Some thoughts on transit.

Railway tracks are not a modern invention. They were used in mines in the Middle Ages and almost 200 years ago, the first public railway line carried people in steam powered trains. The whole point of railway and tram lines was to create a level surface so that heavy vehicles didn’t get bogged down in the frequently muddy and rough roads of the time. Rails provide an ultra smooth surface and can accommodate vehicles carrying  large loads at high speed.

In Toronto, street railways arrived in the form of horse drawn street cars in the 1860s. They were able to conquer the terrible road conditions common before modern day road paving. Street cars as we know them today began in Richmond Virginia in the 1880s using an electric motor fed by a single overhead power line (the internal combustion engine was not as reliable as electric motors at that time). Toronto began using electric streetcars in 1892 and has done so ever since. In 1966, plans were made to eliminate the fleet by 1980 but a strong opposition played up the fact that Toronto was one of  the few remaining cities to use the (by then considered old fashioned) vehicles. They were kept thanks to effective and vigorous campaigning, possibly because they’re quaint, for their tourist appeal and just maybe because Toronto is notoriously slow to change. Incidentally, many readers will know there was a line that extended to Weston until 1948 when the streetcars were replaced by trolley buses.

Toronto Suburban Railway Car #12 going through the village of Weston in 1908. I love the jaunty angle of the utility poles. Toronto Public Library.

Trolleys were used until 1993 in Toronto when the fleet became too decrepit to continue. Trolley buses are electrically powered but run on rubber tires and require two overhead wires instead of one.

The great thing about street cars and trolley buses is that they run on relatively clean energy (only about 10% of electricity generated in Ontario comes from carbon based sources). They don’t pollute the air with toxic and dangerous gases and particles. Their motors are quiet.

Over the last few years, there has been a streetcar boom (often called light rail) in cities throughout Canada and the U.S. and they are seen as the latest thing in transit. They also benefit from novelty and nostalgia and some equate them with theme parks. The downside of streetcars and trolleys is that they need to be attached to overhead wiring and streetcar tracks are very expensive to build and maintain, especially in our climate with its potential for frost and salt damage. Another negative is that tracks usually run down the middle of a street with the potential of being blocked by cars and forcing boarding and alighting passengers to cross at least one lane of traffic.

Where am I going with this?

Asphalt roads became common about 100 years ago and helped make car travel possible. They form a resilient, level surface that can also accommodate vehicles carrying heavy loads at high speed. Public transit no longer needs rails to provide a smooth ride. On the other hand, modern day buses are loud and polluting – even diesel-electric ones.

In Mount Dennis, instead of the originally proposed gas-fired generating station, a large bank of batteries is set to power the entire Crosstown LRT for up to four hours.

Battery power has come a long way recently and is also about to revolutionize transit. The TTC has promised that it will be 100% emissions free by 2040. Unlike Metrolinx and its bizarre hydrogen fuel cell boondoggle the TTC has seen the future and decided that it’s battery powered. Thirty battery-powered buses have been purchased with the help of the federal government and will join the TTC fleet beginning in the fall. These are from three competing companies, Xcelsior, BYD and Proterra. The buses will be put through trials to see if they can manage in our winter conditions, have a range of around 250km and will be charged overnight using cheaper power. There is a proposal to increase the number to sixty buses.

Three demo buses have just arrived in the city to allow staff to familiarize themselves with the technology.

What are the implications?

  • If the trials are successful, replacing 2000+ conventional buses will be expensive and will need to happen over several years.
  • Fuel and maintenance costs will decrease.
  • Carbon tax will be lowered as more vehicles are bought.
  • In time, battery capacity will improve, buses will have a longer range and cost less.
  • Streetcars could be converted to battery power eliminating expensive, overhead wires.
  • We may not need streetcars and their tracks anymore. Instead, we could dedicate lanes to electric buses.
  • Street noise levels will decrease.
  • Carbon monoxide and dioxide levels will decrease.
  • Dangerous particulate matter from diesel fumes will decrease.
  • People will be healthier.

What do readers think? Is the TTC on the right track?

Update: This historic footage from New York City at the beginning of the motor car era in 1911 is fascinating. Note the street cars have no overhead wires and are cable cars like the ones in San Francisco. They are pulled along by an underground cable.

MacDonald Avenue to get 19th Century upgrade.

A tree on MacDonald Avenue weakened by utility pruning. (Google.ca July 2017)

Here is a notice from Toronto Hydro:

MacDonald Avenue

  • Project ID: W18159
  • Activity: Overhead Civil and Electrical
  • Timeline: October 2017 – December 2018
  • Status: Current

Toronto Hydro is planning to rebuild the aging overhead electrical system in the community to help improve service reliability. The rebuild includes upgrading overhead electrical cables and replacing hydro poles within the City of Toronto’s public property allowance in front of or adjacent to the lot. Throughout this project, planned outages may be necessary to switch from the old to the new electrical system and we intend to provide advance notice. Toronto Hydro crews and contractors will take extra care and precautions around the property. Please be advised that as a result of the project, our contractor may be trimming a number of the overgrown trees on the public road allowance in order to accommodate new hydro infrastructure. Upon project completion, affected areas will be restored.

So, instead of replacing MacDonald Avenue’s overhead wiring with underground cables, Toronto Hydro will continue to use a 19th Century method of bringing power to homes and businesses. This will ensure a continuing vulnerability of the power supply to ice storms, lightning strikes, vehicle collisions and falling trees. Speaking of trees; pruning them to make room for wiring is harmful and our trees would last far longer if they weren’t weakened by being trimmed.

The average life of a hydro pole is about 35 years so the MacDonald Avenue installation should last until 2053. Oh, and don’t hold your breath expecting that all of the old poles will be completely removed.

It seems that Toronto Hydro would rather spend its money on executive remuneration than on upgrading infrastructure, preserving trees and improving our streetscape. Yes, it would be initially more expensive to bury power lines but it would be an investment in the future and save money (repairs from the 2013 ice storm cost over $170 million) and inconvenience in the long run.

Nnamdi Ogba: Homicide Squad make two arrests

Mayor John Tory listens on Friday March 23rd as Nnamdi Ogba’s parents plead for help in solving their son’s murder.

Two Toronto men were arrested in their homes today and have been charged with the murder of Nnamdi Ogba who was murdered in cold blood two weeks ago. At a press conference held on Thursday, March 29, Superinendent Ron Taverner and detective Jason Shankaran discussed the killing and the community response that led to the arrests.

Nnamdi Ogba

Taverner and Shankaran theorized that the two suspects were arrested so quickly thanks to a sense of outrage on the part of the community along with a highly motivated police force; the police acting quickly to bring the alleged killers of an entirely blameless man into custody. They stressed that Mr. Ogba was a hard working member of the community randomly targeted while visiting friends in Scarlettwood Court. Detective Shankaran told reporters, “You can always judge a person’s family by the people that they’re surrounded by”.  “And I knew I was dealing with a good man here”.

Police shift resources to 23 and 12 Divisions

At the press conference, Superintendent Taverner stated that extra police have been moved into the area to boost their visible presence in ‘troubled communities’ such as Scarlettwood so that residents can regain a sense of security in their neighbourhoods. Taverner declined to say how long the extra officers would be deployed but did say, “The public would be proud to know what the (Homicide) officers have done to bring this case before the courts”.

Congratulations to Toronto Police and also to the people who had the courage to come forward and help bring these alleged killers into custody.

Police are still seeking more information from associates of the two alleged suspects in their search for the driver of the getaway vehicle, a dark SUV.

  • Contact police at 416-808-7400
  • Crime Stoppers (anonymously) at 416-222-TIPS (8477)
  • Online: www.222tips.com
  • Text TOR and send message to CRIMES (274637).

UPDATE: On Friday March 30, according to the Toronto Star, police announced that the alleged driver had been arrested and was in custody.

10 Wilby keeps on growing

The original concept for 10 Wilby; 10-storeys and 131 units.

‘Riverstone Condos’ was to be a 10-storey building on Wilby Crescent, just off Weston Road, south of Lawrence. Many people put down deposit money back in 2013 in the hopes of getting an affordable condominium apartment in a beautifully designed 10-storey building overlooking parkland and the Humber. Hopes were dashed when the project fell through as prices were considerably higher in the proposed Riverstone than for existing condos on nearby Hickory Tree.

In October 2016 the project was revived, this time it was to be 234 units in 16 storeys and the building (and common amenities) not quite so architecturally splendid.

The 16-storey, 233 unit re-incarnation.

A year later and the project became 21 storeys and 235 units.

21 Storeys 235 units.

Now, according to Urban Toronto, a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries, it’s going to be 22 storeys with 233 units. The article states rental units (not that there’s anything wrong with rental) however, Options For Homes confirmed that the units will be condos and not rentals.

Now 22 storeys, 233 units.

Stay tuned. This may not be the final version.

Finally, last time we wrote about changes in the building design and height, Options For Homes sales director, Mary Pattison wrote the following and we’ll give her the last word:

Hi – this is Mary from Options for Homes. I would be more than happy to tell you why I’m so proud to work at Options for Homes and why I think this new building will be a positive addition to your neighbourhood. Please reach out directly at maryp@optionsforhomes.ca. In the meantime, it’s helpful to understand two things:

1) We make home ownership affordable, not “affordable housing” (in the way that I think you’re referring to) Over the past 24 years we’ve often been at the forefront of the revitalization of neighbourhoods (eg. Distillery District, The Junction). We help middle-income Canadians (HHI 40-90K) with down payment support to accelerate home ownership dreams and ensure we combine that with the lowest maintenance fees in the city (about .46 a square foot presently).

2) The changes to the design are a function of increasing construction costs (due to demand) and development charges that have more than doubled in the time it’s taken to get the project approved by the city. We agree that it was lovely and we’re very proud of the new design as well.

We’re also proud of this video that shows many of our buildings and you can judge four yourself if this is what you think of when you think “affordable housing”

Scarlettwood Court shootings cause for concern

Inside Scarlettwood Court.

Scarlettwood Court is a TCHC housing complex in Greater Weston™, just off Scarlett road, on the opposite side of the Humber. The development was built in the 1960s and is home to hundreds of families from a wide variety of backgrounds. Planners (as they did back then) created an isolated enclave in a beautiful setting overlooking Raymore Park with two main entrances; one from busy Scarlett Road and the other from Waterton. There is a little used pathway that leads down to Raymore Park.

The main entrance to Scarlettwood off Scarlett Road.

In recent years, several shootings have left residents on edge and fearful. These are the major incidents I have been able to track down.

September 1989 double murder – solved

August 2005: Sarfaraz Shah murdered – unsolved cold case*

January 2014: Colin Mohamed murdered – unsolved cold case

September 2015: three men shot – unsolved cold case

February 2016: Bryan Agyei murdered – unsolved

March 2016: gunfire reported – teen arrested

August 2016: a man was shot in the legs in a drive-by shooting – unsolved

April 2017: car found with windows shot out – unsolved

January 2018: Shaquille Wallace shot dead – unsolved

March 2018: Nnamdi Ogba, 26, of Toronto shot dead. – unsolved

*Cold cases are unsolved crimes older than three years.

Toronto Police claim a ‘clearance’ or solving rate for murders of 80%. Clearly 21st Century murders at Scarlettwood have a clearance rate of 0%.

Scarlettwood’s other entrance from Waterton.

The reason behind the spate of shootings is unclear but the story goes that Scarlettwood is the home of the ‘All Crips Gang‘ which apparently has territorial claims stretching down to Dundas Street. Presumably they deal in drugs and other contraband. There may have been a truce between the various gangs at one time but that seems to have ended. According to police, the latest shooting of Mr Ogba, an electrical engineer, seems to have been entirely by chance; criminals from outside Scarlettwood appear to have selected him randomly.

The local councillor for Scarlettwood (in Ward 2) is Mike Ford who responded to my email on March 19 to say,

“I thank you for bringing this concern to my attention and I do sincerely sympathize with you.
I want to assure you that the safety of Etobicoke is at my highest priority and any violence especially criminal violence is a serious concern.

I have spoken with Mayor Tory and Toronto Police Chief in the past and I will be doing the same for this incident. Although there is no easy answer to this problem I will be following up with yourself and the community for their input on this matter.”

I replied to the councillor that if anyone needs sympathy and help, it’s the law-abiding people trying to raise their families, trapped in the confines of Scarlettwood Court.

Residents told me that dozens of police responded on the night of the murder. Cruisers were parked all along Scarlett Road. Today when I walked through Scarlettwood, there was no police presence and residents confirmed that the police are a rare sight.

What’s to be done?

  1. The Mayor should bring his travelling podium show and together with Councillor Mike Ford visit Scarlettwood to meet with residents and listen to concerns. This would show solidarity with residents.
  2. Toronto Police need to get out of their cars and make meaningful and lasting contact with residents. The Community Safety Unit run by TCHC does not absolve police of their ongoing responsibilities. Police also need to avoid showing up in large numbers rather than in ones and twos.
  3. Community groups and social justice warriors should make this their fight too. They need to contact residents and help organize some kind of community association (if none exists) and start a ‘take back Scarlettwood’ movement.
  4. Politicians, police and the community should make and implement a plan of action to support residents.
  5. Because of the limited entrances to Scarlettwood Court, in addition to the existing cameras, it would seem logical to have good quality cameras set up to monitor who comes and goes; cameras with the ability to see images clearly. In 2016, 100 cameras were installed.

Incidentally, the fight for gun control in the U.S. is our fight too. The majority of guns used in Toronto crimes originate in the U.S.

PC Vote result for York South-Weston

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario has published results of its recent leadership vote, broken down by riding and there are some interesting details. The vote was done through a process known as ranked balloting. Voters ranked each candidate in order of preference. Once all the first choices were counted, the last place candidate was eliminated. Voters whose candidate was eliminated in the first round had their second choice vote added to the remaining candidates’ tallies.

The online ballot used in the PC leadership vote.

Incidentally, although the PCs, Liberals and NDP use ranked balloting when choosing a leader, most of the right-leaning members of council (including our own) voted against studying ranked balloting for the 2022 civic election. The federal Liberals have backed off also.

First Round: York South-Weston

  • NAME                                         VOTES     %
  • ALLEN, Tanya Granic                23     11%
  • ELLIOTT, Christine                    46    22%
  • FORD, Doug                                  133    63.6%
  • MULRONEY, Caroline                   7      3.3%
  • 209 total votes

Second Round

  • NAME                                         VOTES     %
  • ELLIOTT, Christine                    49    23.7%
  • FORD, Doug                                  151    63.6%
  • MULRONEY, Caroline                   7      3.3%
  • 207 total votes

4th place (in Ontario) Tanya Granic Allen, was eliminated and as expected, most of her votes provincially and in YSW went to Ford.

Third Round

  • NAME                                         VOTES     %
  • ELLIOTT, Christine                    55    26.7%
  • FORD, Doug                                  151    73.3%
  • 206 total votes

All vote percentages have been rounded to the nearest tenth for clarity.

The riding with the most eligible votes cast (from those who joined the PC Party and paid $10) was Don Valley West with 1334; the least: Kiiwetinoong (a huge new northern Ontario riding that comes into play this year) with only 34. York South-Weston had 209 people voting.

The fact that only 209 people voted does not bode well for the PCs in York South Weston. On the other hand, the local strength of Doug Ford should give PC nominee Mark DeMontis some comfort in a riding that has been solidly Liberal with a brief exception (Paul Ferreira for the NDP between February and October of 2007) since its formation in 1999.