Author Archive

“if you are very fortunate you are a minority, and the way we transform a city with public transit is not to appeal to minority tastes”

Posted on: April 27th, 2018

The March 30th, 2018 episode of the informative and wide-ranging StreetsBlog podcast featured Human Transit author and educator Jarrett Walker, discussing how to communicate transportation and planning concepts to the public. The discussion included several fundamental conflicts that appear when discussing public transit, such as the completely rational difference urban and rural perspectives, differing definitions of safety, and why Silicon Valley reinventing the bus is not necessarily improving on the goals of public transit.

In one exchange, Walker points out that rural politicians are not subject-matter experts on collective government services in dense urban environments:

…Many things that are government services in the city are your own responsibility at low density. If you live on a ranch, on a 100-acre ranch, the water department is your well, the sewer department is your septic tank, the police department is your gun, and the fire department is the pond! And of course you feel self-reliant, and of course you feel like you don’t need much government, because you don’t. …This whole notion that we should be having a debate about how much government is enough is silly because the answer is obviously it depends on the density you live in. So we have this stereotype in America that liberals are concentrated in big cities and they like more government, well of course – there’s simply more that has to be done collectively, more that a citizen can’t do for themselves, has to trust a collective to do, when you’re living at high density. It’s just a spatial, geometric fact.

He also discusses the problem we all have of assuming our need is a common and important need:

…If you are in a relatively fortunate position in your society, if you have substantially above-average income and/or substantially above-average education, you are going to be tempted to think about your personal tastes as being a good guide to what would work for everyone. The fundamental fallacy at the heart of it is when people tell a transit agency you’d have more ridership if you just did this thing that’s convenient for me. Transit agencies hear this all the time, it’s called stated preference, we know it’s meaningless. But this desire that everyone has to believe that deep down everyone else has the same tastes as they do and has the same priorities that they do. So when fortunate people make this mistake and start designing transit services for themselves or as though they were the design customer they end up designing things that don’t scale to the mass of people that we actually need to be serving and that aren’t actually hitting the right balance between price and quality that is appropriate to the mass of people that we’re serving, and the result is failed transit projects.

Even millionaires in Silicon Valley are good at making this assumption:

Much of the tech industry’s …fundamentally arguing that what’s wrong with transit is that we are not sufficiently responsive to the tastes of savvy tech people with six-figure salaries. Well no, we’re not, because that’s not where we start. Transit agencies spend a lot of time listening to lower-income people. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that transit services are heavily used by low-income people. The way we make transit relevant to wealthier people is not to pivot away from low-income people as I’m seeing some studies suggesting now, instead we treat the low-income people as the early adopters, and we use the service that they support and build upon that to gradually make the service more and more useful in such a way that more and more people find it useful until finally you get to the point where we have the millionaire riding it.

Walker stresses that the way we build transit is with common riders, not rare ones:

Elite projection is the mistake very commonly made by fortunate people… It’s the mistake of forgetting that if you are very fortunate you are a minority, and the way we transform a city with public transit is not to appeal to minority tastes. We are trying to get a basic product out there that a huge spectrum of people find useful, and that’s going to be very different from what the elite would design for themselves.

The full 45-minute podcast is well worth your time, as are Walker’s site and book, if you’re interested in learning more about public transit and planning issues, and how we can improve our skills in thinking about and communicating about shared goals.

Promising signs from the King Street Pilot

Posted on: January 19th, 2018

After 2 of 12 planned months in operation, the King Street Pilot is showing significant positive effects for riders of the 504 King streetcar, who make up a very large proportion of the users of King Street, both during and outside peak. It is also showing effects, proportionately smaller, on car drivers.

What do we know so far? (Torontoist’s Steve Munro)

  • Streetcar travel times across downtown are faster than before the pilot, although the averages reported by the City are smaller than improvements cited by riders who praise the faster service.
  • Demand on King is up as riders left behind by full streetcars can attest, but the TTC has published only one numerical before and after comparison.
  • Route capacity is limited by the number of available TTC vehicles, although larger new cars appear one by one as they arrive from Bombardier. However, the capacity actually operated is still below the level of early 2017.
  • Traffic and transit speeds on adjacent roads, notably on Queen, have not been affected much by the pilot itself, although they are still subject to the effect of construction projects.
  • Enforcement of the new traffic regulations remains spotty, after an initial blitz, and problems remain at key intersections where cross-street traffic can block King thwarting the benefits of the pilot.
  • Some pedestrian scale improvements such curb lane expansions of the sidewalk will not occur until better weather.

We also know from City traffic counts that streetcar riders make up the majority of the people moving along the full length of King Street, commonly cited as 65,000+ (TTC statistics from before the 514 was introduced), or 72,000+ (Ben Spurr, Toronto Star), as compared to approximately 20,000 cars containing on average 1.08 people.

There have been calls in the media by some business owners to make significant reductions to the pilot’s scope, due to unverified claims of significant drops in business. It is entirely possible for street changes to impact retail business, both positively and negatively. The City of Toronto is gathering credit card data from global payments operator Moneris to check impacts both within the pilot area and in comparable unchanged areas, as part of their pilot evaluation process. This evidence will be very helpful to evaluate the improved transit performance and the overall King Street neighbourhood impacts.

One commonly voiced complaint in media is a perceived lack of people. Without an official cordon count, it is very difficult to quantify this, but some have suggested other significant differences which would be a factor:

Weather (Measured high temperatures below zero degrees)

  • Dec 2016 to 18 Jan 2017: 14 days below 0 and 0 days below -10
  • Dec 2017 to 18 Jan 2018: 29 days below 0 and 7 days below -10

Theatre Activity:

  • Royal Alexandria Theatre dark twice as many November-December days as in 2016
  • 2016’s soon-to-be Broadway hit Come From Away, contrasted with 2017’s family production of The Lorax

Another commonly-cited but inaccurate concern is a lack of parking. Approximately 7,800 spaces exist within a few hundred metres of King Street, but only 180 spaces (2.3%) were removed. For comparison, the average parking space at Yorkdale Mall is about 100 metres from its nearest entrance.

CodeRedTO strongly supports improved transit in principle, and supports maintaining the integrity of the King Street Pilot such that a full year of conditions can be assessed. Road construction, TIFF, summer storms, and more are still to be evaluated. Minor adjustments to the pilot area, as the City has already completed in multiple instances, are a reasonable approach to ensuring that the overall goal of dependable and higher-performing transit 24/7 is retained.

Tell your City Councillor your opinion on making public transit faster and more reliable by calling 311, or follow these links to find contact information for your councillor and the Mayor.

Upcoming public meetings

Posted on: September 26th, 2017

For those interested in SmartTrack and/or Regional Express Rail (RER) development in Toronto and the GTA, early October has several public meetings that may be of interest to you.

Proposed new stations for GO and SmartTrack: (source report PDF)

Metrolinx Lakeshore East Expansion in Toronto-Danforth

(Hosted by Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns)
Wednesday October 4th, 7pm to 8.30pm
Ralph Thornton Centre, 765 Queen St. East

(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)

Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Drive
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)
Riverdale Collegiate Institute, 1094 Gerrard Street East
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)
Bloor Street Collegiate Institute, 1141 Bloor Street West
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

New Pembina Institute report on success factors for rapid transit projects

Posted on: March 15th, 2017

CodeRedTO partner Pembina Institute has released an important new report detailing some of the major success factors on current Ontario rapid transit projects, and how they can be applied in future.

Most opponents to new light rail projects in Ontario aren’t opposed to rapid transit in general, but actually take issue with the process and how decisions are made.  Best practices like engaging early, being transparent, and working closely with developers and landowners can go a long way to making a project more likely to succeed.

What’s key is that communities can learn from one another as we quickly implement new rapid transit.

Says Pembina:

The current roll-out of rapid transit infrastructure in Ontario is one of the biggest infrastructure builds in the province’s history, with over $30 billion in investment from the Province of Ontario and major inputs from the federal and municipal governments. With such significant investments at stake, it’s important to get the process right.

In this report, we examine engagement and planning processes around ongoing rapid transit projects in four Ontario communities to better understand the challenges and success factors associated with these efforts.

The full report, Getting on Board, can be viewed here:

Who’s Advocating for Improved Transit Across Ontario?

Posted on: February 15th, 2017

CodeRedTO was formed to advocate for better transit, for more residents, sooner. While our focus has always been the City of Toronto, we have partnered for several years with Move The GTHA, a collective of over two dozen major groups working toward better funding, better decision making, and better accountability on transit and transportation across the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area.

Better transit options and service are needed in all communities of course. CodeRedTO also partners with some organizations in cities outside the GTHA, and supports any organization putting better transit ahead of partisan or technology ideology.

Here is a partial list of groups we know of. If we missed you, email to be added!

Brampton: Fight Gridlock

Hamilton: Hamilton LRT

Waterloo Region: Tri-TAG

London: Shift Happens

Ottawa: Healthy Transportation Coalition

Sudbury: Friends of Sudbury Transit

Toronto: TTC Riders


Statement on Promised Funding for SmartTrack by Federal Government

Posted on: June 19th, 2015

On June 18th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Joe Oliver, and Toronto Mayor John Tory announced that the federal government would provide up to 1/3 of the construction cost of SmartTrack, up to $2.6 billion in 2015 dollars, should the city choose to build it and should the current party retain control of government in the federal election this fall. Other political parties have not yet confirmed their competing funding proposals.

CodeRedTO is an advocate for all forms of improved transit, and welcomes investment in public transit from the federal government, since all levels of government need to recognize the benefit of public transit to the entire GTHA and beyond. However, it’s important for governments to provide more than election promises and deliver on consistent, predictable funds for transit expansion and operation. Yesterday’s announcement is really just a campaign promise: elect us and we will give you these funds.

We also respect the expertise of our city planners and City Council’s authority to debate and decide what to build. SmartTrack and RER will be a useful part of the overall mix of public transit in Toronto, though the TTC’s first priority is a Relief Subway Line and it is a more developed plan than SmartTrack at the moment. We would hope that federal funding would be forthcoming to support whatever the City decides is best.

Click to learn more about the planning process for SmartTrack, RER, and the Relief Subway Line.

Mayor Tory’s Support For Existing Transit Projects A Welcome Change

Posted on: March 19th, 2015


Mayor Tory’s Support For Existing Transit Projects A Welcome Change

After years of uncertainty and contradictory statements and plans from City Hall, CodeRedTO welcomes today’s statements from Mayor Tory’s office that the planned, approved, and 100%-provincially-funded modern light rail lines coming to Finch West and Sheppard East “will proceed as planned,” precisely as council voted exactly three years ago. [Finch, Sheppard]

“After a long municipal election that avoided definite statements on over $2.2 billion of spending inside Etobicoke and Scarborough, this is a welcome bit of clarity,” said Executive Director Cameron MacLeod.

Mayor Tory’s office signaled that, as planned, the Finch West LRT project will begin construction in 2017, opening in 2021. This line will replace one of Toronto’s busiest bus routes which currently serves over 44,000 riders per day – almost the same number as the Scarborough RT.

Similarly, the Sheppard East LRT project will be constructed in the same timeframe, and will include an underground across-the-platform connection to the Sheppard subway and easy connection to the future Bloor-Danforth subway extension. This line will carry over 36,000 riders per day, similar to the 85 Sheppard East and 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket buses.

The Sheppard East and Finch West LRT lines were first announced in 2007, fully funded by the province [for Finch, and partially by the federal government, for Sheppard] in 2009, including any cost overruns, and confirmed by City Council in 2012.

Unlike extensions to existing subway lines which require large capital investments by the city to construct, and cover only a small portion of the city, these two light rail lines will provide over 40 stops and over 22km of modern transit in reserved rights-of-way at no additional cost to the city’s capital budget. The vehicles will travel an average of 50-60% faster overall than the current overcrowded and unpredictable bus service.

CodeRedTO looks forward to the dramatic improvement in freedom of movement and reliability of public transit for such a large portion of our city, and future transit improvements discussed by Mayor Tory, City Council, and the TTC.

About CodeRedTO:
CodeRedTO is a non-partisan, volunteer-run, regional transit advocate which promotes more and better transit options for more residents, using all available technologies as appropriate; better information for better decision-making; an end to reversals of existing plans; and increased, predictable funding for public transit expansion and operation. Links to sources can be found at

Sources for statements attributed to Mayor Tory’s office:

CodeRedTO Meets with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Steven Del Duca

Posted on: October 14th, 2014

Today CodeRedTO’s Executive Director, along with several members of our partner organization Move The GTHA, met for over an hour with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca.


The meeting was a frank, wide-ranging, and engaging discussion of transit goals, priorities, and advice, including our hopes to see both short- and medium-term “wins” to bring better transit to more GTHA residents sooner. Topics discussed included governance, current projects, future project decision-making, public education, and potential future revenue streams. We were pleased to have significant give-and-take, and to make clear our interest in continuing to push for better transit and less political interference.

Members of the Move The GTHA collective and CodeRedTO look forward to continuing our discussions with the provincial government.

Future Transit Question: Are subways the better investment?

Posted on: October 6th, 2014

CodeRedTO takes your questions and finds answers! Today’s question, from Richard on Facebook: The population of Toronto will double in the coming decades. Therefore, those currently less dense areas of Toronto will become more dense over time. Therefore,wouldn’t subways be preferable for the smarter long-term investment??


Hi Richard –

You’re right that population is growing fast, but city planners are seeing it grow at different rates in different areas, and they account for that in population and density projections. For example, the Sheppard subway was built based on very high projections that turned out to be way too high, so they’ve learned from that experience to make better projections. Also, the downtown core is growing far faster now than other areas, which is different from in the 1980’s when they first decided on the Sheppard subway.

Globe & Mail: Toronto’s density plan is working

If we had unlimited funding, then building subways would allow us to handle whatever growth arrived, but unfortunately we don’t – voters keep demanding tax cuts! Subways are a huge cash drain: for example, the Scarborough subway extension (just 3 stops in a low-density part of the city) is going to cost far more than $3 billion to construct, and will lose money each day (as most low-density transit systems do).

Human Transit Blog: Transit and profitability

Transit is an investment in helping our city be more efficient and productive, but typically we want investments that make money, not lose money. Since we know that they lose money in operations cost, and that they cost huge amounts ($350 million per kilometre (often more) just to build), and that we won’t need that capacity in Etobicoke or Scarborough for several decades, building subways exclusively is not what CodeRedTO considers a smart investment. You need high density population and employment to make the system worth it now, and we only see that in certain parts of the GTHA.

Even the Sheppard subway, opened over 12 years ago, still loses money every day. The new Spadina subway extension to York University is also projected to cost over $14 million per year in extra subsidies for operations costs. That doesn’t make them bad, but we have to “invest” with our eyes open.

Human Transit: Density is not Destiny

Luckily we have other options. Over 80 cities worldwide use modern light rail lines like are planned for Toronto, with more being built all the time. And since light rail can be elevated, underground, and at the surface, depending on what you need, it’s more flexible than subways and far more affordable, even though it can handle pretty high capacity of ridership – not the same as an all-tunnel subway of course, but we don’t need that capacity in every single neighbourhood.


Remember that all major world-class cities use light rail in addition to subways – Hong Kong, Paris, London, NYC (in New Jersey, not in Manhattan), Tokyo – they all benefit from having options, and Toronto is one of the only places that hasn’t figured that out. We are being left behind after being ahead on transit in the 20th century.

CodeRedTO wants subways AND light rail AND buses AND streetcars, in the right places, and proper funding to make them run properly too.

Sheppard East residents need the full 12km of Light Rail planned

Posted on: September 16th, 2014

Some members of city council, and some candidates for council, have recently made statements misrepresenting the current plan for modern light rail transit (LRT) along Sheppard Avenue East. To assist residents, CodeRedTO has assembled the facts, resource links on the plan, and we have calculated how alternate options would look and perform.

Learn more about light rail transit by visiting our Resources page!

After reviewing reports from the City of Toronto and Metrolinx, our key findings:

  • Given the current $1 billion budget committed by the province of Ontario and the government of Canada, less than 3km of subway could be built, as opposed to about 12km of modern light rail transit (LRT).
  • If only 3km of subway were to be built, it would add only one new stop east of Victoria Park, and have just two new stations.
  • The Sheppard East LRT project already has a completed Environmental Assessment, and will be under construction from approximately 2017-2020. Any subway would require at least 2-4 more years before construction could begin, with all planning starting from scratch.
  • The City of Toronto and Metrolinx have a signed legal agreement to deliver this LRT line that includes the province paying for all construction costs. Any change to another mode would require renegotiation and penalties due to contract cancellation with suppliers.


The facts clearly show that a subway along Sheppard East would be shorter, would take longer to build, and would serve fewer residents. But more significantly for Scarborough residents, our calculations show that it would save far less time for a rider traveling between Morningside or Malvern and any new subway station near Warden.

Buses traveling in mixed traffic along Sheppard East can take 40 minutes to travel this distance (though of course this varies by time of day). While a subway would provide fast travel over 3km of this distance, the transfer time between bus and subway (estimated by Google at 4 minutes on average) means that the average rider’s travel time would drop by as little as five minutes.

However, the light rail planned for Sheppard East uses reserved rights-of-way so transit vehicles are never stuck behind single-passenger cars, and are able to travel 25-40% faster than the current buses, consistently in all traffic and weather conditions. Our calculations showed that riders could travel from Morningside to Yonge Street in ten minutes less, with a level transfer on the same platform at Don Mills Station.


Download our fact-check flyer now, and share with candidates at your door to ensure they have the facts.

Find out more by visiting our Resources page!

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LEARN about Transit and why there's room for subways, light rail, and streetcars in our region, and how light rail is actually a great city-building choice for the lower-density neighbourhoods in Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

CALL your City Councillor, and tell them that you want rational, affordable, and rapid transit in Toronto to benefit everyone, not just one small section of the city. Rapid transit to Malvern, Morningside, Jane & Finch are achievable if we learn from successful transit networks around the world.

TELL your friends and family that subways are amazing - they really are! - but with limited funding we have to make rational decisions about whether to support more residents or leave people waiting for crowded buses for decades longer.

Did you know: The bus routes on Finch have over 85% of the ridership of the (much shorter) Sheppard Subway, and the bus routes on Eglinton already have over 140%! The lengths differ but the need is common in many areas of the city. We are decades behind and need better transit options for our residents now.

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