“Fixing Our Public Transit” with Reece Martin (RMTransit) & Arash Oturkar

These are notes from a panel at Hart House (UofT) hosted by the Hart House Student Social Justice Committee. The speakers are noted transit commentator and Youtuber Reece Martin and Arash Oturkar of CreateTO. Remarks aren’t always specifically attributed and this is not a comprehensive record.

  • CreateTO is an arms length agency of the city set up to manage it’s real estate portfolio.
  • Lots of plans: The Planning Act, the Provincial Policy Statement, the Growth Plan, the Official Plan, zoning by-laws and other guidelines.
  • Transit-supportive development: the growth plan includes MTSA’s (more significant within the Greater Golden Horseshoe). The Building Transit Faster Act includes four priority projects in the GTA (the Scarborough subway, Eglinton, the Ontario Line, Yonge North). Also relevant: the Transit Oriented Communities Act.
  • Transit Oriented Development (“TOD”) is site specific vs. Transit Oriented Communities which encompass a wider district.
  • All cities are required to have an official plan. The Toronto official plan identifies MTSAs as sites with major transit nodes in ten minutes walk or 500-800 metres (basically the transit lines already and those coming).
  • Parking too expensive/wasteful. The cost of underground parking space is 50k to 160k and two parking spaces take up the space of one apartment. The cost of construction is passed on to households (Toronto got rid of parking minimums).
  • Other planning considerations: Toronto Green Standards (transit and active transportation), RapidTO (Kingston Rd.), Toronto Poverty Reduction, Vision Zero, King Street Transit Priority, Bike Share, ModernTO.
  • Transit in the downtown core is three times better vs. the inner suburbs.
  • 36% of total emissions are from transportation, 80% of that from private vehicles.
  • Housing Now is investing in city-owned land to create affordable housing.
  • Bloor-Kipling “Six Points” (Bloor, Dundas, Kipling) was originally built in the 1960’s (car oriented). It’s a bad neighbourhood for pedestrians as areas were/are disconnected. The city intended to connect it (a two decade project of reconfiguration including simplified pedestrian way-finding for ex.).
  • Redevelopment includes a new Etobicoke Civic Centre, 2300 residential units, an elementary school, district energy. This is in partnership with a private developer.
  • 158 Borough Dr. in Scarborough Centre: a parking lot turned into housing that will have 650 units and a daycare. In walking distance of Eglinton and a future subway station.
  • Borough Dr. currently has fast vehicle speeds, the aim is to improve public realm (Vision Zero).
  • Key: parking lots near well served transit stations.
  • Question on gentrification: the city has been downloaded responsibilities, too much subsidy would be necessary for projects to be 100% affordable, land is very expensive, market units subsidize affordable units.
  • Question on stakeholders: Reece “you have to piss off David Miller”.
  • Question on resilience: TTC has reduced service (Reece raises “death spiral”), current head of the TTC ran York transit and has a “Samaritan” view. Ridership is thanks to “good, reliable service”.
  • Question about politics/voting (including anti-Ford comment and premise that we are the only jurisdiction that pays at fare box vs. subsidy): the TTC is not the only system that relies on fare box recovery (actually a good thing as it means efficiency), the risk with subsidy is that it could subsidize inefficiency. When Doug Ford got elected he didn’t cancel the Finch west LRT.
  • We’ve needed the “downtown relief line” since the 1970’s but there was a desire push development out of city centre.
  • Reece: there were bad elements to David Miller’s Transit City plan like Eglinton and Sheppard East. Jane and the waterfront are current go-forward priorities.
  • Arash: “planners make recommendations, politicians make decisions”, “in this job you can’t be pessimistic”.
  • Going virtual helped get more diversity to planning consultations.
  • Suburban ethnic areas like Thistletown and Brampton were surprised they were being consulted (research at TMU).
  • “A lot of great things have been in our planning documents for decades” but outcomes have been bad as you can twist things, find loopholes etc.
  • Cars are bad: environment, society, people’s health, the roads.
  • Jane street corridor: “we should just paint the lanes” ie. give buses their own lanes.
  • Reece: the MTSA at every single rail stop has the same radius, higher capacity should mean a wider area of impact (we need to be more sophisticated).
  • Question on TTC safety: the TTC is safer than driving statistically speaking, Toronto’s homicide rate is low. That said, “there’s a lot more anti-social behaviour”.
  • Reece favours free/low fares for certain groups but not across the board so there’s a price signal as transit is very expensive to build (free fares lead to very short pointless trips).
  • Overall topic of industrial zones/employment: “loading bay issue” limits options with industrial redesign, “industry sprawl is a huge issue”, in Vancouver there is a huge shortage of industrial land, it’s very expensive to do multilevel industrial.
  • Question about the desirability of high-rise development in the suburbs: the land value explodes where you build transit, perhaps there is a way to bring strip mall tenants back.
  • “Suburban retrofit” is a cool concept but there is a permanence to the sprawling environment.
  • Reece: can we go back to large floor plates? “Vancouverism” is going to be the death of us.
  • Toronto has way better bus service than most cities.

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