Development politics does divide metropolitan areas, not rail transit. But for how much longer?


Mariachi Plaza Station in East Los Angeles via Wikipedia/GTD Aquitaine

This morning’s post in Next City authored by Sandy Smith ” When Rail Transit Reshapes the Metropolitan Divides” got me thinking about the age-old chicken and egg argument of development versus transit.  This article talks about how Washington’s Metro as like many other rail transit systems, with the exception of New York’s has provided rail transit based on racial and economic lines.  This is no different in Toronto and in Los Angeles.

In the article, they mention that in many metros

light rail (has) become a magnet for younger, well-educated urbanites who desire convenience without having own a car, and these people gravitate to neighbourhoods around rail transit stations where they are located.

While this maybe true, I tend to think about development politics where decisions are made on what to build and what income levels are desired in these neighbourhoods.  Condominiums tend to gravitate towards higher income and there is nary of a thought to develop affordable or mixed income higher density development within 800 metres or 1/2 mile (the desired mobility hub radius as defined by Metrolinx).  This also has to do in part with NIMBYism.  Whether it is the fear of gentrification or the myths of building high density complexes in middle to higher income neighbourhoods for the fear of increased traffic, lower property taxes or God forbid “those people”, many politicians don’t have the backbone to quell the fears of existing residents. Re-election is always on the mind of politicians – especially the lifers.

So with development politics comes those decisions made to provide more affordable lower income and lower density housing in the suburbs.  Therein lies the problem of transportation or more specificially transit equity occurs, something Collens, Hertel and Keil mention as in their paper “Switching Tracks: Towards Transit Equity in the Greater Toronto Area

Bus service does become inadequate and has been repeated in every metropolitan area.  Low density comes with low demand for transit.  Transit then becomes an afterthought, and therefore transit becomes a “social service” pitting the automobile versus conventional public transit.

Transit planners jobs are only to think about providing service where the greatest demand is based on ridership levels.  If ridership along certain corridors burst to levels that go beyond providing frequent bus service, then higher order transit is considered.  But increasing ridership does not happen by fluke.  Development must occur, although in many American cities, they have planned rapid transit hoping that higher ridership follows.  In Toronto, not so was the case with the Sheppard Subway.

As much as local, provincial and some regional policies are meant to account for and balance the sustainability trends of climate change, land use and transportation planning, economics and now technology, development politics tends to trump all.  Development politics is the real reason for economic disparities, not a mode of transit.  This is what many authors miss.

We need more leadership like Mississauga City Council who has made it a goal to provide affordable housing along the Hurontario Street light rail corridor.  Although 10% is not a desirable amount, it is a start.  20% is more desirable along rapid transit corridors and 15% within the 800 metres.  We also need developers like Westbank who propose to provide a mix of affordable rental housing at the soon to be redeveloped Honest Ed’s site in Toronto.

As mentioned earlier, technology will definitely shape how we build our cities and suburbs as they will be shrinking.  Mobility and the fast rise of autonomous vehicle will reshape urban design. Bern Grush mentioned this during his talk at Mississauga Moves in 2015.  How will this reshape development politics and will it level the playing field? Transit certainly also has to play a role in how suburban and urban communities wil be shaped.

Development politics and providing higher order transit has repeated itself for decades without it ever being solved.  Now with disruptive technology as a game-changer, this will force the hands of policy makers and politicians alike while planners and developers will have to find ways to be creative in development and planning rapid transit.


How street smart will we become? Sam Schwartz has the answer.


I was initially hesitant in reading Schwartz’s book as one of those same old reads that speak about the same transportation policy issues ad nauseum.  My curiosity got the better of me. What the heck. Shit, the book was free anyway.  I felt like I was one of those book critics since they receive free copies to critique and/or promote anyway.

Schwartz begins his book with a bit of history about transportation growing up in Brooklyn.  At various points, he somehow aligns transportation failures led to his Brooklyn Dodgers moving to Los Angeles.

The book does go through the common transportation mots du jour such as walkability, WalkScores, walkability, Complete Streets in response to  the continued ails and fails of past and current planning of sprawl and transportation disgust surrounding the car. Schwartz throws shout outs to the usual suspects in Donald Shoup (parking), Jarrett Walker (transit planning), Todd Litman (everything transportation) and Dan Burden (walkability).  He even name dropped my friend James Rojas and his Latino Urbanism.

This is what I feared. Transportation and urban planners have heard all this terminology before and I was ready to stop reading or at least skip to the end.  I decidedly read on.

Schwartz was ahead of this time with his plans to improve transportation.  I could relate.  The naysayers were about maintaining the status quo with service standards, level of service, and transit planning responding to the horrible suburban neighbourhood designs that exist today. It even hearkened me back to a discussion I had with one of my fellow transit planners, let’s call him Greg, while planning a future route network in a burgeoning neighbourhood.  It got heated.  I wanted to plan for a grid with transfers and increased walking distances while Greg wanted to maintain the status quo.  I’m sure this was the type of resistance Schwartz encountered.

Schwartz’s book touched upon concepts of the sharing economy, Uber and open data.  The final few chapters interested me.   Open data and mobile technology will change how we travel and its coming at lightning speed.    Cars will be here to stay, but we need transportation to be equitable, which has been elusive since the Interstate Highway System was built.  Transit has been an afterthought.

While I disagree with Schwartz in that we still compete with the car, I agree with him that technology coupled with regulating disruption, will level the playing field.  Future policy decisions must be shaped to recognize these changes.

As a scholar of transportation policy and while I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but insert the works and knowledge of Pamela Blais, Gabe Klein, Tim Papandreou, Jeff Speck, Brent Toderian and another Brooklynite Ken Greenberg.   One of my goals after finishing the MPA program is to develop a course on transportation policy. Schwartz’s book would be on the reading list.

The problem I encountered over the years, which Schwartz does allude to, are the silos we encounter.   We need to find a way to marry policy with planning in the transportation field.  For undergrads learning the ropes on transportation, I would highly recommend Smart Cities.

Demise of conservatism, hockey and football in Toronto region

Is Toronto and the region turning the page?

Earlier this year I tweeted that Toronto by nature is small-c Conservative with which Richard Florida responded that I might be onto something. 

Several months later Toronto Star reporter Christopher Hume posted an article on Toronto being the bastion of old-style conservatism.  While voters in the Greater Toronto Area and major urban centres voted for the Liberals, Toronto City Council is by and large still conservative.  Which in turn leads to risk aversion and trickles down to staff.  But times might be changing.

So what does sports have to do with it? 

Toronto has not had a university program win a football championship since the early 90s when U of T won the Vanier Cup.  The popularity of the CFL and the Argos in this region, by and far is dwindling.  Do you really believe the Argos moving to BMO field will change its fortunes? Doubtful. 

While hockey is popular in this country, many in this region still hold out hope that the Leafs will one day win the Stanley Cup.  But even then, who can afford hockey with families strapped for cash and competition for ice time?

Football and hockey align with old style conservatism. 

Look no further to basketball and soccer. 

Cyle Larin, Anthony Bennett, Jonathon Osorio – Brampton

Cory Joseph – Pickering

Andrew Wiggins – Vaughan

Nick Stauskas – Mississauga

Ryerson and McMaster basketball programs are currently in the Top 10 in the nation. 

Is it a coincidence the inner ring of GTA suburbs are more indicative of new voting patterns and trend in sports toward basketball and soccer?  I think not.

Mississauga Moves – As told by a former transit planner.


Earlier today, I attended the Mississauga Moves. As a former transit planner, I went in with an open mind knowing that this event would be attended by former colleagues and those in the transportation profession that I acquainted myself with over the years.

This one day conference highlighted several subjects which will be included its updated Transportation Master Plan, slated for release in 2016.  For a quick journo’s summary of today’s events, have a read of Kelly Roche’s post.  Mississauga Moves Draws Hundreds: Excitement About the Future of Transit.  

Topics included:

  • A running commentary on Mississauga’s transportation and land use planning history
  • Complete Streets and its association with active transportation and public health
  • A Mississauga Transitway tour or Transit Planning workshop – I attended the former.
  • A quick overview of autonomous vehicles
  • Promotion of Sam Schwartz’s book Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and Fall of Cars.

My sober second thoughts throughout today’s conference were on display with the hashtag #mississaugamoves2015.

Mississauga is a maturing Greater Toronto Area suburb that finally got its act together over the last 15-20 years dedicating itself to intensification – including that of the City Centre core and its commitment to alternative forms of transportation.  They have committed to an active transportation plan, complete streets and a revamp of its current transit network.

I will admit, I was never a fan of the design of Mississauga’s Transitway.  While there are good intentions of building rapid transit connectivity, it is a homogeneous and overly simplistic way of building a transit corridor.  There is no “there there” with no mixed use development or plans for bike paths at any point along the corridor. The tour provided us with the first 5 stations that are currently open.  Several stations will have park and ride lots and bike parking. Main hubs will be at Winston Churchill, City Centre and the Renforth Gateway.

Jarrett Walker was hired to revamp MiWay’s current circuitous and rather confusing network. As a self-professed change agent, this was one of the things that frustrated me as a newly minted transit service planner who worked on big picture regional planning in Los Angeles.   Those who know or follow Jarrett Walker through his blog or his Twitter account know about his work in improving transit networks, especially in car-oriented cities.  I only attended the last portion of the transit planning workshop, but I witnessed what is asked of the public during its exercises.  Planning transit routes for different segments of passengers is very difficult. But it goes to show that some transit planning means there are hard choices to be made – some may not like the increased stop spacing or walking distances to stops, but a new network is meant to be a more efficient one for all passengers.

While the transit network is changing, so will how we travel.  Bern Grush, who I met several years ago at Transport Futures event on road pricing, gave a presentation on autonomous vehicles.  You know, the self-driving cars the media is frothing over.  Grush mentioned that if self driving cars dominate our roads, the gains planners made in curbing single occupancy vehicles will be all for naught. Instead, as an example, we must plan for self-driving transit otherwise transit will die.  Grush’s best guess is that cars will be non existent in 2070 or sooner.   Mississauga’s Transportation Master Plan must recognize and incorporate this fast and furious technology that is happening before our very eyes.  Regulation will be fluid but necessary.  Just like the challenges the sharing economy has on policy, so will autonomous vehicles.  I am sure someone like Susan Shaheen or Tim Papandreou would have more to say about this.


Sam Schwartz (shown above) was the keynote speaker.  Much of his context was from American cities and cherry picked some maps from Toronto, which clearly wasn’t relevant to the Mississauga discussion.  His presentation solely focused on transportation modes and very little about transit equity, something a fellow attendee Michael Collens, and others wrote about. Sam is very respected in transportation circles on his knowledge and forward thinking on transportation issues.  His presentation reminded me of the one Ellen Dunham-Jones did while in Edmonton in several years where there was very little context of the place they were presenting to.

Overall, while much of this conference was a bit transportation geeky for planners and engineers, with the abundance of text and charts, the conference was well put together.  Mississauga’s TMP will be a fluid document moving forward.  The city must continue to align itself strategically with other fields like technology, sharing economy and public health.

Canada does not have a Ministry of Cities. What does this mean? Nothing.

Image courtesy of CTV News

Yesterday, the names for Cabinet postings were released and no Minister of Cities was named. What does this mean?  Nothing. One person even voiced their displeasure over Twitter that a Minister for Cities, in name, did not happen.

Former Edmonton City Councillor Amarjeet Sohi was named the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. I can speak from personal, yet arms length experience, about then Councillor Sohi during my time in Edmonton.  He was present at several Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) conferences wanting to learn more about the transit industry.  More than what he learned as an Edmonton Transit bus operator.  He was a strong advocate for transit and during budget time he was trying to find ways to squeeze more dollars for increased transit not only within his ward but also for the City.  IMHO, a great choice for the Cabinet post.

Brent Toderian, Richard Florida, and most recently, Alexandra Flynn wrote in support of a formal Ministry of Cities.  The election results proved that cities were important and MPs were elected from major urban centres from coast to coast which means city issues should be on the agenda.

A formal Ministry of State for Urban Affairs lasted less than a decade in the 1970s under Pierre Trudeau’s administration.  Even Richard Tindal, a retired professor, commented on such a formal revival in a response to Alexandra’s article.

The importance of large cities is beyond dispute, as is their need for more powers and more fiscal capacity. But I’m not sure about this article’s call for a “strong institutional relationship between the federal government and urban regions.” Such a relationship was introduced at the end of the 1960s with the creation of the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs (MSUA) and the convening of national tri-level conferences with municipalities represented in their own right. That innovative approach was a miserable failure. The MSUA couldn’t provide a coordinated approach to urban issues because the many ministries involved jealously guarded their turf. The tri-level conferences accomplished little because of resistance from the provinces unhappy with federal encroachment on “their” municipalities. Long term financial support from the federal government is certainly desirable – if political pressures don’t undermine and divert the urban focus that this funding should support – but I’m rather leery of a new institutional arrangement.
I’m also a bit dubious about the call for special legislation and enhanced powers for individual large municipalities. The City of Toronto Act was passed with much fanfare in 2006, but it is difficult to find much evidence of its beneficial impact. The City had long agitated for additional taxing powers, received them, used only two of them (hesitantly) and then abolished one of those during the term of Rob Ford. Yes, big cities need some additional financial help, especially with respect to infrastructure, but they also need elected councils willing to make tough decisions and to use the revenue-raising powers they already have.

In Alexandra’s article, she mentioned about Section 92 of the Canadian Constitution which formally makes cities creatures of the provinces.  In the past I have called for a removal of this section because we are in different era where municipalities are making the hard decisions, not the federal government. While this is happening more so in the USA, a metropolitan or devolution revolution is not happening in Canada just yet.  I called for one to occur, especially in the Greater Toronto Area in a 2014 post on Global News with respect to regional governance.

Although cities have a strong representation in the federal caucus, Trudeau is running a national government, which means urban, suburban and rural interests must be listened to.  No matter the demographic level, there are still communities.  It does not mean cities will be neglected.  There is a political strategy in play. Towns and villages need infrastructure improvements as well. But this new ministry could still mean the possible introduction of national urban, transit or housing program.  MPs will push for it. The Big City Mayors Caucus, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, AUMA and other advocacy groups will continue to voice concerns that cities are faced with. Trudeau has committed to $125 billion in federal money that will close the gap on cities’ infrastructure needs.  Many city advocates, urbanists, etc will be watching to see what happens during this mandate.

For now, it’s semantics.

Local parochialism still defines Brampton after debate on LRT route

2015-10-27 23.21.03

Last week, Brampton City Council decidedly took two steps backward denying their city’s $400 M provincial funding portion because they wanted a made in Brampton solution.

The Hurontario-Main LRT line is simply meant to mirror the Missisauga-Brampton high order transit line that exists today and already has high transit ridership.

Some of the councillors during the debate claimed that the Brampton portion of the LRT had low projected ridership number for the next 15 years.  What they had mistaken is that Brampton just like Port Credit are the beginning of the line and would generate lower projected boardings.  Second, Brampton does not have the existing high density along Main Street.  The Main Street corridor is low density, has historical character and is in desperate need of intensification.

Past Brampton councils mirrored the image of old, white, and rural with the leadership of former mayors Peter Robertson and Susan Fennell. For those who are reading this blog, do a Google Maps search of Brampton.  You will find the true to form characteristics of suburban sprawl, industrial development and power centres.  Brampton council continued their make decision making based on the past and not the future.

I watched the last four hours of public deputations and council debate. I noticed a drastic difference of who was in support for the Brampton portion of LRT – predominantly young, progressive, worldly and decidedly of ethnic minority. This is the future of Brampton.  Yet it was those NIMBYs, small c-conservative supporters who were under the group Citizens for a Better Brampton who caught the attention of several city councillors who thought this portion of the LRT was a bad idea.

The Hurontario-Main LRT line is a REGIONAL line and therefore would benefit all residents of Peel Region, namely Brampton and Mississauga.  As it the current arrangement stands, this would be a Provincially funded project and would be operated by Metrolinx.  Brampton’s portion of the line had to be vetted through various public consultations, alongside inputs from City staff and Council.

So now that Brampton’s portion of the funding has been rescinded and put back into the pot for other worth transit projects, how do they go forward.  Certainly a “made in Brampton” solution is very short sighted.  To expect to go cap in hand to the newly elected Trudeau government because several ridings went Red would be a disaster.  This could go eerily go down the road of the Scarborough subway debate. It’s a strategy that the Liberals must fend off.

Peel Region is currently updating their Transportation Master Plan and the City of Brampton just completed theirs in September.  Their transportation policy intentions mirror each other, and must adhere to provincial policy (ie Provincial Policy Statement).  Hurontario and Main Streets are part of Peel’s Regional corridor, and while the region has precedence, it but has no clout as a higher order of government.

If there was a true Greater Toronto Area regional governance model with weighted voting and funding mechanism, as I do propose, this would play out much differently.  In the meantime, would the City of Brampton be adults and begin the discussion to consider revenue tools and P3s to fund this route or network?  What would this Brampton Transit operated LRT route look like? Many other questions need to be asked.

Once again this is the case of politicians who should stay out of the planning process and let the professionals handle the technical work. Brampton Council is staying to its residents “don’t worry, we’ve got this”, when now they’ve gone down a murky road. I will be intently watching how this all plays out. Parochialism never wins.

Vehicle kilometres travelled should added as measurement tool for future developments

New development proposals must adhere to planning and environmental policies and regulations before being approved.  As planning is moving towards multidisciplinary and holistic approaches, I am proposing a new tool – measuring vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT).

Image – Wikipedia

Currently traffic impact studies are done to mitigate the effects of new developments on existing and future conditions based on the level of service (LOS). As mentioned in an earlier post on LA Streetsblog, an update to current environmental regulations are proposed as their pertain to transportation impacts.  LOS would be replaced with VMT as a new measurement tool.

This change is intended to “measure whether or not a project contributes to other state goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing multimodal transportation, preserving open spaces, and promoting diverse land uses and infill development”. As the author’s of the blog state, VMT as a measurement is easier and faster to estimate and measures the project’s effectiveness on overall travel instead of focusing on delay at certain intersection.

I concur with the blog post developers use LOS to build to propose and build cheaper projects in suburban and rural areas.  This not only flies in the face of current environmental regulations, but also is on top of the perverse subsidies received by creating by new suburban development, as mentioned in Pamela Blais’ book Perverse Subsidies.

If proposed projects can show a decrease in VKTs while having less of an effect on climate change and public health, then approval should be easier.

In Ontario’s case, cities and regions would have to take a leadership role by applying for an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) and defend them at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). There would definitely be challenges made at the OMB by developers and possibly expert witnesses from the engineering profession. I cannot fathom the OMB denying such a request since it would meet the criteria of many, if not all planning policy and environmental regulations.

Many American cities have already taking a leadership role in this matter.  I don’t see why it shouldn’t be happening in Ontario’s municipalities.