Cities and Commutes

Oliver Moore published an interesting summary of the use of cycling and public transit in the November 30th edition of the Globe and Mail. He gleaned the information from a recent Statistics Canada report.

In 2016, he reports, 74.0% of workers in Canada commute to work by car, truck or van as the driver, 12.4% on public transit, 6.9% walking or riding a bicycle, 5.5% as a passenger of a car and 1.1% by other means. Almost 80% of all Canadians commute in private vehicles.

Bike riders on the Martin Goodman Trail in Toronto

In large cities “active” commuting is on the rise. In Toronto 6.7% commuted to work by cycling or walking, in Montreal the figure is 7.2%, and in Vancouver 9.1%. In the B.C. City of Victoria, the number is 16.9%, the highest in the country.

Moore points out that in the last 20 years “the number of people using bicycles as their main method of commuting nearly doubled, rising 87.9%.” At the same time “the number of people using public transit increased 31.5%.”

Large cities are seeing the most changes. Across the country almost 80% of workers commute by private vehicle, but in the three largest cities, it drops to less than 70%. In Toronto almost one in four commuters use transit, the highest in the country. Vancouver has seen a doubling of transit users in the last 15 years, since the SkyTrain rail network opened.

Despite the rise in the use of transit and cycling, gridlock of the streets continues to get worse in the large cities. In Toronto, the average one-way commuting duration in 2016 was 34 minutes, Montreal 30.0 minutes, and Vancouver 29.7 minutes. Not surprisingly, the general rule across the country is that, the larger the city, the longer the commute.

The question remains, how are we going to build more livable cities, if commuters continue to use private vehicles to get to work or school? There are a variety of answers.

  • Stop urban sprawl and increase the density of existing built up communities.
  • Build better transit, particularly high speed, rapid transit like subways, LRT and commuter trains.
  • Encourage cycling across the urban areas by building dedicated, safe bike lanes.
  • Make the pedestrian experience safer by widening sidewalks and improving crosswalks. At the same time improve and beautify the public domain by making walking on city streets more enjoyable.
  • Discourage the use of cars in the congested districts of our cities by narrowing streets, creating pedestrian only streets, and other traffic calming improvements.

Climate change is another very important issue when it comes to our use of cars and trucks. We will never reduce our greenhouse gas emissions until electric vehicles become the norm.

Tory’s failed leadership

Just look at John Tory’s record on issues and you can see what a failed political leader he has become. Mayors are expected to provide leadership, and great mayors rise to the occasion to provide inspired leadership on contentious, difficult issues. Tory fails on all accounts.

John Tory likes to show he uses the subway system.

In the 2014 election candidate John Tory presented himself as a successful but cautious businessman, a good administrator, and a savvy politician. He said he would control taxes, always a big issue with property owners, and get Toronto moving on transit.

His most dramatic promise during the campaign was to create what he called “Smart Track,” a 22 stop transit service primarily on GO railway tracks with a minimal cost. To sweeten his appeal to the vote rich residents of Scarborough, he added that he would build a three stop subway line from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre. This was enough to deliver him a victory at the polls.

That election was over two years ago now, long enough to make a judgement on his leadership. Yes, the chaotic days of the Ford era, thankfully, are at an end. Tory has been able to get the support of the suburban councillors and that has allowed him to dominate council, but looking at his record on issues illustrates that his leadership is in shambles.

Smart Track has gone from a 22 station transit plan to an addition of six new stations. Recently a Metrolinx study concluded that all but one of the new stations may discourage ridership. (Globe and Mail, March 17, 2017) It is now obvious the plan was designed on the back of an envelope in the midst of an election campaign. No transit experts were consulted before it was rolled out to the public.

It was an election gimmick, No more. An experienced politician like Tory would have known that it is very dangerous to make promises on technically complicated, expensive projects like transit without careful study, but he did it anyway to win votes. He promised an unworkable transit plan and he must take responsibility for its failure.

The Scarbough subway has now been revealed as an even greater failure. The difference is that it can be stopped before it becomes yet another failed project, but don’t count on it. The mayor has put his reputation on the line with this project and Toronto residents will have to pay for it, and live with it, just so John Tory can claim a victory.

After detailed studies, the subway line now has been reduced from three stops to one stop. The cost has ballooned to $3.35 billion. Ridership projections have been reduced to 7,400 per hour, well below the 15,000 riders per hour experts say is needed to make a subway successful. The city will have to pay for all of this except $1.48 billion promised by the Ontario government.

This one stop subway replaces a seven stop LRT line originally promised by David Miller’s Transit City plan. It would have gone from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and terminated at the Centennial Campus on Sheppard. Another LRT line would have gone from Kennedy, along Eglinton and Kingston Road to Morningside. It would have had 18 stations.

All of this could have been built for less than the one stop subway and would have provided good transit for many more riders. But no. To save John Tory’s reputation the people of Scarborough will get a one stop subway and all the people of Toronto will pay for it. This is not leadership; it’s a disaster.

Add the Scarborough subway and Smart Track to other important failures since Tory has been mayor.

  • The proposal to take down a small part of the Gardiner Expressway to open more land for development on the Waterfront, was rejected for a more costly hybrid solution that would reward some developers.
  • Tory’s idea of improving traffic was to take parked cars off major streets at rush hour. There has been no effort to reduce speeds, calm traffic, or discourage vehicles in the downtown. The number of pedestrian fatalities have increased.
  • Tory has shown no leadership on cycling. Toronto is far behind other major North American cities. It is not expensive to modify city streets and make them safe for cycling, but this issue is ignored in Toronto.
  • The proposal to transform Yonge Street is little more than a promise to widen sidewalks. Other cities are creating pedestrian malls, but not Toronto.
  • There is a crisis in hostels for both men and women in the city and nothing is done.
  • Tory’s efforts to keep taxes at the rate of inflation has led to a cut of services. That particularly harms those with low incomes.

We don’t have a new urban agenda in the City of Toronto. We are locked in the old agenda of the post war era of cars and suburbs. The once proud reputation of Toronto as a progressive city has been lost because political leaders, like John Tory, lack the imagination to think of anything other than their own personal reputations.


Tory and the train wreck

Transit is proving to be the undoing of Mayor John Tory. SmartTrack, his proposal bring transit to the suburbs, has delayed projects for at least a year, if not longer, and will cost the city far more than any other proposal.

John Tory in a 2012 mayoral debate.

John Tory in a 2012 mayoral debate.

Tory, a politician who presented himself as a top administrator and businessman, has proven to be a train wreck for the city’s transit, and Metrolinx plans. If you don’t believe me, listen to two top journalists and columnists for major Toronto newspapers.

First, Marcus Gee, of the Globe and Mail, March 10, 2016.

“Consider the Incredible Shrinking Transit Project known as SmartTrack. It came forth in a blare of trumpets during Mr. Tory’s 2014 election campaign. Now, like snow on the suddenly mild streets of Toronto, it is simply melting away.

“What is emerging does not really look like a new transit service at all. It is more like a limited upgrade of the express-rail service already planned by provincial authorities along GO Transit lines. Even that, say the experts, is only worth doing if fares are kept low enough to attract riders. Whether those things are possible is still up in the air. Staff are working on a “business case” for

“Mr. Tory insists that it is a positive thing for the city all the same. The worst he would admit to, in an encounter with reporters on Wednesday was a possible excess of enthusiasm for his big campaign promise. But it is just this sort of slapdash, politically driven proposal that has plagued Toronto transit for years.”

And this from Joyson James, of the Toronto Star, March 10, 2016

“If David Miller had returned as mayor in 2010 instead of quitting after two terms, LRTs would be running along Finch West and Eglinton East and Sheppard East up to Malvern…

(Mayor Tory) “has contributed to the dysfunction that pushes residents so close to the brink of transit fatigue that they will accept anything…

“One operative who has seen and participated in the staff deliberations around the transit plans filed Wednesday says this: ‘I have never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever seen transit planning this political.’…

“And here is the surprise: It’s going to cost billions of dollars for sure. And it duplicates service in the Scarborough corridor.

“Besides, the city will have to pick up a portion of GO’s costs for new tracks, overpasses, bridges, trains, operational costs to cover the insertion of SmartTrack service.”

Rob Ford, with his rant of “subways, subways, subways” upset transit planning in Toronto for four years and resulted in confusion, chaos, and ultimately nothing. Now John Tory has created even more turmoil, delays, and cost overruns with SmartTrack.

It is time to stop politicizing transit. It is now clear that John Tory is the last person who should run a rail road.

California – good things and bad #1

Paulette, my partner, and I have been traveling in California since January 19th. We came for a holiday, but for me at least, it was also an effort to try and understand lotus land. My first impression is that the place may look different but the problems are much the same as in Ontario.

Readers of this blog know that I have been involved in CommunityAIR, and the fight against the Toronto Island Airport expansion, for at least 15 years. Wouldn’t you know it? We flew into San Diego, the most southern city in California, and found the city airport right on the harbour, very close to the downtown, with the runways adjacent to densely populated neighbourhoods.

A jet flies low over the business district into San Diego airport

A jet flies low over the business district into San Diego airport

As you can see from this photo, the planes often come into Lindbergh Field over the business district of San Diego at low altitudes. People are angry. This comes from a news account of a protest that happened on October 24, 2015, three months ago.



Protesters shouted “No plane noise!” over and over at a rally Saturday near the San Diego Airport. They are fighting against a new flight path that would bring even more air traffic over already noisy Point Loma neighborhoods. “And now every single moment every day every plane is coming over their heads,” said protester Julie Connolly.*

The other major problem that we ran into in San Diego was transit. Paulette and I don’t own a car in Toronto, and we figured that we would rely on transit in California. We had been warned, but we have found that transit is not a disaster. In fact everywhere in the state transit fares are much less than anywhere in Ontario. Thirty-five cents for a senior fare and seventy cents for an adult. You can’t beat that. And it took us to the places we wanted to go in San Diego, like the Balboa Center.

Let me give a pitch for the Balboa Center. This is the location of the world famous San Diego zoo. It also has a rich collection of visual art, crafts, horticulture, photography, displays of natural history, and lots more. What we loved most of all was the architecture of Spanish styled buildings with carved reliefs decorating the spaces under the eaves and around the doorways. It was worth coming just to see the buildings.

Gaslamp district San Diego

Gaslamp district San Diego

We spent a whole day wandering around the Center, then went into the city to have dinner in a restaurant in the Gaslamp District. This is the old center of the city that has been protected from demolition and invasive development. That is another thing that they do much better in California than we do in Ontario.

Americans really believe in protecting their architectural heritage. The result, more often than not is some type of commercial development. In the case of the Gaslamp District it is mainly high-end restaurants; in other places it is designer clothing stores; but at least they are protecting their heritage. In Toronto we still believe in knocking down anything old. Protecting architectural heritage, to us, is saving the outside façade of a building and demolishing the rest.

It was about seven-thirty in the evening when we made it to the bus stop, in the downtown heart of San Diego, and began waiting for the bus to take us back to our hotel in Ocean Beach. Somehow things did not feel right. There were no people on the street, other than the inevitable homeless, and we soon found there were no buses. Virtually the entire bus service shuts down at seven pm.

Now it wasn’t a panic. We didn’t have to sleep on the streets. Someone explained how we could take a tram up to a transit center called the Old Town and catch a special bus from there. It took a couple of hours, and it was an adventure, but the experience reflects how Californians treat transit. San Diego is a big city of 1.3 million people, but public transit is essentially a rush hour service.

It is very hard to survive in California without a car.


“No way to run a railroad”

It’s infectious.

Now Brampton City Council has voted against a fully funded LRT project because the renegade councillors say it does not meet local transit needs. They have caught the bug from Toronto politicians who have disrupted transit decisions for local political gain.

The LRT along Hurontario Street will stop at the Brampton border with this decision

The LRT along Hurontario Street will stop at the Brampton border with this decision

There has to be a better way. Look at the stupid decisions of Toronto politicians and the chaos that resulted.

The Spadina subway line north of St. Clair was diverted from Bathurst Street to go up the Allan Expressway, against the recommendation of the transit experts, because suburban Metro councillors were angry that the provincial government had cancelled the Spadina Expressway.

The Mike Harris Conservative provincial government, in 1995, cancelled the subway line that would have gone west along Eglinton. Harris even ordered the tunnel that had been dug filled in.

For the eight years of Conservative government (1995 to 2002) there was no spending on new transit in Ontario. This lack of investment is the reason transit is in crisis in this province.

At the same time the Harris government cancelled the Eglinton West subway, they funded the Sheppard Subway line, against the advice of transit experts. This subway line has always been a white elephant, with very low ridership, and still is a drain on the resources of the TTC.

When David Miller was Mayor of Toronto he proposed Transit City with 7 LRT lines that would have greatly improved transit to the suburbs. The McGuinty government reduced that to 4 lines.

With the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto things really became chaotic. “Transit City is dead,” he declared and later described his transit policy as, “subways, subways, subways.” Ford tried to convert the 4 Transit City lines from LRT to subways and failed in glorious, dramatic fashion.

The one LRT line that Ford did success in converting to a subway was the Scarborough line. This was the result of a revolt of the suburban councillors who envy the good transit of downtown. Scarborough will get a subway even though it will add $1 billion to the city’s debt and will provide poorer service than the LRT.

John Tory selling SmartTrack in the election

John Tory selling SmartTrack in the election

Then, after Rob Ford exited the mayor’s chair, John Tory became mayor. He had his own transit scheme. In the midst of the election he announced SmartTrack, a scheme that will bring suburban commuters downtown on existing rail lines. As far as can be told, SmartTrack was designed on the back of an envelope to get votes during the election. There were no feasibility studies, no costing, and there remain major engineering problems. The scheme has employed scores of transit experts ever since, trying to make it possible.

Despite the failure of scheme after scheme, we still have not learned that politicians, with their own narrow interests, are the worst possible decision makers on this issue. They don’t understand transit, most of them never use it, and the complicated set of issues that must be considered before a decision can be made, are a complete mystery to them.

And now we have Brampton politicians following the lead of Toronto.  What can we do to end this harmful political meddling?

The first thing is change the decision making structure on transit and remove local politicians, because they have amply demonstrated they have made a mess of things. Only the province has the power to do that.

Second, create a true Transit Authority for the GTA and Hamilton. Metrolinx is already in place as the lead provincial agency and they should become the Transit Authority. On its decision making body there should be provincial and municipal politicians, and citizen appointments. That authority should have the power to make all transit decisions for the expansion of the system in the GTHA.

“Undemocratic!” the municipal politicians will claim, but that is not true. The Transit Authority Board would be accountable to the people through its politicians. Ultimate responsibility would rest with the province who pays most of the money.

We must have change. The way we are making decisions on transit is simply, “not a good way to run a railway.”