Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clubs, Parking Lots & Misguided Emotions

If you follow the Toronto-based Blog-o-sphere, then you couldn't have escaped hearing about the City of Toronto's plan to purchase (or even expropriate) the Matador after hours club on Dovercourt to allow the Toronto Parking Authority to construct a 20-space parking lot.

I am not going to debate the fact that constructing parking lots downtown is a regressive land use, and is generally not a good idea in a city where we need to increase transit usage, I'm getting the feeling that some people want to save the Matador for no other reason than the fact that it was a club that they had a personal connection to. If we used that reasoning for historical preservation, then the city would stall. Nothing would get build, nothing would improve, and the city would crumble under the lack of investment.

I was going to use the line "it's time to put the Matador out to pasture" to end this blog post, but I realized that the matador is the person. Bottom line: don't build a parking lot, but the Matador is dead. Let it die.

The next post will have a better ending - I promise.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

'All aboard' call for railway bridge restaurant - CBC News

'All aboard' call for railway bridge restaurant
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | 7:37 AM ET
CBC News

The developer behind the restoration of Toronto's midtown railway station and Summerhill clock tower wants to build a 100-seat restaurant spanning the Canadian Pacific Railway overpass, right over Yonge Street.

Diners would look south through the heart of the city, while sitting right next to passing freight trains.

Canadian Pacific has signed on and Woodcliffe Development Corp. hopes to get city approvals for a 2009 opening.

"We're proposing to build on an active railway bridge, over Yonge Street, and that doesn't occur every day," said developer Paul Oberman as he showed off a model of his glass-walled restaurant.

He said the restaurant will be "somewhat reminiscent of the original canopies that were there when the train station was in use back in the teens and 20s."

Oberman said it's taken the railway, neighbours and the city some time to warm up to the idea of putting diners on a working rail overpass.

"You see down this corridor of buildings straight down Yonge Street to the lake on a clear day, and at night you see a ribbon of lights in both directions."

Jennifer Ayres of the Summerhill Residents Association is skeptical.

"I just couldn't understand someone spending $200 a plate to be shaken to bits sitting on the top of that platform there.

"My house shakes, especially in the wintertime, and I cannot see any kind of engineering that would change that type of vibration when you are actually on the bridge," she said.

To receive final city approval Oberman still needs to address zoning, safety and parking issues.
I must say that this is an interesting proposal and can't think of another location in Toronto where its been done at this scale, but this is an example of where the public and private interests are in conflict. One cannot blame Mr. Oberman for wanting to develop the property - he's a developer and that's his job. However, North Toronto station has the potential to become an important transit centre.

Railway corridors radiating from it reach the northeastern and northwestern corners of the city, which are currently some of the most difficult to access by transit. Under my GTTA transit proposal, trains from no less than five services would call at the station. The station will be used under Move Ontario 2020. This location is too important to be developed in a way that prevents its use as a railway station, and the city and provincial government should do everything in its power to protect it for this purpose.

A diverse collection of restaurants is important for a city to be vibrant, but what's the point if its not livable?

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Quebecor chief takes aim at Big 3 cellular networks - Toronto Star

Quebecor chief takes aim at Big 3 cellular networks
September 21, 2007
Chris Sorensen
Business Reporter

The war of words between the country's three big cellphone companies and would-be competitors continued yesterday as Quebecor Inc. CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau accused the industry's incumbents of stifling competition and innovation in the key wireless sector.

Péladeau, who is hoping to convince Ottawa to set aside wireless spectrum for new competitors in an upcoming federal auction, accused the industry's three major players – Rogers Communications Inc., BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. – of maintaining a "stranglehold" on wireless competition and customers' wallets.

"This stranglehold on competition leads us not only to higher prices," said Péladeau, who spoke at a luncheon in Toronto hosted by the Empire Club. "It leads to less services and less innovation. Where Canada once led the world in wireless, we now lag behind."

Montreal-based Quebecor is hoping to add a wireless network to its publishing, printing and cable TV businesses, saying it believes the future of all media is in wireless applications. Péladeau says the firm intends to build a network, possibly even on a national basis, if it is successful in securing the necessary spectrum at an upcoming auction.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice said earlier this week that the government will move ahead with its spectrum auction, but did not say what the rules for the process would be.

Quebecor and other potential wireless competitors, such as MTS Allstream Inc., want spectrum to be put aside for new entrants, arguing an open auction would allow the deep-pocketed incumbent carriers to pay vast amounts for spectrum to block others from entering the market.

Executives from all three of the incumbents were present at yesterday's event and were quick to take issue with Péladeau's comments.

"No matter how they try to slice it, they want subsidies from the federal government and their competitors to get into the business," said Ken Engelhart, vice-president of regulatory affairs for Rogers, the country's largest wireless operator.

While Engelhart acknowledged Rogers did not pay up-front for spectrum when it started in the business two decades ago, he also noted that the cable company lost "billions and billions" trying to develop what has only recently become a profitable industry. "And now they're coming along when the market is finally profitable ... and saying, `We should get subsidies to help us get into this business'?"

Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility, said the company isn't opposed to more competition as long as there is a "level playing field."
This isn't transit or urban planning related, but its something I feel strongly about. Canadians are getting screwed by the wireless companies. Why are unlocked phones only for the tech-savvy in North America, but fairly common in Europe? Why doesn't every carrier use GSM, the global standard? Why do I have to buy ring tones from my carrier for $3.75 instead of using my own songs?

Bring forth more competition to bring North America out of the wireless stone age!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blueprints for a better tomorrow

The specs for the new streetcars to be travelling Toronto's streets starting in 2010 were released today, and I must say it looks pretty exciting. Here's what we can expect:

General Features
  • The vehicles will likely be 100% low floor. A 70% low floor design is allowed, but the specs seemed to be written in such a way as to severely discourage it.
  • The first batch will be single-ended, so loops will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. Trolley poles will stay for the time being. Double-ended cars with doors on both sides and with pantographs will be used on the Transit City lines.
  • The vehicles will be constructed with lightweight, high performance and environmentally friendly materials.
  • The vehicles will meet fire, smoke, toxicity and tunnel safety standards.
  • The length will vary between 27 metres and 30 metres (88.6 to 98 feet), depending on the winning design. In comparison, the ALRVs are 23.3 metres (75 feet).
  • They will have three powered trucks, which will allow them to climb the hill to operate on St. Clair. ALRVs cannot do this reliably, which is why they don't normally go that far north.
  • They will be able to "limp home" under reduced power, reducing the chance of a disabled car holding up the line.
  • There will be no fare boxes. Manufactures have to supply the pre-wiring for at-door fare payment systems - Does this mean that Presto will be fully implemented on the TTC by then?
  • All exterior lights will be LEDs.
Safety Features
  • Vehicles will use the TTC's Safety Certificate Plan requirements.
  • The end structural stiffness requirements will be reduced, but only to European standards. Since the Europeans run trains faster and more frequently than we do, I'm not worried.
  • Additional side impact protection will be used, since the cars will be low floor instead of the floor being safely above the roofs of most cars.
  • "Do Not Pass" signs will illuminate whenever the doors open, hopefully being as effective as school bus stop signals.
  • Security cameras will help monitor the long cars.
Passenger Features
  • The door entrances will be 350 mm from the road. This is a step up of only about the height of a elementary school ruler.
  • Each section of the car will have doors, and an accessible ramp will work with both curb-side and street-level stops.
  • All vehicles will have driver-controlled air conditioning.
  • The tops of the windows will "tip-in" to open, but I have heard elsewhere that they are looking for a way to lock the windows closed when the AC is on.
  • Public address system, LED electronic destination signs, and two wheelchair tie-downs will be standard.
  • Emergency alarms like on the subway will be installed.
  • Audio and video stop announcements will be standard equipment, with the possibility of a video messaging system on-board.
  • All handrails will have anti-microbial coatings.
Operator Features
  • The operators will have his own cab, and may even get hand controls.
  • They driver will have a display which monitors all on-board systems to better identify problems.
  • Manufactures have to pre-wire for the TTC to install its own communications equipment.
  • All drivers mirrors will be heated and electronically operated.
  • There will be secondary controls at the rear of the vehicle for safety when reversing.
Propulsion & Braking
  • The traction motors will use advanced A.C. electric technology and will have regenerative braking.
  • Accelration and braking will be about the same as a CLRV.
  • A vehicle must be able to push another disabled vehicle anywhere on the TTC network - an engineering marvel and the main reason why ALRVs don't operate into Union Station.
  • There will be three independent braking systems (like on existing vehicles), ensuring that they will be able to stop under all conditions.
Door Equipment
  • Doors will be opened with a button beside the doors on both the inside and the outside of the vehicle. When the driver unlocks the doors, the button will light up allowing people to open the doors themselves.
  • Stop requests will be cords and buttons on the handles, keeping things familiar.
  • "Accessibility Request" buttons will allow wheelchair users to let the driver know they want the ramp deployed.
I'm definitely looking forward to these new vehicles, but what amazes me is that all engineering that will go into them. The TTC is asking for high-tech, state-of-the-art vehicles which can operate on the circa-1925 network. They are asking for cars which are lightweight, but can push another one up an 8% grade. They are asking for cars which are larger than an ALRV, but accelerate and brake better than the smaller CLRV - it's like asking for a Hummer that handles like a Mini.

Regardless of who wins this design competition, the TTC and the City of Toronto will be much better for it. Hopefully, this will bring a streetcar renaissance and renewed love for our red rockets.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A time and a place

Yesterday, an unfortunate accident resulted in a pedestrian being hit and killed by a GO Train at Scarborough GO Station. The aftermath resulting in delays and cancellations to most lines. Some trains passed by the scene at high speed after the delays had cleared, but some passengers, including a close friend of mine, saw the gruesome scene. My sympathies go out to the family of the deceased, to the locomotive crew members, and to anyone who witnessed the events.

I don't usually comment on these incidents, but an article entitled Commuters GO Mad at Rush Hour Chaos published on BlogTO jumped me to action.

The article reports on the delay, but then goes on to say that "this is just another indication to me that our transit system in the GTA is absolutely broken."

This article is shameful at best. Someone has died, and this is not the time to push a political agenda. I could understand if the article called for improved safety at railway crossings or more pedestrian over- and under-passes, but to call for faster and more reliable service in an article about a tragedy is inappropriate. Lets not forget that someone has died.

The article closes with the following, in regards to using hydrogen to power GO trains:

"Let's get our head out of the clouds here and start hunting with spears before we move on to rifles."

After a man is killed in a hunting accident, its appropriate to let a little time pass before we pick up our rifles again.


Friday, September 14, 2007

TTC ponders zoned fares - Toronto Star

TTC ponders zoned fares
Other options to raise transit revenue include higher parking fees and more advertising
September 14, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Could more advertising on the subway, a distance-based fare system or higher parking fees dig the TTC out of a financial hole or help expand its stretched services?

Maybe. But many of the suggestions emerging around Wednesday's decision to raise transit fares to generate $34 million in new revenue for the TTC have already been tried or considered, says TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

Others risk punishing some of the system's most vulnerable riders or driving people back into their cars.

Zoned fares

TTC commissioner Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), suggested charging riders more for travelling longer distances might be a way of raising fares more fairly.

"If I take the TTC from Scarborough to Etobicoke, I pay the same as if I'm going from Midland to Lawrence," he said in an interview with the Star.

The idea of a zoned fare system, in which riders pay graduated amounts based on distance travelled, might also fit with the new regional fare card being tested in the GTA, which will eventually work on any transit vehicle or station in the Toronto area.

The downside, says Giambrone, is it would penalize many of Thompson's own constituents in far reaches of the city and mean less expense for increasingly affluent downtown residents.

"Vancouver has a zoned system and it really hits the people who are further out," he said.

From an environmental standpoint, "If you're going to Etobicoke from Scarborough, we don't want you to make that trip in the car," Giambrone said.

More advertising

At a public meeting in Scarborough to discuss the TTC's projected 2008 budget problem, TTC officials were told they could raise $1 million a year selling subway wall advertising that appears as a moving picture when the train passes.

The TTC sells about $15 million of advertising annually, including bus and subway station wraps. Even if the whole system were opened to ads, adding 50 per cent more revenue, that would bring in only $7 million – a relatively small sum given that transit officials are looking for $94 million next year, Giambrone said.

David Topping, a writer for Torontoist, a website whose survey on the TTC raised 2,200 responses, says he's not against advertising.

"It's a necessary part of the way a lot of things work. But anything more and it would start to put people off," he said.

Parking fees in all lots

Regular TTC observer David Fisher may have hit a winner when he asked commissioners Wednesday, "Why are we still charging free parking at our parking lots?"

The TTC is looking at raising more revenue through parking fees, possibly offering a new Metropass that would include a $2 or $3 daily parking charge in addition to the transit fare, Giambrone said. But the idea is still being studied. Transit officials don't know whether there would be a market for such a pass or if more parking fees would see some riders driving on past the station and into the city.

The TTC has nearly 14,000 parking spaces in 16 lots, most near suburban or outlying stations. Some lots cost $6 a day; others can be accessed by Metropass. In many, parking is free on weekends and evenings.
Free parking for transit is a necessary evil unless we have an expensive community bus network to pick up every resident a few steps from their homes. Our suburban street design makes it difficult for neighborhood residents to walk to high-frequency lines on the major arteries, and many, like myself, do not have a transit route anywhere near their house. If a bus ran along my street, I would gladly board and ride it gallantly downtown - but it's a three mile walk.

When it comes to advertising, I am a proud supporter of Even though I've learned to tune out the TTC advertising, I'm not a big fan of having more - unless the price is right. The TTC is plastered with advertisements already, but the revenue offsets less than 10-cents of every ride. Unless the TTC got a much better share of the advertising revenue, the visual pollution wouldn't be worth it.

Finally, Steve Munro makes an excellent argument against zoned fares for local transit - the same argument Chair Giambrone alluded to. Simply put, we want to encourage people to take longer trips by transit instead of by car, so we should keep longer transit trips an inexpensive as possible. For express trips, fare-by-distance makes sense, but not for trips which stop every block to pickup passengers.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Editorial Cartoon (September 8, 2007) - Toronto Star

If the city really wants to convince citizens that light rail is the way to go, then perhaps the word "streetcar" should be banished from the vocabulary. I know that a streetcar, a tram and a light rail vehicle are all the same thing, but people hear "streetcar" and think the above.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

A different kind of OMB rant

My mother often does her part to save the environment by carpooling, as a number of her co-workers live nearby. Yesterday, she was carpooling with an area resident who was joining the fight against the high-density development proposed for the Heart Lake Town Centre area in Brampton. He reported that the community was united in opposition, and that he was confident that the development would be stopped.

I've gone on record as saying that I am in favour of this development. To accommodate the growing population in a sustainable way, we must intensify land uses. Period. We must intensify wherever services to support high-density development exists, and the presence of shopping and transit make Heart Lake Town Centre the perfect candidate. I agree that it will cause traffic nightmares, but that is primarily because the City of Brampton is notorious for the tardiness of its transportation capacity improvements. I've lived in this area for almost 15 years, and road expansions which should have been completed then are still under construction. The neighborhood coalition's problem should not be with the developers - it should be with the municipality for not providing the necessary transportation capacity.

So what will happen? The likely result of this process is the following:

The developer will apply to change the land zoning form agriculture to high-density residential, the city will refuse the application. The developer will appeal this decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (who is known for ignoring the Planning Act in their decisions), who will grant the zoning change, allowing the developer to build on the land.

For better or for worse, that's how things work in this province. This is a very poor way of deciding what gets built where, but in this case, its a good thing. Yes, you heard me right.

The area residents are looking out for their own interests, and no one can blame them for that. The elected officials are looking to keep their constituents happy, and no one can blame them for that. But at the intersection of those two interests, the greater good gets lost.

So what does that make the OMB? They are the person flirting with you in a bar. You know they've been to bed with half the city, and you're disgusted at their behaviour, but you can't help but flirt back in the hopes that maybe, this time, things will go differently and they'll settle down to a happy ending.

I am still calling for OMB reform, but perhaps after they approve the proposal to build the heart lake development. In the mean time, I must caution everyone dealing with the OMB to use protection.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Toronto mulls tax on 'big box' retailers, gas stations - CBC News

Toronto mulls tax on 'big box' retailers, gas stations
Last Updated: Friday, August 31, 2007 | 10:43 AM ET
CBC News

Toronto city hall is considering an idea of forcing some businesses — including so-called big-box retailers and gas stations — to pay higher property taxes because they encourage car culture.

A report will be considered at council's executive committee next week that looks at putting mega-stores such as Wal-Mart and gas stations in a higher tax bracket.

The idea is that the money raised from higher taxes would offset the costs to the city of more driving. Any such move by the city would likely require provincial approval.

With a focus on climate change and public transit, councillors are looking for ways to keep people out of cars. Some big-box retailers estimate they can each generate a million car trips a year.

Coun. Cesar Palacio said big-box stores should pay higher property taxes, especially for the enormous lands reserved just for cars.

"They encourage the car culture more and more all the time, and that defeats the purpose of one of city hall's priorities to encourage public transit," Palacio told CBC News.

As for gas stations, Palacio insisted he isn't suggesting they should be eliminated, but should pay more as the city struggles with pollution, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

Coun. Paula Fletcher and many in her eastern Danforth ward are trying to stop a Wal-Mart from setting up on their neighbourhood's waterfront.

She said she doesn't think a higher tax bracket will serve any purpose and would rather have the city go further by banning big-box stores.

"The problem is not how to tax the blight; the problem often is the blight itself," Fletcher said.
I have no problem with big box retail, just as long as the parking is in back or underground, and the stores are on the ground floor of a multi-use, multi-story development. An excellent example as near Jane and Highway 7, where a Future Shop is stacked above a Home Outfitters in a compact, attractive building.

Big box and the urban environment can co-exist, but not in the form it has presented itself in the past. The city must do whatever it takes to prevent these unsustainable land uses from developing, and to force them to redevelop into a better built form.