Expect future rail choice on Eglinton route to reflect developers’ whims.
There's something almost new Age about infrastructure, in that it all begins with a healthy dose of positive visualization.
This was clear on August 27 when TTC commissioners and the VP of Bombardier traded barbs over a cancelled request for proposals for new low-floor streetcars.
The train-maker was incensed that the TTC had walked away from the original contract offer.
Bombardier's Mike Hardt, in an overlong deputation delivered with the bluster of an aging rock star, blamed staff. "This is probably the first RFP many of you have written in your entire careers," he said. "Every system likes to think it's unique."
And sometimes it is. Toronto's streetcars use a "single-point track switch" system: the inner wheels do the turning work, pulling the outer ones by brute force. Turning radii across the system are tighter: 11 metres versus the more standard 25 metres in other cities.
Technically, this makes the TTC a "legacy" system. Other words might be "quaint," "unique," "historic" or "frustrating." But it means trains not designed for Toronto will likely derail, as TTC staff engineer Stephen Lam noted.
When Bombardier was the only bidder, it offered cars from its existing line, hoping the TTC would modify 90 intersections, at a cost of $10 million, to suit them. Now the company admits the possibility of modifying vehicles.
But with only two offers so far, one from Bombardier, the other at the last minute from bit player Alstom Transport of France, it's still not clear whither Bombardier's fanciful behaviour will lead.
It's perhaps a taste of the finicky negotiations to come as Toronto tries to connect its aging downtown grid to a shiny new suburban LRT system.
The Transit City light rail plan is intended to deliver on the TTC promise that "no one should be disadvantaged by not having a car."
At an open house at Humber Valley United Church on August 25, the city was selling improved public transit in the form of an Eglinton crosstown LRT. But it might have been better off tweaking the presentation to sell public transit, period.
By 2031, at peak hours, the line is projected to carry 5,400 riders, barely enough to make LRT economically viable. (Subways need about 10,000 riders to break even.)
Which means planning where to put LRT lines is a matter of finding sweet spots where they can become their own justification, investing capital today that will result in development tomorrow.
How you feel about that might depend to some extent on where you live.
At Humber Valley, the packed hall of mostly elderly residents studied one of the posterboard panels to find themselves on a zoning map.
Eglinton has as many moods as you'd expect in such a broad city. Out east, it's "mixed use" and "employment." Closer to the church, it's "neighbourhoods." That can mean many things. Around there, it means circuitous suburbs.
"Say you take this thing to the airport," said one resident to a city staffer. "Is there going to be room for luggage?"
Beside him, a woman moved through the room muttering, "Crazy." At one panel she nearly vibrated with disbelief.
"They're going to have people just crossing the street [to the trains], with all those bikes and cars right there. Crazy. It's crazy." Apparently local roads are crossed by dirigible, if at all.
Even supporters were suspicious of ending up in a transplanted downtown.
One local referred to the western stretch of Eglinton as a greenbelt. Lead architect Don Verbanac corrected him, calling it a "transportation corridor."
The gent confided in me later that he was worried about diagrams that showed a neat progression of "property line, sidewalk, bike lane, road."
Where he lives, the property line is behind yards of open green space that conversations have led him to fear will be filled in by developers mouthing support for 21st-century transit.
Let's hope someone from city planning is watching.
In the east end, development could go too fast as well, turning mixed-use, lower-income, small-business enclaves into condo hives.
Midtown, stops on the proposed Eglinton line are closer together. In suburban reaches they'd be farther apart. How much thought has been put into the effect on local businesses - and the community, which is present though somewhat hidden, as it isn't pedestrian-based?
But planned well, the first real crosstown line built since the Bloor-Danforth could also bring out the subtle flavours of communities in unpredicted ways.
At a similar meeting at Scarborough's Don Montgomery Rec Centre on August 27, right at the end of the proposed LRT line, locals were outnumbered by staff and consultants five to one.
Residences here are set far back from Eglinton, so the area doesn't seem to be terribly engaged with the LRT issue.
But bring in real transit and I suspect you'll find a sudden spike in vibrant on-street culture waiting for a reason to occupy more than just storefronts and apartments.
By contrast, we may find that there wasn't much waiting beneath the detached houses on serpentine roads in the seemingly engaged Humber Valley neighbourhood - or we may find a wellspring of youthful urban vibrancy waiting for an outlet.
LRT could be the perfect symbol for Toronto's flavour of new-meets-old, assuming someone manages to make some new streetcars that work on old tracks.