Has the SmartTrack plan left the station at Coxwell?

An earlier version of this post erroneously said Coxwell-Monarch Park was cut from consideration when the list of stations for consideration went from 120+ to 50+: Mea culpa. C-MP was not cut until the next phase, but it nevertheless was deemed unworthy of an initial business case, which remains unthinkable (and some at Metrolinx quietly agree, even if that’s an uncomfortable position for their bosses).

The following post illustrates potential flaws in the SmartTrack and Regional Express Rail planning and assessment process by looking at the case of an almost certainly vital station site that appears to have been overlooked altogether. This note was prepared as feedback for the public consultation process and was submitted In August 2018. Today, Sept. 25, 2018, I received by email a form letter from the office of Environment Minister Rod Phillips dated Sept. 19, basically saying my concerns are frivolous. Judge for yourself. Anybody interested in seeing the PDF files of the 2014 TTC report, the Ministry’s “Confidential” SuperGO report from the 1970s or the Environment Minister’s letter should contact me by email at stephen.j.wickens@gmail.com. 

I’ve held off posting this until now to give the province an opportunity to reply. The main point is that our process for evaluating and planning transit infrastructure is broken and that this should be a major concern for all levels of government, especially a new government that has promised to change things. The decision not to seriously tackle our transportation problems has had, and will continue have, a massively negative effect on Ontario and the Toronto’s area’s competitiveness and livability, while undermining the confidence of people in our democratic processes. 


August 20, 2018

Feedback including objections regarding negative impacts of the current station plan for SmartTrack:

Submitted to:

– Jade Hoskins Senior Public Consultation Co-ordinator, City of Toronto (SmartTrack@toronto.ca)

– Georgina Collymore, Senior Adviser, Communications and Stakeholder Relations at Metrolinx (newstations@metrolinx.com)

Cindy Batista (Special Project Officer, Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (Environmental Assessment and Permissions Branch) (cindy.batista@ontario.ca)

From Stephen Wickens, East-end Toronto resident and semi-retired journalist with a lifelong interest in transportation and commercial real estate matters. (stephen.j.wickens@gmail.com)

 

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,

by vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use.

The use of clay in moulding pitchers

comes from the hollow of the pitchers’ absence.

Doors and windows in a house

are used for their emptiness.

Thus we are helped by what is not

to use what is. 

– Laotze


A little background: As I’ve written on a few occasions (in newspaper columns, in email and face-to-face discussions with private- and public-sector transportation professionals and on social media), there is the germ of a very good idea in the SmartTrack (ST) plan and much opportunity in how it can piggyback onto Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail (RER) initiative. But for reasons that appear to include political intransigence and interference at inappropriate places in the planning process, an inability to think long term and an unwillingness to seriously consider international best practices, both plans appear set to fall considerably short of their potential in terms of service provision and value for the public’s investment dollar, as well as in serving established provincial policies on the social-equity, environmental and regional-planning fronts.

I’ll confine today’s comments primarily to how the process so far has somehow eliminated – apparently without any serious or documented study – a station that is clearly among the most necessary if SmartTrack is to seriously attract new transit users and provide at least some short- to mid-term relief to the overcrowded parts of Toronto’s subway system. But to make the case properly, I’ll have to stray a little and I hope you’ll bear with me.

Two more points before getting to the meat of the matter:

  1. While I don’t have formal education on public transportation matters, public transit locally and internationally is a file I’ve followed closely since the 1960s. For decades, some of the most respected transportation professionals in these parts have generously kept me in their loops, sometimes even seeking my opinions or help in answering questions (usually on matters of historical detail).
  2. Among the most important things I learned when writing about transportation matters for Toronto newspapers is that unnamed sources are essential to getting at the truth because bureaucrats and private-sector professionals alike are often uncomfortable speaking truth to power or candidly on-the-record with journalists, at least until they’re retired https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/what-went-wrong-since-the-golden-age-of-toronto-transit/article34321708/. For this note, I’ve tried through official “communications” channels to obtain relevant information that was lacking in the public realm, but I was forced again to have several off-the-record discussions with past and present Metrolinx employees, city staffers, Toronto Transit Commission staff and people working for consulting and engineering firms the city and province use. Because I can’t reveal identities of some people who’ve helped me, I’ve decided not to use names of anyone (though some identities may be revealed upon request). This is not about people or embarrassing anyone, it’s about getting good results in this specific case and, possibly, improving processes so we can start getting better transit decision-making over all in future. Without that, Toronto and Ontario will continue at a serious competitive disadvantage in an increasingly globalized world.

Mind the gaps

One of the primary selling points of the SmartTrack plan is that frequent, somewhat-subway-like service on an existing above-ground corridor at a TTC fare could deliver a bit of relief to the overloaded core of Toronto’s subway system far sooner than the never-today/always-tomorrow Relief Line subway can ever be built (let alone funded). Yet, for reasons that seem not to exist in any available documentation, the area of the proposed SmartTrack route with almost certainly the greatest potential to deliver that relief to the subway is being left with the longest gaps between stations.

While much of the ST route calls for two-kilometre station spacing, it’s a full four kilometres from the proposed station at Gerrard Square (where SmartTrack might eventually connect with the proposed relief subway line) to the next station east, GO Danforth. (And the next station heading east from GO Danforth is another five kilometres.) The subject came up over dinner with some transit-planner friends a couple of years ago and it was agreed that Coxwell Avenue, roughly 2 km from both GO Danforth and the proposed Gerrard-Square station, seems to be an ideal location for addressing this void. Little did some of us realize that upon looking at the situation more closely we would discover the case for a Coxwell-Monarch Park SmartTrack stop was much stronger than the cases for nearly all of the approved ST and RER stations.


Can something as big as a railway station fall through the cracks?

A few months after that dinner, in August 2016, Metrolinx contacted the Danforth East Community Association about setting up a meeting with community members regarding plans for upgrades to the GO corridor (the southern boundary of DECA’s area). The meeting with DECA’s visioning committee (which I co-chair) took place on Sept. 13, 2016, in the basement of Gerrard Pizza (near Danforth and Coxwell). As expected, area residents raised concerns about noise associated with increased train frequency. And some wanted to know why we were already having to add a fourth track when “it seems like only yesterday” that GO was keeping them up all night with construction to add a third track (it was actually about a decade ago). One woman added: “Why couldn’t they get it right the first time?” (As we’ll see toward the end of this note, there are also valid reasons to question the commitment to getting this bit of the Lakeshore East corridor upgrades right the second time.)

Some meeting attendees, sick of crowding and unreliable service on the TTC, also had some “what’s in it for us?” questions. Possibly seeing an opportunity to deliver good news, the man leading the three-person Metrolinx entourage, eagerly mentioned the proposed Gerrard Square station. He and the other Metrolinx staffers appeared quite surprised when it was pointed out that a station at Gerrard Square – like the TTC’s relief-subway proposal – would be too far west to do much for people who already can’t rely on being able to squeeze into jammed subway trains at Woodbine, Coxwell, Greenwood and Donlands in the a.m. rush.

When asked about the possibility of an ST station at Coxwell, the lead Metrolinx representative replied that he was certain the site had been studied using “strict criteria” and that the idea must have been rejected by experts.

I then asked him to provide me with the reports from that study process, particularly with regard to Coxwell-Monarch Park or a station in the long no-man’s land between Gerrard Square and GO Danforth. He said he would be happy to send me the details and that I should email him a reminder. Thus began a long back and forth for which Metrolinx – nearly two years later – remains unable to provide any such documentation, detailed or otherwise.


What Metrolinx was able to tell us

Anyone who has studied Metrolinx’s many official online reports regarding RER, SmartTrack and the station-selection processes will have read repeatedly that “An initial identification of over 120 potential station sites was narrowed to 56 (it’s 50 in some reports) with supportive infrastructure through a high-level evaluation of transport connectivity, planning and land use and technical feasibility.” Coxwell was listed as a potential station on an initial Metrolinx compilation of 120 potential stops. Coxwell was also under consideration after the list had been winnowed to 50 (or 56, depending the document). At some point after that, but before the initial business case studies began, Coxwell disappears from the list. That’s about the extent of it … unless you consider what I was told by one former Metrolinx staffer (who had yet to leave when the cut-down process and/or any early-stage studies would have taken place), including:

  • I asked the same question of MX Planning [about criteria and results used for eliminating stations early on], as they engaged us in Economic Analysis shortly before they started stage 6 (the business cases) for the short list.  They didn’t do any modeling for the lists of 120 or 50 stations, the decision was subjective …
  • “Remember what [XXXX] said to me during my exit interview: ‘Let’s face it, everyone fabricates the evidence, the city does it, we do it. The new-stations process was always going to be political.’ ” 

The former staffer, as well as two current ones, also mentioned in recent years that even when Metrolinx got around to modeling business cases for the short list, some key criteria that were used were chosen with suburban commuter rail in mind and was thoroughly inappropriate for the urban areas to be served by SmartTrack. They’ve also pointed out that at least one of the technical feasibility rules regarding stations on curves was broken for stations that politicians in positions of power were demanding.

Meanwhile, two senior bureaucrats, one with the city and one formerly with the TTC, have told me that the only stations considered for SmartTrack and for study by Metrolinx were chosen – not through a rigorous professional process – but by advisers to the winning campaign in Toronto’s 2014 mayoral race. And while the current mayor’s office eventually gave in on an obvious flaw in the initial ST plan (the since-killed western spur under Eglinton), it seems apparent that no serious second thought was ever given to addressing potential flaws or better solutions in the SmartTrack plan for the old city’s east end and Scarborough.


The broad east-end transit context

My discussions in recent years with city staff regarding several issues (including the Danforth Avenue Planning Study, the Main Street Planning Study, two individual high-rise development plans for Main and Danforth, Metrolinx’s RER-ST corridor upgrades and SmartTrack itself) have often indicated that the official view from 60 Queen Street West is that the east end of the old city is very well served by transit, and that a relief subway (aimed primarily a dealing with dangerous and off-putting crowding on the Yonge subway and at Bloor-Yonge station) would solve any possible east-end concerns – even if the line comes only as far east as Pape.

And that received wisdom might seem valid if you don’t look much beyond simple maps. But a close look at long-term transit-usage trends in Planning District 6 (the four pre-2018 city wards abutting the Bloor-Danforth subway between Victoria Park and Broadview) indicates otherwise. Most of the key details on this point can be found in these two 2016 columns I wrote for the Beach Metro News:

(Though newer Transportation Tomorrow Survey data have been released since these columns were written, sources tell me there’s a strong chance the data are suspect (with only a 7-per-cent response rate), so I’m hesitant to put stock in the new numbers until a trusted transit data analyst I’ve worked with previously has a chance to seriously study them).


Five key points for understanding the east-end context include:

  1. PD6, despite being an inner-ring planning district that should be easy to serve by relatively low-cost transit for trips to the nearby downtown, has seen transit lose so much market share for such trips that, as of 2011, it had the lowest percentage of transit use for downtown a.m. peak trips of any Toronto/416 planning district (yes, that includes Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York). And, all the while, car usage was on the rise for downtown trips from PD6.
  2. PD6 is the second biggest generator of trips to the core of any GTHA planning district – it’s a market that really matters with major potential for major ridership gains without huge investments;
  3. Since the Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) line opened to Scarborough Town Centre in 1985, Bloor-Danforth subway trains have filled up east of PD6, while crowding at the Bloor-Yonge pinch-point becomes increasingly dangerous. And if the proposed multibillion-dollar Scarborough Subway Extension succeeds in attracting more riders to line, the problem will only get worse. A 2014 TTC report shows that the seven stations from Warden to Donlands, inclusive, have been losing ridership in the a.m. peak over the past 30 years, likely due to crowding that won’t be resolved even if a relief subway is ever built.
  4. Areas east of the Don River have only two trunk east-west streetcar lines between the lake and Danforth Avenue, unlike the areas further west, which have five, including major TTC routes on King, Dundas and Wellesley-Harbord (I’d add Queens Quay, but that’s not fair). Furthermore, the two lines that penetrate the east end, the Queen 501 and the 506 Carlton (which largely runs on Gerrard in the east end), have seen service cuts over the past three decades that have resulted in big ridership losses (without helping helping the TTC balance sheet). Because its bordered by the Don Valley on the west and north, PD6’s road connections to the rest of the city are also limited.
  5. GO trains roll through the east end (largely empty outside of the rush hours) without stopping in enough convenient places while charging uncompetitive transit fares. For many east enders, GO trains serve only to disrupt sleep or force conversation breaks when they roar past.

The narrow Coxwell-Monarch Park context

For me, a brisk walker, it’s 25 minutes on foot from the bridge that carries GO trains across Coxwell Avenue to both GO Danforth and the proposed SmartTrack station at Gerrard Square. Taking the TTC to those stations isn’t much faster, at least if my unscientifically small sampling counts for anything. My five weekday trips to or from GO Danforth took 19.5 minutes on average; three test trips to Gerrard and Carlaw averaged 20 minutes and 16 seconds – and, of course, once at those stations another separate fare would be required to travel farther. (Two of the four trips to GO Danforth included nine-minute walks to Coxwell subway station because the No. 22 bus was unable to pick me up before I got to the subway).

Despite talk of SmartTrack offering some relief, station location choices made by the Toronto mayor’s office seemed overly focused from the start on proximity to large development sites and not focused enough on pent-up demand (it was also weird that the initial ST plan would ignore existing need/low-hanging fruit in the mayor’s own city while putting terminal stations in Markham and Mississauga). Some of the errant focus appears to have been spurred by misguided advice that tax-increment financing would be a significant source of revenue for the SmartTrack project. And while politically connected developers aren’t likely to enrich themselves spectacularly in the Coxwell-Monarch Park catchment zone, ingredients essential to the any station’s success (criteria that were to be key in Metrolinx’s short-list screening process) are readily available, including the promise of growth and modest but near-guaranteed development.


Five reasons why Coxwell-Monarch Park is a great ST station location

  1. The Coxwell-Monarch Park catchment zone provides real, existing people-and-jobs-per-hectare numbers that are better than five of the six new stations chosen for SmartTrack, with more growth in the works.

 

C-MP also fared well when compared with stations Metrolinx and/or politicians at Queen’s Park selected for RER.

The Coxwell-Monarch Park catchment zone’s

  • 16,385 residents total is more than in 37 of Metrolinx’s 51 mobility hubs;
  • 2,132 jobs are more than in nine of the 51 mobility hubs;
  • 18,517 residents and jobs combined, is 85% more than Metrolinx’s 2031 goal for a Gateway mobility hub.
  1. The Coxwell-Monarch Park catchment zone provides development and growth potential. While no “P+H/ha projected” figure is provided for C-MP in the tables above, there is increasing mid-rise development pressures along Danforth Avenue, which prompted the recently completed Danforth Avenues Planning Study. A mid-rise co-op development is already in the works for Coxwell and Upper Gerrard. Also, plans for a second significant employment node on Coxwell Avenue, led by CreateTO, are in the works for the nearly five-acre TTC site at Danforth, including TTC offices, a mega-police station and community amenities. (The first Coxwell node is slightly north of the C-MP catchment zone, and includes 5,000-plus jobs between Michael Garron Hospital and the Toronto-East York Civic Centre). On both sides of Coxwell, directly south of where the station would be, there are two underutilized half-acre sites, depots for U-Haul and a building-materials retailer (and we’re told Ottawa is looking at ways to make it easier to develop such sites adjacent to railway tracks at stations on passenger-only rail lines). We should also add that large numbers of visitors to and from the sports dome and high school immediately northwest of the C-MP station site have caused enough traffic and parking headaches that a study was commissioned (even though it glossed over the need for transit improvements). The study, completed by WSP in July 2017, is here: http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/ward15/docs/1610692701REPMonachPark09062017v12rsrs.pdf
  2. A Coxwell-Monarch Park station would address social equity concerns. There’s a significant amount of nearby assisted-living projects, including – right next to where the station would go – Toronto Community Housing buildings and seniors homes on Coatsworth Crescent and Amik Plaza’s residences for Indigenous Canadians. (Amik Plaza is operated by Wigwamen, which has other residences in the C-MP catchment zone http://www.wigwamen.com/housing/locations/ and has most of its properties in the east end). Wigwamen has written letter in support of a C-MP station. Further away, but still within the pedestrian catchment zone is Tobias House at Danforth, and there are more seniors buildings just west of Monarch Park. We’re talking about lots of low-income people who tend to be transit “captives.”
  3. A Coxwell-Monarch Park station is sited well for transit connectivity: Especially if SmartTrack offers service at TTC fares with TTC transferability, this would be a solid location from Day 1 with good long-term growth potential. At present, the two bus routes that serve Coxwell Avenue handle 55% more riders than the entire Oakville Transit system*. There’s a case for combining the two routes to provide one-seat service all the way from the Beach area, via this proposed ST station and Coxwell subway station, through the hospital/civic centre employment node and all the way up to Eglinton. The case gets stronger as of 2021 when this combined route can eventually link the Eglinton-Crosstown with the Line 2 subway at Coxwell and SmartTrack, likely the only spot in the east end where one bus route could join all three of those key rapid-transit lines.  *Using 2015 data, Oakville Transit carried 2.83 million riders a year. The two TTC routes serving Coxwell (Nos. 22 and 70), handle 14,300 riders on an average weekday, which the TTC multiplies by 306 to get an annual figure, in this case, 4.38 million.
  4. Coxwell-Monarch Park was chosen by experts for the Super GO electrification plan – and that report was produced by transportation professionals – its station-location choices were based on study, not political priorities.

In summary

We have a new provincial government and new ministers of Environment and Transportation, both of whom are people who should see the need to restore the public’s faith in transportation-planning processes. Ontario’s competitiveness and sustainability hinge to a significant degree on regaining a trust damaged by politicians at all levels who interfered with the public service’s ability to fearlessly prepare menus of options, objectively pull together and analyze evidence, and use their professional expertise to speak truth to power. The case of Coxwell-Monarch Park appears to be strong and appears to have fallen through the cracks because of flaws and corruptions in the process. While it would be inappropriate to ask for politicians to demand that this station be added to the SmartTrack project – despite the strong evidence – it’s a crucial matter of provincial interest (municipal and federal, too) that thorough study be done that a) examines the merits of this specific potential station and b) looks seriously at how it could possibly have been overlooked so we can learn from our mistakes and get better results from the processes in the future. And while the lack of a station at Coxwell-Monarch Park might not have a negative impact on a “constitutionally protected Aboriginal or treaty right,” as the criteria at this stage of the process word things, it’s clear that the process has failed people who need better transit and live in the immediate pedestrian catchment zone of this proposed station, including Aboriginal people of Toronto. 


Five quick supplementary points we should make in closing

  1. While SmartTrack has cost and time-frame advantages to offer in a city and metro area that is way behind in building transit infrastructure, it in no way obviates the need to get on with a major new rapid-transit line through Toronto’s core that does not add to the crowding at the Canada’s two busiest transit stations, Bloor-Yonge (415,000 daily platform movements) and Union (275,000). This new major line would most likely be the so-called relief line that has been talked about for more than a century and which has been the top priority of knowledgeable transit people on and off for 50 years. At best, we should be looking at SmartTrack as a plan for borrowing capacity that can temporarily be made available on Metrolinx’s surface corridors and at Union to address urgent needs, understanding that Metrolinx must deal with huge regional growth and will almost certainly need it back.
  2. We should be thinking long-term with regard to the corridor upgrades, looking to what its maximum capacity can be and planning to ensure we can scale up to achieve it at the best price. Metrolinx has been taking an incremental approach, adding a third track on LSE to Scarborough last decade and preparing to add a fourth now. While my sources are not unanimous on this, it would seem they think we should be looking at how we’re going to get to five tracks from Union to Scarborough if we end up with a not-unlikely runaway success akin to London Overground. One respected Metrolinx source says we can do all the local and express service we need with four tracks, while others (Metrolinx and outside), say a fifth track is almost certainly going to be needed sooner or later because the corridor has to serve Via, provide redundancy and anticipate demand growth, and that preparing for it now is better for taxpayers and the residents who have to endure construction in their neighbourhoods. It’s worth noting that the 1974 SuperGO electrification report was calling for five tracks Union to Scarborough.
  3. It’s time to get serious about making the vast swaths of asphalt surrounding outer GO stations into destinations for much more than parking. If we don’t give people many good reasons to be on outbound trains in the a.m., RER’s new operating costs are going to swamp its revenues. Some elements of MTRC’s land-plus-property business model is likely the route to take, allowing a Crown corporation to professionally manage a massive real estate portfolio and earn returns for Metrolinx on the public’s investments. Done right, we can defray transit capital costs while expediting operating efficiencies. These lands also need to be the top/only choices for new developments with a public interest such as universities, colleges, hospitals, casinos, etc.
  4. In the period leading up to the rollout of RER, it’s worth doing a pilot project whereby all transit trips that begin and end within any one GTA municipality have fares capped at that municipality’s single fare. Because it would allow GO and the various local transit agencies to start fully supporting each other, the potential ridership increases might offset the revenue losses to a greater degree than might be expected. We can gain valuable real-world information about the transportation market and how transit can work more efficiently. It should help us to do fare integration intelligently. It should also offer significant rewards at a low risk because, as a pilot, it would have a termination date, if necessary.
  5. Though I’ve focused on Coxwell, the City of Toronto would be wise to look at how the Birchmount area can be developed. It’s numbers are decent, and it’s an area not at all well-served by transit at present. There are also huge underutilized sites. An ST station there (or near Warden and Danforth as proposed in the 1974 SuperGO report) could be a useful catalyst.


Notes on the contexts for some of the proposed new ST and RER stations

Lawrence-Kennedy is in PD 13, the eighth-biggest market for trips to PD1 (downtown). Transit already has a 75% market share of the trips to PD1, with 11% of the trips being made on GO. The station’s importance rests to a significant degree on the fact the Scarborough Subway Extension plan does not include a station at Lawrence, connecting with Lawrence bus. Prospects for creating new transit riders for trips to PD1 appear limited, though the station has been approved for ST even if the broken out business case has been questioned and was rated “low performing”.

Finch-Kennedy is in PD 16, the ninth-biggest market for trips to PD1. Transit already has a 79% market share, with 16% of trips made on GO. Prospects for creating new transit riders for trips to PD1 are  limited in the short term, though Milliken Square Mall and a Public Storage facility present lots of longer-term development land. The station has been approved even if the broken-out business case has been questioned (costs outweigh benefits).

Coxwell-Monarch Park is in PD6, Toronto’s second-biggest market for trips to PD1 (downtown), though transit has only a 52% market share – the lowest of all Toronto planning districts. Less than 0.5% the trips to PD1 are made using GO’s corridor, which runs PD6’s full length. PD6 generates 19% more PD1 trips than PDs 13 and 16 combined, while transit in PD6 has a 31% lower market share of PD1 trips. Not building a station leaves a 4-km gap in an area where SmartTrack may have its best potential to relieve Line 1 and Line 2 crowding. With a 700-metre extension of the TTC’s No. 70 bus, C-MP would connect directly with two routes that carry 55% more daily riders than the entire Oakville Transit system and would link C-MP with an employment hub (5,000+ jobs) at Michael Garron Hospital/East York Civic Centre. This C-MP station would also be 300 metres from a stop on the 506 Carlton streetcar, which carries 40k riders daily. C-MP should score well on Social Inclusivity and Accessibility, having a large TCHC development immediately to the northeast and assisted housing to the immediate south. The site has several development sites within its 800-metre radius area, including Danforth Garage, a.k.a. Coxwell Barns (five acres at Danforth currently undergoing a master-planning process under the aegis of CreateTO), a new building approved at Upper Gerrard and Coxwell, a 0.6-acre site next to station being used for U-Haul vehicle storage and a 0.5-acre building materials site where station entrance would be. How C-MP missed the list of 50 stations that qualified for IBC screening, let alone the short list, is a mystery (even to some Metrolinx staffers who cannot speak on the record). With high current density, travel patterns and low transit-market-share penetration, prospects for creating new transit ridership for trips to PD1 and helping relief effort appear to be very strong at C-MP station.

Birchmount is on the PD13-PD14 boundary. PD13 is the seventh largest generator of trips to PD1 and transit captures 75% of them, in part because it contains Kennedy station, probably the GTA’s second best transit-served hub. PD14 is the 11th biggest generator of trips to downtown, so the market is smaller than average. But there is considerable room for growth as transit captures only 55% of the market share for PD1 trips (third lowest of all PDs), and 30% of the transit trips to PD1 are by GO. Current density in the 800-metre radius is fairly low (but greater than nine of Metrolinx’s 51 mobility hubs). There’s lots of nearby developable and underutilized land, though much of it is exclusively “employment” meaning it would be a challenge to create the mixed-use urbanism in the short term. Birchmount is also within 800 metres of a Neighbourhood Improvement Area, one of the criteria Toronto wanted considered for ST consideration. Prospects for creating new transit ridership are moderate short term, but the potential could be big with zoning changes that allow for development of the Birchmount strip between Danforth Avenue and Danforth Road. Not having a station here leaves 5-km station gap, far too long for connectivity in an area that has transit needs. PD14, in particular, is starved for transit to PD1

St. Clair-Old Weston is in PD3, the fifth-biggest market for trips to PD1. Transit has a 62% market share, but less than 0.5% of trips made on GO. Site borders on huge amounts of former stockyards lands that have been converted to car-dependent big-box retail. Despite current low density, prospects for creating new transit riders for trips to PD1 appear good short term due to apparently unsatisfied demand in PD3. The developable Stockyards land (RioCan property) would require major rezoning and total urbanizing, something that could be done, though our record on such initiatives in Toronto is poor.

Park Lawn is in PD7, the 11th-biggest of 15 markets for trips to PD1. Transit has a 59% market share, and 35% of the trips are made on GO. People-plus-jobs density is not high, at least using the 2011 data that’s referred to in Metrolinx’s reports. But residential density will likely continue to grow considerably for a few years. There are concerns a new station would cannibalize ridership at Mimico and that a replacement of Mimico (especially after recent investments in Mimico station) would be a waste. The closeness of the stations should not be a major concern in that 1-km station spacing (along with flat and transferable TTC fares) may eventually prove to be essential to getting SmartTrack to its full potential. Prospects for creating new ridership for trips to PD1 look moderate, but they’re probably very good long term. The proximity of Mimico station and the lack of office-employment prospects on the old Christie bakery site would seem to indicate there there’s no rush to build this station. Trying to track down 2016 census data because things are changing fast.

Mulock In 2011, the population and employment density within 800 m of the potential Mulock station was estimated to be 32.6 people and jobs per hectare (P+J/ha). The job figures would have included the Magna facility, which is now closed, eliminating 850 jobs. There are two active development applications located within proximity of the potential Mulock station, both of which are minor in nature and do not represent a significant increase in density or change in land use: A new Shoppers Drug Mart store proposed for the northeast corner of Yonge Street and Savage Road; and 28 townhouses proposed on Silken Laumann Road.

Breslau This station was deemed to be high performing in Metrolinx’s rankings, but this report raises questions about how it could possibly have achieved such a label.

http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/newstations/IBC_Breslau_EN.pdf

The report says on page 14: “In 2011, the population and employment density within 800m of the potential Breslau station is estimated to be 0.1 people and jobs per hectare (P+J/ha). The lands surrounding the potential station are currently rural/agricultural and contain only a few houses, a church and a few businesses. Figure 4-1 illustrates the current land use permissions for the proposed station site and surrounding area. In 2006, an estimated 72 residents and 43 jobs were located within 800 metres of the potential Breslau Station. Projections from the Ministry of Transportation Greater Golden Horseshoe Model suggest that by 2031 the population and employment within the Station area may reach 334 and 209 respectively. [1] However, recent changes to policy and planning objectives have resulted in substantially higher population and employment forecasts for the Breslau area. Figure 4-2 shows where recent development has occurred and where development is anticipated within the Secondary Plan Area. The Draft Plan of Subdivision submitted to the Township by Thomasfield Homes shows that in addition to a new GO station, the following will be accommodated on its 94.9 net developable ha of land: 2,535 people; and 2,830 jobs (i.e. 24.6 acres Employment Land (2,450 jobs), 3.7 acres Commercial (116 jobs), 4.9 acres Mixed-Use Commercial (153 jobs) and 3 acres Institutional (40 jobs).” … “Given that the potential Breslau station is located within an undeveloped area, there are no ‘soft sites’ within 800 m of the potential station. Soft sites are considered to be parcels with a relatively high potential for change, such as parking lots and under-utilized sites given current zoning and the Official Plan designations. A new residential subdivision is being completed approximately one km east of the potential station site and considerable new development is underway or planned elsewhere within the Township and the larger Region of Waterloo.

https://observerxtra.com/2016/11/24/omb-upholds-woolwichs-staging-plan-breslau-subdivision/ Breslau plans would bring 6,710 people + jobs to the catchment, roughly 31 per hectare. Strangely promotional language in a Metrolinx document about Waterloo’s connections with Toronto. http://www.metrolinx.com/en/greaterregion/regions/waterloo-wellington.aspx

Innisfil This station is also deemed to be high performing, apparently based on some longer-term projects. From Page 13 of this report

http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/newstations/IBC_Innisfil_EN.pdf

“The existing population and employment density within 800 metres (m) of the potential Innisfil station is estimated to be 5 people and jobs per hectare (P+J/ha). While currently the area does not meet Metrolinx Mobility Hub. Guidelines for rapid transit, significant population and employment growth is anticipated for the South Alcona area. The draft Secondary Plan, which is under appeal, shows a Phase 1 population of 7,200 people and 1,100 jobs. Growth projections for Phase 2 will be subject to each five-year review of the Town’s Official Plan in the future. Figure 4-1 illustrates the land designations from the draft South Alcona Secondary Plan. Surrounding lands are largely designated ‘Agricultural Area’ and will not contribute to the local area density. When fully built, the South Alcona area is intended to have an overall gross density of 67 P+J/ha. Some of the proposed medium density and commercial areas are slightly outside the 800 m station radius. Assuming full buildout future densities within 800 m of the Innisfil station would be 40 to 60 P+J/ha.

No matter how much the TTC paid for the KPMG report, it paid too much

Don't know who put the Frank Zappa billboard up on the side of the building containing the Leslie Barns project office, but his words seem mighty appropriate.

Don’t know who put the Frank Zappa billboard up on the side of the building containing the Leslie Barns project office, but his words of wisdom seem mighty appropriate.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

The obvious irony is that a consultant’s report released in September 2016, advising the Toronto Transit Commission how to complete capital projects on budget and on time, missed its deadline by 10 months.

We don’t know if there was a set budget, and weeks of trying to find out merely how much the public paid has turned up nothing: The city told me to ask the TTC, while the TTC replied, sorry, “the city commissioned it.”

The consultant, KPMG, also didn’t respond to requests for comment on what it billed and why it took such a soft approach to investigating troubled projects – including the Toronto-York-Spadina subway extension (TYSSE), the Leslie Barns streetcar facility and new signalling systems for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway.

Apparently, the city seems happy with KPMG’s work and the TTC has agreed to adopt all 41 recommendations, including calls for “gate-keeping” at key stages on future projects, clearer definitions of management responsibilities and better processes for documenting and monitoring progress. Local media gave the report a quick and soft once-over, and likely won’t return to the matter.

But does this report get us any closer to delivering bang for the buck on transit projects?

A public angered by fiasco after fiasco on the transit capital file might ask why KPMG ignored the many people who warned early on that these projects were off the rails.

KPMG didn’t talk to David Gunn (the most-respected TTC chief in recent decades). Gunn, in 2011, told the TTC, politicians and Globe and Mail readers the signalling project was in deep trouble and that the grandiose, stand-alone stations on the TYSSE made no sense. He also advised TTC leaders to rethink the Bombardier streetcar purchase decision that has turned out to be so problematic.

In a recent discussion, Gunn pointed out that if the TTC had listened and opted for proven 70% low-floor vehicles instead, it would have saved money and grief and wouldn’t have needed the Leslie Barns maintenance facility at all. And if KPMG had talked to those who can say “I told you so” on Leslie Barns, it wouldn’t have swallowed the “scope creep” excuse for cost overruns (a botched site-selection process made the utility relocations necessary, setting off a chain reaction of cost escalations).

City councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon labelled Leslie Barns “a boondoggle” on her first day in office in 2010, but was repeatedly ignored by the TTC and fellow politicians. KPMG didn’t contact her either.

Seeking alternatives, McMahon assembled a group that included globally respected transportation engineer Ed Levy. If KPMG had spoken with him (or others in the group, including me) they might have learned the city – blinded by the prospect of getting 18 acres from the Toronto Port Authority for $1 – encouraged the TTC to skip international best practice’s Step 1 in picking sites for such facilities: minimize the deadheading or the number of unproductive kilometres. Toronto is now locked unnecessarily into an operating setup retaining wasteful commutes to get vehicles into and out of service, especially on the 509, 510, 511 and 512 routes.

Absurdly grandiose stations on the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension were part of the reason the project is late and far more expensive than it should be. David Gunn warned us about the problem six years ago, but KPMG didn't bother to interview him.

Absurdly grandiose stations on the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension were part of the reason the project is late and far more expensive than it should be. David Gunn warned us about the problem in 2011, but KPMG didn’t bother to interview him.

As for that too-good-to-be-true $1 site, a commercial real estate executive with the company then known as Barnicke told McMahon’s people the most it was worth – “if level, clean, approved and desirable for commercial redevelopment” – was $15-million. Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate consultants the Port Authority hired to assess the worth of the site put the value at $1, if it was left fallow for future parkland (trying to develop it would bring hugely costly liabilities into the equation).

In the end, the TTC paid more than 10 times the best-case $15-million price just to make the site usable. Connecting tracks alone cost 7.5 times the estimate the TTC used to justify the site choice.

KPMG states that costs escalated because of delays in awarding contracts; the hard truth is that costs soared because of haste to award contracts for an ill-conceived plan. There was a concerted effort to ignore informed people who were raising red flags.

On the TYSSE, some warned at the conceptual stage that it was nuts to push subway into Vaughan and bore deep tunnels through low-density areas. GO trains on the surface would have better served York Region’s rush-hour commuter rail needs. (You can read about the backroom politics that put the TYSSE into play in former provincial cabinet member Greg Sorbara’s memoirs).

So, how did KPMG investigate? It interviewed “68 key personnel and stakeholders at the City of Toronto, the TTC and from external organizations, including key personnel for each of the projects” – most, we can assume, are people with vested interests in minimizing the embarrassment that should accompany projects gone awry.

The report even includes a disclaimer that KPMG “neither warrants nor represents that the information contained in this document is accurate [or] complete.” (Imagine a newspaper that relies solely on the veracity of news releases and PR people?)

There’s some good (but blindingly obvious) advice in KPMG’s 200-plus-page report, but it ignores probably the most important truth: The world’s best project management cannot save bad projects.

Or, as Gunn put it: “There’s no magic to this stuff. You need a small, strong, informed group of managers, and the person at the top has to have the balls to stand up to politicians when they insist you do stupid stuff.”

Why not remove the Scarborough subway stops altogether?

Something lost on most tourist is that 55% of London Underground is actually above ground, and for good reason

Something lost on most tourists is that 55 per cent of London Underground is actually above ground, and for good reason. Toronto seems to have forgotten why it usually makes little sense to tunnel for subways in low-density areas; we didn’t even tunnel between Bloor and Eglinton in the era when we were good at planning and building subways.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

If eliminating subway stations to save money is the way to go, why haven’t we pondered going all the way? Why not a no-stop Bloor-Danforth extension in Scarborough?

I’ve been asked repeatedly what I think of the January 2016 transit compromises (and some have also asked whether the plan might give us the world’s longest stretch between stations on a tunnelled subway).

I love the idea of cutting unnecessary expenditures, and I fully back the reallocation of resources to Eglinton-Crosstown extensions. But the one-stop subway idea requires serious re-examination.

Extra long access-free underground corridors, though rare, are useful and are used in extremely special cases. The question is: What makes Scarborough so special?

Moscow has a 6.6-kilometre tunnelled stretch with no intermediate stations between Krylatskoye and Strogino on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (Line 3). That’s 900 metres longer than the uninterrupted stretch proposed as a Bloor-Danforth extension from Kennedy to Scaborough Centre under Eglinton Avenue and McCowan Road, but it is used to protect Serebryany Bor forest on the city’s western flank.

Geography also explains the 9.6-km ride from Embarcadero to Oakland 12th Street on the BART. That’s two-thirds longer than our Scarborough gambit, but not even the looniest Toronto politician would consider stations under San Francisco Bay – or would they?

A definitive list of global examples on this scale would be short, but the fact we’re considering joining the club without a geographic barrier says lots about the perceived level of political crisis over Scarborough, as well as the strange obsession some locals have with tunnelled transit.

Widely spaced stations on the world’s great systems aren’t rare in themselves, it’s just that they’re almost always above ground, such as the 6.3-km stretch between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer on London’s Metropolitan line (upper-left corner of your Tube map).

Sane cities rarely tunnel once their subway tentacles spread beyond dense cores. Fifty-five per cent of the London Underground is actually above ground. Honest!

MTR Corp. of Hong Kong, which in recent decades has been the international gold standard in terms of combining an urban transit business model with great service and continual system expansion, is 62 per cent above ground.

Our ancestors – Torontonians who who survived the Great Depression and helped win World War II – got this, and their wisdom and sacrifices left us the basics of a very good system (at least in North American terms).

Their Toronto was much smaller and poorer, yet they built good subways – and did so without funding from Queen’s Park or Ottawa. They opted for open trenches between Bloor and Eglinton on the Yonge line (since covered between Summerhill and St. Clair). They used shallow cut-and-cover box tunnels to keep costs down on most of the rest of the early system – the parts that now need relief.

Now, we’re too good or too rich for such economy measures. Cut and cover is messier and often requires expropriations, but it allowed our ancestors to hit budgets and deadlines. They built the University and Bloor-Danforth lines (Woodbine to Keele), 16 kms and 25 stations in just 75 months. That’s less time than we’ve spent so far on the 8.6-km six-stop, wildly over-budget Spadina-York extension.

The generation that survived the Depression and helped win the Second World War, came home and made more sacrifices for future generations by ripping up Yonge Street for a subway we all need and need to relieve. TORONTO ARCHIVES PHOTO

The generation that survived the Depression and helped win the Second World War, came home and made more sacrifices for future generations by ripping up Yonge Street for a subway we all need and need to relieve. TORONTO ARCHIVES PHOTO

The wise elders only considered corridors that could justify lots of stations. The one-stop Scarborough idea is about the same distance as Queen to Eglinton on the Yonge line, and Woodbine to Yonge on the Bloor-Danforth, stretches that comprise 10 stations, eight of them intermediate. Yonge to Keele, also about 6 kms, has 11 and nine of them intermediate.

Of course, once subway tunnels get very long, they require emergency exits, one for every 762 metres. TTC admits this Scarborough idea would need eight of them, and while they’re cheaper than stations, they’re very expensive. (The extension will also go under West Highland Creek three times and have the deepest station on the TTC system, incredibly wasteful design). Those who ran Toronto in the 1950s and ’60s would tell us that if three stations are too many for the Scarborough plan, it’s not a logical subway idea in the first place (whether it costs $3.56-billion with three station or $2.1 billion with one … and certain to start rising again).

And our ancestors come to those conclusions even if there weren’t a cheaper option in replacing the SRT rolling stock and rebuilding the bend, or massive potential at a good price in the Scarborough ExpressRail/SmartSpur option – which the city is now afraid to study because it would undercut the sacrosanct subway plan. See the Star’s Royson James.

Our ancestors would also warn us that it’s crazy to even start on Bloor-Danforth or Yonge extensions until after the Relief Line and/or some variation of SmartTrack is up and running (tiny, cramped Bloor-Yonge station is dangerously crowded, handling 30% more riders daily than the busiest stop on the London Underground (three-line Oxford Circus station).

A no-stop subway? Obviously it’s an absurd idea, but only slightly more-so than the one-stop proposal considered sacrosanct by politicians eager to saddle us with yet another public transit blunder.

We have better options, and the best way to thank those who left us a great legacy is to do great things for our descendants, people who’ll need to get around Toronto and its suburbs long after we’re gone.

Stephen Wickens is a veteran journalist and transportation researcher.

We can give Scarborough even more rapid transit for less money by tweaking SmartTrack

Strategically piggybacking onto Metrolinx’s upgrades will help us better nurture urbanization at Scarborough Centre while freeing up capacity on the overloaded inner-city subway system. Extending the Bloor-Danforth, no matter how many stations we include, aggravates the crowding in its best-case scenario.

Scarborough ExpressRail

By STEPHEN WICKENS, ED LEVY and STEVE FRY

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NOTE: Even though the SmartSpur/SER option would make Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack idea far more useful to east Toronto than in its originally conceived form, it proved to be such a threat to the one-stop Scarborough subway’s viability that all study of SmartSpur was killed on March 31, 2016, at city council after some backroom arm-twisting.

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One city councillor declared peace in our time and if we weren’t well into the 21st century a hat-tossing ticker-tape parade might have seemed appropriate.

Maybe a tad premature, but what a month January 2016 has been on the transit file: The mayor accepted evidence that SmartTrack’s western spur doesn’t make sense, while city planning said it will study a transitway on King Street. In Scarborough, planners and politicians claim to have found $1-billion to reinvest in Eglinton-Crosstown LRT extensions – west toward the airport and east from Kennedy to the U of T campus. (Environmental assessments are already done for those extensions, meaning plans could be shovel-ready in time to qualify for the new federal government’s promised infrastructure program.)

Can it get any better?

Excuse our sunny ways, but yes it can if John Tory is willing to re-examine how SmartTrack best piggybacks onto Metrolinx’s Regional ExpressRail in Scarborough. According to well-placed sources who’ve contributed to a new report, RER upgrades in the works will permit at the very least 14 trains an hour in each direction between Union Station and Markham. RER needs only four trains; what can we do with the other 10 or even 12?

Before SmartTrack was a gleam in the mayor’s eye, transportation researcher Karl Junkin was examining GO electrification possibilities for think tank Transport Action Ontario (the Star’s Tess Kalinowski wrote about his work in 2013). Further study now confirms one piece of TAO’s report, branching a line off Metrolinx’s tracks east to Scarborough Town Centre (almost following the current, near-defunct SRT corridor), is not just doable but can be done for $1.1-billion. That’s $1.4-billion less than the estimate for the one-stop subway idea that made news last week – $2.4-billion less than the previous three-stop plan.

Junkin’s idea, known to some as SmartSpur but now rebranded as Scarborough Express Rail (SER), can make the east part of SmartTrack smarter than the mayor ever dreamed. Aside from saving money, benefits are huge for many stakeholders if we link Kennedy to STC using GO’s corridor instead of tunnelling under Eglinton Avenue and McCowan Road.

– Scarborough residents would have a one-seat ride downtown from STC without transfers at Kennedy or Bloor-Yonge. Time savings to Union could be as much as 20 minutes. SER would include Lawrence and Ellesmere stations (and could add ones at Birchmount and Coxwell-Monarch Park).

– Residents of East York and the old city who have trouble boarding jammed Bloor-Danforth trains in the morning rush hour at stops west of Main Street would get more capacity. Thousands fewer would squeeze through overcrowed Bloor-Yonge station onto the otherwise unrelieved lower Yonge line. Compare that with making the Bloor-Danforth longer, which would only aggravate crowding for all concerned (if it doesn’t drive more people out into other modes of transportation).

– Short term, for those working to urbanize Scarborough Centre, SER’s one-seat ride to the core provides only a small advantage over a direct tunneled link via the Bloor-Danforth. But SER has much greater long-term potential as it can easily be extended north and east to Malvern on the route previously reserved for LRT ($1.4-billion can certainly get us  to Centennial College’s Progress Campus).

Toronto’s playing catch up, but urgency may finally be focusing minds in high places. We now have a mayor big enough to admit when he’s wrong, while city staff have taken over transit planning from the TTC and appear open to creativity (criticize the one-stop subway idea all your want, but if nothing else it has broken a political logjam). Maybe Metrolinx will get aboard and save us another $500-million by keeping the Crosstown LRT on the surface, rather than tunneling into and out of Kennedy station.

Yes, capacity at Union will be seriously constrained by RER and SER, further increasing the urgency of another subway through the core and up into Don Mills (the long-dreamed-of Relief Line). In the wake of the Spadina-York extension fiasco, Toronto needs a total rethink of the business and design models used for subways. We also fear the province’s RER’s operating costs will be dangerously high if we don’t soon get serious about turning suburban GO station lands into multi-use destinations, but even on that front real estate presents revenue-tool opportunities.

We have big challenges, but we’re suddenly on a bit of a roll, exhibiting flashes of creativity and civic self-confidence not seen in a half-century. Let’s keep the momentum going.

Stephen Wickens is a veteran Toronto journalist and transportation researcher. @stephenwickens1

Ed Levy PEng and transportation planner, co-founded the BA Consulting Group and is the author of Rapid Transit in Toronto, a century of plans, projects, politics and paralysis

Steve Fry is president of Pacific Links, which connects Asian, European and North American entrepreneurs and investors. His consulting work has involved infrastructure project funding in Asia. pacificlinks.ca

 

Creating feasible options for Davenport will be a true test of urbanist creativity

It’d be great if there were a way to make a north-south tunnel work for Metrolinx’s Bradford/Barrie corridor in the Junction, but it appears as if it’s time to move on and make the most of the infrastructure and train traffic from the inevitable and largely supportable Regional Express Rail proposals

STEPHEN WICKENS

Residents of the Junction are like cousins to us here on the East Danforth; we experience many of the same conditions. There may be much less grime, odour and noise since industry moved out to the sprawl lands in the second half of the 20th century, but our secondary mixes of land use never really recovered from the loss of jobs.

You can see the unintended consequences on our main streets – too many empty storefronts, too many commercial tenants that aren’t a great fit for a hood that seeks better. Neither area was ever a really pretty, but when lots people could walk to work, or when many people came from other parts of town to work in our areas, the shopping and the services and the opportunities for socializing and play just kind of happened. Local merchants and restaurateurs got many more reliably productive hours out of each day.

That’s when urbanity’s beauty is tough to ignore. Our future may now rest heavily on office jobs, but we shouldn’t forget ancestors who gladly made homes next to the smokestacks.

The Junction and the East Danforth were both healthy blue-collar neighbourhoods back when rails lured factories. Now, the tracks are mostly barriers to pedestrian-scale connectivity, fenced off for our safety but undercutting local economic activity. They don’t carry much freight any more and GO’s unnecessarily loud diesel locomotives pull or push trains through without stopping (or when they do stop the fares aren’t competitive).

Metrolinx now owns these tracks and they are slated, rightly, to make possible GO’s Regional Express Rail plan, complete with quieter, cleaner electrified trains that make many more stations possible without slowing the service. The former industrial neighbourhoods of this city would be wise to find ways to make the best of this situation, and smart politicians and bureaucrats will find ways to help us.

Options for Davenport (@Opt4Davenport) and Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao (@anabailaoTO), have led the charge to convince city council that we should study a tunnel option on GO’s Barrie corridor rather than meekly accede to plans for 1.4 kilometres of elevated track to get the line past a dangerous and constrictive rail-on-rail level crossing with CP’s east-west corridor.

I get it and I’m sympathetic for a couple of reasons.

1) RER will also bring huge amounts of rail traffic to areas along the East Danforth, upwards of 300 East Lakeshore, Unionville and SmartTrack trains a day along an embankment that divides our communities. That’s more than twice the traffic the Junction will face and it’s about a block from my house (GO trains sometimes rattle the picture frames on my bedroom walls);

2)  I remember the shock and passion from talking with Junction residents when I wrote about the GO’s Barrie corridor plans for The Globe and Mail in September, 2003.

Twelve years and three months later, politicians, bureaucrats, residents and planners seem to be acting as if this proposal is something new. Suddenly, its an emergency and we apparently don’t have time to consider our options.

The tunnel that city council voted to study on Dec. 10, 2015, probably doesn’t stand a chance, though I’d love to be wrong.

Two of the GTA’s most respected transportation engineers examined the The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report (dated March of 2002) for me in 2003 and they agreed with Delcan’s conclusion that the tunnel option wasn’t feasible. Not only would the underground portion have to start south of Bloor to get the GO trains under the Bloor-Danforth subway, rising topography due to the old Lake Iroquois shoreline would mean the tunnel would have to be very long and costly north of Bloor.

One of the engineers suggested that co-ordinating the West Toronto Diamond work with Davenport Diamond might be the best solution (for everybody but Canadian Pacific Railway). But West Toronto Diamond, which was still in the planning stages then, has now been built and the potential opportunity has been lost.

But maybe we can find solutions to make this inevitable elevated line much more than palatable. Maybe, with GO’s electrified trains encased in some funky overground tubes there might be room for porous and lively spaces below — places that can lure pedestrians for many reasons at different times of the day to what is at present a community-deadening barrier.

Maybe it’s an opportunity for an international design competition. In the digital age launching a global brainstorming initiative should be easier than ever, and  it’s not as if creative people aren’t right under our noses here in the Junction and on the East Danforth.

Let’s make sure politicians and bureaucrats help us out.

 

While many fixate on the Unilever site, our Kennedy lands languish in purgatory

An aerial prospective of Kennedy station from the crosstown.ca website.

An aerial prospective of Kennedy station from the crosstown.ca website. The site cautions that “the renderings are subject to change and may not reflect the final design.” Let us pray.

Our traditional approach to public real estate, especially properties at our major transit stations, involves giving away huge amounts of value to private developers (or wasting it on surface parking), while world leaders are working to master land-value capture and land-value trade relationships.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

What if First Gulf controlled the land surrounding Kennedy station, 25 publicly owned acres that for decades have been served by subway, SRT, GO trains and multiple bus routes. It’s a site whose potential value has soared recently, what with the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT to open in a few years and a reasonable likelihood a Scarborough subway extension and the Mayor’s SmartTrack will roll too.

Add in tracts of nearby, largely undeveloped private lands, and the Kennedy site’s size rivals First Gulf’s Unilever (now renamed East Harbour), which sits behind various moats – river, highway, rail corridor, monolithic land uses and long blocks. Unilever might eventually get lots of transit, but even if Broadview is extended south and a bridge to the West Donlands is added, stitching that site into the urban east-downtown fabric effectively will be a massive challenge.

The comparison’s timely because one site needs urgent attention – and despite media coverage and city hall chatter, it is not Unilever. Kennedy was the natural site for a “downtown” or “centre” in Scarborough and transformation on several levels should be inevitable: It already has one-seat rides to Union, Bloor-Yonge, Scarborough Centre and Markham Centre, and soon will offer one-seat rides to Yonge-Eglinton and the airport.   But it’s a hub without a champion. It lacks institutional support or gainfully employed minds offering vision. Shame on us, not just our politicians, bureaucrats and media.

Aside from an opportunity for profitable development to partly offset infrastructure costs and boost ridership enough to justify costly rapid transit priority for low-density Scarborough, Kennedy could pay back for generations if it’s the place that finally gets GTA decision-makers to understand public real estate in ways that underpin sustainable funding for the world’s leading urban transportation entities (almost all in east Asia).

But time’s running out at this hub: Options disappear every time politicians make absurd promises and every time Metrolinx and the TTC award contracts. The greatest urgency stems from the fact that plans still call for the Crosstown to dive underground at Ionview Road, nearly a kilometre west of Kennedy station. Tunneling made sense when the LRT was to swing north into the Scarborough Rapid Transit corridor and functionally replace the SRT as our de facto subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre – albeit with transfer for Bloor-Danforth riders. But although one-seat service to STC by subway now looks like a lock, station plans weren’t adjusted.

Short term, keeping the LRT on the surface and scrapping the tunnels saves us far more than the roughly $85-million the city owes Metrolinx for wasted work since council dumped the old LRT plan in 2013. Long-term, we’ll end up extending the Crosstown east and keeping the LRT on the surface from the west also eliminates the need for costly tunnels to the east. In fact, if we extend the LRT east, kill the tunnels and use SmartSpur (a plan with so much potential that those who promised the Scarborough subway have forbidden city staff from studying it properly) to connect with STC, we’d be able to eventually use a shorter more efficient route than any subway option planners have studied recently – if or when we can ever honestly justify a subway extension.

SmartSpur, branching of SmartTrack, could provide fast one-seat service between STC and Union for about $2-billion less than the subway options the city is pondering.

SmartSpur, the pink line branching off SmartTrack, could provide fast one-seat service between STC and Union for about $2-billion less than the subway options the city is pondering. As an added bonus, it can provide a modicum of relief for the Bloor-Danforth, Bloor-Yonge station and Yonge trains south of Bloor. Leading with a subway extension would aggravate crowding.

But the biggest long-term benefit will come if Kennedy station’s real estate can catalyze a long-overdue revolution in North American transit funding and planning. Kennedy’s special: We own the land; we can be that greedy developer reaping the profits. This is the basis of rail-plus-property, a business model that has played a huge role in making Hong Kong’s transit builder/operator a profitable company for 35-plus years (even if it isn’t perfect and people kvetch about transit there, too).

Historically, in Toronto, we give away land-value premiums to those who own sites near stations, some of which is unavoidable (we also twist transit plans and grasp for logic to justify alignments that mostly serve influential private interests and pension funds). MTRC of Hong Kong, trades its infrastructure spending for land-value through development and property management. Yes, we know Hong Kong is denser and their land-ownership regime is different, as are public-consultation sensibilities. But the big lessons of MTRC’s model can apply here if we’re smart enough in how we adapt the governance.

A huge but largely overlooked hurdle in our planning process is our lack of a publicly controlled entity for managing our transit-related real estate, working within a private-sector set of precepts to maximize its worth. This entity needs an empowered seat at the table from the earliest transit planning discussions and must be free to operate at an arm’s length from politicians and even transit operators. Rail-plus-property cannot remedy all our process flaws, but in its basest form it would generate significant revenue to defray capital costs, help us expedite operating efficiencies and earn the goodwill needed to allow those with taxing powers to use “funding tools” and “revenue tools” considered politically risky.

So if rail-plus-property is such a no-brainer, why haven’t we acted? We’re a riven town, trying to tame a political whipsaw. The right and some foolish mayors, going back at least a decade prior to amalgamation, have damaged the land-value-capture concept with laughable promises of free subways. The ideological left, meanwhile, tends to be fearful of anything that smacks of public-private partnerships, willfully ignoring how some competing international metropolises are getting things done. In 2003, the TTC was asked to study rail-plus-property (councillor David Miller got a motion passed at my urging, but the study was quietly ditched when he became mayor). Provincial and city reports on funding strategies in recent years have demonstrated a thin understanding of LVC. An August 2013 discussion paper commissioned by Metrolinx was somewhat encouraging (though hopes there are waning since the provincial entity quietly shut down its business-case department in the spring of 2016).

Recent off-the-record discussions with sources indicate some of our bureaucrats are waking up, though for now, we continue to rip ourselves off. We talk about transit being an investment, forgetting that real investors aggressively seek ROI.

The lands surrounding Kennedy station provide 1,000 parking spaces, the equivalent of filling one subway train for one trip a day.

The lands surrounding Kennedy station provide 1,000 parking spaces, the equivalent of filling one subway train for one trip a day. The terminal building in the background is an impediment to transit-oriented development on a site that desperately needs TOD.

Viewed through a rail-plus-property lens, current plans for Kennedy would have us asking:

– Why does the TTC cling to the quaint but expensive notion that stations are costs while cities capable of continuous building increasingly view them as revenue properties with trains rolling through the basement? At Kennedy, our thinking manifests itself in an unsubstantiated assumption that there’s net benefit in retaining a big bus terminal, even though it’s an impediment to transit-oriented development on a site that needs TOD. It makes even less sense if you consider that when the LRT is extended east, we won’t need a bus terminal at all.

– Why tie up swaths of valuable real estate for surface parking? The 1,000 or so spaces at Kennedy allow us to fill the equivalent of just one subway train for one round trip per day. Parking can and will be replaced in other formats via redevelopment – if it makes economic sense within a mix of uses that could include offices, shops, condos, schools, public services and recreation facilities. We need destinations around and atop our stations, a doubly crucial lesson for land-rich Metrolinx to learn, especially now that it should be preparing to strategically offset soaring operating costs from the Regional Express Rail all-day, two-way service promise.

– What thought is going into creating easy and pleasant pedestrian links between the Kennedy station zone and the surrounding areas? We think a lot about bus connections, a very good thing, but subways work best when the pedestrian is king of the catchment zones.

– Why aren’t the surrounding private land holders prominent in discussions at this end of the transit planning? Has there even been a public Kennedy station precinct planning process? Given the right lattice of incentive and disincentive, private developers will eagerly help us earn returns on investments and assets.

So, where are our bureaucrats?

Actually, contrary to popular misconception, most are at least okay. In Year 5 of his term, I’m concluding Andy Byford was probably a good hire and he seems to understand much of what I usually prattle on about. But he’s rightly focused first on turning around the TTC’s operating culture. He has some good people working for him on the capital planning side, but the parameters on their thinking appear to be constricted by assumptions desperately in need of re-examination. They lack the tools and direction required re-earn the public’s confidence (some TTC staff come across as chastened, bracing for further hits on the Spadina-York extension cost overruns and hugely wasteful standalone stations).

People at city planning have been good to talk to in recent years and seem to be awakening to the fact that established approaches are inadequate for such issues of organized complexity. Some seem to see the need for an entity that can wisely manage public land assets in the quest to make good on some of the excellent aims of the official plan, now more than a decade old (though spring-summer 2016 developments on the Scarborough subway front indicate the politics is trumping logic).

And the city is doing a real estate review, but the discussions seem to be on the overly secretive side.

Metrolinx dipped a toe in the waters of sanity by auctioning off Crosstown station sites – prior to excavation, no less – (though we’re hearing the first wave of RFPs were so restrictive that developer interest was disappointing). More disappointing is that rail-plus-property has apparently disappeared from the radar after recent behind-the-scenes moves that cost Metrolinx some of its brightest staff members.

So, again, imagine that First Gulf owns this Kennedy site, which may one day rival Union Station for the best, rapid-transit-served location in the GTA. At Unilever, First Gulf talks of 50,000 jobs and development investments worth $6-biillion (and let’s hope it succeeds). It’s obvious that First Gulf has worked hard to get the ear of the mayor’s office, just as Oxford Properties has at Scarborough Centre.

Maybe we, as a voters and residents, should try to do the same.

Last chance for sanity on the Scarborough transit file

This was published before Toronto politicians decided to officially vote for the Eglinton-McCowan route, and before the intermediate stations were removed from the plan … moves that further strengthen the SmartSpur case (not that anyone is listening).

scarbsubway3

So we now have a short list of three Scarborough subway extension proposals, none of which makes sense. It’s tempting to conclude that we’ve been presented with a couple of hopeless straw-man options that serve only to make the indefensible but politically popular Eglinton-McCowan alignment look good by comparison.

But let’s forestall the usual Torontoish blackthought, especially considering at least one excellent alternative hasn’t yet been stifled by politicians or the wasteful last-century assumptions that still guide otherwise bright and well-meaning local transit bureaucrats.

Though the last-chance-for-sanity option doesn’t involve actual subway, it should be the most attractive option of all, even in Scarborough’s subway-or-bust circles, offering fast one-seat service to Union station and easy links to the Bloor-Danforth subway and the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT at Kennedy station far sooner and far cheaper than any subway proposal can.

The idea, to my knowledge, first appeared in an excellent but largely overlooked 400-page regional rail report published by Transport Action Ontario in July 2013. The Star’s Tess Kalinowski was one of the few to clue in, and she wrote about it back before we’d heard the term SmartTrack, before the strange subway-centred by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, and before then-transportation minister Glen Murray proposed his two-stop subway extension from Kennedy station to Scarborough Town Centre using the existing SRT corridor.

The TAO idea seriously enhances the potential worth of SmartTrack, rather than siphoning ridership from it, so it might have a political hope, especially in the mayor’s office (if minds haven’t been closed there). SmartSpur, would piggyback onto the upgrades the province is already planning for the Stouffville GO/RER corridor and SmartTrack. And because that corridor passes so close to Scarborough Town Centre, it would require only 1.5 kilometres of shallow tunnel or even above-ground infrastructure (as opposed to the at least 6 km of deep bore tunnels proposed to link Kennedy station to STC.

Costs of the SmartSpur connection to STC from the SmartTrack line, using the east-west part of the current SRT corridor, were calculated at $425-million in 2010 dollars, with the full route to Malvern via Centennial College’s Progress Campus for around $1.7-billion. I’d guess it will cost more than that, but it should still be at least $2-billion less than the Eglinton-McCowan subway idea with its three stations (or even a fourth one at Danforth Road and Eglinton, which is being touted by some Scarborough councillors).

karlsmap

The ideal Eglinton-Crosstown approach to Kennedy station would now be on the surface to make an extension east toward Kingston Road easier and less expensive.

Just think what we could do with an extra $2-billion – putting it toward the decades-overdue relief line comes to mind, as do extensions of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, east from Kennedy and west from Mount Dennis (and EAs for those sections are already done).

On the downside, shuttle buses would likely be needed to briefly replace the SRT during parts of the construction and the TAO estimate does not include SRT demolition costs. And, of course, SmartTrack will eat up finite capacity at Union Station and on the Lakeshore East GO lines. But while all the subway extension ideas would aggravate crowding on the Bloor-Danforth, which is already at capacity westbound from Main Street in the morning rush, SmartSpur would provide some relief both on the line and at the dangerously overcrowded Bloor-Yonge transfer point.

Much of the justification for the Scarborough subway extension is to remove the SRT to subway transfer at Kennedy. SmartSpur goes a step further for Scarborough transit users by also removing the need for the transfer at Bloor-Yonge.

Some (including a few in the mayor’s office, I’m told), fear that SmartTrack would cannibalize some of the planned subway extension’s ridership, projections for which are already dubious. Instead of fearing that process, they should open their minds and to see that SmartTrack/SmartSpur could cannibalize the potential subway extension’s ridership altogether. All you need is subway-like frequency and TTC fares on the GO corridor — what the mayor promised in the election campaign, but taken to a logical conclusion in its application for Scarborough.

Of course, this is Toronto and there’s the possibility the idea makes too much sense.

Simple and brilliant as SmartSpur may be, it was my second choice for most of the past two years: A 10th subway alignment – shorter, more direct and with major value-capture possibilities from publicly owned real estate – would almost certainly have delivered the best value long-term. But Alignment 10 died behind the scenes at City Hall in recent weeks and didn’t even make city planning’s menu of nine, likely because transit entities and bureaucrats still don’t seem ready to wrap their heads around international best practice for funding and achieving returns on subway investments. They also have a costly and irrational aversion to open-cut and cut-and-cover subways, which, though messier to build, are far less expensive (see the Yonge line, Bloor to Eglinton).

Anyway, for now, there’s a ray of hope, and I’m calling it SmartSpur.

Here's the branch line in the broader context, and we've taken the liberty of fixing the SmartTrack station spacing in east Toronto to improve the line's ability to relieve subway crowding.

Here’s the branch line in the broader context, and we’ve taken the liberty of fixing the SmartTrack station spacing in east Toronto to improve the line’s ability to relieve subway crowding.

Unicorns, the DRL, Six Points and a bite on the ass

STEPHEN WICKENS

Most who care seriously about Toronto affairs will already have read Marcus Gee’s Globe and Mail column about how the DRL has become the unicorn of transit projects. Well, funny how things come full circle to bite us in the ass … and being bitten on ass by a unicorn may be doubly painful.
Below is a map of the east portion of the TTC’s planned June 1968 DRL alignment (even if we called it the Queen subway then). The Bloor-Danforth extensions to Warden and Islington had been completed the previous month and work to extend the Yonge subway from Eglinton to Finch was under way.
The DRL, meanwhile, was going head-to-head with Spadina for next spot on the priority list.  Key to the discussion (but largely overlooked in the current consultations) are the yard functions essential to any rail project.
The pink area below is Greenwood yard, and it was decided in 1968 that the Queen line’s only real yard option would be to take over Greenwood from the Bloor-Danforth line, which would then get a new yard in the west end. That’s why Metropolitan Toronto bought the Westwood Theatre lands, which, after languishing for decades, are suddenly not available as Build Toronto finally redevelops them as part of the Six Points project.
So the fact that the Bloor-Danforth is now largely locked into the Greenwood arrangement (unless something related to the Scarborough extension can be worked out) makes it even tougher to do Phase I of the DRL … unless it includes Phase II up to Eglinton (allowing for a possible yard near Bermondsey). That wouldn’t be so bad because key to making the DRL really pay off is to get it to Thorncliffe and Flemingdon, two of the densest and most transit-dependent neighbourhoods in the country. But making the initial phase longer further reduces the likelihood shovels will ever break ground.
Alas, the chain reactions and the lack of institutional memory now make the DRL less likely than ever, even as the enduring desire for this line is further indication that it really should have been a priority city-building project all along. And it’s sort of ironic that the Westwood lands were taken out of play right at the moment when the long-forgotten reason for their purchase becomes apparent again.
Those who ignore history and all that.

Greenwood yards are indicated in pink and the connection with the Bloor-Danforth is at Donlands station in this 1968 plan.

Greenwood yards are indicated in pink and the connection with the Bloor-Danforth is at Donlands station in this 1968 plan.

 

SmartTrack can only buy us time; we still need a DRL or whatever you want to call it

After letting four thoroughly jammed trains pass on Nov. 24, 2014, late in the afternoon, I ditched the politeness and squeezed aboard one. The day began with having to let two jammed trains go at Coxwell, and we left large crowds on nearly every platform west to Yonge.

After letting four thoroughly jammed trains pass on Nov. 24, 2014, late in the afternoon, I ditched the politeness and squeezed aboard one. The day began with having to let two jammed trains go at Coxwell, and we left large crowds on nearly every platform west to Yonge.

After Tweeting and FB-posting about horror-show subway crowding yesterday, I was asked why I hadn’t written a recent blog posting on the need for a new subway line through Toronto’s core, and whether John Tory‘s SmartTrack plan will be enough.

The fact is, this op-ed piece for the Toronto Star done back in July pretty much covers it.

 

 

The Death and Life of a Great Canadian Street

Danforth and Woodbine, looking west on Sept. 16, 2014, 98 year and 51 weeks after the photo below right, Woodbine and Danforth has changed plenty. And after about 60 years in decline, the area is getting new investment and is clearly on the way back.

Danforth and Woodbine, looking west on Sept. 16, 2014, 98 years and 51 weeks after the photo below right. After about 60 years in decline, the area and this intersection are getting new investment and they are clearly on the way back.

Urbanist Jane Jacobs may never have written about the East Danforth, but after a few long walks on a Toronto strip that was in decline for much of the latter 20th century, she developed firm views on what is needed for revitalization.

Danforth and Woodbine looking west, Sept. 22, 1915, with the new streetcar tracks and actual paving. (City of Toronto Archives photo)

Danforth and Woodbine looking west, Sept. 22, 1915, with the new streetcar tracks and actual paving. (City of Toronto Archives photo)

By STEPHEN WICKENS

When the writing wasn’t going smoothly, Jane Jacobs would take a long walk. During one stretch of gorgeous fall weather in the early 1980s, with writer’s block delaying progress on Cities and The Wealth of Nations, the renowned author of books on urbanism, economics and ethics visited the Danforth “three or four times … the whole strip from Broadview to Victoria Park,” with several detours to the nearby rail corridor and the surrounding streets.

She never wrote about those Danforth jaunts but she spoke with me about the area in 2004 and 2005, while I was both writing Toronto features for The Globe and Mail, and working with people attempting to start a neighbourhood group (prior to the eventual and  successful establishment of the Danforth East Community Association).

Watercolour of Jane Jacobs by Hilary Forrest

Watercolour of Jane Jacobs by Hilary Forrest

Though she was nearly 90, Jacobs’s memory was excellent. I was raised in the east end and live in the immediate area. I walk a lot, too. She visited a few times – decades earlier – yet what she said helped open my eyes.

In one discussion, she bristled and became animated when I mentioned the usual received wisdom, that the East Danforth’s seemingly mysterious decline in the second half of the 20th century was likely a result of transportation changes, most notably the replacement of streetcar service with the Bloor-Danforth subway in 1966 to Woodbine, and 1968 farther east. It is an enduring theory, given legs within weeks of the subway’s opening as media latched onto attempts by the area’s “business men’s association” and locals to restore some form of street-based local transit, either streetcars or buses, that would run parallel to the subway using existing, frequently spaced stops. The group produced a 15,000-signature petition (huge numbers for a small area in the pre-social media days), but the pleas were ignored at the Toronto Transit Commission.

Jacobs said far too much weight had been given to the arrival of the subway, and called it a ‘lazy man’s theory.’ She agreed that underground subway stations – spaced much farther apart than the old streetcar stops – sped the processes that were sucking life off the street (better planning for second station entrances could have helped a bit, in her view). But she argued that commercial strips of blue-collar neighbourhoods had gone into similar declines during the same era, “all over Toronto, the continent, even the planet – and almost none of these other strips would have had new subways.”

Commercial streets, an essential component of urbanism for millennia, had, in effect, been deemed obsolete in theory and practice, and the ramifications were both far-reaching and subtle.

The larger transportation-related factors in her view were that car ownership was soaring in the post-World War II era, and that people were suddenly traveling farther to shop – to malls and bigger stores where parking was easier. People also became increasingly less likely to leave home on foot, and whole neighbourhoods and cities suffered as a result.

“Transportation matters to the discussion, to be sure,” she said. “But if you’re serious about revitalizing this street, you’ll focus on broader changes to the overall local economy, and you’ll look for adjustments to form that will naturally attract pedestrians for day-in day-out reasons.”

Among the things that first struck Jacobs on her walks, especially east of Pape where the nature of the street changes suddenly, was the near complete lack of Victorian or Edwardian buildings. She also found a sudden increase in the lengths of the blocks (see No. 2 in her seminal list of conditions for generating diversity).

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Jane Jacobs’s four conditions to generate diversity and vibrant city streets, from the The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Page 150:

  1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two.  These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.
  2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
  3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce.  This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
  4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there.  This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

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She advised me to compare the block lengths east and west of Pape on a map. “Better still, walk and time them if you have the opportunity,” she said.

It turns out that most blocks on both the north and south sides of Danforth west of Pape, the much livelier Greektown neighbourhood, are no more than 100 metres and can be walked in a minute or less. Many to the east take two minutes or more. When we touched on this in a subsequent discussion she said I’d probably remember for the rest of my life that blocks in the liveliest places in cities all over the world will tend to be well under two minutes in length at my pace (see for yourself, no matter where you live or where you’re visiting). “Two-hundred and fifty or 300 feet is ideal in most cases.” (That’s 76 to 91 metres.)

But Condition No. 1 on her list, The East Danforth’s mix of primary uses, would in her view matter most to people puzzling over how to reinvigorate the area (the emphasis on the word primary was hers).  She felt strongly that if redevelopments merely added residential condos with retail on the ground floor, we wouldn’t be adding the type of mixed use that could have a major regenerative effect.  We might merely be adding to the number of empty stores, she said. And she warned that many “seemingly enlightened planners still tend to have a superficial understanding of what mixed primary use really means.”

Jacobs suggested I go to the Central Reference Library and use city directories and old maps as an introduction to the timeline of Danforth East’s development. Correctly, as it turned out, she told me to expect that the area was first developed largely in the 1920s, a point she said meant this was in fact a hybrid, not the pure streetcar suburb that some academics would label it. Private cars would have been a factor from the beginning, certainly east of Pape, even if the area had still developed largely around a main street on which streetcars arrived in 1915. She told me to look for evidence the area developed with a significant amount of employment, mostly industrial and most of it likely focused on the rail corridor to the south.

And it was there.

Prior to the area’s initial development, but well into the 20th century, lands on both sides of the East Danforth were largely operating as market gardens, providing fresh produce to the nearby city. Farming operations got larger farther north, toward the Taylor Creek valley, with several dairy operations in what was the Township of (and later the Borough of) East York, amalgamated into Toronto in 1998. Most of the area immediately north of Danforth had been Church of England reserves, known as the Glebe and usually leased to farmers. South of the Danforth (east of Greenwood and over to the town of East Toronto at Main Street), was known as Upper Midway, part of the Midway area annexed to the city in 1909. It was very rural compared with the main parts of Midway, south of the tracks, and it appeared as a virtual blank on maps as late as 1907.

Jacobs asked me to come up with a plausible explanation for the delay in development until after World War I, especially since areas farther from established Toronto had developed sooner (around the Grand Trunk/Canadian National station and yards at Main Street). I’m open to arguments, but it seems probable that the biggest delaying factor was that, east of Pape, five creeks crossed the Danforth (a.k.a. The Second Concession and later The King’s Highway No. 5). The railway tracks had also established themselves as a barrier. Though the tracks had brought the Town of East Toronto to life, the corridor barrier itself would increasingly become a drag on the area in the later 20th century, especially as it got closer to the Danforth heading east and as industry that once provided jobs in the area moved out to the suburbs.

Though the Danforth (originally the Don and Danforth Plank Road) had opened in 1851, the imposition of a concession grid, forced the street to follow a predetermined straight line, despite ravines and marshy areas that would not have been apparent in the kingdom’s Colonial Office in the 1790s. The road’s path was set decades before surveyors arrived. The Danforth was a nightmare to maintain (a job left largely to the farmers who used it and paid tolls — a source of protests and legal disputes). The rickety wooden bridges often got washed out. And even when they weren’t, travelers to the city still had to get to down to Queen, Gerrard or Winchester streets to cross the Don Valley.

Rickety wooden bridges on the east Danforth often washed out in storms. City of Toronto Archives photo

Rickety wooden bridges on the east Danforth often washed out in storms. City of Toronto Archives photo

Even though streetcar service and proper paving came to the East Danforth in 1915, development didn’t happen until a housing shortage after the Great War and the opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct in 1919. Something that also held up residential development in the immediate Coxwell-Danforth area was a stench from the Harris abattoir and rendering plant, which was eventually driven away in the early 1920s (and though this is also a clear instance where employment and residential don’t work in close proximity, even the Harris plant attracted a small enclave of residents using kit housing just southwest of Danforth and Coxwell).

In the city directories, Jacobs suggested I look for trends related to the stores that sprang up: Aside from the fact that many merchants lived upstairs from their businesses, the most stunning thing was the lack of turnover. Vacancies were listed when buildings were new in the 1920s, but were almost non-existent again until the late 1950s. There was very little turnover among businesses through the Great Depression, 1940s and early ’50s, indicating a healthy local business environment despite great challenges facing the global macro-economies. Even when Woolworth moved from east of Woodbine to snuggle up next to department store rival Kresge in 1942, displaced shops found ways to stick around — some at Woolworth’s old site.

The variety of shops, especially close to Woodbine was remarkable. Though supermarkets in the 1950s were much smaller with limited offerings, there were nine of the Loblaws, A&P and Dominion variety from Greenwood to just east of Woodbine), as well as butchers, bakers and produce shops. There were also many clothing and shoe stores, and the three movie theatres would have contributed to sidewalk life in the evenings.

These were all things Jacobs expected me to find, and she said it was important to note that the turnover and vacancies started appearing well before any subway construction began, even if locals didn’t really pay attention to the strip’s decline till later. Some feared the subway would bring over-development, yet the opposite happened, and many are still astonished by the lack of development more than 50 years after the subway opened.

There is also a strong likelihood that plans for an extension of the Gardiner Expressway into Scarborough, through the neighbourhoods straddling the railway tracks, hung over the local real estate market in the 1960s and ’70s. Hundreds of homes were to be expropriated just for the interchange at Woodbine, not far south of the Danforth.

The Ford of Canada main assembly plant became Shopper's World mall after the company moved operations to Oakville. The loss of jobs and the shift of stores from the street were "a double whammy" for the neighbourhood.

The main Ford of Canada assembly plant became Shopper’s World mall after the company moved operations to Oakville in the 1950s. The loss of jobs and the shift of stores from the street were “a double whammy” for the neighbourhood. PHOTO COURTESY FORD OF CANADA

As for industry and employment, there wasn’t so much right on the Danforth itself, though it’s worth noting that Canada Bread had its main Toronto plant just east of Greenwood (and the folks at the Linsmore Tavern said the plant workers kept them very busy on breaks and shift changes). Ford of Canada, before moving to Oakville in the 1950s, had its main operations at what, in 1962, became the Shopper’s World Mall, west of Victoria Park, right by the eastern loop of the streetcar line on a small strip where East York actually reached down to the Danforth.

Jacobs called the loss of that employment and the fact that some Danforth stores moved to the mall in the early 1960s a “double whammy” for the strip. Car dealerships and the TTC streetcar barns at Coxwell (now only partly used, and mostly as parking for subway staff) also brought lots of workers to the neighbourhood or provided jobs that local residents could walk to. And, of course, lots of people working in the area provided essential daily business for local shops and restaurants. Along the rail corridor, less than a half-kilometre to the south, were major industrial enterprises, including a John Wood plant on Hanson Street, the largest source of hot water tanks in Canada from the 1920s on. Service Station Supply was an assembly plant for gas pumps and hydraulic lifts. There was a factory producing stoves, washers, ‘ice boxes’ and fridges. There were many light industrial operations as well as quarries and brickyards on either side of Greenwood.  Major suppliers of coal, lumber and other building materials were located all along the tracks from Greenwood to east of Main, where the CNR shops and freight yards began.

Jacobs wanted me to see that, while many preferred to drive out from of our neighbourhood the noise and trucks that increasingly accompanied industry, the shift to an overwhelmingly residential area quietly undercut essential facets of the local economy, including the shops and restaurants on the Danforth. The loss of industry meant the rail corridor bordering the southern parts of the neighbourhood shifted from attracting much economic activity to the East Danforth to being a barrier and a drag on the area, a hindrance to walkability and connectivity.

Late in the 20th century, even though household sizes got smaller, in pure residential terms the neighbourhood actually got denser because housing was built on former industrial land. But the mix of primary uses – usually residential and employment, with a few specialty shops or large theatres that can draw people from other parts of town – was getting badly depleted.

Looking forward, she said: “Residential density itself won’t be enough of an answer if you really want to create or recreate a vibrant neighbourhood,” she said, adding that residential density by itself, especially if it becomes high-rise, high-density could be a big problem if we don’t pay attention to all the generators of diversity.

On that count, she said the options are limited. There might be small gains to be had by breaking up some long blocks, but the new passageways or streets would almost certainly never penetrate more than a block or two into the surrounding neighbourhoods. Creating a deep inventory of buildings of different ages is a long-term organic process; the key would be to ensure that the 1915 TTC barns and much of the 1920s buildings be saved (likely not a problem with the fragmented ownership and often shallow lots). Density increases, especially right on the Danforth would be helpful, but we might need less than many think, especially if significant employment is included.

“There’s opportunity in bringing employment to sites at the subway stations,” she said (and she agreed that the TTC lands and some north-side parking at Coxwell and the Valumart parking lot at Woodbine are probably our only significant options for bringing mid-rise office buildings into the local mix. (Our discussion didn’t consider areas as far east as Main Square and Shopper’s World, but clearly, there’s redevelpment potential there).

The five-acre TTC lands at Danforth and Coxwell were used as a bus garage when Jane Jacobs studied the strip. These days much of the site is used, ironically, to provide free parking to transit workers.

The five-acre TTC lands at Coxwell were used as a bus garage when Jane Jacobs studied the strip. These days much of the site is used, ironically, to provide free parking to transit workers. Shockingly for many, it’s larger than the Honest Ed’s site set for redevelopment.

She added that we were lucky to be approaching things at this time (she was speaking in 2004) because much of the GTA’s employment gains are likely to be in office work, and that even just a few mid-rise office buildings near the stations might bring enough workers to help “rebalance the local economy.”

Though she died in early 2006, Jacobs lived long enough to see a resurgence of life  downtown when usage restrictions were lifted on “The Kings,” and when a new wave of residential development was able to complement the dense employment zones, allowing secondary-use shops and services to come back in the core. She saw it as encouraging.

Returning employment to the Danforth area could, in her view, have a similar effect (though on a much smaller scale) by getting more people out onto the sidewalks for different reasons at different times of the day, helping lots of small shops and restaurants to “get over the hump … it often takes just a handful of extra customers a day to make a difference in small-scale retail.”

She emphasized that year-round walkability relies heavily on people having regular economic reasons to be out on the local sidewalks. “You won’t get industry again, and few would tolerate it, but office work and some new residential density right on the Danforth could be great for the city and your area.” She felt the Avenues focus in the city’s Official Plan could be life-giving for the East Danforth.

She also noted that the Danforth has spare subway capacity in what transportation people call the ‘contra-flow,’ – half-full trains going in the opposite direction of the main rush-hour crowds. She called that “untapped potential.” She remembered surface parking near some of the subway stations and called that  “a waste of potential.”

“This may come as a surprise to you,” she said, “but part of the area’s empty-store problem is that there’s too much retail space for the current size and makeup of the local economy. Most of that retail is going to be secondary-use stuff.”

Demand for the retail space on a strip such as the Danforth, in her view, was very much a reflection of the health and diversity (or lack thereof) in the wider local economy. It’s almost certain that she would have been a huge supporter of DECA’s pop-up shop program. She  said: “Vacant storefronts certainly feed vicious cycles of decline, but if you’re smart, long-term, you’ll view them (and street crime) as mere symptoms of bigger problems.”

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous September day and signs of new life have been popping up on the East Danforth for nearly a decade now. Even though the writer’s block isn’t necessarily holding me back, I think I’ll go for a walk.

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Stephen Wickens is a journalist and a former board member of Danforth East Community Association. At present he leads DECA’s Visioning committee. Much of the material gathered from talks with Jane Jacobs (directly and indirectly) forms the basis of an annual Jane’s Walk, ‘The Death and Life of Upper Midway.’