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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Own Your City

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This was actually my first visit to the SFU Woodwards campus: tribute was paid to Warren Gill – this was the third lecture in his honour – and he was credited with the initiative to establish SFU in downtown and in Surrey.

Attendees were encouraged to tweet using the #sfucity hashtag. I have produced a storify from them. Credit should also go to SFU for providing free wifi access. Thank you.

Jennifer Keesmaat
Chief Planner and Executive Director
City of Toronto

At SFU Woodwards
December 6

Cities are our greatest hope and our greatest risk. Vancouver and Toronto (where the mode share for transit is 23.3% for the journey to work is comparable to ours when using the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) rather than the city.

She has identified critical success factors that are going to be necessary for securing a different future to business as usual.

Canadian cities are suburban, auto oriented. We are not as rich we thought we were. WE have a number of perverse subsidies that have led to suburban sprawl. We need to increase density to increase the utilisation of existing infrastructure. Areas that don’t change will be left behind. The legacy we are leaving our children can be seen in the weather. Echo boomers want something different whether the city changes or not.

Illustration of city suburbs “expensive mistakes”. [For an instructive comparison see also the recent SFU lecture by Charles Marohn on “Strong Towns” which is one I missed but the video has now been posted on the Stroad to Boulevard tumblr.]

In the city of the future everything will be within short distance, which means less commuting and more time for everything else.  Is this vision what our suburbs might become? We continue to build suburbs. Consensus on how to change eludes us.

Three Critical Success Factors

1 the need to believe in a better future
She used the frequently cited prescience of the builders of the Bloor viaduct, which had the ability to accommodate the subway under the roadway 48 years before the subway opened. [As a transportation economist I have a somewhat different view of overbuilt infrastructure]
“I don’t get the baby platforms of the Canada Line” [I agree with her there]
Leaders don’t use polling to determine direction

2 the need to cultivate deep understanding about drivers for change
Clear coherent vision for the future essential for consensus. Walkable neighbourhood is better term than ecodensity
Learning and respect – fundamental to democracy

3 the need to engage to build broad and deep constituencies for city building

Chief planner round table
Our urban fabric
Resilient city
Next generation suburbs

Planners in Public Spaces

Partnered with LEGO

Transportation Planning
Feeling Congested?
The future is about moving less
Whiteboard video

One imaginative giveaway was used for on platform TTC surveys and other locations giving respondents free pack of tissues with the feeling congested? web site address on them.

80% of those polled after this exercise now agree with new funding sources for transit

[Saw this today in the National Post “I don’t much care where the money comes from, just tax me however you see fit and build, for God’s sake.”]

Belief understanding and engagement

Individual action ..every time you make a choice
Collective action .. Finding ways to shape political decision making



q Do City staff follow the advice of living where they work?

a City of TO is actually very weak at walking the talk for staff. Divisions working together on Complete Streets initiative building internal consensus. Water

q  What Provincial and Federal policies are needed?

a  Social housing … Regent park … Impossible for muni tax base to support affordable housing. Transit funding reward for density.

q Transit

a  Compare the NY subway to TTC and Canada line. Capacity!!

q Affordable housing

a  Mid rise stick construction lower price point

q How to frame conversation with professionals

a Not everything worked … you have to take risks
Look at what worked best practices as reference

Right now took it in house with councillors to ward level workshops

TO has not been as ambitious as other cities to get great buildings ( “Despite the talk, it’s now clear Keesmaat has succumbed to the same timidity that has kept Toronto from achieving the greatness it so badly wants.”  Christopher Hume Toronto Star)

Canadian cities do pretty well
Building is not the lynch pin
Great urbanism is about the neighbourhood not the building. [She said that we visit New York to see Greenwich Village or Soho not just the iconic buildings. Don’t say that to the people who run the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Centre, or the Lincoln Centre. Or am I alone in being an architectural tourist?]
Profound mistakes with heritage

“I’m very concerned with the implication that sexy buildings define a city. I don’t have stars in my eyes about starchitects.”

Gehry thinks that only two buildings in Toronto are worth preserving

q Cities to watch?

a Washington DC currently mid rise but now looking at variances for high rises
Portland OR they did it in the seventies. They stuck w the plan
New York resilience legacy of Blomberg
Removing cycling lanes “Other people do dumb things too!”
Vancouver West End plan
Old Montreal “architects with a gentle touch”

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

7 Responses

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  1. “I don’t get the baby platforms of the Canada Line” [I agree with her there]”…

    Well, as I have already mentioned, capacity of a system is mainly a 2 dimensions problem, train capacity*frequency…where train capacity is a function of train length * train wide.

    The capacity of the 19km Canada line is 15,000pphpd, and the line has cost $2B
    The 19km Eglinton LRT (Toronto) will have no better capacity, will travel at least 30% slower, and will cost 150% more ($5B+,…)

    Who is under building there?

    When come transit investment in the last decades, it is hard to think of a city which got more wrong than Toronto in fact. When Toronto is not underbuilding a transit line, it build the Sheppard subway…and then get stuck with an over investment too costly to operate, too costly to expand and too costly to abandon…


    December 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm

  2. Voony: is the capacity some theoretical maximum if we had enough trains? That’s pretty much the line we took on SkyTrain for many years. The Expo line could have carried lots of people – and the rate was sustainable for about twenty minutes before we ran out of rolling stock.

    The frequency on the Canada Line is governed by the the two single track sections – one at the end of each branch. More trains could be taken on and off at Bridgeport – but that is not a destination, simply a transfer point. Short platforms are a problem on underground stations as the train length means that end doors cannot be used – which interferes with dwell times and thus frequency again. And Richmond actually needs two trains for every one to the Airport but that is Not Allowed.

    The Canada Line is what you get when the successful bidder is allowed to adjust the specification after he has won the contract. Built down to a price not up to a standard. Conservatives know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    Stephen Rees

    December 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm

  3. yes, it is a theorical maximum, and it is what has been required by contract
    what ever the contract model, P3 or not, a therocial maximum needs to be fixed, in a realistic manner, and here it is 3 times the initial demand what seems quite reasonnable considering the RGS
    (Then no growth planned South of the tunnel).

    Train can be added whenever demand will materialize, and then longer trains can be ordered (to fit 50meters platform) – not sure where come from the assumption that longer train will have end door not useable. It seems unwise, to order all the train at the begining.

    We could argue that Bridgeport is a “destination” for all people using the suburban buses, what could somewhat justify short turning some train there. (in fact it is technically possible a Templeton).

    Assuming 51m train, (each having a capacity of 416) and 90s train interval, you end up with a capacity of 16,600pphpd… more than enough to handle the foreseable future.


    December 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm

  4. Canadian cities are not the only ones that are car-oriented and sprawl in low-density suburbs! It is the same thing all over the world, including Europe and Japan.
    At least in the later there are already train lines–newspapers and internet ads for a “soon to be build” high-rise or small subdivision always show the nearest transit lines, shops, schools etc.

    Paris intra-muros has a population density of 21 370 per km2 but for the Ile-de-France (total population–including–Paris just under 12 million) it is only 981 per km2. The lowest density is in the Grande Couronne (Departements # 77, 78, 91, 95) where the density is 455 per km2

    Red frog

    December 8, 2013 at 11:18 am

  5. The difference is that most places outside of the Americas have a long history of permanent settlements, and cities that have their basic lineaments determined by walking. It may be significant to this arguments to compare what happened in England and Germany after the war. Both had cities where there was extensive damage due to aerial bombing. Places like Dresden were carefully rebuilt and restored. Plymouth or Coventry had a completely new centres imposed on them. Moreover in Britain New Towns were built – and one (Milton Keynes) was designed around car mobility. Human beings developed urban areas at a human scale for millennia long before there were cars. Most successful places now cherish those areas, and attempt to recreate them – and regard cars as the problem. We want lots of people in central places – but not if they bring two tonnes of steel and glass with each one of them.

    Stephen Rees

    December 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm

  6. In Southern France they pretty much still lived in rural communities in the 1950s…as they had before WWI.
    (both WWI and II passed most of these areas by. The last time towns were badly damaged was during the wars of religions)
    Carts drawn by horses or oxens were used by most families (my relatives had a big work horse pulling a cart with tall wheels, unchanged in style for centuries, and a small wiry horse with a cart— that only had room for 2 adults and a child–that they used for trips to a town 10 km away).
    Few families had a car.
    Even local aristocrats–land and houses rich but cash poor–used horses or bikes for transportation.

    Boileau, a 17th century French poet, wrote a famous poem about the noise and mess in the streets of Paris, with pedestrians, sellers of various goods that they carried on push carts, horses with a rider, coaches with anything from 2 to 4-6 horses etc. At the time Paris had few wide streets..

    Right up to the early 1960s there were still a few people using horse drawn carts to deliver bread and milk door to door in the district of Bordeaux where I lived–right across the river from downtown.

    Many provincial towns, like Bordeaux, built wide boulevards in the 18th century, lined with new middle and upper class housing just outside downtown because the later was such a hassle.

    A few boulevards and squares were built in Paris too at the time, but it is only in the second half of the 19th century that huge new districts with wide avenues were built just west of the old one (the later also got boulevards, after big chunks of the old Paris were torn down).
    Haussmann, who changed the look of Paris, lived and worked previously in Bordeaux and the South west for many years.

    Red frog

    December 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm

  7. The first comment reads “When come transit investment in the last decades, it is hard to think of a city which got more wrong than Toronto in fact”

    Thru Dary Dela cruz blog, I stumbled on a very interesting report from the neptus fundation, which give some substance to the above statement. It has been the object of several article in toronto start, I link this one: pretty well.

    because it sums it all pretty well.
    It is also full of teaching for Vancouver, since we can draw parallels in many instance (like “The Transit City schemes seem to have been developed more to achieve an urban design vision than to improve transportation in Toronto” which could be be reminsicent of the cuurent Surrey approach),

    As Christopher Hume notices: “The distance between where transit is justifiable and where it captures the most votes can be considerable. ”

    It seems that official at Metrolynx and TTC don’t disagree, by offering as sole defence on the line of “Yes, but at least we build something”!

    But as Christopher Hume concludes: “To burden taxpayers with transit that will never come close to paying its way, even when they think it’s what they want, is wrong.”

    …and that bring us to the risk of the Transit Referendum…


    December 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm

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