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Old July 8th, 2007, 02:22 AM   #241
Electrify
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You know, I have a "transit plan" that would have made sense about 100 years ago that would have seen the downtown wrapped in subways, and have made Toronto a leader in metro transit in North America.

I'll draw it up and post it sometime
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Old July 16th, 2007, 11:21 AM   #242
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The great Toronto streetcar debate
July 15, 2007
Murray Whyte
Toronto Star



A sharp clang rings out on Dundas St. as the worker in the sweaty hard hat swings his iron mallet at the massive metal claw again, again and again.

Thick brown fluid oozes from a rusty joint and dribbles onto a mound of dusty concrete boulders, piled on what was left of Dundas St. here, west of Ossington Ave.

From behind temporary metal barricades, a small crowd had assembled to survey the scene: four city workers tending roughly to the wounded paw of a hobbled backhoe, its roadbed-tearing tasks unexpectedly done for the day.

One man takes a final draw on his cigarette. "Streetcars," he says, tossing the glowing butt into the rubble before shuffling away. "Waste of time."

Careful, now. In a city with few sacred cows, the Red Rocket occupies a particularly exalted place – even when it's been crippled by torn-up tracks in dire need of replacement, like here on Dundas.

"Nobody runs around saying they love the streetcar, until you try to touch them," says TTC spokesperson Marilyn Bolton.

"Then, look out."

Indeed, since it was rescued from certain death in the early 1970s by a dogged citizen movement, the streetcar, like the CN Tower or the Gardiner Expressway, has become one of our few enduring, if not universally loved, urban icons. It's fair to say no one ever got misty-eyed about a bus. But rumbling quietly along city streets, the streetcar represents, for many, a more civilized mode of in-city travel – the romance of the railway, urban-style.

"There's just something about riding the rails," says TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

But it's not all about the charm. Streetcars move more people than buses, last longer (as much as three times longer, up to 40 years), and, thanks to the system's web of overhead electric wires, run cleanly and exhaust-free. TTC statistics show that the Dufferin bus, the city's heaviest-volume bus, carries slightly more than 30,000 people per day; the King streetcar moves almost 50,000.

"The average car in Toronto carries 1.1 people," Giambrone says. "A streetcar displaces 130 cars. We're all citizens. If you assign everyone one value point, that streetcar takes priority."

All that has convinced the TTC commissioner that the future belongs to streetcars and their ilk. The city is shopping around for a fleet of new streetcars, 204 in all, at about $3 million each. Giambrone's long-term plan is a massive commitment to streetcars and light rail, in both the city's core and the distant points surrounding it.

But as the eight-months-long track replacement along Dundas St. (it started in March) shows, love can be hard sometimes.

Track maintenance is extravagant, inconvenient and painful. The Dundas reconstruction, from Howard Park Ave. in the west all the way to Broadview Ave. in the east, is the last in a series of such makeovers since the mid-'90s – tracks on King, Queen and College Sts. were all replaced in recent years. The cost of the Dundas project alone to the cash-strapped TTC: $45 million.

As the reconstruction continues in increments of several blocks, it crimps business along the busy commercial strip (by "25 per cent," guesses Maria Da Silva, the manager of Caldense Bakery at Dundas and Grove Ave., estimating the hit since construction began), clots up other important east-west arteries with overflow traffic, and coats nearby neighbourhoods in a thin layer of fine, white concrete dust.

And even when they are running, streetcars have their enemies. Drivers hate the way they create bottlenecks on major arterials, loading and unloading slowly, their open doors holding back traffic.

For passengers, they can be slow and rigid. Anything in their path – an illegally parked car, construction, an accident – stops them dead, because, of course, they can't go around. The service is unreliable: A petition is currently circulating on Queen St. E., decrying a frequency that, on paper, is promised every six minutes but sometimes stretches out to half an hour or more.

"The service is so bad, we had to do something," says Renee Knight, the petition's creator. "Don't get me wrong – I love the streetcar. This is the only way we can tell the TTC, and the city: `Hey, we care about this. We really care.'"

It's been a long time since Torontonians showed a mass outpouring of love for their streetcar system – at least since activists campaigned for its survival back in 1971.

And it will take a lot of care to restore it to its former glory. Our streetcar system ran on 48 streets in the 1940s. Now it has just 11 routes. As the sales pitch on the transfer slip for the Coxwell streetcar, now defunct, once read, circa World War II, "Your goodwill and support do promote good service."

"Streetcars are staying," read the headline in this newspaper on June 9, 1971. And Sam Cass was fuming. Less than a week before, Cass, the Metro Toronto traffic commissioner, had watched as city council let his dream die: the Spadina Expressway, which would have cleaved the Annex in two with six lanes of onrushing – or, more likely, gridlocked – cars, spiriting drivers from the outer suburbs into downtown and back.

And now this. Transit had long been an irritant for Cass, who loathed the streetcar system because it blocked his downtown traffic initiatives, like one-way streets. "No-one has found a way to get the motorist out of his car," Cass had grumpily professed in the mid-'60s, just as the Bloor subway line was being built. He told a reporter that the city's $136-million commitment to the service was "building ourselves into a box."

Despite Cass's protestations, a few decades on Toronto's contentious decision to keep its streetcars seems prescient, indeed. In Canada, it's the only streetcar system left – a shame, given the current thinking. "There is overwhelming support continent-wide for rejuvenating our heritage streetcar systems," says Amer Shalaby, a University of Toronto public transit expert.

With all of this, a very old circle is finally closing: The streetcar, abandoned as an anachronism years ago, is now seen as the transit mode of the future, along with its modern-day progeny, light-rail transit.

Charlotte, Tampa, Dallas, San Diego, Portland, Memphis, Los Angeles and Minneapolis are only a few of the North American cities re-embracing the streetcar. In Europe, where people have been better at embracing transit than car-crazy North Americans, streetcars never died.

Forty per cent of European commuters take transit, whereas in Toronto, the figure is only 18 per cent, yet it still stands as one of the highest on this continent.

Last year, total streetcar ridership here went up by 10 million, to 52 million-plus. And this year, the federal, provincial and civic governments have promised $6.1 billion to the building of 120 kilometres of new light-rail lines in Toronto by 2021, linking distant suburbs and the airport to the city centre (the Feds have agreed in theory, but have yet to write the cheque). When all the new lines are open, they'll carry an additional 175 million people per year.

While the new trains are not exactly streetcars, they'll function how streetcars are meant to: on their own, dedicated rights-of-way.

The systems have not been without their critics, most prominent among them the late John Kain, a Harvard economist who in 1965 co-authored one of the most influential modern tomes on public transit, The Urban Transportation Problem, a study that famously attacked rail transit's economic practicality.

Dubbed "the rail-basher's bible" by those in the field, Kain's stance didn't soften in the intervening decades. "With few exceptions," Kain wrote in a study for the Brookings Institute in 1999, "academic studies of the cost-effectiveness of alternative modes of transportation have found that some form of express bus system ... would have lower costs and higher performance than either light or heavy rail systems in nearly all, if not all, U.S. cities."

Kain would have supporters on St. Clair Ave. Witness the great hue and cry there recently, where a vociferous gang of local merchants pushed back hard when told their street would sacrifice a parking lane for a dedicated streetcar right-of-way. "They thought, `This will destroy the area,'" recalls local merchant Gino Cucchi.

Cucchi, who came to Canada in 1958 and started the menswear shop Gino Fashion, has watched St. Clair flourish, and then, as suburban malls became a retail force, make a long, slow decline.

As vice-chair of the area's Business Improvement Association, Cucchi took it upon himself to advocate for the streetcar right-of-way in the neighbourhood. "The idea, for me, was to keep the customers here, not send them to Yorkdale Mall," he says.

The best way to do that, he believes, is with fast, reliable transit. "In a year, St. Clair will be beautiful, clean, alive again, and it will be because of the streetcar."

He can steer them to Spadina Ave., where opposition to the streetcar right-of-way began in 1973, when it was first tabled, and remained entrenched until it opened in 1997, and proved all the opponents gloriously wrong.

"The loss of parking was fought tooth and nail," recalls Steve Munro, who runs a website, stevemunro.ca, devoted to transit issues. "The theory being that, without parking, Spadina's commercial aspect would wither away to nothing. But look at the number of people on Spadina every day, shopping. They didn't get there by driving."

Munro, 58, was one of the activists who saved Toronto streetcars from certain death in 1971. Though he's never worked for the transit commission – he's a technology services manager with the Toronto District School Board – he speaks about it with a degree of ownership. He refers to transit initiatives as "we" – "We already run a streetcar on King every two minutes, at least on the schedule" – and recently drafted a paper on how that King car, besieged by burgeoning ridership from rapid west-end development, ought to function, which the TTC is reviewing. "Transit City," the name of the TTC's rail plan for 2021, was Munro's phrase.

He knows the system has fallen a long way from its apex. "There was a real sense then of people – I wouldn't quite say loving the streetcar, but being very fond of them," he says.

"These days, the feedback I get on my site from people who hate streetcars has nothing to do with the streetcars themselves. It's that it represents, for a lot of people, crappy, crowded, unreliable service."

Before the city renewed its commitment to streetcars in the mid-'90s, the service was shedding routes, cars and ridership while the tracks deteriorated in shoddy, short-term concrete beds.

Since then, the TTC has been playing catch-up. Replacing ailing track beds, patched in the '80s on the cheap, and running the lines – badly, most say – on a near-impossible budget has cost the city not just millions of dollars, but the confidence of riders. And Giambrone knows it will be a chore to earn it back.

"`Do something about King!' – I hear that all the time," he says. "Well, what do you want me to do about it? If I add another streetcar, it just gets eaten up in traffic."

Giambrone knows a way to stop that from happening: giving all streetcars their own right of way, like on Spadina, but also giving operators the power to change the traffic lights in their favour.

In other words, in Giambrone's world, if you drive, you can wait. "That's what being a `Transit City' is all about," he says. "This is why we have to advance the debate."

To that end, an experiment: Giambrone green-lighted a temporary right-of-way on King St. later this year between Yonge St. and University Ave., wiping away taxi lanes and street parking – for a few weeks, at least. "People will see that the world doesn't end," he says. "And then we'll talk about expanding it."

Speaking of world endings, back amid the rubble on Dundas St., Binh Tran, owner of Kim Jewellers, regarded the proceedings with a shrug. "What can you do?" he said. "It's bad for business, sure. It's bad for everybody. But it's not like they do it every year. We just hope they do it quickly. When it's over, we'll be fine."

Tran cited the gain, for all the pain: less pollution, more eyes on the street. "People can see the businesses as they pass and, maybe next time, they'll stop and buy something. We need the streetcar. I really believe it helps keep us alive."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Endnote: streetcars


In researching this story about Toronto streetcars, I came across an old radio clip in the CBC's online archives. On Sept. 15, 1955, Mayor George Edward Sharpe of Winnipeg delivered an address to Winnipeggers as he accepted the city transit commission's proposal to retire the city's streetcar system in favour of diesel buses.


"I know I speak for all citizens when we wave goodbye to this final streetcar that we know another big step has been taken in the progress of our city," he said. He wouldn't live long enough to be proven wrong – he died in 1985 – but I can assure you he would have accepted it graciously.

I say this with some certainty because George Sharpe was my grandfather, and a kinder, more humane person you could scarcely imagine. He, like so many municipal leaders of the time, chose to do away with the streetcar system because he sincerely believed it was not the better way.

That belief has, of course, been proven wrong-headed by the enduring efficiency of streetcar systems in Europe and the more recent re-implementation of modern streetcar systems across North America.

And there's a poetry to it, really, as the circle closes – this old form, abandoned long ago as archaic, resurging as the wave of the future. It's a poetry I know he'd appreciate, were he here to see it.

To listen to the clip, go to http://archives.cbc.ca type "Sharpe" and "streetcar" in the search window.
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Old July 17th, 2007, 12:02 AM   #243
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Hmmm I kinda like this type of old streetcar named desire!!! Quite bohemian yet chic. Absolutely love it.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:18 AM   #244
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Streetcar shopping in a budget crisis
While the city threatens subway shutdowns, it asks citizens to check out new buys
15 August 2007
The Globe and Mail

Even as the city goes through a budget crisis, potential bidders on the massive contract to replace the Toronto Transit Commission's aging streetcar fleet are gearing up.

During the Canadian National Exhibition, from Aug. 17 to Sept. 3, two of the streetcar manufacturers expected to bid on what will be North America's largest light-rail contract will have life-size mock-ups of their high-tech vehicles on display.

Representatives of Germany's Siemens and Montreal-based Bombardier will be on hand to answer questions about their sleek light-rail cars, on public view near the Direct Energy Centre, not far from the human cannonball.

Some Ex-goers may find the midway, where the rides actually move, more interesting. Others may wonder how the TTC can afford to spend more than $1.4-billion on 204 new vehicles as the city's budget crisis forces it to consider drastic measures such as shutting the Sheppard subway.

TTC vice-chairman Joe Mihevc points out that the city's problems are not with its capital budget, which covers infrastructure and new transit equipment and is financed largely by borrowing, and with help from the provincial and federal governments. The crisis is in the operating budget, where the city faces a $575-million shortfall next year and by law cannot run a deficit.

Plus, the TTC has little choice but to move ahead with its streetcar order, as the current fleet is approaching 30 years of age and replacements are needed, he said.

Unlike its controversial $674-million subway car purchase last year, which was handed to Bombardier without competition to protect Canadian jobs, the TTC has committed to allowing several companies to bid on the streetcar deal.

Toronto plans to buy 204 new light-rail vehicles at a cost of as much as $1.4-billion. It could need more than double that if its $6-billion “Transit City” plan, which includes new light-rail lines across the city, is built. The first new cars should arrive by 2010.

The TTC used the Ex to debut its iconic Presidents' Conference Committee streetcars, predecessors to the current fleet, in 1938.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:22 AM   #245
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I like the look of the streetcars as it is now. I am not thrilled about copying everyone else's streamlined ones.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:50 AM   #246
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Well, like most things, design evolves. It's not so much copying, as the evolution of streetcar design. It happened to cars, it will happen here too. I won't be sad to see them go unless we end up with something uglier, awkward, or unreliable. Larger windows would be nice too.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:55 AM   #247
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Sometimes if a city can hang onto an original design, it becomes iconic. When they keep changing to copy (and I do think it is copying) then there is never a chance to get that unique look.A good example was London's double decker buses.
My main beef with the new streetcars is the bullet like streamlining. They are not hurtling out into space.. they are tootling down city streets. Streamlining is not a complete necessity, and it makes them look like the bland new ones all over the world from Germany to Asia. Those are almost interchangeable and none of them are really identifiable as being unique to a city. To me, they are "modern" looking, but bland and generic as well.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:59 AM   #248
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Cant the design for the streetcars be customized? For example, not all models of the Flexity Outlook look the same:
http://www.bombardier.com/MediaCente...31&Language=en
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Old August 16th, 2007, 08:08 AM   #249
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I love that they are being shown at the Ex... it kind of brings back the idea of it being a national exhibition and not just the carnival people see it as today.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 12:05 PM   #250
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Taller: I get your point. An iconic Toronto streetcar would be an asset to this city, but I'd rather they started from scratch designing a unique one that screams Toronto. I love streetcars, but find our current model unlovable. No charm, a flat mundane shade of red, and with little curb appeal.

How about take inspiration from those all steel 1940's VIA Rail cars, or something romantic yet with urban sophistication. Hey, how about a domed glass ceiling at the back? A big honking white light at the front like those locomotives from our past? Make every journey a memorable one. Something that would instill a romantic connection to the CNR and the wonderment of our mammoth nation? Tourists take photos of San Francisco streetcars, but not ours. Why? We need to brand this.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 06:32 PM   #251
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I guess it is just a case of beauty in the eye of the beholder.... I've loved our currrent streetcars since the first day I saw them! LOL! Maybe I had my beer
goggles on, but I think they are handsome, and I love the old fashionedness of the simple white and primary red.
However, any design should be unique and iconic to Toronto and like you say some thought should be put into it. I just don't want the ubiquitous types that are all over Asia and parts of Europe. They are cliche looking to me.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 09:05 PM   #252
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Oooops sorry. I just trashed something you like. I should be a little more sensitive to other people's tastes. I think I get it from my mother. She's the most particular person design-wise that I've ever met. She took 14 years, visited over 100 retailers, and even a few lumber wholesalers in picking out hard wood floors for our house. I'm not joking. I'll just blame her.

I like the new streetcar designs alot, I find them modern and even sexy. You've swayed me though. Branding is really important. I believe there was a thread discussing this very issue. Some middle ground perhaps! I'd certainly be thrilled with a unique Toronto streetcar that was a big departure from present day designs, as long as it was state of the art. Having a vintage quality is not enough. Even the double decker buses in London, were cutting edge when they were first introduced. Our new streetcars need to survive the test of time also.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 09:23 PM   #253
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LOL! Don't worry 'bout it- I don't expect everyone to like the streetcars! I just personally think they are nice, and something inside me rebels against rushing out to copy others.... we can go our own way!
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Old August 17th, 2007, 12:04 AM   #254
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Childhood memories of Toronto's streetcars

When I was a young kid in Toronto I loved the old PCC streetcars so much that if one of the then-brand new modern streetcars pulled up I would ask my mother if she would let me wait until the next one, hoping it would be a PCC. If we weren't in a hurry she would agree and it would turn into a game. Sometimes we would wait until one arrived, even if it took an hour or more.

My mother was absolutely thrilled with her luck that I didn't mind waiting for a streetcar but I'm sure not holding my breath that when I have kids they will have the same patience or fascination with transit. Of course my interest only really applied to streetcars, and even as a toddler I didn't like buses or even the subway very much.

We moved to Vancouver in 1986 when I was four and our electric trolley buses out here were a poor substitute. SkyTrain was a nice consolation prize but there is nothing like a streetcar. Now you can just imagine my enthusiasm when I saw streetcars again this summer on my trip to Portland. There is talk about (re)introducing streetcars to Vancouver and I'm completely behind it.
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Old August 17th, 2007, 09:00 PM   #255
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The old PCC streetcars are the burgundy and cream coloured ones?
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Old August 17th, 2007, 09:07 PM   #256
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I'm glad about the purchase of new steetcars. The current one's are incredibly dated. The current design lost their appeal in the '80s! and give no sense of being safe (maintained.) I look forward to a new slique, modern streetcar. They can't come soon enough!
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Old August 18th, 2007, 10:09 AM   #257
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I actually enjoy the current ones as is. It is very Toronto, some of the very last unique thing about this city. Which is somethign I don't like about this globalized trend of infastructures. When everything look the same in everycity, it looses its appeal.

I hope whatever we get in the future at least remotely belong to our selves when it comes to design.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 08:48 AM   #258
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Siemens has set up a new site at http://combinoplus.ca to showcase the
Combino for their bid. The site has "virtual" movies of computer-generated Combino Plus cars in TTC colors and signage moving through the real video of the streets of Toronto, often mixed with CLRVs.

You can also enter to win a 4-day trip to Lisbon to ride the Combino in action.

Cheers, m
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Old August 20th, 2007, 03:23 PM   #259
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The Combino Plus is a very nice tram, we had one of Lisbon's on trial for several months.

There has to be progress eventually - you don't want Toronto's streetcars to be unique simply because every other city has retired their stock from that era. Besides, there might be sentimental value now, but once the replacements arrive and people realise how much better they are, everyone forgets.

And you have Bombardier, if they can build unique train models in Australia (using off-the-shelf parts) then it's surely possible with the next set of streetcars.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 04:17 PM   #260
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When they put in new ties, why don't they shift the track to standard gauge, and buy standard gauge trains fore each line as it gets updated. It seems like a good solution to save money, and be more compatible.
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