Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Case Study - Toronto, ON, Canada - Vol. 3

I departed on Amtrak Train 63 bound for Toronto on Friday with the intention of showcasing The Danforth, a tremendous example of vibrant scaled urbanism that could serve as a model of aspiration for many of Rochester's neglected arterials. While I still intend to touch on the subject, some other things experienced in my days there serve as inspiration to draw some transit comparisons and unveil a starter streetcar proposal for downtown Rochester. (All photography use covered by Creative Commons licenses)

Danforth Avenue is an East-West corridor that functions as Main Street for the entire east side of Toronto (with apologies to Queen St. in Leslieville). Everything imaginable can be found for purchase along its roughly 4 mile long spine. The western end which doubles as Toronto's Greektown is especially dense, boasting banks, library branches, multiple grocery stores, bicycle shops, dry cleaners, shoes, lingerie stores and much more. Food offerings are rooted in Greek offerings like Alexandros Take-Out featuring quick street friendly items like Souvlaki, but also branch into the populist American/Canadian tradition at places such as Brass Taps Pizza Pub (which has downtown Toronto brewed Steam Whistle Pilsner on tap!). Rounding out the fare in the immediate area are quasi-fancy Italian restaurant Il Fornello juxtaposed against Wild Wings Sports Pub which boasts a preposterous 105 flavours (sic) of chicken wings (for the record, I went with 'Bacon and Cheese' and was not disappointed, the wife sampled Maple BBQ).

The Danforth is served frequently by its namesake subway, the Bloor-Danforth Line (or green line as shown on most maps), an army of buses, and to a certain extent (at either end) by the King, Dundas, and Carlton streetcars. A recommended course of action when traveling to Toronto on the weekend is to purchase a $10 day pass. On Saturdays and Sundays, this pass allows 2 adults and up to 4 children or one adult and up to five children to ride unlimited on all TTC Subways, Streetcars, and Buses. My wife and I utilized it to great effect this past Saturday, enjoying $54 worth of individual cash fares for the cost of one day pass.

One mode of transportation utilized by us that day that we hadn't encountered before was the 510 Spadina streetcar. Originally billed as LRT, the Spadina streetcar represents a hybrid between traditional streetcar service and the more regimented boarding areas of a true light rail system. Islands separate regular traffic from the streetcar tracks, implying implementation on an orginally wide thoroughfare such as Rochester's Main Street.

From Wikipedia:

"Stops along 510 consist of a raised concrete platform with a partially covered shelter and railings along the entire boarding area. Platforms are located on the far-side of most intersections, to make room for left-turn lanes on the near side. TTC streetcars are equipped with a Surface Vehicle Automatic Stop Announcement System (SVASAS) which calls out the stops through the public address system and on the L.E.D. board (e.g., Next Stop: College Street)."

I understand completely that comparing Rochester public transit and its needs to that of Toronto is folly for the time being. I am still particularly interested in examining how a seemingly lower cost rail system that still contains some enhanced features would serve as a small starter line. Rochester's system is significantly outpacing other comparable sized bus transit systems in terms of ridership growth (J. Halldow - RGRTA, 2/1/2010 D&C). It is currently an all-bus system that moved 17 million riders in 2009, or over 46,000 per day on average. One potential solution to the demise of the Renaissance Square project which perpetuated the lack of a central intracity bus terminal is my starter streetcar line. If run at a critical frequency mass, buses would be able to originate from many points downtown, serving business people from more portions of the region's primary commercial district.

Starting at the Four Corners, the proposed route would head 'east' on Main Street (imagine Main to be the image to the lower right, squint if necessary) before turning left onto Union Street. This creates the beginning of a functional turn-around loop since the streetcars in question are assumed to be unidirectional. This also connects downtown more solidly and permanently with the Public Market.

A right turn onto Central Park creates land value increase and redevelopment potential for a neglected boulevard which boasts a potentially attractive grass median. Another turn onto lower North Goodman serves the beginning of a traditional arterial and also the fanout point of the 2 Parsells, 3 Goodman, and 8 Main northeastern bus routes. A final right turn would serve the broader cultural district including the Armory, Auditorium Theatre, and the new Blackfriars Theatre before rejoining the 'main line.'

At the other end of the line just past the Madison Avenue stop for the Susan B. Anthony House, the streetcar would turn onto a street in desperate need of real (read: not fancy light poles and benchs) economic stimulus, Jefferson Avenue. Rights on McCree and Genesee would reposition the car for eastbound travel at Bulls Head (below, left), home of the most traveled transit node in the city according to the Genesee Transportation Council Satellite Transportation Center Study as well as St. Mary's Hospital and another mini-business district in need of revitalization.

The entire loop is roughly 7.15 miles in length. I would propose modern streetcars if possible as I absolutely do not perceive the reintroduction of surface rail as some sort of heritage novelty. Curbside stops as opposed to traffic islands would be suitable for non Main Street areas of operation. If pressed on the location of car barns/maintenance shops, I'd suggest the large empty lot behind Rite Aid and Skip's Meat Market on the east side of Goodman at the Central Park intersection.

I realize that this leaves out the intercity train station, the stadia/High Falls, and the heavily traveled South Avenue corridor to the hospitals and Universities. Those would be my first extensions (especially after our sardine experience taking a 5 South bus home from the train). I'm very interested in comments on this very rough concept.

***EDIT 2/4 8AM - Fixed typos, grammaticals, some wording. No content change.


Phill said...

Do you have an actual plan?
Light rail would be nice to have, and enhance city living.

Rottenchester said...

Speaking of Spadina, do you know about the Spadina Expressway? TO sure dodged a bullet there:

It's probably the only abandoned freeway that had a pop song written about it: said...

Bob I agree totally. This is the way we need to go if we want to bring rail back to Rochester. A highly visible streetcar system that connects downtown points of interest and can be extended in phases gradually as ridership increases to obvious locations such as UofR, East/Park/Monroe, etc. has many advantages over an ambitious light rail commuter network. I believe the RRCDC proposed a very similiar route a few years back that looped around the Cascade District.

Rottenchester, interesting note about the Spadina Expressway. Did you know that 390 was originally supposed to run into downtown Rochester? It would have overtaken the Swillburg neighborhood and all of South Clinton but the plan was squashed, obviously...

Bob and Tia said...


What you see is what I've got right now. This is the first I've really talked about the topic as it took me a while to settle on a rail mode thats remotely sellable in this market.

I am very interested in developing the concept further and will be in contact soon with someone who may be able to help me take it forward.

Bob and Tia said...


Sure did. Jane Jacobs (also raised in Scranton, hehehe) was fresh off a battle with Robert Moses in Manhattan when she moved to 69 Albany Street (near Bloor and Bathurst) in Toronto and began lecturing to help organize the opposition against the Spadina.

The upper portions of the University subway line travel the intended route, but underground preserving a pristine visage in Cedarvale Park, St. Michael's College School, and Casa Loma.

There was also a Crosstown Expressway there proposed that would connect the Don Valley Parkway to the Spadina Expressway, what a tremendous mess it all would have been.

Interestingly now, just like in Syracuse, serious discussion must be undertaken regarding the future of the elevated Gardiner Expressway which links the QEW to the City Center roughly along the Lakefront. I hope they take it down and enhance Lake Shore Boulevard. While at Historic Fort York on Sunday morning, all one could hear was highway hum.

Bob and Tia said...

SeƱor Subway,

My loop location motivations are rooted in fighting the good fight against discriminatory phenomena like Leinberger's 'Favored Quarter.' Certainly it can be amended, but I don't think it should be if we are really interested in improving the entire city.

Another note about the 390 straight shot, the duplicate access ramps to 490 East from South Avenue are another remnant of this.

Rottenchester said...

@Rochestersubway: I shudder to think what would have happened if the 390 extension happened. Where would suburban yuppies like me go to get a glass of wine? Solera would have been leveled!

@Bob: Speaking of the inner loop, figure out a way to work it into your streetcar line. People love the idea of doing something (anything!) with that useless hunk of concrete.

I'd also be interested in reading how how you're going to squeeze a streetcar down North Union - generally your

The Gardiner is definitely a 60's relic.

CWhittaker said...


Solera would have been fine, but suburbanites looking for a romantic dinner at Rooney's would have had to look elsewhere. As far as the streetcar you propose, if it is coupled with ArtWalk 3 (yes it's a dream for now) extended up Goodman to the streetcar and along Prince to Main and the Aud Theater, would tie into this as well.

Phill said...

Erie Canal Aqueduct and Broad Street Corridor master plan, has design concepts for future light rail lines down main st, and up lake ave.

I don't know if you're aware of this project....I just stumbled across it last night. Additionally, I can't find anything on the city's commitment to the project, however it seems like it is committed.

Additionally, Rochester's right-sizing initiative Project Green calls for utilizing old trolley lines as green corridors; allowing for pedestrian, bicycle, and potentially in the future light rail

Bob and Tia said...


I was at the public input design charrette for the Broad Street Corridor project. Unfortunately I don't think much of the input was taken seriously at all.

Here are my chronicles of the process and the disappointing unveiling.

I feel their treatment of streetcar/light rail is token and hasn't been thought out at all. I'm also not honestly sure how they plan to pay for all this re-canaling and its maintenance.