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Issues & Policies

Keeping You Informed & Engaged: My Analysis of the SmartTrack Proposal Before Council this Week

 

Dear residents,

This week, Council will decide whether to proceed with Mayor Tory’s revised SmartTrack plan as Toronto’s top transit priority. Since the release of the Staff Report, the mayor has received a great deal of criticism for not fulfilling his campaign promise of delivering 22 stations in 7 years with the City’s funding portion completely paid for by Tax Increment Financing (TIF). As I’ve written previously, I commend Mayor Tory for accepting that the Western Spur (new heavy rail line to the airport) portion of his plan is unworkable. As your councillor, the question I’m considering now is whether or not the plan as presented this week is well thought out, reflects Toronto residents’ priorities for transit, has a transparent financing plan and is worth a large investment of your money.

The Plan

The new SmartTrack plan consists of 6 stations added in Toronto to the Province’s GO Regional Electrified Rail (RER) plan and, in lieu of the Western Spur, a western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (this was part of the earlier “Transit City” Plan). The cost of both projects is $3.7 billion – it is estimated that Toronto is responsible for $2 billion of that total cost.

Additional RER Stations


























The Province’s RER plan entails electrifying existing GO tracks, which facilitates new trains that can stop and start much faster than the current diesel trains. This technology makes it feasible to add stations to a line and provide more frequent service. As depicted in the map above, the province is already providing a number of stations in Toronto. Council will consider funding additional stations at St. Clair West, Liberty Village, East Harbour (Unilever site), Gerrard, Lawrence East and Finch East.

While I support the concept of better utilizing existing GO lines to serve Toronto’s transit needs, there is simply not enough information in the staff report provided to Council to determine whether these 6 stations are a good investment. There was a fairly detailed reportpresented to Council in July 2016 that looked at several scenarios for adding additional GO RER stations but none of the scenarios modeled match what’s being put forward now. The report supporting the current plan does not provide ridership projections or apply a social equity lens to determine the demographics of the users. There is no analysis of development potential or even how much it will cost to build each station. It is not yet known how frequently the trains will run or whether accessing trains at these stations will require a TTC or GO level fare. This missing information is necessary to reasonably assess any transit project.

All that Council was provided was a lump sum, preliminary cost for the stations and a basic overview of some design issues at each station.


Eglinton Crosstown West Extension




As shown in the map above, the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is a continuation of the line currently under construction to at least Renforth Drive in Etobicoke, on Toronto’s municipal boundary with Mississauga. And the at least part is the problem.

The Staff report requests $420 million from the City of Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to cover the cost of the line in their respective jurisdictions. This request was met with surprise and anger by the local mayor and councillors, placing a connection to Pearson in doubt.

I have long been a supporter of extending the Crosstown further west but the utility of the extension is greatly diminished if the line stops short of the airport. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat stated last week that, while the line travels through relatively low-density areas with limited development potential in Etobicoke, reasonable ridership would be generated by the Airport Corporate Centre office district and the airport itself. Both of these trip generators would not be directly connected if the line stopped at Renforth.


Network Approach?

Also absent from this report is any context regarding where these lines fit into Toronto’s transit network. The City’s Planning Division spent years developing the Feeling Congested framework to assess the utility of transit projects.



Top 5 Performing Rapid Transit Projects

A.   Relief Line (subway)
E.   Don Mills LRT
N.   Scarborough Malvern LRT
R.   Waterfront West LRT
V.   Waterfront East LRT

Next 5 Top Performing Rapid Transit Projects

C.   Durham-Scarborough BRT
F.    Eglinton LRT West Extension
K.   Jane LRT
P.    Steeles LRT/BRT West
W.   Relief Line East Extension

(Source: City Planning)

The above map shows the rankings of proposed transit lines using City Planning’s evaluation criteria. The Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is the 7th ranked project and additional GO RER stations aren’t considered.

If Staff are, in effect, recommending that SmartTrack be built ahead of other projects that were deemed to perform better, such as the Relief Line, some explanation needs to be provided.


Financing
Equally concerning as the lack of information on the plan itself, is the absence of a clear funding strategy. Even more concerning are some of the financing mechanisms put forward in the Staff report.

Tax Increment Financing

During the 2014 Mayoral campaign, John Tory pledged to fund the city’s portion of SmartTrack entirely through a mechanism never before used in Ontario called Tax Increment Financing(TIF). Under a TIF, infrastructure is funded by capturing property tax revenue in the area surrounding the new asset that presumably wouldn’t have been created without the initial investment.



(Professor Kevin Ward, Dept of Geography, University of Manchester)

A public investment in a new stadium on a greenfield site (for example, the Canadian Tire Centre where the Senators play in Kanata outside Ottawa) is a classic example of how, if employed, a TIF might have had merit. In this example, a TIF may be a reasonable funding tool as any new restaurants, hotels, or souvenir stores in close proximity could reasonably be attributed to the stadium. The idea is that, over time, the government recoups its investment from the new property tax revenue at no cost to municipal ratepayers. As well, the municipal services required in the area could be minimal if it is largely commercial.


(Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ontario)

Using a TIF to fund SmartTrack, however, is deeply problematic.

The City proposes the establishment of TIF zones around certain stations built as part of SmartTrack. Analysis by Strategic Regional Research Associates (SRRA), under contract by the City, states that 23,737 new condo units and almost 11 million sq/ft of new office space will be built between 2017 and 2042 as a direct result of SmartTrack. The preliminary recommendation of Staff is to capture 50% of the property tax, estimated at $950 million over 25 years, generated by this growth through TIF to fund SmartTrack.

The SRRA report attached to the City’s staff report, however, was produced in January 2016 using the 22 stop version of SmartTrack instead of the pared down version now being considered. The assumptions underpinning the new projections have not been included for consideration. Residents and Council cannot even assess where SRRA are suggesting the new growth will occur.

Based on the January report, one can reasonably assume that most of the growth projected will occur in the sites close to downtown, such as the Unilever site and Liberty Village. In these high growth areas, it is dubious to attribute new development to the introduction of a station. Liberty Village, for example has no problem attracting growth, is almost built out in the residential section, and much of the employment-designated area in the western portion has heritage protection which limits development opportunities. The residents of Liberty Village desperately need new transit because of the density that already exists. To suggest that significant new growth will occur as a result of that needed transit does not match up with the reality on the ground.



(Liberty Village)

report on the use of TIFs in Chicago by the Cook County Assessor’s Office found that the financing tool was ineffective:

“Despite the extensive use of TIFs in Chicago there is little empirical evidence of the effectiveness of TIFs in promoting economic growth, while there is some indication that they benefit disproportionately from already occurring growth.”

Even if new growth could be directly attributed to SmartTrack, capturing 50% of the new property tax specifically for a transit project will require the city to find commensurate funds to provide services for the projected residential communities. Unlike in the previous greenfield arena example, residential development requires libraries, community centres, parks, child care, and other basic amenities that contribute to our quality of life. Former City Manager Joe Pennachetti stated that TIFs are the “same thing” as a property tax increase in an article on TIFs by Daniel Dale in the Toronto Star during the 2014 election.


Next Steps

City Staff have sequenced the project using a “Stage Gate” process that offers Council several points at which it can opt to not continue with SmartTrack. The project is currently in Stage Gate 3, but as previously mentioned, the public is still missing basic information.




I have no doubt the Stage Gate process could have potential benefits for the management of large transit projects but, in this instance, key pieces are moving forward without critical information. Nowhere is this more evident than in the timing of the funding plan. The Staff recommendation states that a firm funding strategy will only be provided after Council completely commits to the project in Stage Gate 5:

18.  City Council direct the Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer to:
…report back to Council with the implementation of this recommended strategy once the capital cost estimates have been refined to a Class 3 level and Council confirms its definitive commitment to the project.”

It is absurd to suggest that the City would obligate itself to invest billions of dollars into a project with no idea how it will be funded.

To further complicate matters, the Province has given the City until November 30, 2016 to decide whether it wants to commit to $71 million in pre-construction work, including planning analysis and property acquisitions, related to the 6 additional GO RER stations. As well, Council is being asked to assume liability for an unidentified amount of sunk costs to be paid to Metrolinx if the City decides at a later date that the project is not worth pursuing.

While I’m unclear as to the reasons why this incomplete report was only provided last week, despite Metrolinx notifying the City in June of the deadline, the result is that Council has been put in an unreasonable position. Either we blindly commit the City to a project with little information or forego a potentially worthwhile transit investment for Torontonians.

On the whole, I believe this to be an even worse process than the one that resulted in Council choosing the One-Stop subway in Scarborough. I’m not suggesting that the SmartTrack project itself is worse, but there was far more information available, as often misleading and incomplete as it was, to the public and Council during the Scarborough transit debate. Prior to the unfortunate Scarborough vote, there was at least a transparent funding plan in addition to some, albeit imperfect, planning analysis. While the report before us this week at Council is named Transit Network Plan Update and Financial Strategy, there actually is no clear and transparent financing strategy included in the document.

The SmartTrack report does not provide the mayor or Council with sufficient information to make an informed decision, given the money and resources being requested.

Some have suggested a distracting and simplistic narrative: that we should simply build anything, just build it. That you're either for transit or against it. That anyone who raises legitimate concerns about SmartTrack is a “Debbie or Douglas Downer” and only looks for ways to say “no” rather than “yes”. I believe most Torontonians see through that rhetoric and are more thoughtful than that. I also don't believe that that messaging is fair to those who are raising reasonable and sincere questions and/or concerns.

In fact, that kind of binary decision-making is why we’re still subsidizing the woefully underused Sheppard subway and led us to proceed with spending over $3 billion for one subway stop in Scarborough when there was a demonstrably better option on the table.

I share Toronto residents’ frustration about the lack of progress on public transit over many decades. Far too often, politics has come before people when it comes to transit planning and the decisions made. I want our city to focus on relieving the existing overcrowding on our subway, bus and streetcar lines and expand out rapid transit network to truly connect Toronto's neighbourhoods. Ultimately, many residents will continue to be reliant on their cars until we finally have a transit system that is accessible, affordable and actually gets people where they need to go.

On your behalf, I will continue to advocate that we move forward now on building transit that’s based on evidence and Toronto’s real and pressing needs, with honest and transparent financing strategies.

Sincerely,

Josh

 

 

Free Toronto from the OMB!

Photo of tower under construction.

 

The OMB is a quasi-judicial, un-elected and un-accountable provincial body that has the final say on all planning decisions in the province of Ontario. The tribunal's powers to overrule decisions made by our elected municipal representatives are anti-democratic and often lead to planning decisions that support the interests of the development industry over those of our communities and our city's official plan.

 

Since the establishment of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 1906—initially as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board—it has evolved from an approval authority into an appeal body in matters of land use planning. However, the term "appeal" is misleading as the OMB treats appeals of municipal planning decisions to the OMB as "de novo", or new, giving little deference to the rulings of democratically elected City Councils.

 

It is wrong that our elected local representatives and professional planners in Toronto are overruled by appointed OMB members who generally have only a vague understanding of our city and the fabric and character or our local neighbourhoods.

 

Click here to download this information as a brochure to print and share.

 

The OMB contributes to Inappropriate Development

 

Toronto's midtown neighbourhoods are facing an unprecedented number of development applications. While our community understands that a reasonable amount of intensification is appropriate, developers are proposing new condominiums that are too high and dense for the neighbourhood and, in many cases, appealing to the OMB at the first opportunity.

 

The provincial government is mandating higher densities in areas such as Yonge & Eglinton but they are not taking into consideration the added stress on fully-enrolled schools, narrow streets and sidewalks and an already over-crowded subway system.

 

The OMB Unfairly Favours Developers


The current OMB hearing process is too cumbersome, too expensive, too time-consuming and too legalistic to facilitate wide-ranging citizen participation and is therefore unfair to the local residents as well as the community at large. Deep-pocketed developers can hire the best lawyers, planners and other experts to argue their case. They don't need to worry about taking days off work and the funds needed to argue a case is miniscule in comparison to the windfalls they reap from selling condos.

 

Developers win 64% of OMB appeals.

 

It's no wonder that a 2009 study found that developers come out on top 64% of the time when facing municipalities. That number is even more advantageous for developers when facing residents' groups without support from their city government. And if the developer loses they can simply appeal again and face a local group that is likely exhausted both financially and emotionally.

 

The OMB is a Drain on City Resources

 

Toronto is a rapidly growing city as anybody that lives in midtown can attest to.

 

Our city's professional planning staff should be spending their time directing, managing growth and implementing our city's official plan. We want our planners to design complete neighbourhoods with access to transit, vibrant retails strips, green space and social supports. Unfortunately, too much of their time is spent defending appeals by developers at the OMB.

 

It takes a planner many days of preparation time for every one day of an OMB hearing. Further, they have to write long, overly technical planning reports in case they are called before the board to defend their professional opinions.

 

And it is not only planners that are taken away from serving the City's needs by the OMB. City lawyers must spend the equivalent of 1,400 days a year to prepare for, and attend, OMB hearings. City forestry, transportation, technical services staff and others are forced to waste valuable time as well.

 

The cost to Toronto in both staff time and salary is just too great to justify the OMB continuing to have jurisdiction over our city.

 

Take Action!

 

City Councillors are eager to adopt the responsibilities their constituents expect of them. Councillors have the benefit of ongoing engagement with the communities they represent, and extensive knowledge of local issues, opinions and needs on which they base decisions. City Councillors and the planning staff's ability to plan is undermined if applicants calculate that it is in their interests to treat City processes as a mere formality en route to the OMB.

 

In February of 2012 a motion moved by Toronto City Councillors Josh Matlow (Ward 22 - St. Paul's) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27 – Toronto Centre Rosedale) asked for the removal of provincial oversight on planning matters. This motion was overwhelmingly supported by Toronto's City Council by a 34-5 vote. Countless Residents' and Ratepayers' associations also wrote letters standing behind this initiative.

 

Please write to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as your local MPP and tell them:

 

  • The OMB is allowing inappropriate growth without adequate infrastructure to support it
  • The OMB unfairly favours developers over local residents
  • The OMB is an unnecessary drain on City tax dollars
  • Toronto is the largest municipal government in Canada. Our City has the largest and most professional planning department in the country
  • It's time for the provincial government to respect Toronto
  • It's time to free Toronto from the OMB!

 

Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

777 Bay Street, 17th Floor

Toronto, ON M5G 2E5

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Contacting Your Local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP)

 

Toronto has 22 MPPs who sit in the provincial legislature at Queen's Park. It is important to let your local MPP know that the OMB is an important issue to you.

 

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If you don't know the name of your MPP or your local electoral district, you can search by postal code here. You are also very welcome to write or call me (at 416 392 7906) for assistance contacting your local MPP.

   

Toronto Star: Province proposes limiting powers of Ontario Municipal Board

Review of powerful appeals body aims to give more consideration to local planning process.

 

 

October 5, 2016

Jennifer Pagliaro

The Toronto Star

 

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the Ontario Municipal Board, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process in the province but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the Ontario Municipal Board, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process in the province but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

 

The province is proposing putting new limits on the controversial and powerful appeals body that oversees land use in Ontario.

 

After launching a review of the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this summer, Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro said Wednesday the review will address criticism that the board often ignores planning decisions made at the local level.

 

“We are going to try as best we’re able through the proposed changes that we’re putting forward to show more deference for local, municipal decision-making,” Mauro said at a news conference at Queen’s Park.

 

The quasi-judicial OMB — which hears disputes on everything from monster homes to developers’ proposals for tall buildings that ignore city planning guidelines — has long been the bane of communities and councils.

 

It is one of the most powerful appeal bodies of its kind in North America, with the ability to hear appeals as if they were new proposals and to overturn council decisions — allowing developers to circumvent the process of community consultation, review by city planning staff and approval by elected city councils.

 

In the 10 years since the last OMB reforms — changes that asked the board to “have regard” for local councils and communities — politicians of all leanings and residents have called those efforts insincere.

 

In Toronto, which is experiencing unprecedented growth in urban centres, councillors have long called for meaningful reform and, frequently, abolishing the board altogether.

 

Mauro made clear the province would not look at scrapping the OMB, but said the province is taking the review “very seriously.”

 

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the OMB, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities.

 

“Communities that provide a high quality of life don’t just happen. They’re carefully thought out and developed. They can support the needs of current and future residents,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”

 

Toronto councillors representing quickly growing neighbourhoods — in some cases areas that have already surpassed the province’s growth plan — have started ringing alarm bells about the strain on communities.

 

“It’s about quality of life,” Councillor Josh Matlow, who represents part of the Yonge-Eglinton area, told council in July. “The streetscape, the playgrounds, the parks, the recreation, the child care, the schools — the things that, no matter how big we become, how do we support our communities with the soft and the hard infrastructure that supports building a community rather than just a bunch of condos?”

 

A consultation paper released Wednesday is meant to guide discussions after initial feedback from cities and other stakeholders.

 

The province’s proposals for reform include:

  • Only allow the OMB to hear appeals on the “validity of the decision” by council, limiting the OMB’s ability to hear appeals and completely overturn decisions.
  • Preventing appeals of secondary plans, which are neighbourhood-specific plans, for two years.
  • Requiring the OMB to send “significant new information” arising from a hearing back to councils for re-evaluation before rendering a decision.
  • More actively promoting mediation to settle disputes, preventing adversarial hearings.
  • Better training OMB members, who are appointed by the province.

 

 

The province will hold town hall meetings, the dates for which have yet to be announced. Consultation will end Dec. 19. Mauro said the hope is to have new legislation by the spring.

 

To read this article in its original form, please visit: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2016/10/05/province-proposes-limiting-powers-of-ontario-municipal-board.html

   

Our letter requesting a Master Plan for the restoration of Yellow Creek and the Vale of Avoca

August 25, 2016


Parks and Environment Committee

 

Re: Yellow Creek / Vale of Avoca Master Plan

 

Dear Chair and Committee Members,


The Yellow Creek and Vale of Avoca areas are beloved parts of Ward 27 and 22.  In an urban environment, such green spaces represent a precious resource; offering recreation for residents, a natural habitat for wildlife and an abundance of plant diversity.  The area also houses vital infrastructure including sewer lines, stairs, bridges and other public facilities.

 

In past years this vale and watercourse has been a source of pride for the local community, hosting picnics and hikes, and boasting a beautiful rose garden.  Unfortunately, the park is now challenged in many ways.  Flooding and overflow has contributed to bank degradation, erosion, washed out bridges and impassable trails.  The public's access has been restricted due to broken stairs, closed access points and many areas made dangerous due to tree fall.  Yellow Creek itself has been polluted by spills, causing further degradation to the Vale; an area designated as Environmentally Significant by Parks, Forestry and Recreation

 

With the recognition that a geomorphic study of Yellow Creek, is to be conducted by Toronto Water for 2017, the local community has stepped forward to ask that City divisions come together to address the multiple pressing needs of this Environmentally Significant Area.  While the pending Ravine Strategy is a positive step towards increasing collaboration on such projects - and we are willing to work with the City to advance its goals - the need in the Vale of Avoca is pressing and immediate.

 

In order to protect and restore the Vale of Avoca, we believe it is necessary to create a Master Plan that integrates the budgets, construction schedules, and communication plans of the various invested divisions and their overlapping responsibilities. Such a plan will serve to create a model that will be useful in application to similarly distressed natural areas, and will be supportive of the Ravine Strategy's larger goals. We therefore recommend the following:

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Request the Deputy City Manager of Cluster A to report to the February 2017 meeting of the Parks and Environment Committee on the feasibility and process to develop a Master Plan for the Yellow Creek and Vale of Avoca area that:


a.  includes an inventory and state of good repair of existing facilities;

b.  considers past and current plans, assessments and studies

c.  coordinates the planning for future work of Toronto Water, Transportation, Parks, Forestry, Natural Environments, and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and other divisions and agencies;

d.  ensures that the Master Plan identifies relationships and responsibilities for the implementations and maintenance of planned improvements; and

e.  establishes a working group comprised of relevant community stakeholders to identify areas of priority community concern.

 

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Josh Matlow                             Kristyn Wong-Tam

Toronto City Councillor              Toronto City Councillor

Ward 22 – St. Paul's                 Ward 27 – Toronto Centre-Rosedale

   

Let's Move Forward Now with a 24-Stop Rapid Transit Network for Scarborough

Dear residents,


Many of you know that I have been advocating for an evidence-based transit plan in Scarborough for several years now. For those who haven’t been following recent developments, if you thought a 3-stop subway for $3.56 billion was a bad idea, Council might actually choose to build a single subway stop rather than a 24-station LRT network for Scarborough.


The Plans



The $3.2 billion 1-stop subway shown in the map above would provide fast service from Scarborough Town Centre (STC) to Kennedy Station. It would also eliminate the need to transfer at Kennedy Station. But Scarborough is a big place, comprising 35% of Toronto’s land area. What about the rest of Scarborough that would be left on the bus?



For approximately the same City funding, we can choose instead to build 2 LRT lines. One would have 7 stops using the existing RT corridor to link STC and Centennial College to Kennedy Station. This project is part of the signed Metrolinx Master Agreement, and would be mostly funded by the provincial government. Then, with money saved by moving forward now with the approved LRT, Council could fund a new 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown through Kennedy, serving Kingston Rd, UofT Scarborough and several neighbourhoods in between.



I include this picture of the Centennial College station as a reminder that the 7-stop LRT will go through its own corridor on trains that have the same top speed as a subway (80 km/h).

 

Who Are We Building Transit For?

Combined, the LRT lines would provide rapid transit to the 96,200 existing residents and employees who are within walking distance of a station. That's 6 times more than a 1-stop subway. The 24 LRT stations’ geographic coverage better matches the needs of residents who want more than just to leave Scarborough.


As this map demonstrates, 48% of trips are local compared to just 23% ending downtown. The peak hour ridership for the subway is projected at 7,300 passengers, which is higher than the current RT but less than half the capacity of the LRT which is capable of handling 16,000 passengers per hour in one direction. Further, ridership projections for a 1-stop subway predict almost 8,000 fewer daily users in 2031 than the current 5-stop SRT has now.

These numbers suggests that the subway will run empty most of the day. While people want transit to get them to work or school in the morning, they also need transit to go shopping, see a movie or visit with friends and family.

As Toronto Star report Ben Spurr notes, the LRT network also does a better job of delivering transit access to marginalized communities by serving 25,900 people living in 5 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) and 3 former Priority Neighbourhoods. The 1-stop subway would only serve 1,700 NIA residents.

 

Development Potential


This slide from a City Planning presentation illustrates the potential of the STC precinct by overlaying the area’s street pattern (red), and boundary (blue), on a map of downtown Toronto. Tasked with providing a planning rationale for a subway stop, the City's Planning staff have developed a remarkable proposal for the area that would transform STC’s parking lots and ring roads into a more urban, pedestrian-friendly street grid.


It is unfortunate that some have falsely created an exclusive causal relationship between this visionary plan and the 1-stop subway. That’s simply misleading. The LRT would have more than double the capacity to serve projected ridership and its east-west alignment would better facilitate expansion of the STC area with an additional stop at McCowan – a flaw in the subway plan that City Planning already identifies in its report shown below.


This chart cites the enhanced development potential of an extra stop in the eastern portion (McCowan Precinct) of the STC area as being an advantage of a subway route along the current RT corridor.



As the above map shows, the 7-stop LRT is already planned to travel in the corridor used for the current RT and has a stop in the McCowan precinct of the STC area. That's one of the reasons why our Chief Planner previously stated that an LRT, rather than a subway, would better stimulate economic development, while also serving more low-income residents as well as students.


(If you are unable to click and play the embedded video above, please use this link)

 

“Torontonians just want us to start building something”


The suggestion implied by users of this now familiar refrain is that the 1-stop subway will be faster to build than the LRT. The recommendation before Council suggests otherwise:


“3.  City Council request the City Manager and the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Transit Commission to remove from consideration the 3-stop McCowan Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) and continue to develop an SSE Express option, by conducting the following:

a.  retaining the services of a third-party rail transit construction and cost –estimation expert to undertake a risk assessment and detailed review of the TTC's 5 percent design cost estimates for the McCowan corridor and other possible express subway alignment options”


Three important points that I think are worth highlighting in that recommendation: first, moving forward with the 1-stop option will require going back on the previous 3-stop plan. Second, the one stop subway is only at the 5% design stage. Finally, Staff are recommending that alignments other than McCowan be explored. In short, no one is going to pick up a shovel and start digging a tunnel after the vote, if Council chooses the one-stop subway.



It’s also important to note that Staff are presenting a completion date and cost that assumes a choice not even available to Council. The above chart states that the 1-stop subway will be in service by 2025, assuming that Council approves an alignment next week. But, as previously mentioned, the recommendation regarding the subway does not provide that option. This is a significant discrepancy that must be cleared up before Councillors vote on this issue.


The 7-stop LRT, on the other hand, was at 100% design stage and shovel-ready in 2010. In fact, it was originally slated to be in operation for the Pan Am Games last year. However, circumstances have changed since then and two changes will have to be considered.


The first, and most significant, is a redesign of the LRT platform at Kennedy Station.



The diagram above, depicting the 7-stop LRT in red at the “concourse” level, is from the 2010 approved Environmental Assessment. After Council rejected the plan in favour of a 3-stop subway in 2013, Metrolinx allowed for the Eglinton Crosstown terminus (in blue) to take the concourse level. While a different alignment would be required (the Crosstown is east-west while the Scarborough LRT is north-south), the obvious solution is to run the 7-stop LRT from the subway level. The change would involve additional design work but it would result in a further improved transfer to the subway.


The other change required would be at Lawrence station. The LRT shares the same corridor with the Stoufville GO line for a portion of its 7.6 km. An additional commuter station at Lawrence was recently announced as part of GO RER/SmartTrack at the same proposed site of the LRT stop. There is a strong possiblity that having both stops in the same place would either not be technically feasible or justified from a ridership perspective. I would anticipate that this issue would require some investigation from City Staff and Metrolinx, but it doesn’t strike me as a particulary complex issue.


The two issues cited above will require some additional work but, even with those revisions, the LRT is inarguably far more advanced than the subway. Perhaps that’s why someone found it necessary to release a TTC briefing note earlier this week that presented some rather unrealistic scenarios that made the possiblity of a return to the 7-stop option seem more difficult than it needs to be.


The most egregious suggestion was that construction on the LRT could not begin until the Crosstown Station at Kennedy was finished in 2021, making the completion date late 2026. With all due respect to the TTC, this makes no sense. There has been no explanation, reasonable or otherwise, provided as to why construction couldn’t start on the other 7.6km of the route first. Start at Sheppard. Start in the middle. Start anywhere else. Finish at Kennedy Station. Or, given that the Crosstown platform would be constructed on top of the LRT platform, it is reasonable to think that work could be done on both at the same time.

 

Cost Considerations


The same briefing note used the later construction date to escalate the costs of the LRT to $3 billion due to inflation, creating sticker shock amongst some members of Council. This stated rise in cost is misleading. An escalated cost due to inflation does not mean an increase in the real cost. The value of the commitment remains constant.



As shown in the Master Agreement, the provincial government committed its project funding in 2010 dollars. Paying the inflated cost of that contribution in the year of expenditure does not change the impact to the Province in real terms.


Of more importance, and notably absent from the TTC briefing note, the LRT is a provincial project.



Queen’s Park is responsible for both the initial capital costs and, as shown in this section of the Master Agreement (Page 95 – Schedule G), the ongoing maintenance costs as well.


There is some disagreement as to whether the City would be responsible for operating costs. The wording in the agreement seen above states that the TTC will operate the LRT “under contract with Metrolinx”. The agreement further states that “an operating agreement between Metrolinx and the TTC will be prepared…on commercial terms”. It seems clear to me that Metrolinx will pay the TTC to operate the LRT, but others are steadfast in alternative interpretations.


Either way, all of the ongoing costs associated with the subway will be Toronto’s responsibility.



The above chart shows the 60-year Life Cycle costs (2016 dollars) for the 1-stop subway. The City will be responsible for $1.76 billion in recapitalization costs (replacing tracks, signals, trains, tunnel segments, etc) and $1.087 billion in operating and maintenance costs.


To be fair, let’s say that the operating costs for the LRT would be borne by the City. And, because the operating and maintenance costs aren’t broken out, let’s say that the maintenance costs are a very low percentage of the $1.087 billion. Together, that leads to a very conservative estimate of $2 billion in ongoing costs the City will have to pay for the subway that it would not be responsible for with the LRT.

 

Priorities


When we choose to build large infrastructure projects that benefit relatively few people, like the underused Sheppard subway, poorly planned Union-Pearson Express (UPX), and unnecessary Gardiner East rebuild, there is less funding available to serve your real needs.


A 24-station LRT network would not only provide more transit for Scarborough residents but would also leave an average of at least $33 million extra every single year for the next 60 years available for daycare spaces, youth recreation programs, parks, libraries, and affordable housing.


Despite a steady diet of populist rhetoric, the project isn’t even that popular. Poll after poll shows that Scarborough residents see through pandering statements, caring more about whether new transit will take them where they need to go rather than the type of vehicle.


Council will meet on July 12 with an opportunity to put people before politics. Let’s move forward move with 24 stops for Scarborough.

   

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