Saturday, January 30, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Rapid Transit, Part II

This post is a continuation of this post.

Recommendation #3 - Quickly introduce Rocket service to major corridors

Within recent memory, several bus-based rapid transit projects have been implemented to improve transit service in the GTHA. Notables among them include iXpress, which snakes through Waterloo Region; A-Line and B-Line, forming a north-south network in Hamilton; and VIVA, York Region Transit's celebrated rapid transit network. In the fall of 2010, Zum in Brampton will come online and provide express service along the Queen Street corridor. While there is no question that these routes have been successful, they all run primarily in mixed traffic and they all experienced long implementation times. Zum, for example, can be traced back to 2004 - a six year lead time for only 1/3rd of the first phase.

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Visions for the GTTA: Rapid Transit, Part I

When it comes to rapid transit, one thing is clear: Torontonians want subways. If anything less than a subway is constructed then the system is somehow inadequate - too slow and too crowded. But, a transportation planner once told me that congestion can be defined as the result of a justified rationing of a scarce resource. Many years ago, society decided that our forests were a scarce resource and that it was not acceptable to cut down all the trees in the world to make paper. As a result, we began rationing new trees and encouraging the use of recycled materials. The transportation network is similar. Capacity is a limited resource, and constructing enough capacity to match all demand may placing our society in an unwanted position.

Imagine if we added enough capacity to Highway 401 through Toronto to ensure that every car could travel at the speed limit at all times of the day. In order to provide this level of capacity the highway would have to be at least 50 lanes wide. To accomplish this, we would have to bulldoze the communities adjacent to the highway and displace all of the residents and businesses. This would cost billions of dollars that could not be spent on other things that could benefit our society. Such a highway would be grossly underused at all times other than the peak hour and leave us with wasted capacity. In short, constructing enough capacity to provide the highest quality of service imaginable is not a good idea. I am not saying that we should never build another subway line in the GTHA, as some that feel light rail advocates believe. What I am saying is that the transit technology choice is a complex decision and needs to involve demand, expected development, and cost. Not every line can or should get a subway, but here is where I think we should upgrade our transit facilities to deliver a higher quality transit service.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brampton Guardian - Downtown GO lot could be site of hotel/convention centre

According to the Brampton Guardian, Brampton's Mayor is pushing for a hotel and convention centre to be built in the parking lot of the GO station in the city's historic downtown. Of course the knee-jerk reaction is "DON'T TOUCH MY FREE PARKING", but there's no reason why GO parking can't be incorporated into the development. In fact, reconfiguring the site could probably solve the traffic problems around train time. Surface lots are a terrible use of land when we can have jobs and economic development, and almost every planning principle I can think of says that, in principle, this is a good idea.

Mayor Susan Fennell, you are going to have to difficult time selling this to people who refuse to think outside of the box. But, downtown Brampton is booming and this is the kind of investment we need to keep that boom going. My only concern is that sight lines of the station from Church Street should be preserved. It's a federally designated heritage railway station, after all.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Let's be constructive for a second

This is a direct response to Joe Clark's comments on a previous post:

I've tried to make this blog a space where critique has been pared with creative ideas. You've critiqued my request for a mobile friendly trip planner (twice), but you haven't done the second part. I know you are more knowledgeable than me on this subject, so how do we get there? How do we create a mobile trip planner that respects human rights?


Thursday, January 21, 2010

No Thanks

If elected to the office of Mayor of The City of Toronto, Rocco Rossi will stop the planned transit expansions and stop the implementation of the Toronto Bike Plan.

No thanks.

I doubt he has the legal authority to stop the new LRT lines from being constructed, as they are matters of provincial policy, but still...

No thanks.

He says he only wants to put these plans "on hold", but still...

No thanks.

I think I might have seen campaign promises like these before...


Overheard on the GO Train

...Two women talking about how much more convenient it is to take the bus connection (both GO's Orangeville route and Brampton Transit) to the GO station compared to driving or being driven. One told her husband that she didn't want to live in a neighbourhood that doesn't have that sort of service, and that he wouldn't have to worry about driving her anywhere.

There is hope for the suburbs!

Sorry JTS...

I miss those crazy things called maps

Both Spacing and Torontoist are reporting that the TTC's long awaited trip planner will launch within the next two weeks. According to Torontoist, here are some of the features we can expect:

  • Calculating the best route, step-by-step instructions, maps, distances and departure arrival time based on two points.
  • Trip times will be based on schedules, rather than real-time data.
  • The planner should recognize addresses, intersections, and landmarks.
  • Selecting the best route based on maximum walking distance, accessibility needs or certain kinds modes.
  • Better accuracy over
Trip planners don't put more buses on the road, but they do make getting around the city easier by literally pointing us in the right direction. They also make transit more attractive by eliminating the "I don't know when the buses run / don't know which bus to take" argument. But, I do have two concerns over the TTC's plans. 

First of all, I think that the ability to remove certain modes (buses, streetcars or subways) from a trip request is a very bad idea. It really irks me when people would rather drive all the way downtown to avoid spending 20 minutes on a bus to the train station (sorry JTS!) and I feel that allowing riders to deselect buses or streetcars (and we all know that this is what will happen) encourages (or fails to discourage) this kind of behaviour. Secondly, I feel that a mobile version is absolutely necessary, as mobile web browsers do not handle these kind of trip planners very well. Google Transit is my personal favourite, as it can use a phone's GPS chip. Joe Clark and I have sparred over this issue in the past, but, good sir, there is no reason why you cannot have yours and I cannot have mine concurrently.

FYI,'s written directions work with mobile devices.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

St. Clair streetcar anguish avoidable, study says - Toronto Star

It really irks me when people say "they won't construct ______ right in the end anyway, so we should oppose the project". 

If I fail a test does it mean that I should drop out of school? No. It simply means that I need to learn from my mistakes. 

According to the Toronto Star, the TTC has commissioned a review of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project to find out how the delays and cost escalations can be avoided when similar projects are constructed in the future. Some of the findings include a breakdown in coordination between the city, the TTC and Toronto Hydro, among others; the design changes that appeared to come "as an afterthought"; and the judicial review of the project.

With any large infrastructure project there will be disruption, but it is worth it. One cannot build a house without digging an ugly hole, and one cannot address congestion without ripping up the streets. The key is to learn from our mistakes and push forward to deliver the benefits to the community sooner.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Regional Rail

As the price of gasoline climbs ever higher, the citizens of every community in Ontario will be affected. Businesses will begin to relocate closer to their markets to reduce shipping costs, which means that many one-industry town in the province may lose their only employer. As the businesses move, employees will follow. Since they will be unable to afford the commute, employees will likely move with the companies and settle in the cities where sustainable transit is available. While intensification is a good thing, cities like Windsor, Kitchener, Kingston, Ottawa or even Toronto could not possibly accommodate every single citizen from the hinterland. Something will have to be done to prevent the wholesale dismantling of rural Ontario.

Once upon a time, railways crisscrossed Ontario and moved freight and passengers between almost every city, village and town. But, as roads were improved and automobiles and trucks became more popular, passengers and shippers migrated to other means of travel. Railways were gradually abandoned and quickly torn up. Today, passenger rail service in Ontario is limited to the GO Transit regional services in the Toronto area, Ontario Northland's services in the far north, and VIA Rail Canada inter-city service, rural and transcontinental service.. The freight railway network isn't much bigger, limiting the potential to construct new railway routes. But, what if we hadn't abandoned those lines? What if we could undo the past?

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Fares and Passes, Part II

This post is a continuation of this post.

Recommendation #2 - Integrated Fares

Currently, the TTC does not accept transfers from 905 transit agencies, and this is a policy decision that we cannot fault them for making. This decision increases fare revenue, and since very few Toronto residents use the TTC to travel to the 905, there has been no political drive to change it. We often argue that our politicians do not make decisions in our best interest, but this is one of the clearest examples of Toronto politicians making decisions in the best interest of Torontonians. However, there are several unintended consequences of this policy. Residents of York and Peel Regions, even if they have access to transit a short walk from their homes, often opt to drive to Park and Ride lots at the subway to avoid paying a double fare. This contributes to congestion in North York and western Etobicoke when these riders could be using local transit to reach the subway. At the same time, GO Transit uses a completely separate fare system from local transit, and transfer privileges are limited. A trip from Rouge Hill GO Station takes 90 minutes on the TTC, and 35 minutes on GO Transit. However, the latter carries a $2.00 premium, plus the cost to use the TTC to finish the trip if necessary. Increasing GO train capacity will be covered in another post, but modifying the fare system will give Toronto residents much more choice in how they speed across the city.

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Visions for the GTTA: Fares and Passes, Part I

Most experts agree that service, not fares, is what leads to high transit ridership. For the most part, this is true. Even if service were free, very few people will use a bus route if frequencies are hourly. But, fare policies can still have an influence on how people use transit in a city.

Now, people always complain whenever fares go up, but transit in Toronto is a bargain. $3.00 allows you to travel from far Scarborough to the Mississauga border, guarantees you a bus every 30 minutes, and ensures that a bus stop isn't too far away. In my opinion, price isn't the issue - the particular fare policies in use today have a negative influence on transit usage. These policy decisions were made in the best interest of the agency that made them, so we cannot fault them. However, we have to realize that there have been consequences. People are often confused as to what fare is due and what tickets and passes are valid. People often drive to park-and-ride lots in adjacent communities to avoid double fares, and people often choose the cheaper route over the faster route. In order to make transit in the GTA, we need to address these shortcomings.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Transit City measures up to international standard - Toronto Star

Metrolinx, which will be responsible for constructing and owning (they will likely contract day-to-day operation to the local transit agency) all new rapid transit lines built in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has announced [Toronto Star] that the Transit City light rail lines to be built in Toronto will use standard track gauge. Most railways around the world run on rails spaced 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches apart. The TTC uses rails separated 4 feet, 10-7/8 inches apart. Some say that it was to prevent freight trains from using city streets, while other say it was to allow private wagons to use the ruts between the rails. This was Muddy York, afterall, and I remember reading something about a by-law that allowed for citizens to use the rails provided they did not delay streetcars... but I digress.

What does this mean for transit it Toronto? Some feel that moving to standard gauge will allow more companies to bid on the supply of vehicles, and more choice will result in more competitive prices. Others contend that it is the steep hills and sharp curves that keep many bidders away, and that modifying to TTC gauge does not have a noticeable effect on the price of a light rail vehicle. Some rebut that Transit City lines will not have the sharp curves and steep hills of downtown, so breaking down all - not some - barriers to using "off the self" equipment is appropriate. Others counter-rebut that this move will prevent connecting new lines to old lines to share storage yards and offer customers a one-seat ride into the downtown core.

From my perspective, there is no need to make an issue here. Downtown cars would never be able to travel on the Transit City network because they aren't double-ended, and Transit City cars would never be able to handle the curves of the downtown core. The systems have to be separated. Besides, what Metrolinx has said is that the Transit City lines will use standard gauge. But,, Transit City is merely a marketing name applied to the Mayor's vision. Routes like proposals Sheppard, Finch West and Eglinton can continue to be called Transit City lines, but what is stopping these agencies from rebranding projects like the St. Clair streetcar extension, the Waterfront West line, or any other line that requires a connection to the downtown network? They could be called "Toronto Streetcar Expansions", rather than Transit City, and constructing them to TTC gauge would not contradict what was announced today.

If the above is not possible, then there are international precedents of trams using dual gauge tracks for running in the same right-of-way as incompatible systems. If that is not possible, then there are even wheelsets that automatically vary the width of the wheels to match a changing rail width. They are used successfully in Spain, where high speed lines use standard gauge and traditional lines use a broad gauge.

Semantics are important, but we can't get bogged down in them!

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Visions For The GTTA

The Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan was approved in 2008, and, when fully implemented we will finally have a regional transportation system that responds to our needs. We will have a fast, frequent and expanded regional rapid transit network that brings rapid transit to within 2 kilometres of 90% of the population, and higher-order transit connectivity to the Pearson Airport district from all directions, including Downtown Toronto, Midtown Toronto, North York and Mississauga City Centre. We will have an expanded Union Station to handle the crowds of the expanded rail service, and a complete walking and cycling networks with bikesharing programs to eliminate the need to drive short distances. We will have an information system for travellers to eliminate the "I don't know when the bus runs" excuse, and we will have a region-wide integrated transit fare system that breaks down actual and perceived barriers between transit systems. We will have a system of connected mobility hubs where people can live, work and play in sustainable communities, and we will have a comprehensive strategy for goods movement to ensure that our economy doesn't choke in congestion. Finally, we will have an Investment Strategy to provide immediate, stable and predictable funding to ensure that all this comes to fruition.

The transportation network is a limited resource, much like timber or petroleum or fresh water. Rather than cut down all of the forests in the country to satisfy our need for paper, we made a decision decades ago to recycle our old paper into new. The transit network needs to be treated similarly. We cannot continue widen our local roads until we have a freeway in every community. We have to "recycle" our transportation network by making more efficient use of it. This will mean disruption to local businesses during the construction phase and it will mean taking lanes away from car drivers. When the alternative is excessively long commutes, an economy that can't ship goods to market, and an environment that we only talk about in stories to our children, we have no choice.

The Metrolinx RTP will reduce congestion, but it cannot solve it. As long as the region continues to grow, the demand on the transportation network will grow with it. As a result, we have to ensure that capacity grows with it. We do this by implementing the plan, extending and upgrade the projects we've built, then build other projects. Just as the plan says, we commit to continuous improvement. That's where the new Visions for the GTTA plan comes in. While the RTP will be transformative, the Visions plan seeks to extend that the other corridors across the Greater Golden Horseshoe region and the Province of Ontario. The coming days will bring a series of blog posts going into detail on each of my recommendations and "revolutionary actions". But for now, please visit; demand that your municipal, provincial and federal representative support Metrolinx and transit in the GTHA; and encourage our leaders to go beyond what is already planned in order to make our communities better places to live.

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