toronto and sydney: triumphs for network planning, not just light rail

Breakthrough news on rail battles in both Toronto and Sydney, both of which I posted on recently (Toronto, Sydney).  

  • Sydney's state government has made it official.  The one-way loop of the Sydney Monorail, designed to decorate the tourism-convention playground of Darling Harbour without being very useful to anyone, is to be torn down.  While the decision is being described as a move toward light rail — plans for which are definitely moving forward — it's really just a decision to invest in transit lines that do useful things — such as running in both directions, running efficiently enough to justify reasonable fares, and connecting with many other services so that people can go where they want to go, not just where you want to take them. 
  • Toronto City Council has definitely scrapped Mayor Rob Ford's plans to spend all of the city's transit resources on a few expensive outer-suburban subway segments designed to serve small parts of the region.  The move opens the way to move forward on more cost-effective light rail projects that will enrich mobility across the entire city.

Toronto transit commentator Steve Munro makes an important point, which could also be said of Sydney:

This is an important day for Toronto.  We are on track for a [light rail]-based plan and for a more detailed evaluation of our transit future than we have seen for decades.  Talking about one line at once, about fundraising for one project at once, is no longer an accepted way of building the city.  

That's the key.  The Sydney Monorail failed because it was "one line at once" — a project conceived in isolation with no interest in being part of a complete network.  And in Toronto, a city with numerous desperate rapid-transit needs, planning will no longer pit neighborhoods against each other to the degree that Mayor Ford wanted to do.  Instead, Toronto can move forward on projects that fit together into a more complete rapid-transit grid — serving "anywhere to anywhere" trips.

Finally, a warning to technophiles!!  Technophile commenters will doubtless chalk this up the Sydney decision as a defeat for monorails in general.  I disagree.  It's a defeat for one-way loops, poor connectivity, and symbolic as opposed to actual mobility.  The monorail didn't fail just because it was a monorail, but because it was a poorly designed line.  Likewise, the Toronto outcome isn't a victory for light rail or a defeat for subways, but merely a commitment to better network design.

toronto: earth to mayor: subways are expensive!

Toronto readers, today's Globe & Mail everything you need to know about Mayor Rob Ford's dream of building expensive subways under low-density suburbia, thereby spending billions that could be spent expanding actual mobility (and access) where it's most needed and demand is highest.  The article is about the crucial Eglinton corridor, an obvious grid-element that could help thousands of travellers get where they're going without having to go through downtown, thus adding to capacity problems there.  But the same logic applies to an underground extension of the Sheppard East line toward Scarborough, which the mayor has also mooted.  Reporter Adrian Morrow has done his homework (not just by talking to me) and he carefully sets aside all the main talking points of the suburban-subway advocates.

Bottom line:  Going underground is expensive, so we do it only when we really need to!  Responsible planning fights hard for space on the surface — especially in space-rich low-density suburbs — before sacrificing millions just to get transit "out of the way" of cars.

basics: expertise vs. activism

The planning professions work in a grey zone between expertise and activism, and managing these competing impulses is one of our hardest tasks.

As a transit planning consultant, I don’t worry much about being perceived as an advocate of transit in general.  Experts in any field are expected to believe in its importance.  But I do try to keep a little distance between my knowledge about transit and the impulse to say “You should do this.”  A good consultant must know how to marry his own knowledge to his client’s values, which may lead him to make different recommendations than he would do as a citizen, expressing his own values. Continue Reading →

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

This post is sentimental and off-topic, apart from its obvious link to the triumphs of Canadian transit and of Vancouver in particular.  But hey, it’s my blog.


Though I lived in Canada for only a year, I hope my fondness for the country comes through in this sentimental meditation on Canadian thanksgiving.  I wrote it five years ago around this time, when I was based in Vancouver, but it all feels true enough today.

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is Monday, October 11.  May it be a day of joy and gratitude for all of HT’s Canadian readers, and for anyone who’s ever admired their remarkable nation.


The Perils of Average Density

In his 2010 book Transport for Suburbia, Paul Mees notices a fallacy that seems to be shared by sustainable transport advocates and car advocates.  Both sides of this great debate agree that effective transit requires high density.

Sustainability advocates want higher urban densities for a range of reasons, but viability of public transit is certainly one of them.  Meanwhile, advocates of car-dominance want to argue that existing low densities are a fact of life; since transit needs high density, they say, there’s just no point in investing in transit for those areas, so it’s best to go on planning for the dominance of cars.  Continue Reading →

The Perils of Succeeding “On Average”

Two recent comments on different topics got me thinking about averages, and why people like to talk about them more than they like hearing about them.

Toronto transit expert Steve Munro made this comment on the familiar perils of transit operations in that city:

In Toronto, the TTC reports that routes have average loads on vehicles, and that these fit within standards, without disclosing the range of values, or even attempting any estimate of the latent demand the route is not handling because of undependable service.  Service actually has been cut on routes where the “averages” look just fine, but the quality of service on the street is terrible.  Some of the planning staff understand that extra capacity can be provided by running properly spaced and managed service, but a cultural divide between planning and operations gets in the way.

Continue Reading →

Toronto: A New Frequent Network Plan

In the midst of all the frequent-network-mapping fervor, here comes the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) with a proposal for consistent all-day 10-minute frequency on a network of critical lines covering high-density parts of the city.  A frequent network map is already in the newspaper, but it remains to be seen if this brand will make it onto their system map, along the lines of similar brands in  PortlandLos Angeles, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and Salt Lake City among other North American peers.  Anyway, here’s the map:

F456a1d74fd19961fbe397bf35a0 Continue Reading →