave., in part utilizing the hydro right of way, to connect north Scarborough and north Etobicoke to the subway.
  • A west waterfront line linking Etobicoke to Union Station.
  • A line connecting the Sheppard subway with Scarborough Town Centre.
  • Extending the Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) line to northeastern Scarborough. Since the SRT is due to wear out by about 2011 in any case, it's the subject of a separate planning process.
  • A dedicated bus line on Yonge St. from Finch Ave. to Steeles Ave.
  • A dedicated bus line on Kingston Rd. from Victoria Park Ave. to Eglinton Ave.
  • Building a dedicated rapid transit line along Eglinton Ave. W., connecting the St. Clair transit right of way to the airport.
Although the plan has been in the works for some time and studies are already going ahead in areas such as the Don Mills corridor, "there are going to be some surprises," Giambrone said.

The TTC blueprint could reduce traffic congestion and pollution and make transit a viable option for more commuters, but it represents a significant expense.

Light rail, which costs about $30 million a kilometre, can be built faster and cheaper than subways, which cost about $250 million to $300 million per kilometre.

That's part of the reason the TTC has shifted its emphasis to light rail, said Councillor Brian Ashton, who is also a member of the Greater Toronto Transit Authority.

"It's cheaper and it also begins to reflect on the suburban reality," he said.

As the city tries to curb sprawl and intensifies development along the avenues of strip malls in Etobicoke and Scarborough, "light rail or street cars become the solution," he said.

He called the subway extension, which will bring the Spadina line two stops into York Region, a signal of how transit will need to connect with Toronto's neighbours in future.

Scarborough councillors yesterday said they're prepared to wait for a subway as long as the TTC goes ahead with interim improvements to the SRT and delivers better service in north Scarborough, particularly in Morningside Heights.

"If (the TTC plan) doesn't incorporate that, you will be hearing about that," said Councillor Michael Thompson.

The city is already planning an extensive refurbishment of the SRT by 2015, including 44 new cars.

That's expected to cost between $300 million and $500 million, rather than the $1.2 billion it would cost to add two subway stops, he said.

"We want a spider web of mass transit to touch every corner of Scarborough," said Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who referred to today's announcement as "a miracle plan."

"This plan that's coming out (today) extends that spider web to every single inch of the city of Toronto. It puts new transit facilities in every single ward," he said.

"If you have LRT from one end of the city to the other, it's going to be spectacular."

It could also present an opportunity to consider buying two distinct types of streetcars – compact ones for downtown routes, and larger ones in more suburban areas, said Councillor Adam Vaughan.

"You've got two very different streetscapes."

With narrow streets and high demand for frequent service, the TTC should consider running smaller streetcars that can more easily negotiate turns and slide into underground stations, he said.

For suburban routes, bigger and roomier vehicles might be useful on less frequent but reliably timed routes, he suggested.

Historically, the TTC has been reluctant to buy differing vehicles, Vaughan said.

"It's always one size fits all. But this could be the time to change the thinking."
This is exciting news, and like a kid on Christmas morning, I'll be waiting impatiently for this announcement later today. I'll have more to say by day's end.

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Far too big, too high, too close

Far too big, too high, too close
Rami Tabello estimates 1,500-2,000 signs in Toronto are illegal. He introduces Bill Taylor to a sample rogues' gallery
March 16, 2007

Signs of the times? Rami Tabello, cruising downtown in his scarlet Mini, sees the writing on the wall and wants it gone.

"At least half the billboards in Toronto are illegal," he says. "In the entertainment district, almost all of them. It's visual pollution. We have to fight it."

Tabello's website,, lists about 270 allegedly outlaw billboards. He calls them "bad boys" and estimates there are between 1,500 and 2,000 around the city.

He's supported by Councillor Joe Mihevc, who is appalled "at the way the sign companies are behaving. As cash stores are to banks, so third-party advertising is to some of these large media outlets. It's big, big bucks... hundreds of millions of dollars. They're good, upstanding corporate citizens but they have this one area where they make oodles of money and operate in a rogue manner."

It's a cat-and-mouse game between the advertising companies and overworked city inspectors trying to enforce an inadequate bylaw that is convoluted and confusing, even to them. Among other things, it mandates the kind of billboard that is permissible and the minimum distance between signs.

"The bylaw hasn't been updated in 10 or 15 years," Tabello says. "It was written for a time when the cost of erecting a sign was $10,000, maybe $15,000. Now, to print a vinyl sign and put it on a wall can be as low as $500. The company can take it down and put it back later."

As he drives, he points out "bad boys ... That Motorola sign; the Lexus sign; Beaufort Legs au Naturel; L'Oreal. Moose Light and Moosehead lager; two bad boys. Big Shining Tunes; that's a big bad boy."

Sometimes a sign has been removed but the framework remains on the wall; a sure sign, Tabello says, that it'll be back.

Two regular offenders, he says, are Astral Media and CBS Outdoor. Both are bidding on a 20-year contract to redesign and maintain Toronto's "street furniture" – 25,000 transit shelters, benches, bike racks, garbage bins and newspaper boxes.

Another of Tabello's accused offenders, Pattison Outdoor, isn't a contender, citing "onerous" bidding rules. Pattison's website says the company is "dedicated to working with municipal, regional and other legislators across the country to provide all stakeholders with artistic, effective and contemporary outdoor displays."

CBS Outdoor boasts on its website that "while other media are fragmenting and suffering audience declines, Outdoor continues to grow. Outdoor cannot be zapped or time shifted...

"Whether we travel in our cars, by transit, on foot or by cycling, we see posters, superboards, transit shelters, wall murals..."

Repeated tries over several days to reach someone for comment at Pattison and CBS were unsuccessful.

Astral Media brags online that it "never ceases to amaze consumers and advertisers by its boundless creativity and its sense of innovation."

Spokesperson Alain Bergeron said he'd looked at and "the language and tone are certainly interesting. There's some strong language in there. I've spoken to our outdoor people. We're looking into it but I'm not sure there's an issue here. If there is, it's industry-wide, not just Astral. Astral has a strong track record in every city we're involved in. We'd be happy to work with Toronto if there are any issues."

A fourth firm named on the website is Megaposter, which calls itself "a new and leading force to provide `other than conventional' advertising spaces... We have made large format advertising our specialty..."

Megaposter's Viktor Lang told the Star, "I won't be able to help you. I don't think anyone will."

Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's West) calls Tabello "a good guy, a mensch. God bless him. He's taking on an industry that has no ability to control its own instinct. That's on one side.

"On the other, we have a city system that was built for an age when signs and advertising were really an adjunct to one's business and didn't have the same prominence as now. We have signs that we don't know are legal or not. It can take you months to discover that. You might even have to go to the city archives. A permit is issued through the building department and then the policing of it is transferred to Metro Licensing and Standards.

"Say I'm opening Joe's Variety Store and I want a sign on my roof, a first-person sign advertising myself. Then after five years I change it to a third-party sign, advertising someone else. They're worth tens of thousands of dollars. You're paying off your mortgage. After that, I do a backlit sign. Then a motion-picture one. All on that original, first-person permission."

Part of the problem, Mihevc says, is that Toronto has no "co-ordinated inventory" of billboard permits. City hall staff are working on reforms, he says, which ideally will include "a licensing system so that instead of a single-payment fee, we get annual revenues to pay to monitor the system. We need transparent, systemized records, all on computer, so John Q. Public can go to a website and see what's legal and illegal.

"And we need tons more staff. MLS inspectors are multi-tasking, everything from this to property standards complaints. What's a greater priority – an eavestrough that's falling on a neighbour's property or a sign that no one's ever challenged because it's too difficult? Sometimes we say to the company, `Show us they're legal.' And the company says, `You show us they're illegal.' They stonewall."

As for the threat of a fine for putting up a vinyl sign on a wall without any permit, Mihevc says it's a non-starter. By the time the city sends out a letter, the billboard is probably down. At least temporarily.

"Drive east along Bloor St. from Bathurst to Yonge," he says. "All the signs you see on the walls; they're all illegal."

Tabello, 32, regards himself and his supporters as "environmental activists. We're lucky. The outdoor advertising industry is the only one whose activities, illegal or otherwise, are specifically meant to be seen by as many people as possible."

Self-employed, he calls himself a "professional speculator. I play the stock market and bet on horses for a living but I don't consider it gambling. I take advantage of inefficiencies in the betting market on horses. It's a systematic financial approach."

His billboard website invites donations. But, he says "it doesn't take a lot of money to do this. We have volunteers who take photos and monitor signs. Our group has been together about a year. When we took our concerns to city hall, they had no idea how prevalent this was."

But not everyone at city hall loves Tabello. He's submitted so many freedom-of-information requests for sign permit information that City Clerk Ulli Watkiss wrote to him in January that she considered most of them "frivolous and/or vexatious." He's filed an appeal for full access to documents.

He points out an iPod ad on a wall on King St. east of Spadina Ave. "It's too big, too high and too close to that Calvin Klein billboard, which is legal. These vinyl signs can't be within 60 metres of each other. This is 10 times larger than it's supposed to be. It's about 300 square metres. The maximum by law is 25 square metres. Apple probably has no idea these signs are illegal. They buy what the advertising agency is selling them."

The agencies themselves are under the gun, Tabello says. "With the building boom, they're losing dozens of their billboards so there's no space to develop legal signs. It's a declining business. It's not going to happen overnight but they're behind the 8-ball. Ultimately, I don't see how they can win this."

He smiles as he drives by the Black Bull Tavern on Queen St. W. "We wrote to the city about the big sign they had up on the wall and now it's gone. The Black Bull has been liberated."
I've only followed ad creep issues lightly, but this site really opened my eyes to how bad the issue was. I now find myself looking for the illegal billboards this site describes from the train, pointing them out to whomever I'm with. I encourage anyone interested in advertisements overdone or corporate recklessness and contempt to visit

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Moscoe floats a parking tax - Toronto Star

Moscoe floats a parking tax
Councillor's discussion paper suggests imposing new fees, and using revenue raised to build lots at TTC stations
March 16, 2007
John Spears
City Hall Bureau

Toronto should consider imposing a new licensing fee or tax on parking lots in Toronto and use the revenue to build new commuter parking lots at transit stations, says Councillor Howard Moscoe.

Moscoe floated the idea in a discussion paper that argues for bringing the city's parking policies more in line with an overall development strategy.

Toronto has the power to impose such a levy under the new City of Toronto Act, Moscoe says. (Asked how much the added burden should raise the cost of a parking spot, he replied, "I have no idea.")

The Toronto Parking Authority should take over TTC lots that need to be expanded, Moscoe said. One way to expand them is to turn open-air lots into multi-level parking.

"We're looking at the possibility of decking some of our lots," said Moscoe, who chairs the licensing and standards committee. "The TTC has recently been requested to look at the possibility of decking the Wilson station lot."

Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) said the parking authority also needs to shift its priorities from providing "cheap parking in commercial areas" to inducing "people to get out of their cars and take transit."

Moscoe's paper suggests the city also needs to rethink its policy on private lots.

Downtown sites waiting to be redeveloped often become "temporary" lots – in some cases for 10 years or more. Unlike commercial lots, they do not have to comply with zoning bylaws or be landscaped and well lit.

The city should push owners to redevelop these sites, and increasing taxes on temporary lots would provide a suitable incentive, Moscoe argues.

"Fees should be higher on those lots that are temporary, and should be progressive," he writes, "so that if someone applies to extend the temporary use of land for a parking lot, they should pay progressively larger fees."
I'm sure people will jump to conclusions and say what they normally say about Howard Moscoe, but if you stop to think about his ideas, you'll find that most are good ideas. From my classes, I've learned that parking lots (and golf courses - see the latest episode of the Brampton Project) are usually an intermediate step between a developer buying a property and developing it. By making it more expensive to hold property at this intermediate step, they will either develop faster or the market price of a parking spot will increase. Either way, it results in a scarcity of cheap parking, making transit the only viable option. I simply hope that the money collected from such a policy goes to transit, and not to general revenue. Perhaps this can be done by merging the Toronto Parking Authority with the TTC.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The missing link

Just like a chain, a transit network is only as strong as its weakest link. That weak link was exposed this morning.

An early morning accident on Bathurst had the street closed between College and Ulster, causing Bathurst streetcars to divert along College and up Spadina to the subway. The problem is that the only way to get to St. Clair is up Bathurst, so this accident has prevented St. Clair cars from coming into service.

If St. Clair Avenue is supposed to be a major transit corridor, then we have to find another way to get streetcars into service in case the only route is blocked. In 1997, the TTC considered a plan, but dropped it due to low ridership. However, they suggested it may be feasible in the future if certain conditions were met. I quote from the 1997 report "Opportunities For New Streetcar Routes":

As part of the analysis of conversion of existing bus routes to streetcar routes, consideration was given to extension of the 512 ST CLAIR streetcar route west from its present terminus at Gunn's Loop to Runnymede Road, replacing the current 71 RUNNYMEDE bus over this section. This conversion did not rank highly, largely because of the existing low ridership levels on the bus route. This area is subject to considerable potential development, however, and a re-evaluation of an extension of the 512 ST CLAIR streetcar to Runnymede Road will be made once significant development in the neighborhood is committed, and when possible ridership increase information is available from the example of the 510 SPADINA bus-to-streetcar conversion. As development in the area continues, TTC staff will continue to protect property for this possible extension.

Also considered in this analysis was the conversion of the 40 JUNCTION bus route to streetcar operation. This conversion did not rank highly in most measures, except in the number of customer-trips per peak vehicle, where the route ranked fourth. As a result of the relatively low ranking, no further action should be taken. If the 512 ST CLAIR route were to be extended to Runnymede Loop, then the conversion of the 40 JUNCTION route to streetcar (or, reconversion, as this part of Dundas Street was served by streetcars until the opening of the Bloor Subway in 1966) should be re-examined, as there is potential for operating cost savings on the 512 ST CLAIR streetcar route, if cars can enter service on St. Clair from Roncesvalles carhouse using the shorter route that would be possible on Roncesvalles, Dundas, and Runnymede. For this reason, TTC staff will advocate protecting for the possible future conversion of 40 JUNCTION to streetcar operation in any development plans in th Junction.
In my opinion, the conditions which prevented these plans from being enacted have now been met. The Junction has seen significant development along Dundas approaching Runnymede and even Scarlett Road, and there is a large property on St. Clair between Runnymede and Jane that is prime for redevelopment. Most would agree that the Spadina Streetcar has been a success, and that today has shown that efficiency can be gained from having a back road onto St. Clair. The time is right for this proposal, as it can bring real transit service to an under-serviced area.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Those Crazy Bramptonites

Residents against highrises pack meeting
Friday March 9 2007

Hundreds of residents packed Loafer's Lake Recreation Centre and many more were turned away at the door for a meeting of a citizen's group that had the discussion of a controversial development on the agenda.

The Northwest Brampton Community Development Association meeting was standing room only as residents came to hear an update on a developer's plan to build six highrise condominiums at the corner of Sandalwood Parkway and Conestoga Drive. Many were turned away at the door because there was no room inside. Area Regional Councillor Paul Palleschi promised a larger venue for the next public meeting, suggesting the Rose Theatre might be needed to accommodate the crowd.

RoyalCliff Homes and Lake Path Holdings Inc. have filed a formal application to the city proposing construction of three 18-storey buildings, two 25-storey buildings and one 32-storey building, as well as six townhouse blocks for a total of 1,400 units on the site. The 4.02-hectare (9.9 acre) site is adjacent to Loafer's Lake park and recreation centre, and is surrounded by an established area of single-family homes.

Palleschi said the city's planning commissioner has never seen a plan like it in his 30 years of planning.

An attempt to find an alternate site for the development along the Queen Street Corridor failed.

City staff must examine the plan's merits from a strictly technical perspective. A refusal at the local level could see that decision appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board for a final ruling.

City staff have six months to study the plan. They have already asked the developer for several specialized studies, including environmental, traffic and shadow studies.

The results of those studies will be put through a peer review by the city, the residents were told.

The plan will be circulated to the school boards, the conservation authority, the fire department and other local agencies for comment on its impact on area infrastructure.

As part of the process, a formal public meeting will also be held. Palleschi told residents they must make the time to come to any and all meetings, to ensure their opinions are known and counted.

Residents are opposed to the plan because of the increase in traffic they say area roads could not handle.

They also believe the highrises-- the highest planned highrise in the city right now is less than 30 storeys-- would be out of character with the rest of the area.

The Heart Lake site was re-zoned 18 years ago for two 18-storey buildings with a total of 419 units, but the developer at the time couldn't market the condominiums and the plan was abandoned. The land was sold, but never developed. Despite the existing zoning, however, any plan to build highrises would have to come under more scrutiny, including the need for new traffic studies, since the old studies would be almost two decades out of date, according to the city.

At Wednesday's meeting, Palleschi was talking compromise, saying he is somewhat optimistic an alternative can be found and agreed to by the developer, the city and residents.

To that end, he asked for representatives from each street in the area to volunteer for a committee to discuss various options that city staff can put together and present to the developer.

"I'm still asking you to fight this, but we have to have a plan," Palleschi told the group.

He said city staff have already come up with some alternate options, and he handed out one such option at the meeting suggesting one highrise along with townhouses, and some bungalows. Regardless of the final development, five per cent of the land will have to be donated to the city in lieu of parkland, he told residents.

The crowd grumbled when told Mayor Susan Fennell and area MPP Linda Jeffrey were not at the meeting. Fennell and Jeffrey were at the Business Person of the Year Award banquet.

Palleschi assured the group Fennell is 100 per cent opposed to the plan, and so is he. He said City Councillor John Hutton, who was also absent and is recovering from cancer treatments, is also opposed to it.

Jeffrey sent a letter, which was read aloud, stating the issue is not a provincial one and that the local councillors must work with the developer to come up with a compromise. She, too, said she is opposed to the plan.

Local MP Ruby Dhalla attended the meeting and told the group, although the issue has nothing to do with her government, she supports the residents and offered her office and her help.
Brampton residents are a funny group. They move to an area with no municipal services, then complain about the lack of municipal services. They complain about traffic congestion, but protest construction projects to increase the capacity of the roads. They demand better transit service, but send letters to the editor when fares rise to pay for the service (which, in Brampton, have been traditionally below the GTA average). They complain about how much sprawl has consumed their hometown, but when a project comes along that seeks to alleviate urban sprawl, they compare it to dropping a nuclear bomb on the community (not my words, theirs).

If a site has been zoned for something, chances are it will get built, be it now or 18 years in the future. Simply because one company passes on developing the project doesn't mean another company won't either.

I recognize that you cannot build without the infrastructure to support the development, but the concept of the development is good. It falls in line with the direction development in the GTA should be going. Dare I say it, Jane Jacobs would be proud.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Interlining: The Better Way?

Adeel's thoughts on the weekend subway diversions.


Friday, March 09, 2007

What We Can Learn From YRT

Among my circle of friends, I often bash York Region. This stems from what I call "village name misuse" in Woodbridge and Maple. According to some, Woodbridge extends from Steeles to Major Mackenzie, and from Highway 50 to Highway 400. Similarly, Maple is anywhere from Teston to Steeles, and from Highway 400 to Bathurst. Essentially, this makes the Vaughan redundant. Why not call it "The City of Maple-Woodbridge." Developers and real estate agents trying to make property more attractive to buyers have corrupted our collective sense of history. For me, Vaughan and Maple will only be the original villages which grew up around their respective train stations. Everything else is just Vaughan.

But I digress. Here's what we can learn from York Region Transit:

Low Cost Rapid Transit
VIVA has show us that subways don't always have to be built to bring rapid transit to the cities. We shouldn't be building permanent stub lines at the end of subways, but we should be building Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit on most new corridors.

Miniature Park and Rides
Large Parking Lots at subway stations are necessary, but are a waste of space. By reserving a few rows of parking at malls and community centres along high-frequency corridors, parking problems at the major terminals can be reduced. The YRT lot at Al Palladini Community Centre is a half example - it's at a community centre, but it's not a high-frequency corridor.

Mini Buses
This is an ElDorado National EZ-Rider II. It's 30 feet long, seats 21 people in YRT spec, and has two wheelchair positions. Most importantly, it's small and can navigate narrow streets which a 40 foot bus couldn't dream of driving down. This gives them the ability to run buses deep into neighborhoods. Giving people as close to door-to-door service as possible is key to improving ridership.

One of the possible uses of these vehicles is the community bus concept, where buses travel deep into neighborhoods, and can be flagged down anywhere along the route. Residents could be more accepting of these vehicles, due to their smaller, less imposing size.

A Slick Website
YRT website has all the tools that a good transit website should have
  • Easy to navigate
  • Schedules in spreadsheet form, accessible from the main page and via a search box
  • Easy to print schedules
  • The ability to see service updates and news from the main page.
  • A trip planner (in the works)
  • It doesn't look like a bunch of code hacked together in 45 minutes.
Lifestyle Marketing
If you head along Highway 7, you'll see YRT banners hanging from the streetlights with messages like "whoose meets wow", "unbus 2 work", and "from A to Being". Some would argue that it's lame, but it markets transit as a lifestyle choice. Hopefully one day, it will become more than a lifestyle choice - it will be a given.

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Nathan Phillips Square

Yesterday, the proposal by Plant Architect & Shore Tilbe Irwin was selected for the redesign for Nathan Phillips Square. Overall, I like what I see, and I'm encouraged by the fact that it was designed to be phased in, allowing us to build a little at a time, rather than all or nothing. However, I noticed that none of the finalists had proposed anything bold or radical. Sometimes we need a radical public works project to instill civic pride. Here's some images of the winning submission, from the City of Toronto website.

Ariel View

The Queen Street forecourt of the restaurant

The New Peace Garden

The theatre terrace and skate pavilion

Ariel view at night


The city has pledged 16 million towards the redevelopment, with the remaining 24 million coming from the private sector. Naming rights is an option, but it has to be balanced out with easy recognition. I wouldn't mind "The ABC Stage at Nathan Phillips Square", but renaming the square, or any public building or identified tourist attraction, is a disgrace to all involved.

You can read more about this project at Spacing Wire


Province to radically reshape TransLink - Vancouver Sun

Province to radically reshape TransLink

Miro Cernetig and Bill Boei
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

VICTORIA — The provincial government will radically alter the management of public transit and roadways in the Lower Mainland by scrapping the current TransLink transportation authority that it has called “dysfunctional.”

In the next few weeks B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon will introduce sweeping legislation that will create a “Council of Mayors”, who will be asked to oversee all transit decisions. The government will tell the mayors to come up with a 10-year, integrated plan for an area stretching from Pemberton to Chilliwack.

In a news conference Thursday, Falcon will also say that to make sure that bold plan actually happens, the government will also create a 11-member, full-time “Professional Board” with the expertise in law, accounting, finance and transit planning to oversee the system’s management on a day-to-day basis.

A report commissioned by a panel appointed by the government has found that under the current situation, TransLink would chalk up a $200-million deficit annually by 2013. The new government plan would end that sea of red ink by giving the TransLink authority new revenue streams. It is also contemplating allowing the authority to develop land around rail stations and major transit hubs, not unlike private transit companies in Hong Kong, to cash in on the lucrative spike in real estate that usually happens when transit is developed.

To keep TransLink from being too ambitious in the costs it passes along to the public, however, the government will set up an “Independent Commissioner” to review such things as fare hikes and make sure that local land-use plans are followed.

The TransLink board that now exists will stay in place until the new legislation takes effect, in the autumn.

The government’s move follows years of tension between the province and local governments, who are often at odds about how, where and when to build up transportation infrastructure.

Set up by the New Democratic Party in 1999, theoretically to give local government more say and independence on the planning of transportation and mass transit, TransLink has always been conflicted, caught between local politics and the demands of the province.

The NDP government, for example, had to overrule TranslLnk's attempts to impose a vehicle levy -that is tolls - as a source off revenue for the new projects it was supposed to build. The Liberals have similarly intervened, such as when Falcon scuttled TransLink’s suggestion of tolls on existing infrastructure as a way to pay for new projects.

But that leaves TransLink in a bind.

How can it raise money for projects, such as the $970 million Evergreen light rail line from Burnaby to Coquitlam, without major new revenue streams?

TransLink, for example, was more than $400 million short for the Evergreen line but the provincial government would not pump in more money, suggesting that a private-public partnership — the so-called P3s — was the way to raise the needed funds.

TransLink -- officially, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority -- manages the transit stem, some provincial highways and bridges as well as major municipal roads that carry traffic across municipal boundaries.

It had a major long-term expansion strategy including a major bus fleet expansion, several new rapid transit lines and a lot of regional road improvements.

Operations were to be funded from fares, the share of property taxes that used to go to hospitals, a share of provincial fuel taxes, a small levy on Hydro bills and -- potentially -- a few other things like parking taxes.

Major expansion was to be paid for from a new vehicle levy - about $70 a year - on every motor vehicle in the region. But the vehicle levy was political dynamite and a lot of local politicians, especially in Surrey, fought against it.

It never got implemented.

The province dithered for a time, then the NDP government backed away from the issue in the run-up to the 2001 election. That forced TransLink into drastic cutbacks on an expansion program it had already begun, and led directly to a long transit strike in 2001.

That cost George Puil, TransLink's founding chairman, his seat on Vancouver council the next municipal election when public anger over the strike was directed at him.

Nothing has ever surfaced to replace the vehicle levy.

Consequently TransLink is far behind on plans to expand the bus fleet, build more rapid transit, and carry out more maintenance work.

TransLink maintains it has done well under difficult circumstances.

But Falcon, who believes that TransLink is parochial and poorly run, has expressed little patience. Here’s what he said in a recent Vancouver Sun Interview:

"With the current fiscal plan that TransLink has in place today and the current projects they have in the pipeline, they are going to start significant deficits in '09, and they will essentially be bankrupt by 2012.

So the whole organization is not financially sustainable.

“They can't go forward like this,” he added. “They're lurching forward, adding new projects without putting the financing mechanisms into place, and they run off and do things like parking stall taxes etc., and it's a combination . . . that is filling the public with a deep sense of unease and lack of confidence in their ability to carry these things forward."

But the province, which prefers not to be directly linked to the thorny issues of solving gridlock and fixing eroding infrastructure, has also never really engaged fully with TransLink.

There are supposed to be three provincial representatives on the TransLink board. Yet those seats have never been filled, likely because all the local directors would have looked to the provincial appointees for policy direction and funding for projects. One of TransLink's arguments is that if the province had appointed its three directors, they would have been able to swing all the controversial, close decisions that Falcon was so frustrated with in the province's preferred directions.
I have always been a fan of Vancouver's transit system, so I'll be watching these reforms closely. I hope the Ontario Government is watching closely as well. Please note the passage that I've highlighted. It's not specific to Vancouver - it's universal.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

96 Wilson: A Route Exposé

96 Wilson is one of the longer routes on the TTC system, running from York Mills station to Albion & Humberline, near the border where Toronto, Vaughan and Brampton meet. The route runs very frequently, and during the peak hours, 27 vehicles (normally Nova RTS, but any accessible bus from Arrow Road division can show up) provide service every 3'33". Even on the 319 Wilson Night, service never drops below 30 minutes. Combined with service by the 165 Weston Road North between York Mills and Weston Road, there's seldom a time when there's not a bus in sight. When I lived in Rexdale, several branches of the 96 stopped right in front of my house, so my connection with the route runs deep.

Wilson has one of the most branches of any TTC route, potentially making it confusing for riders, but necessary to serve the numerous neighborhoods and the 20,800 people along the route.
  • 96 York Mills stn - Humberline & Finch
  • 96A York Mills stn - Carrier Dr via Kipling & John Garland
  • 96B York Mills stn - Humberline & Albion Rd
  • 96C York Mills stn - Thistledown via Albion Rd
  • 96D York Mills stn - Carrier Dr
  • 96E York Mills stn - Humber College express
  • 96G York Mills stn - Clayson
However, there are some quirks with this route. First of all, the route map shows all branches going to Wilson Station. This is true, but it shows that only the 96, 96A, 96C, 96D & 96F branches serve York Mills station. This leaves out 96B, which goes to York Mills, but it includes this mysterious 96F branch.

96F does not appear on the printed schedules or on the service summary. However, it does appear on the route map - but it doesn't show where the branch goes. From my research, I've discovered that it began in 1996 as a rush hour branch, and then was replaced by 96G sometime before 2000 - that is, until I rode a 96F Wednesday afternoon.

Was it a mistake the operator failed to catch, was it an unscheduled short turn, or was the bus going out of service and heading back to Arrow Road? Each one is possible, but one thing is for sure: Transit isn't bland and mundane. You can find mystery and intrigue around every corner.

The route map is from the TTC website.

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Is subway really the better way? - Toronto Star

Is subway really the better way?
'Frustrated' TTC chair says money for line extension looks sexy but should go to further regional transit links
March 07, 2007
Tess Kalinowski

It is being hailed by federal and provincial politicians as a breakthrough in cutting commutes and greenhouse gas emissions across the Toronto region.

But transportation experts were less enthusiastic about yesterday's announcement of $962 million for Toronto-area transit, particularly the extension of the Spadina subway line into York Region.

To put it bluntly, the city would have spent the subway money differently.

"We're frustrated in some ways we don't get to decide where you spend the transit dollars," said TTC chair and Toronto Councillor Adam Giambrone.

"If we have limited dollars there are better ways to service more people and get more riders – or better serve existing riders – than the York subway,"

If he had the $2.1 billion the extension is expected to cost, Giambrone says he'd spend half finishing the Sheppard line.

The other half would be used to build a light rapid transit system – such as dedicated streetcar lines – that would criss-cross Toronto.

That's what the city's official plan calls for.

But subways are sexy, particularly at election time, although they're not necessarily the best or most cost-effective way to reduce gridlock, say the experts.

They say the 8.6-kilometre subway extension with six stops, including a high traffic hub at York University, won't do much to address the transit needs outlined in the city's official plan, particularly in Scarborough where the rapid transit system is near the end of its life.

Then there's the cost of construction. Subways cost about $150 million per running kilometre to build compared with about $30 million to $35 million per kilometre for light rail transit or $20 million to $25 million per kilometre for bus rapid transit, Giambrone said.

And the announcement offers no operating funding. What still needs to be negotiated is whether there will be an operating subsidy for the Spadina subway.

"Subways get older and are more expensive to maintain in the long run," said Giambrone, backing up Toronto Mayor David Miller's call Monday for a national transit plan that would feature sustained funding of about $2 billion annually.

Although the extension will make this the first time the subway has crossed Toronto's city borders, with two stops in York Region, it will be wholly owned and operated by the TTC, said Giambrone, with York paying part of the operating cost.

"The subway is significant inasmuch as it traverses municipal boundaries. (But) ... the really heavy lifting in terms of integration and co-ordination has yet to occur," said Rob MacIsaac, head of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority.

Still, it remains to be seen how far the subway and the other investments in a Mississauga bus corridor, Brampton's rapid bus system, called AcceleRide, and enhancements to York's Viva rapid transit go toward improving regional transportation links, he said.

MacIsaac argues the region is so starved for transit it needs more of everything, including subways.

Of the 1,660 buses that run on the York University campus each day, about half are operated by the TTC.

The others are regional transit services, including about 500 GO buses.

The 87 per cent of York's 50,000 students and 10,000 employees who list a Toronto-area address are evenly split among 416 and 905 residents, said a university spokesperson.

"This is another political subway in the same vein as the Sheppard line was," said Ed Levy of BA Consulting Group.
This will be my last post on the subject, as I have become very disillusioned by the reaction to this announcement.

A professor of mine once said that in 25 years, when the development around the stations is complete, we will be praising Mel Lastman for his foresight in pushing for the Sheppard Subway to get build. It may take 25 years, but Torontonians of the future will wonder why the people of 2007 ever questioned its merits.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

TTC delays

According to new TTC posters, delays are most often caused by:
  • Blocking the doors, making loading and unloading much slower
  • Holding the doors, causing them to break
  • Failing to mind the gap between the subway car and the platform
  • Passenger illness and injury
Aside from passenger illness, I would like to kindly ask all riders to act like you got some sense.

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The Lone Supporter?

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only blogger who supports the Spadina subway extension.

The project does have its drawbacks - in that it only serves a small area of the city - but isn't that true of all projects?

Everyone of my fellow bloggers wants the GTA to have a network of rapid transit lines, but isn't a network nothing more than a collection of individual lines?

Here is what others have to say about the planned expansion:
I hope that we soon realize that a transit network is a series of parts that make a whole, not a whole that gets build all at once. I hope that we recognize that Toronto is an integrated region, and that we cannot have a downtown bias any longer. Finally, I hope that we consider the 50,000 people who live around Jane & Finch who will directly benefit from the shorter commuting time that this line will bring before we condemn this project as a waste of money.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

A very taboo subject

It's generally acknowledged in the transit community that "passenger injuries at track level" (PITL) are a very taboo subject. For this reason, I will tread lightly.

Whenver a PITL occurs, everyone knows what's going on. However, the TTC generally does not report these incidents, often citing the fear of copycats. This is one of the rare cases where an argument to the nobility of that idea can be made, but does it accomplish the objectives? Would releasing this data encourage more copycats, or would it bring the issue to the forefront, where we can develop solutions to this issue?

When it come to infrastructure, we can implement platform screens to prevent PITLs, but this would require automatic train control to ensure that the train doors lined up with the platform screens every time. The London Underground uses such a system, while you can find it locally in Toronto on the Pearson airport people-mover. The Westminster station on the Tube's Jubilee Line is pictured here.
I personally believe that releasing the numbers of PITL would result in panic among riders - sometimes blissful ignorance is a good thing. But I will advocate for a public debate on this issue. It cannot be swept under the rug any longer. For more reading, check out Metroblogging Vancouver.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Subway a thrill ride for Vaughan - Toronto Star

Subway a thrill ride for Vaughan
$3 billion windfall a boost for 905 transit, though Miller warns it's just a start
March 04, 2007
Jim Byers

Overdue. Hugely welcome. But only just a start.

GTA politicians reacted with emotions ranging from uncontrolled glee to cautious optimism yesterday at news that the Tory government in Ottawa is ready to throw a huge pile of cash at everything from a subway extension to York University and Vaughan to better bus service in car-crazy Mississauga, Brampton and York Region.

As reported yesterday by Bruce Campion-Smith in the Star, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty this week will announce some $3 billion in public spending on public transit in the GTA – just as talk of a federal election heats up across the country.

"We're all just thrilled in Vaughan," Mayor Linda Jackson told the Star.

"It's a great day for all of York Region and all residents of the GTA."

Jackson said the subway extension, which has been talked about for two decades and represents the first subway in the 905, will enable her city to intensify development in the city centre as well as help the environment.

The promise of new funds "is the first spike in the development of an overall GTA transit network," a more restrained Toronto Mayor David Miller said yesterday.

"The York subway is a very important transportation connection in Toronto and York Region.

"It's good they're paying attention to transit. But we hope this is a sign that both governments are moving to permanent, sustainable funding for transit so we can build networks ... in Scarborough, Calgary and Montreal."

Miller has talked in the past about building a series of dedicated streetcar lines in North Etobicoke, Scarborough and along Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave.

Jackson, meanwhile, said as great as the subway extension will be for Vaughan, the money to help York Region build dedicated bus lanes is just as important.

"Residents of York Region have a love affair with their cars, and this is a big step," the mayor said.

"You can build subways but they take a long time. The changes for VIVA (York Region's bus network) can be almost immediate."

In Mississauga, Mayor Hazel McCallion cautioned the busway planned for her city won't be ready until 2009.

"It's good that the money's starting to flow, but I don't know what impact this will have on gridlock.

"In the short term, it does nothing."

TTC chair and Toronto Councillor Adam Giambrone said the subway extension, which will cost Ottawa, Queen's Park and the City of Toronto andYork Region some $2 billion, won't be ready until 2014.

Ottawa will pay $697 million as its share of the subway extension, as part of its total transit contribution of more than $1 billion. The subway will run 8.7 kilometres from Downsview Station to the Vaughan City centre, with a stop at York University.

Other projects that will get federal money include:

# A bus-only road along Highway 403 and Eastgate Parkway from Burnhamthorpe Rd. to Eglinton Ave.

# Brampton's AcceleRide program, aimed at speeding up buses in the car-dependent city;

# A program to get York Region buses out of clogged roads and into dedicated bus-only lanes;

# Widening Highway 7 and looking at an extension of Highway 407 east to link up with Highway 401.

# A study of rapid transit options for Durham Region.

"We're symbolically piercing the 416/905 barrier, which is huge," said Toronto Councillor Brian Ashton, a member of the newly created Greater Toronto Transportation Authority.

Ashton said the fact so much money is being poured into the suburbs recognizes that traffic in the 905 is just as bad, if not worse, than in Toronto.

That's the point Miller makes when he rejects the idea of a congestion tax on cars coming into downtown Toronto.

Tomorrow in Montreal, Miller and the other big-city mayors in the caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are scheduled to unveil their plan for a national transit strategy.

A couple points I'd like to highlight:
  • "is the first spike in the development of an overall GTA transit network," - The first spike must be laid somewhere, and sadly, there would be detractors and opponents, regardless of where the next project was built. I recall that some opponents to the St. Clair right-of-way complained of a political bias towards downtown.
  • "We're symbolically piercing the 416/905 barrier, which is huge... the fact so much money is being poured into the suburbs recognizes that traffic in the 905 is just as bad, if not worse, than in Toronto." - The GTA needs to stop thinking of itself as a superior city with inferior suburbs. We are an integrated region with blurred borders, and we will not succeed unless we recognize that point.
I'm also looking forward to the national transit strategy the mayors plan to announce. It may help solve the many other transit problems this region and this country faces.

2014 is a far away, but the tangible and symbolic benefits are worth the wait.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

$697M seals subway deal

I cannot put to words how exciting this morning's news was. Toronto is long overdue for large-scale transit projects, and hopefully, when the financial, environmental and political benefits of this project are realized, it will lead to a wave of transit projects in the GTA. Here's how I see it:
  • A subway to York University and Vaughan will reduce the number of trips made to and from the area which are done by car. Vaughan and other northwestern residents will have a transit option instead of driving into the city on the congested highway 400.
  • Overall system crowding will be reduced, as riders on the 36 Finch West, 60 Steeles West and 77 Highway 7 will be diverted onto the underused Spadina Subway and away from the overcrowded Yonge Line. Also, the overcrowded 196 York University Rocket will be eliminated, and the buses used elsewhere on the system.
  • This line will spur redevelopment and intensification around the stations, just as the Sheppard Subway has done in North York. The increased transportation will cause land values to skyrocket, and will encourage the big box stores currently located there to take advantage and sell. Developers will then build higher density to better recuperate the money they spent to purchase the property.
I concede the point that this project does address the transit needs of the entire city or the entire region. However, that it itself should not condemn the project. This subway line will bring rapid transit much closer to the Jane & Finch neighborhood, and will bring rapid transit to areas which are experiencing heavy congestion.

Perhaps even more importantly than the physical infrastructure is the progress we have made furthering the transit issue with the provincial and federal government. That is priceless.

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$697M seals subway deal - Toronto Star

$697M seals subway deal
Harper and McGuinty to announce federal funding next week for long-awaited extension of Spadina line into York Region
March 03, 2007
Bruce Campion-Smith

OTTAWA–The final piece of the puzzle is in place to build the first-ever subway line beyond the border of Toronto into York Region, with a stop at York University, the Star has learned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty will announce next week that the federal government will pump $697 million into the plan to extend the Spadina subway from Downsview station. The province and the municipalities of Toronto and York have already committed money.

As well, the federal government will announce funding for:
  • A Mississauga transitway, a bus-only road along Highway 403 and Eastgate Parkway from Burnhamthorpe Rd. to Eglinton Ave. E.
  • Brampton's $280-million Acceleride project, meant to speed bus service. Ontario has already committed $95 million for the improvements.
  • An expansion of York Region's Viva bus system. York Region officials want to get buses on to dedicated lanes.
  • The widening of Highway 7, in the amount of $55 million.
  • An environmental assessment to extend Highway 407 eastward to link up with Highway 401. This would go through federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's Whitby-Oshawa riding.
  • A $5 million study of rapid transit in Durham.
The announcement comes with both the federal and provincial governments attempting to prove they are serious about protecting the environment. More public transit means fewer cars on the road and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

It comes with the possibility of a federal election this spring, and winning Ontario seats is a must for Harper to win a majority government. On March 19, the federal budget will likely have a lot of goodies for Quebec, and the Tories wanted to make a big splash in advance in Ontario.

McGuinty faces re-election Oct. 10.

Once contributions from Ontario and the various municipalities are factored in, the projects represent a $3.2-billion investment to help GTA commuters get around.

In December, Flaherty declared, "public transit generally is significant ... and environmentally important."

At the heart of the announcement is the $2-billion extension of the TTC's University-Spadina subway line to York University and into York Region to help cope with population growth north of Toronto.

About six kilometres of the 8.6-kilometre line will be in Toronto. A "preferred alignment" on the TTC website shows stations at Sheppard West, Finch West, York University, Steeles West in Toronto and Highway 407 and Vaughan Centre in York Region.

There has been a demand for years to make York University more accessible for its 65,000 students and staff.

The provincial government has already set aside $670 million for its one-third share of the huge project. Toronto and York Region last September set aside long-standing differences and agreed on a deal to split their $670-million share of construction work.

Despite active lobbying by the province and municipal officials, the federal contribution has been the hold-up, until now.

Now, thanks to this announcement, workers could break ground as early as this summer on the 8.6-kilometre extension from Downsview station, through the York campus and across Steeles Ave. to the Vaughan town centre.

The negotiations around the subway funding date back months with Flaherty and his Ontario counterpart, Greg Sorbara, frequently discussing the province's demand for additional transit cash. The extension goes through Sorbara's Vaughan-King-Aurora riding.

"We're going to move ahead on that project and I believe that at the right time the federal government will be a partner. There is a huge political risk for them if they're not," Sorbara said after one of their meetings last December. Speculation has been rampant for weeks that an announcement was near but it was only on Thursday that the federal cabinet gave the green light for the spending, sources say.

News of the announcement comes as big city mayors, including Toronto Mayor David Miller, gather in Montreal tomorrow and Monday to discuss plans for a national transit strategy.

With files from Allan Woods
More from me on this momentous occasion later...

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