February 24, 2016

The Daily Durning: Reviving the Cable Car

Says Durning:

I hope the idea for a gondola up Burnaby Mountain is revived – this time pursued with more vigour. It could also be an urban tourist attraction and perhaps SFU could ‘cash’ in on it.

From NextCity:


A Swiss-Canadian company unveiled a proposal over the weekend to build a privately funded cable car system across Toronto’s Don Valley, connecting downtown with the urban greenery surrounding the Evergreen Brick Works, a former quarry and industrial site turned environmental community center. …

Each car would be equipped with bike racks and be fully accessible for those with mobility challenges. Dale estimates it could attract between 500 and 1,000 riders a day, and between 220,000 and 515,000 a year.


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Via Architect This City

Guest Post: For whom the road tolls?


For those of who were following Architect This City during the Gardiner Expressway East debate here in Toronto, you might remember that Darren Davis (transport planner with Auckland Transport) wrote a guest post called, Three minutes that rule the world – Will demolishing the Gardiner East actually make traffic worse?

It was an incredibly popular post at the time, so I’m thrilled that Darren volunteered to do another one on road tolls. This is a topic that I’m very interested in and have written about a few times. Road pricing, as you’ll see below, puts us in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But sooner or later I think we will need to get our head around it, as will many other cities.

(Edited version.  Full article here.)

In a world where time is money, we are constantly berated about the economic costs of congestion. In 2011, the Toronto Board of Trade estimated that congestion in the Toronto region alone cost the regional economy $6 billion a year, rising to an estimated $15 billion in 2031 should no action be taken. More recent research by the CD Howe Institute pegs this figure at up to $11 billion.

Given these sorts of eye-watering figures, one might be tempted to think that car drivers, and in particular the goods industry, would be flinging their wallets open at the chance to buy their way out of congestion. And in fact Toronto has the 407 Express Toll Route which has elements of variable road pricing. However, while the 407 ETR carries around 350,000 vehicles per day, price increases have been matters of controversy. …

Similar stand-alone efforts to address congestion in Metro Vancouver with tolled routes, such as the Port Mann Bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway and the Golden Ears Bridge, have fallen well short of their projected traffic volumes, while nearby untolled bridges such as the Patullo Bridge are heavily congested. We have a similar experience in New Zealand where our two tolls roads, with car tolls of $2 and $2.20 respectively, experience diversion rates of up to 30% to the alternative but substantially longer and slower free routes.

This brings up a fundamental paradox: Congestion costs the economy a fortune and congestion is a top-of-mind frustration, yet people seem reluctant to pay even comparatively small amounts to bypass congestion. …

The very few cities that have actually had significant success at reducing traffic congestion – notably Singapore, London and Stockholm – have done this through cordon-based congestion pricing wherein if you pass the cordon, you pay the congestion charge. …  The latest Travel in London report states that “Over the 10-year period from 2003, total trips have increased by 11.4 per cent …  Car driver trips decreased by 12.7 per cent over the same period.”  …

Stockholm has experienced a permanent reduction in traffic of about 20% across the toll cordon and congestion decreased by 30 – 50% – which demonstrates that traffic volume reductions have a disproportionately positive impact on congestion. About half of the “disappearing” drivers changed to transit, the rest to other alternatives such as different departure times and destinations and taking fewer trips.

For more on Stockholm, I suggest reading the Tools of Change case study on Stockholm Congestion Pricing.

Before and after congestion charge photos of traffic levels in Stockholm


While this sounds very promising, congestion charging has significant equity implications and requires upfront investment to provide people who either choose to or can no longer afford to drive with transportation alternatives. Both Stockholm and London invested very heavily in public transit in advance of implementing congestion charging.

And this brings up a big issue for Toronto.

For congestion charging to have a meaningful impact on congestion without stifling economic activity or impeding people’s ability to move around, the core capacity of Toronto’s transit system would need to be addressed first. In particular the Yonge Line capacity enhancements, Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail and most likely the Downtown Relief Line would need to be in place to provide both capacity and choice for people who either needed or wanted a travel alternative to any congestion charge.  

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From the Toronto Star:

How well do the new Queens Quay bike lanes serve Toronto cyclists?


The new-look Queens Quay officially opened last Friday with many appealingly fresh details to grab the eye — a tree-lined plaza, rejigged streetcar tracks, an extra-wide sidewalk often made of red granite blocks, not the usual concrete — but what got the most use right away was the two-way bike lane.

Toronto cyclists have been waiting since the project began in November 2012, and while they weren’t alone — joggers and people in wheelchairs also took to the lanes — they’ve been out in force taking advantage of the new way to ride. Stephen Spencer Davis gave it a try, too.

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From Ken Ohrn: REID: Busting some myths about pedestrian collisions – Spacing Toronto


Toronto Public Health published a report this week analyzing the police statistics for collisions where vehicles hit pedestrians and cyclists, Pedestrian and Cycling Safety in Toronto (PDF).

The report counters some common myths that are heard whenever vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions are reported in the news. The first reaction, from police and the public, is often that pedestrians are always jaywalking, so their own behaviour is the cause of the problem.

However, the report’s analysis of the statistics (Table 18, p. 27) shows that, in 67% of cases, pedestrians had the right of way when they were hit by a vehicle. Only 19% of the time were the pedestrians crossing without the right of way, and the other 14% cannot be determined.

Another common reaction is that pedestrians are hit because they’re texting or on the phone or otherwise not paying attention. But the report’s analysis shows that pedestrians were inattentive in some way only 13% of the time (p. 30-31).

In other words, most pedestrians are hit while they are obeying the law, and paying attention to their surroundings, but a vehicle comes at them in a way they can’t possibly see, predict or avoid. It is time to stop the knee-jerk blaming of the victim whenever pedestrians are hit.


More here.

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Here’s a tweet from reporter Don Peat during the debate over the removal (or not) of the Gardiner Expressway along the Toronto waterfront:



In other words, the Mayor of Toronto is saying that if the city had built transit capacity in the past, it could now completely demolish the eastern Gardiner elevated route and come closer to what Vancouver already has as a result of not building waterfront freeways in the first place.

But there’s a lesson here for us: If we fail to build transit capacity, it will be argued in the future that we need more roads and bridges (as some do already), regardless of merit or cost, because we have no other choice.  Indeed, I expect those who want to see the viaducts remain will argue, in the event of a No vote on the transit referendum, that we will need to keep them because there will be no more transit to accommodate the anticipated growth in the eastern suburbs.

(And here’s a related issue: The Citizens Assembly report from Grandview Woodland suggests the possibility of a tunnel under 1st Avenue from Clark to Victoria and perhaps beyond to get through traffic out of their neighbourhood.  Be very careful what you wish for: I can easily imagine that the Province’s engineers could conceive of a freeway connector between Highway 1 and Downtown by using the boulevard from Boundary to Nanaimo, a tunnel to the Flats, and a new road to the Viaducts.  Voila: the expressway they never got in the 1960s – and, they’ll argue, we’ll need to do it because we have exhausted transit capacity.)

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PT hasn’t covered the debate over Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway, given the amount published elsewhere. But this piece by Auckland’s Darren Davis (a participant in the SFU City Prgram’s Next Generation Transportation certificate) is worth reprinting for its insight on the impact of traffic-capacity reduction.

From Architect This City:


Guest Post: Three minutes that rule the world – Will demolishing the Gardiner East actually make traffic worse?

The decision this month on whether to demolish the Gardiner East Expressway and replace it with a surface boulevard or to rebuild it with a similar elevated structure will be a watershed moment for Toronto, akin to the decision not to have freeways in the urban core of Vancouver in the late 1970s.

There are numerous good reasons why removing the Gardiner East elevated structure is the right move for Toronto, covered previously by The Globe and Mail and in the Council for Canadian Urbanism’s open letter to Toronto City Council. If you aren’t aware of these, I strongly recommend reading them.

Also of note are two things:

  1. Just 3% of Downtown commuters drive on the Gardiner Expressway East, a tiny fraction of the 68% who arrive Downtown on public transit.
  2. The “remove” option does not reduce traffic capacity over the “hybrid” option but could reduce travel speeds in uncongested conditions (read on for why I don’t think that this will happen in real life).

However, one element of this debate that has not got much airtime is the transportation modelling that claims an additional two to three minutes travel time with the “remove” option over the “hybrid” option which retains the elevated expressway in a slightly modified form.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has stated that “I didn’t get elected to make traffic worse. And let’s be clear, removing that piece of the Gardiner will almost certainly make traffic worse.” But is it in fact true that demolishing the Gardiner Expressway East will make traffic worse as the transportation modelling claims?

The key thing to understand is that transportation modelling, which tries to predict future travel times, is the product of a bunch of assumptions which may not in fact be borne out in real life.

For example, the effect of induced traffic, where additional traffic capacity leads to additional traffic being attracted to the route, is reasonably well known but generally not factored into transportation modelling. Induced traffic happens because increased travel speeds attracts traffic that would have otherwise avoided the route at congested times; attracts people to drive where they previously used other modes and encourages trips that would not otherwise have taken place. The effect of induced traffic is to quickly nullify the benefits of adding traffic capacity.

However, what is less well known is that the reverse happens where there is either a reduction in traffic capacity (not the case in Toronto as the “remove” option retains the same traffic capacity) or speed.

This is because in this situation, four things happen:

  1. Some travel re-routes. The “remove” option with a widened Lakeshore Boulevard as part of the street grid simply gives more ability for traffic to re-route away from congestion over an elevated expressway structure where drivers are literally trapped until they reach their exit.
  2. Some travel re-times. Some people will retime trips to avoid congested travel times, such as starting and/or finishing work at less congested times.
  3. Some travel changes mode. Some people will be encouraged to change mode by the perceived worsening in traffic conditions.
  4. Some travel is avoided entirely. Some people will choose not to travel at all in the peak of the peak. For example, this could take the form of working from home or shopping on the internet instead of by car.

Transportation models only take into account the first item but not the others. The modelling is also sensitive to traffic growth assumptions and assumed mode split and trip distribution. Often transportation models assume continued growth in car travel even though per capita kilometres travelled peaked about a decade ago.

While this may all sound well and good theory, does this actually happen in practice?

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From “Highrise Nation” by Katrerina Cizek, in the Globe and Mail:

When Canadians think “highrise nation,” we tend to look elsewhere, and imagine the density of Singapore, New York City or Hong Kiong.  Yet, Toronto’s downtown St. James Town has  a density of 63,765 per square kilometre, compared with Hong Kong’s densest district, Kwun Tong, at 57,250..

 St. James Town 


Kwun Tong


And even on the outskirts of Toronto, a strip of 19 rental highrises at the north end of Etobicoke’s Kipling Ave … holds over 35,000 people per square kilometre.  You’d never feel it driving by.

Kipling Road.

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Lawrence Loh sends some good news from the Toronto waterfront: “Check out this new video on what Toronto’s formerly terrible waterfront at Queen’s Quay is going to look like this summer!”

Queens Quay was once ranked among the world’s worst streets. One magazine declared that it was “perhaps the ugliest urban waterfront boulevard of any major city.”


In a little more than two months – mark your calendars for June 19, 2015 – Queens Quay will officially reopen. Soon we’ll be strolling along the revitalized Queens Quay’s generous pedestrian promenade and riding our bikes down the new Martin Goodman Trail.

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