Transit

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Transit

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“It’s a necessary evil”: Scarborough commuters on the real cost of the subway extension

(Images: Giordano Ciampini)

(Images: Giordano Ciampini)

With Rob Ford no longer mayor and the Gardiner debate temporarily settled, there’s now officially nothing in Toronto politics more divisive than the idea of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway through Scarborough Centre. Transit experts say building heavy rail in a lightly populated part of the city is wasteful; Scarborough residents counter that a subway is the only adequate compensation for decades spent riding buses and the increasingly rickety Scarborough RT. Here’s something we can all agree on, though: the subway extension is going to be really, really expensive. During June’s public consultations on the project, the city’s most optimistic cost estimate was $3.5 billion. We asked transit riders at Kennedy station whether they think the extension will be worth the cost.

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People

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Q&A: Andy Byford, the TTC’s top executive, staunchest defender and chief apology specialist

(Image: Kayla Rocca)

(Image: Kayla Rocca)

Most Toronto transit riders have experienced at least one moment of hopelessness about the state of the TTC—but Andy Byford hasn’t. The TTC CEO, a British-born alumnus of both London and Sydney’s transit networks, has stared down seemingly endless setbacks: service cuts, political grandstanding, the massively delayed Spadina subway extension and the ever-present mysterious smoke at track level. And yet, he’s surprisingly optimistic. Between the TTC’s infamous subway shutdown in early June and its next major acid test—July’s Pan Am Games—we sat down with Byford to discuss three essentials for contending with transit struggles: apologies, bourbon and curse words.

I feel like, for every generation in every city, there’s a specific struggle that unites them. What would you say if I suggested Toronto’s was transit?
I’d agree. In many ways, that’s what makes this an especially interesting job for me to be doing right now. Transit is at the forefront of what everyone’s talking about: it was the hot topic in the municipal and provincial elections. And I suspect it’ll be a factor in the federal election. There’s a recognition that the TTC, which was once an absolute jewel in the province’s crown, has lost its way through lack of investment and, I’d say, political influence over the last 30 years. Congestion is ever worse, and there seems to be a lot of talk about transit expansion and not a lot of action.

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Streeters

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“The price is a bit high, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind”: why people are paying $27.50 to ride the UP Express

(Images: Giordano Ciampini)

(Images: Giordano Ciampini)

The long, anxiety-ridden journey to Pearson Airport is a Toronto tradition—but now, for some people, it’s a thing of the past. On June 6, Metrolinx launched its long-awaited Union Pearson Express, a 25-minute train service from Union Station directly to Pearson’s terminal one. The only issue is the price: at $27.50 for every one-way trip (or $19 with a Presto card), tickets might be a little too costly for riders without expense accounts. We asked some passengers why the price of admission was worth it for them.

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Columns

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Why the Gardiner East decision, whatever it is, won’t be “evidence based”

(Image: Peter Andrew)

The Gardiner Expressway around Fort York. (Image: Peter Andrew)

Pity the 5,200 souls who drive the eastern stretch of the Gardiner during morning rush hour. They are getting a good whipping in the name of evidence-based policy. Nearly every argument in favour of the teardown points a finger at them. Architect Paul Raff, writing in the Toronto Star, claims that the issue of the Gardiner East’s future is one “of reality versus misinformation,” then cites the 5,200 drivers as an example of “reality.” These drivers are also getting a thorough public shaming of the kind only Twitter can deliver, the crime being their excessive hoarding of tax dollars for their aging infrastructure pet. (At least they each have 5,199 pairs of shoulders to lean upon, to help cope with the mortification.)

No one has taken these 5,200 drivers to greater task for their claim upon the public purse than councillor Josh Matlow, who, in an open statement to his constituents about his decision to support the teardown, explained that “the facts got in the way” of his feelings about the Gardiner. First among those facts: 5,200. Matlow then goes down the costing rabbit hole to demonstrate the burden all taxpayers will have to bear to keep 5,200 people arriving at work on time: by his reckoning, $6.43 per minute of delay for the next 30 years.

I’m not sure I can crank up the twisty elastics of suspense on this topic any further, so now is probably the time to let the propellers fly. It turns out the figure we’re all so fixated on—these 5,200 Gardiner East vehicles at rush hour—substantially underestimates the actual amount of traffic on the Gardiner East. As evidence goes, it’s almost completely unhelpful to the Gardiner debate.

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Transit

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Reasons to Love Toronto Now: because the new Union Station was worth the wait

(Image: Derek Shapton)

(Image: Derek Shapton)

Some 213,000 GO commuters pass through Union Station every weekday—that’s more than twice the daily traffic of Pearson Airport. And, for the past six years, those people have been forced to navigate a holy mess of scaffolding and construction detritus, as the station’s glitzy $1.3-billion revitalization has been stymied by setbacks and cost overruns. But this spring, they started to see some results when the new York Street GO concourse opened its doors. The 62,000-square-foot space is an airy sweep of glass and stone, almost Nordic in its bright utility. It features streamlined stairway and elevator access, a new GO platform and dozens of automated ticketing machines and Presto vendors—which all seems downright luxurious after years of soul- and time-sucking commutes. The York concourse is one of several projects coming together soon: the Union-Pearson Express will be zooming up to the airport in time for the Pan Am Games, and a fancy new food court will open next year, featuring a Burger’s Priest, Union Chicken and a 30,000-square-foot fresh food market. Like its commuters, Union Station is finally going somewhere.

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Columns

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I’d pay tolls to drive on the Gardiner—but only if everyone else does, too

(Image: Gary J. Wood/Flickr)

(Image: Gary J. Wood/Flickr)

I’ve already argued in favour of the hybrid option for the Gardiner Expressway, which would keep the eastern section of the elevated highway standing, but change the locations of off-ramps to free up land for other uses. The mayor agrees with me, as do many others. One of the most prominent obstacles to the hybrid proposal is the price tag: it would cost $400 million more, over its 100-year lifespan, than simply demolishing the Gardiner east of Jarvis.

So now the conversation has turned, as it does every decade or so, to tolls. Toronto owns the Gardiner Expressway outright, and the Don Valley Parkway too, meaning it has to foot the bills for their upkeep. Tolls would allow the city to collect direct revenues from the motorists who use those highways.

But tolls, at least in Toronto’s eternal debates about them, are more than just user fees. They are a means of enlarging Toronto’s revenue rolls beyond its own residents, which is a principle Toronto has long dreamed of enacting. Last week councillor James Pasternak laid the gambit bare when he proposed that tolls be levied exclusively on motorists who live outside Toronto, while residents would get a free pass.

Let me lay my cards on the table. I don’t live in Toronto; I live a 90-minute drive away, in Peterborough. Toronto is where I earn my livelihood, and I travel to the city regularly. My routine fluctuates, but in recent months I am frequently in the city twice a week. Though I typically travel on GO Transit (I drive to Whitby Station and ride from there), I also drive fairly often, and when I do, the DVP and the Gardiner are staples of my itinerary. I also have family in south Etobicoke, which makes the DVP and the Gardiner an essential part of that trajectory.

Simply put, I am among those non-Toronto residents who depend upon the Gardiner and the DVP for both work and life. Would I pay a toll to drive on them? The short answer is yes I would.

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Politics

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John Tory re-announces a transit line that was supposed to have been built by now

yawn-toryAt a joint press conference this morning with Ontario transportation minister Steven Del Duca, competent person and Toronto mayor John Tory made what was billed as a major transit announcement: Finch Street West will be getting its own light-rail line in 2021, with construction to begin in 2016. “Today we are here to talk about moving forward, finally,” Tory told reporters. “What this transit line will do is provide an additional 11 kilometres of badly needed transit.” It’s a bit of progress, but it’s also déjà vu for anyone with a long memory for Toronto’s many thwarted transit schemes. The Finch LRT was originally endorsed by the TTC in 2007, and was scheduled for completion in 2015, before an onslaught of political problems (including the rise of Rob Ford) caused the project to be shelved indefinitely.

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Transit

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Will Toronto really adopt 30-kilometre-per-hour speed limits on residential streets?

THE IDEA

Toronto has long flirted with the prospect of reducing the speed limits on its residential streets to 30 kilometres per hour. Lately, Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow has championed the old idea with new vigour. “I have spoken to countless parents who want to see the city do everything it can to protect kids, along with all pedestrians,” he told the Toronto Star earlier this month as council considered new policies that would make it easier for residential streets to adopt lower speed limits. According to data from the World Health Organization, a pedestrian has a 90 per cent survival rate if hit by a car travelling at 30 kilometres per hour, while the rate at 45 kilometres per hour is less than 50 per cent.

WOULD IT WORK?idea-evaluator-green-small

New York City, San Francisco and London, England, are among the cities worldwide that have already reduced limits to comparable speeds. When Toronto’s public works committee met to discuss the idea, however, it couldn’t agree on whether it wanted to follow suit; the new proposals, which would let an individual street adopt a 30-kilometre-per-hour limit if it met certain criteria, seemed like they might create a grid in which speed limits would fluctuate from block to block.

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Politics

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John Tory celebrates the fact that Queen’s Park has noticed SmartTrack

yawn-toryNormal guy and Toronto mayor John Tory spent some of Thursday celebrating what he said was a milestone for his mayoralty: a mention, deep within the newly released 2015 Ontario budget, of his SmartTrack transit plan. “I’m very much viewing this as very significant progress,” Tory told reporters. “If it’s not happening, why is it in their budget?” The answer to Tory’s rhetorical question is that Queen’s Park had been planning to make improvements to Toronto’s regional rail corridors long before SmartTrack existed as a concept. So, although the budget mentions funding for express rail, it’s all money that would probably have been spent regardless of who happened to be mayor. Tory still has a multi-billion-dollar budget hole to fill before the project stands a chance of being built, meaning what he’s actually celebrating, right now, is the status quo.

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Columns

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We should admire the Gardiner Expressway, not tear it down

(Image: The City of Toronto/Flickr)

(Image: The City of Toronto/Flickr)

First, a confession: I love the Gardiner Expressway, not for its utility but for its aesthetic beauty. I kid you not. I am enamoured of the Gardiner not in the way a driver loves a road, but in a broader sense, in the manner that an infrastructure geek becomes enthralled with the man-made structures and physical experience of the city. The Gardiner is awesome.

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Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: can I hate my fellow TTC riders for not giving up seats for me and my toddler?

(Image: Andrew Currie/Flickr)

Dear Urban Diplomat,

I’m a young dad, and I take my 16-month-old son to and from daycare on the subway during rush hour. Is it wrong to get annoyed when people don’t give up a seat and I’m stuck carrying a squirming toddler for the entire 10-stop ride?

—Last Man Standing, Bloordale

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Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: what should I do about an annoying e-biker?

Dear Urban Diplomat: what should I do about an annoying e-biker?

(Image: Carlos Felipe Pardo/Flickr)

Dear Urban Diplomat,

Every day on my commute along Eastern Avenue, this guy on an electric bike zooms past my car, sometimes in the bike lane, sometimes weaving between cars, sometimes popping up onto the sidewalk for a few metres before plonking back onto the street. It’s maddening. Short of gently nudging him with my bumper, what should I do?

—Driven to Despair, Cliffside

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The Informer

Transit

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Could the Scarborough RT really become a High Line–style elevated park?

THE IDEA

Last Friday at city hall, TTC CEO Andy Byford surprised city councillors by reminding them that his staff are still looking into the possibility of transforming the Scarborough RT into an elevated linear park, in the vein of Manhattan’s High Line. (Council voted in favour of studying the seemingly far-fetched proposal back in October 2013.) The details still have to be worked out, but the idea is to wait until 2023, when the RT is supposed to be replaced by a subway, then cover the disused elevated tracks with biking paths, benches and greenery.

idea-evaluator-yellow-small

WOULD IT WORK?

Some variation of the idea already has worked, albeit in a much different context. Since its creation, New York City’s High Line, a reclaimed elevated railway on the west side of Manhattan, has attracted millions of tourists, stimulated economic activity and inspired imitators in scads of cities, from San Francisco to Seoul. But can the Big Apple’s winning formula be applied somewhere like suburban Scarborough and produce the same result?

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Streeters

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“We got our LCBO, so we’re good”: Liberty Villagers on their neighbourhood’s bad rap

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

Liberty Village takes a lot of flack, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a heavily developed condo community that’s cut off from the rest of the city by railroad tracks, leaving only two major routes in and out. Liberty Village Park, the only green space of note, includes just a single small play area, even though, elsewhere in the neighbourhood, plenty of space is devoted to unsightly swaths of surface parking. The 504 King streetcar, the area’s main TTC connection to downtown, is almost unridable during rush hour. There are even battles over dog shit. But how do the people who live and work in Liberty Village feel about it? We asked some of them whether the neighbourhood deserves the put-downs.

The Informer

Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a bad person for leaving my newspaper on the subway?

Dear Urban Diplomat: Am I littering if I leave my used copy on the subway or doing some other bored commuter a favour?

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I’m new to the city, and I read Metro during my morning commute. Am I littering if I leave my used copy on the subway or doing some other bored commuter a favour?

—Paper Trail, Cedarvale

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