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 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.
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.
By STEPHEN WICKENS, ED LEVY and STEVE FRY
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.
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
This story was first published in The Globe and Mail on Dec. 29, 2014
By STEPHEN WICKENS
At Plaza de la Revolucion the tourist waits, peers up the road, lowers the camera and waits some more. He wants a classic American car for his shot of the monument to Jose Marti, a 19th-century poet, freedom fighter and all-round Cuban hero. But for what seems like ages, we see only Hyundais, Geelys and sputtering Ladas.
“Yanqui tanks” still abound, many serving as gleaming cabs in tourist areas. But locals say half the fleet has been scrapped or cannibalized for parts since the Soviet empire collapsed; newer imports are easier to maintain. It’s just one indicator of how rapidly things have changed since Raul Castro replaced brother Fidel in 2008. Cubans with means or overseas relatives can buy and sell real estate as well as cars. Half a million people run their own businesses, triple the 2011 total.
Now, with the United States preparing to normalize relations and end a decades-long embargo, the trickle of visiting Americans could become a torrent some time in the not-too-distant future. So if you want to see one of socialism’s last outposts, act now – and consider doing so on a cruise.
Yes, even the cruise industry, which Fidel despised, has a beachhead. Though big U.S.-owned ships remain banned, Calgary-based Cuba Cruise launched weekly circumnavigations of the island last winter with the 162-metre, 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal. It targets Canadians with, among other things, its Alberta Prime Steakhouse and familiar beers. The crew is multicultural and the on-board variety troupe combines Montreal-based Cirque Fantastique with Cuban entertainers assembled by the National Theatre director.
Greece-based Variety Cruises took last winter off to arrange new food and land-tour suppliers, and renovate the Pan Orama – a 54-metre, 50-passenger yacht. Much more intimate than Cuba Cruise, it resumed its week-long trips between Havana and Cienfuegos on Nov. 29.
All-inclusive resorts have their place, but can’t deliver the complete Cuba, which is the Caribbean’s largest and most diverse country (nearly as big as our three Maritime provinces, more populous than the four Western ones combined). Cuba is more than sun and sand: It has a rich history (150 years of battles for independence from Spain, the United States and Russia) and regional cultures, some stuck in a horse-drawn time warp.
Cruises that tour the island naturally let you experience more of it – and provide entry to places where tourists are still a novelty. Take one of the stops I experienced on Cuba Cruise last winter: After mooring at a long-abandoned pier in Antilla last January, we were greeted by waving, cheering locals. Turns out the arrival of the ship was such a novelty the mayor had declared a civic holiday for the Louis Cristal’s first visit the previous month.
It was just one memorable moment from a couple of week-long cruises I enjoyed during the past two winters. Other highlights include:
– Cienfuegos, a south-coast town where Soviet-era factories blend with ornate French and Spanish architecture. It is lively and fun to explore on foot; don’t miss Teatro Tomas Terry, a lovely concert hall built in the 1880s on the town square. A side trip from Cienfuegos (offered by both cruises) to Trinidad de Cuba, a town founded on sugar processing which is celebrating its 500th anniversary this winter. It’s a hot spot for musicians and dancers.
– Santiago, Cuba’s No. 2 city, which feels like a cross of southern Europe and New Orleans. It’s the birthplace of Afro-Cuban culture, Castro’s revolution and Bacardi rum, and also home to San Juan Hill, where Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders helped finish off a war against the Spanish in 1898, starting what’s considered a 60-year U.S. occupation.
– Castillo San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, the Caribbean’s most impressive fort. UNESCO calls this fortress, which has guarded Santiago’s harbour for more than 300 years, the best Spanish military architecture in the Americas.
– Punta Frances, which is on my top-five beaches list. It’s beautiful, remote and unspoiled, and if I had to bet, I’d say it’s the beach most likely to get wrecked next.
Cuba obviously needs change. Few things highlight socialist dysfunction better than engineers and professors cleaning resort rooms because that’s where the money is made. The country proudly trains doctors for the world – many of its physicians played major roles in the Ebola fight – but having clean washrooms back home seems not to be a priority.
“Cuba will retain its independent streak no matter how much it reopens to Americans,” former U.S. presidential adviser and Time correspondent Nathaniel Lande, told me over drinks on the Pan Orama’s aft deck. Lande, whose dad was Hemingway’s doctor, first visited Cuba as a boy in the 1940s. But he thinks Canadians should explore while they still have special status as the biggest source of Cuban tourism.
“Tell people to get to Cuba fast, before us Americans wreck it,” he says – only partly in jest.
IF YOU GO
Booking Cuba Cruise’s cruise-only package starts at $652 per person. Air-land-cruise packages start at $852 per person. Both prices do not include fees and taxes. Check for specials through yourcubacruise.com or a travel agent.
IF YOU GO
Money: Cuba Cruise uses Canadian dollars; Variety’s main currency is the euro. On land, you need convertible unit pesos (CUCs). Exchange booths are easy to find, and for now you’re still smarter buying in loonies than with U.S. dollars. Few Cubans even accept greenbacks.
Health: You need proof of travel health insurance for Cuba. Even if your credit card provides it, get a confirmation letter. When exploring on shore, take hand sanitizer and paper to washrooms. If you’re prone to seasickness, consider packing nausea pills or patches.
The writer was a guest of Cuba Cruise and Variety Cruises. They did not review or approve this article.
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
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);
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.
Huge rail overpass in west-central area would carve strip out of many backyards
This story first appeared in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, September 20, 2003
By STEPHEN WICKENS
Residents of some west-central Toronto neighbourhoods are on a collision course with GO Transit if plans are approved for a huge project involving construction of an elevated railway bridge.
A report produced for GO — which has not been made public — calls for a bridge of up to two kilometres in length and the expropriation of property to make room for additional and reconfigured track from Wallace Avenue (north of Bloor Street) to Innes Avenue (south of Rogers Road)
The project would form part of a plan to bring all-day GO service to towns north of the city.
The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report, dated March of 2002, came to light at an Ontario Municipal Board prehearing session last week. The Globe and Mail had an opportunity to examine the document after it was turned over to representatives of a developer appealing the city’s rejection of plans to construct residential buildings near the tracks, south of Dupont Street.
Residents of the affected neighbourhoods expressed shock about the existence of the plans.
“Nobody consulted us, but that’s the way these guys work,” said Carey Rookwod of Prescott Avenue, before going to get a neighbour to view a copy of plans that would carve a strip out of their back yards.
Neither of the city councillors who represent the affected areas is familiar with the plans either.
“I heard about a report, but I never saw anything,” Ward 17 Councillor Fred Dominelli said.
Ward 18 Councillor Mario Silva said he has heard nothing about the existence of such a report or any talk about a railway bridge or expropriation. “I’m supportive of GO Transit, but this sounds outrageous. I’ll be asking the city planners what they know.”
GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil denies there has been any attempt to suppress the report. “I’m not sure if this report has been made, quote, public. It’s more a study of how you can physically get to all-day service in the corridor, so if we get infrastructure money to build some of this stuff we know roughly the money we’re looking at for what we’re required to do. It’s probably a crossing that’s in the 15- to 20-year time frame. There’s no need to get people’s concern up when it might not even happen.”
Mr. Rookwod expressed concern about noise. “High-speed trains right in my back yard – that’s going to be loud,” he said.
Some barely finished townhomes on Rankin Crescent and a 10-metre-wide strip of the Campbell Avenue Playground are recommended for expropriation – prompting an Antler Street resident, who would give his name only as Mike, to say, “This neighbourhood has changed a lot since the Holly Jones murder. These guys sound like they want to pick a fight with the wrong people.”
The plan recommends expropriations and a bridge near Steeles Avenue and in York Region as well as in the west-central area.
The big problem in the inner city is a railway-level crossing near Dupont Street that reduces capacity and forces trains to slow on both the north-south Canadian National and east-west Canadian Pacific tracks.
Delcan Corp., an international engineering and consulting firm that produced the report, lists two options for the elevation of the north-south tracks used by GO trains, but acknowledges in one case that “the height and length of the structure will be a significant visual intrusion for approximately two kilometres [beginning south of Bloor].”
The other elevated option calls for a shorter, steeper bridge that would “significantly increase locomotive noise,” according to a transit planner and engineer who viewed the documents at The Globe’s request.
The Delcan report also lists two options involving tunnels but says each appears impractical.
“They want to tear down the Gardiner Expressway in one part of town, and put up essentially the same thing up here,” said Ted Davidson, a consultant for Ridgevest Developments Ltd., the appellant in the OMB case. “You don’t think they would try to ram something like this through in a wealthier neighbourhood, do you?”
Mr. McNeil, of GO Transit, called the Gardiner comparison unfair. “It’s like a scare tactic,” he said. “This would be the width of a two-lane road. There are lots of things we can do — we can put in pedestrian connections.”
Lawyer Alan Heisey, who represents GO Transit and CN in the OMB case, cautioned last week that the GO expansion might not happen for several years. “The planning horizon is 30 years,” he said. “The important thing is that we protect the rail corridors for the public good. It’s part of the city’s official plan.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
On Saturday May 4, 2019, at 10 a.m., I, Stephen Wickens, will lead the 12th-annual Death and Life of Upper Midway Jane’s Walk. I’ll be passing around the following pictures during the walk, but for participants who want a preview or if you’d would prefer to follow along with a smartphone or tablet, this link is for you.
Because Wise Guys has been demolished, we’ll meet at the corner of Morton Road and Danforth, south side between Main and Woodbine subway stations.
Here’s a link for those interested in the development application for the big site at Woodbine and Danforth that includes Valumart the big parking lot behind it.
Here’s a link to a piece I wrote for a former chief planner Paul Bedford for his UofT planning students. It looks at what Jane Jacobs suggested in 2004 for people trying to revitalize the East Danforth.
It wasn’t the top story of the day, what with details emerging about James Earl Ray’s stay in Toronto after gunning down Martin Luther King. But even with a federal election campaign moving into the home stretch, the TTC’s recommendation to Metro Council that we make our next subway-building priority a line through the core at Queen Street was front-page news on June 12, 1968.
Toronto had opened Bloor-Danforth extensions into Scarborough and Etobicoke the previous month and would break ground on the Yonge extension north from Eglinton less than four months later.
Here, in the interests of adding historical perspective to the current Downtown Relief Line discussions, we provide the non-bylined Star story from that day, with a few footnotes at the end.
$200 million Queen subway proposed; TTC to curtail University service
The Toronto Transit Commission yesterday proposed construction of a 7.75 mile, $150- to $200-million Queen St. subway and almost simultaneously revealed it is reducing service on the already existing University Ave. subway.
The 15-station Queen subway stretching from Roncesvalles Ave. in the west and curving north to meet the Donlands Ave. subway station on the Bloor-Danforth line in the east was proposed to Metro Council. If approved, it would probably be built after the North Yonge extension is completed in 1972. (1)
The decision to cancel University Ave. subway service all day on Sundays and after 10 p.m. on other days as an economy move (2) was apparently made in secret session some time ago and was revealed in a terse report by J.G. Inglis, general manager of operations. It is effective June 23. During the off-hours, trains will be replaced by bus service.
Mayor William Dennison estimated the move could save up to $250,000 a year in operating costs. But the TTC admitted today that the saving will be only $80,000 for the rest of this year (less $15,000 to install new signals) – and 24,000 people will have to take the bus every week.
It’s expected the reduced hours will stay in effect until eventual new routes like the Spadina rapid transit line feed more riders into the University line.
The TTC told Metro Council the first stage of the proposed Queen subway would be a $37-million underground streetcar line from Sherbourne St. to Spadina through the downtown core. The commission said this line should be built so it can be converted into a full-scale subway as soon as Metro is ready.
The Queen line is considered to be the next in priority to North Yonge, despite the fact that a rapid transit right-of-way is being built into the Spadina Expressway. The alignment of the new line would be a partial “U.”
In the east, the subway would bend north at Berkshire Ave., cut across Leslie St. and Hastings Ave. north of Queen St., follow for a few blocks an alignment along Alton Ave. to the west of Greenwood Park, then swing north to the Donlands station. Besides the Roncesvalles and Donlands stations, … See $200 million, page 4 $200 million Queen subway proposed Continued from page 1 … there would be stations at Lansdowne Ave., Northcote Ave., Givins St., Bellwoods Ave., Bathurst St., Spadina Ave., University Ave., Yonge St., Sherbourne St., Sumach St., Broadview Ave., Logan Ave., Jones Ave., and Gerrard St. E., at Alton Ave.
The station at Queen and Yonge Sts. has already been roughed in and is below the Yonge subway. Commuters use part of it to travel from one subway platform to the other in Queen station.
The $30,000 report on the TTC’s studies came as a surprise at Metro Council. (3) Only a brief one-page letter indicated that the report, which consists of pages of functional drawings of routes, had been distributed to Metro Council members.
The plans had been discussed in secret by the commission and released directly to Metro without first being discussed in a public meeting. The TTC report, signed by Inglis and W. H. Paterson, general manager of subway construction, recommended against merely building a short underground line to take streetcars.
The two officials recommended instead that a hard look be given to a full-length Queen subway on the alignment suggested in the report.
Four possible alignments were mentioned in the report. The two officials all but rejected an alignment south of Queen St. A review of properties along the south side of Queen St. revealed that excessive underpinning and demolition would be involved, the report said.
They suggested tunnelling directly under Queen (4).
The decision to cut service on the University line was attacked by Controller Allan Lamport.
He said it would stunt Toronto growth and might ultimately cost the city more money than it would save, by creating more traffic congestion as persons who would otherwise use the subway turned to cars. Lamport said it was ridiculous for the TTC to expect people to stand out in the open after 10 p.m. waiting for a bus “in these days of violence and muggings.”
1. The Yonge line extension opened late and went over budget, the first time the TTC had missed a deadline or suffered cost overruns on a subway-building project. The extension opened in two phases, first to York Mills in 1973, and then to Finch the next year. (Okay, for those who quibble, the commuter lots didn’t open on time in 1968 for the Warden and Islington stations.)
2. Cost savings were increasingly a concern in 1968. Even though Metro agreed to stop charging the TTC property taxes on its real estate and even with operations turning a $2.4-million profit in 1967, staff feared it was slipping back into the red and would have to tap reserves to cover operating losses. (1968 and 1969 both saw $1.2-million-dollar losses). Tax revenue was not used to fund operations, and the TTC didn’t run deficits until subsidies first became available in 1971 (after that, it never turned a profit again).
3. It’s unlikely that the reports were a surprise to council as the report was completed and being discussed for at least 10 days before being formally presented to council in front of reporters; it was also in the works for more than two years. Metro Council also formally requested the $30,000 report on Feb. 22, 1966. The Toronto Star story indicates that the report “consists of pages of functional drawings of routes, had been distributed to Metro Council members.” The version of the “Confidential, not for publication” report on file at the City Archives (414150-1, Series 1250, File 429) appears to be missing all of the pages of drawings.
4. Tunneling directly under Queen in the core, but preferred plans included cut-and-cover tunnels or even open subway trenches parallel to Queen St. outside the core, the same way the Yonge line was built between Bloor and Eglinton. The alignment included a cost-effective connection with the Greenwood yard; current designs for the DRL to cross Danforth at Pape, are said to include a far more costly and elaborate plan for yard access (including a Y from tail tracks north of Danforth). DRL tunnels are also said to be based on a big unibore design, rather than using paired TBMs.
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.