City Council Debates the Future of Sheppard Transit
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City Council Debates the Future of Sheppard Transit

Will it be light rail or a subway on Sheppard?


GREEN: Rob Ford’s full subway

8 kilometers, 7 stations

Requires additional $1.7–$2.7 billion in funding

PURPLE: Expert panel’s light rail

13 kilometers, 25 stations

Requires no additional funding

BLUE: Hybrid light rail/subway

(On map darker blue=subway, lighter blue = LRT)

13 kilometers, 2 subway and 24 LRT stations

Requires additional $0.5-$0.8 billion in funding

(Red: Current Sheppard subway and planned Scarborough RT —> LRT conversion)

Last month city council decided to opt for surface light rail for Eglinton, Finch, and a conversion of the Scarborough RT. Today they’ll decide whether to do the same for Sheppard.

(Moved on the floor of council by Glenn De Baeremaeker)
That city council:

  • “Authorize the City Manager to enter into a Master Agreement on behalf of the City with Metrolinx, and the TTC, to implement City Council’s decisions in regard to transit expansion including without limitation all Council decisions regarding transit expansion on Sheppard Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, Finch Avenue.”
  • “Confirm that Light Rail Transit (LRT) is the preferred rapid transit mode for Sheppard Avenue East, from Don Mills to Morningside, and confirm the Sheppard Avenue East LRT as a priority transit line within the approved Metrolinx ‘5 in 10 plan’.”
  • “Request the City Manager to develop a communication plan which outlines the significance of transit’s role in city building, on Sheppard Avenue East and across the city.”
  • “[D]evelop a comprehensive public consultation process that provides residents and businesses an opportunity to participate and inform the development of a sustainable transit plan, including funding options, for the City of Toronto.”
  • “[D]evelop an intergovernmental strategy in support of a sustainable transit plan.”

That city council:

  • “commit to a program of continuous and ongoing expansion of Toronto’s rapid transit network using dedicated City revenue tools…[and] commit to perpetula funding for rapid transit expansion of up to $100 million annually”;
  • “direct the City Manager to etablish a Rapid Transit Planning Office…[which will] complete by 2020 an extension of the Sheppard Subway line from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Town Centre…and assess and prioritize, on an ongoing basis, Toronto’s existing and emerging rapid transit needs, including a subway connection from the Yonge-Sheppard Station to the University-Spadina-York University line, a Downtown Relief Line, rapid transit for the Waterfront and Portlands, an eastward extension of the Sheppard Line to Malvern and the Toronto Zoo, a westward extension fo the Bloor-Danforth Line to Sherway Gardens, a westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown Line to Pearson International Airport, and additional North-South routes along major highway, rail or hydro rights of way.”
  • “direct the City Manager to prepare, as part of the 2013 Operating Budget, a new revenue tool i nthe form of a non-residential parking levy that would generate up to $100 million per year on an ongoing basis and that all revenues from this levy be used to create a Rapid Transit Legacy Fund dedicated to building rapid transit infrastructure.”
  • “direct the City Manager to complete a plan to use currently available Federal and Provincial funds (previously committed for a Sheppard LRT) plus Parking Levy proceeds to begin the procurements process for the Sheppard Subway extension.”

That city council:

  • “Approve a first phase [of a Sheppard subway extension] from Don Mills Station to a station at Victoria Park Avenue to be funded by $333 million from the federal government’s Building Canada Fund and $650 million from the Province of Ontario.”
  • “Request the CEO of the TTC to report back to City Council “to report back on requirements to construct and operate a rapid bus system on Sheppard Avenue, utilizing the mid lanes from Victoria Park to Conlins Road.”
  • “Request the Budget Committee to consider and advise City Council on the future funding of rapid transit projects.”

8:09 PM: Okay, that’s a wrap. Back tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

8:03 PM: Nunziata: “I have never seen councillors as confused as they are today.” They are voting to extend the meeting for 10 minutes so they can decide when to continue the meeting. Much shouting.

7:51 PM: Joe Mihevc moves a motion to extend today’s meeting and finish the agenda tonight—which would effectively block the fillibuster. It requires a 2/3 majority, and fails. We are coming back tomorrow.

7:42 PM: Yep—w a list of right-wing councillors now lining up to speak to the referral motion. They are trying to run out the clock, force meeting to a second day. This is council’s equivalent of a filibuster.

7:34 PM: Michael Thompson has a motion! It defers the whole entire issue for consideration “in the development of a comprehensive transit plan.”

7:31 PM: The speakers’ list keeps going. The speculation is that Ford allies are trying to run out the clock—the meeting is scheduled to end at 8 p.m.—and force the meeting into a second day, so that they can work on centrist councillors overnight. (Council could vote to extend the meeting and stay tonight, but they’d need a 2/3 majority to do so.)

7:29 PM: Gloria Lindsay Luby is coining a new phrase, she says: “No taxation without consultation.” Council shouldn’t just decide on parking levy without speaking to residents first. She also chastizes her colleagues for constantly invoking the St. Clair streetcar and confusing the public, because it actually isn’t at all like LRT. Importantly, she—generally a Ford supporter—also says she’ll be voting for light rail.

7:18 PM: A few more speeches: Mark Grimes, Gary Crawford, and Michelle Berardinetti, as expected, confirm they’ll be voting for a subway.

7:02 PM: Doug Holyday: “The debate is difficult because there’s merit on both sides of the argument.” Unexpectedly conciliatory. “It’s not right to say there’s no [private sector] money if you haven’t tested the marketplace.” A fair point—Ford could either build momentum or find he has no support by putting subways out to tender and seeing what responses he gets. (Also, a few new names just added to the speakers’ list.)

6:47 PM: Frances Nunziata is now speaking, invoking the downtown vs. suburbs second-class argument. Says Jack Layton (father of current councillor Mike Layton) and Mike Colle (father of current councillor Josh Colle) fought tooth and nail against the cancellation of the Eglinton subway when the provinical government did that—implies their sons, similarly, would fight for subways only for downtown. Stintz wonders, she says, if a subway would bring development to Sheppard. “Of course there will be development! What a stupid question!”

6:43 PM: Now Doug tells us that the reason Toronto doesn’t have articulated buses is a union conspiracy, because they don’t want to have drivers lose jobs. Followed up with “We don’t want to St. Clair-ize the whole city.”

6:38 PM: Doug Ford: “People have been saying there is no plan [to pay for subways]. But we know after today that’s not true.” And now, he says, he’s going to tell us how it works in the private sector. He contends that there are plenty of investors who would gladly invest in an infrastructure P3, but there isn’t anything to invest in here so they are going abroad.

6:35 PM: Currently there are four names left on the speakers’ list, though that may well grow again. Up currently is Peter Milczyn and laments the “lack of leadership” on this issue. He says we should have really built Eglinton as a subway—that’s the place we need it most. But that ship has sailed and we’re talking about Sheppard now, and he says “we should finish it.”

6:11 PM: Ana Bailão has a motion! It suggests council refer Mike Del Grande’s $100 million/year parking levy, and Giorgio Mammoliti’s P3 plan, to the City Manager for study, because…well, because we don’t have any details on either of them and council doesn’t have enough details to make an informed decision. She says she was one of the councillors who asked for a real financial plan for subways, but council can’t proceed on the basis of a proposal they’ve had in front of them for a couple of hours.

6:07 PM: A new transit idea! James Pasternak is moving a motion calling for a study into a “North York Relief Line”—a subway to connect Sheppard to Downsview.

6:04 PM: Doug Ford rises to question Cho about his motion. First, emphatically: “What does it cost to build tunnels in Madrid??” And then a question mentioning “streetcars.” Cho replies: “Why do you keep calling them streetcars? Do you have an English language problem?” Much cheering. Ford: “If I said that you’d call me racist.”

5:57 PM: On advice from the City Clerk, Norm Kelly has had to modify his proposal. The updated version is above.

5:51 PM: Motion from Raymond Cho! It would ask the federal and provincial governments to fund an extension of the Scarborough line to Malvern Town and U of T’s Scarborough campus. The City can ask, but there’s no reason to think other orders of government are going to be inclined to say yes.

5:38 PM: You know what’s amazing? Despite all the ill will and all the hyperbole, council is having a real, grown-up transit debate right now, complete with unpopular revenue tools and the economic development of various modes. Should have happened years ago, and no matter the decision, very important that it’s happening now.

5:29 PM: “As energetic as I was at the beginning of this debate, I’m now quieting down”—Norm Kelly. Regarding his motion: “I’m only asking for what Metropolitan Council voted on in 1996.” And then: “At times we sound like squabbling accountants; we’re reducing things to numbers… We have to do everything we can to maximize everything we can as residents of Toronto… I feel in my gut that we must have a subway network as the foundation of economic growth.”

5:25 PM: Chin Lee says he’ll be backing LRT. Josh Colle, now giving a speech, points out that the City has far too many obligations and social needs to meet to consider adding a parking levy in these circumstances. He implies, but doesn’t say outright, he’ll be backing LRT as well. “You can’t have it both ways,” he says: during budgets councillors (on the right) say we can’t afford things, and residents can’t bear any more taxes or levies, and during other debates saying we need new revenue tools.

5:24 PM: Back after a brief absence to chat with CBC Here and Now about today’s developments. I said on air, and repeat now: odds right now are that the vote will go for light rail, but it’s not at all a sure thing. This is a much more fluid situation than the previous transit votes.

4:56 PM: “All that’s gone on here is a bunch of yapping. Hypocritical yapping.” Giorgio Mammoliti, introducing his motions. The first calls for council to request the federal government to negotiate a public private partnership (P3) with the city “for subways where LRTs are proposed.” (Note: the City doesn’t have the power to compel the federal government to do anything.” He says a vote against is clear, it means a councillor is “anti-car” and that those councillors actually want LRTs. And now the resentment: “what we are doing is creating two tiers of public transit… I am ashamed of the councillors who represent the suburbs who are voting against subways today.”

4:50 PM: The weirdness of Mike Del Grande ardently defending a new revenue tool—one that’s 40% bigger than the Vehicle Registration Tax he despised—cannot be overestimated.

4:46 PM: The mayor is once again absent from the chamber—here away more often than not today. Here’s a real problem for his allies: it’s not really clear what he wants. Politically, he can’t vote for Del Grande’s motion (because it calls for a new levy) and he can’t vote against it (because it calls for the Sheppard subway). Was Norm Kelly’s motion meant to represent the mayor’s preference? Nobody knows. Are the mayor and Mike Del Grande falling out over this? Nobody knows.

4:37 PM: We are still on questions of Mike Del Grande, about his motion—and four more names on the list for questions. Then more debating on the issue in general (as opposed to questioning the mover of a motion, which procedurally is different). Our point: this debate is going to go for a few hours yet. Come on down and say hi!

3:55 PM: Mike Del Grande: “We have been waiting 30 years. I moved up to Scarborough in the ’80s because I was told a subway was coming.” In this, his plea for Scarborough transit, he appears entirely sincere. He also says that “there is a place for LRT” but he only wants it in its own roadway. He sounds tired but passionate—and while many may disagree with his approach, he is someone who genuinely believes subways are better for Scarborough. (Some other councillors, perhaps, are motivated more by derailing LRT than a positive affinity for subways. Del Grande doesn’t seem like one of them.)

3:51 PM: A few days ago Rob Ford said that he wanted to hold a public referendum on Sheppard if council voted against subways. Torontoist‘s Steve Kupferman investigates whether that’s at all feasible.

3:42 PM: If you are just joining, a summary: we now have proposals from both left- and right-wing councillors, each with competing proposals, neither of which seem to have Rob Ford’s backing. The mayor hasn’t spoken today, and he hasn’t proposed anything, and in his reluctance to endorse his own budget chief’s proposal, he isn’t even working with his allies—who, to their credit, are working around him in an attempt to move things along.

3:41 PM: A note about Kelly’s proposal: it calls for buses to run through the centre lane on Sheppard, currently used for cars making mid-block left turns and not much else. Unclear how practical this is, since the buses would need to cross the two lanes of regular vehicle traffic every 300 metres or so to reach the bus stops.

3:32 PM: Glenn De Baeremaker, also: with Mike Del Grande’s $100 million/year “it would take 25 years to finish the subway to the Scarborough Town Centre, and you still won’t have rapid transit for the other [eastern] half of Scarborough.”

3:20 PM: We’ve finished with questions from staff and are now onto councillors moving motions and making their speeches. Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moves the expert panel’s recommendations. Norm Kelly rises to question him, asks “Did you vote for the Land Transfer Tax?” De Baeremaeker: “Yes.” “Did you vote for the Vehicle Registration Tax?” “Yes.” “So did you lose your nerve?” Boos from the audience—and the very interesting spectacle of right-wing councillor Norm Kelly chastising his colleague for not being pro-tax enough.

3:06 PM: “Why are we tearing up the roads if we’re building a subway??” asks Maria Augimeri of staff, showing a photo of the current York subway extension construction. Staff admits, again, that any construction will be disruptive.

2:47 PM: Karen Stintz rises to ask questions, everyone sits up a bit. She is talking fast and asking pointed questions, and gets TTC staff to admit that if we build LRT Metrolinx will pay for the operating costs; if we build a subway they have not committed to doing so. She then questions Gordon Chong to concede that Sheppard is not ever expected to hit the ridership levels for a subway, ever. “Do you normally build a subway to service gas stations?” she asks, referring to the intersection at Warden, which has three.

2:24 PM: Mary-Margaret McMahon gets Chong to admit that any kind of transit development—subway or LRT—will have a disruptive effect during the construction period. Also, that LRT generates stimulate street-level development in a way that subways don’t.

2:20 PM: Back from lunch, we started with more petitions: 4,000 signatures from Norm Kelly in favour of subways, 550 or so from Raymond Cho in favour of light rail. Questions of staff resumes, starting with Denzil Minnan-Wong. Also, rumours of a counter-proposal as an alternative to Del Grande’s motion are circulating.

12:33 PM: And with that, we break for lunch.

12:33 PM: Doug Ford then asks if Eric Miller is still available. (He isn’t.) “I was gonna ask him what his financial qualifications were…. I know the answer already: zero.” (Note: Gordon Chong, Rob Ford’s transit advisor, was formerly a dentist.)

12:30 PM: Doug Ford to Andy Byford: “If you had the money for a Sheppard subway, would you build subway or LRT?” Byford: If the money were restricted to spending for Sheppard specifically, then a subway.

12:23 PM: The City’s chief financial officer, Cam Weldon, is underwhelmed by Del Grande’s proposal. “”I would take the money in hand,” he says, over this new revenue tool that will be hard on business and won’t raise enough money to meet our transit needs anyway.

12:15 PM: Advance copy of a motion now circulating (summarized above) by Mike Del Grande. This reads like an attempt at a major compromise: Rob Ford would get his Sheppard subway, and the city would get $100 million a year from a dedicated parking levy for ongoing rapid transit development. This could make debate very messy, especially depending on whether they vote on this package as a whole or on specific elements of it individually.

11:39 AM: Fun discovery of the day: Norm Kelly’s disaster flyer, which included a photo titled “Sheppard at Capacity,” actually depicts Yonge and Moore Park Avenue—3.7 kilometres from Sheppard.

Thanks to reader Tluton for alerting us to this.

11:29 AM: Nunziata is really pushing it today. Typically when councillors ask questions, she urges them to let City staff provide full answers and shushes them if they try to move on to their next question. Today she keeps cutting off the answerers, and tells them “yes or no only.”

11:25 AM: For the first time, the TTC’s new CEO Andy Byford gets questioned at council, by Anthony Perruzza. Seems a bit flustered at first but handles himself well. Says, diplomatically, that the existing Sheppard subway doesn’t meet subway ridership threshholds, but demurs on saying whether it should have been built or not.

11:09 AM: Frank Di Giorgio to Miller: if you have a directive from the province to spend $8.4 billion on rapid transit to serve the maximum number of people or communities, “does that not predetermine” the recommendations you make? (He askes this as though it’s a bad thing.) Miller: “Panel’s recommendation on LRT is not just contingent on the funding situation” (i.e., it is the best choice). Di Giorgio also asks about whether there is any evidence LRT will stimulate street-level intensification better than bus rapid transit (BRT). Miller replies that it can, but the City would need to actively promote the development. Later he also adds that BRT is something that can be a useful part of a transit network, and Toronto should be looking at it in some cases too.

11:06 AM: Under questioning from Councillor Michael Thompson, Miller says that even if the City had all the needed money he wouldn’t necessarily be recommending they build a subway for Sheppard. “Building a network” would be a higher priority.

11:02 AM: More Mammoliti quotes! “If you think that Mammoliti’s stunts over the last 23 years have been off the wall, wait till you see me over the next. They are going to stop with the LRT along Finch Avenue and if they don’t I will cost them more money than they can ever imagine.” (via the Globe‘s Kelly Grant)

10:57 AM: Frances Nunziata is drawing some jeers from the audience for her managing of questions and answers. Cutting Miller off, asking for “yes or no only” answers in some cases—more interjection than there usually is.

10:50 AM: We take it back. Norm Kelly: “Mr. Miller, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Meanwhile, in a press scrum Giorgio Mammoliti says he will be voting for a one per cent property tax increase if it is dedicated to subway construction.

10:44 AM: Technophobic councillors seem to be having an easy time of the Skype questioning, now that it’s been agreed to. Modern miracle!

10:42 AM: Last night Del Grande intimated that he or another Ford ally will propose a motion that calls for new revenue tools—most likely a property tax increase and parking levy—to pay for a Sheppard subway. Interestingly, he didn’t ask about revenue tools in his questioning of Miller.

10:38 AM: Now questioning Miller: Mike Del Grande. He is asking about the effect of LRT “50 or 100 years from now” at major intersections. Miller: “There is no capacity loss. I agree there is a problem with capacity; the solution to that is to build transit” that takes people out of their cars.

10:34 AM: @goldsbie: “This is a horrible, horrible precedent,” grumbles Paul Christie about Skyping in Miller. “The next thing you know, it’ll be David Suzuki.”

10:30 AM: “There is considerable evidence that community opinion is not well informed”—Eric Miller to Giorgio Mammoliti, who is concerned the people don’t back light rail. Also, “the LRT will not take road space away” from the regular traffic lanes. “This is well documented.” Mammoliti appears unconvinced. He is especially concerned about the turning radius and U-turn options for tractor trailers.

10:19 AM: Ha—Norm Kelly is now handing out copies of his infamous “LRT kills” flyer but it’s just the “fact” list. Pictures of crashes gone.

10:17 AM: Provincial politicians weighing in. This morning, Rob Ford received a letter from six Scarborough MPPs backing underground transit.

10:10 AM: Matlow: people say it’s “inhumane” to make people wait outside in winter. Wryly, “isn’t it true that every subway station in Toronto is underground?” Miller, with a bit of a smile, disabuses Matlow of his false beliefs. Note: for a guy who started off as a rookie councillor committing to zero policy, always committed only to a “let’s talk” mantra—a fence sitter extraordinaire—Matlow is not pulling his punches. The mayor could have had an ally in him if he’d been inclined to compromise, and he lost him—hard.

10:08 AM: Josh Matlow to Miller: why didn’t you recommend subways? Miller: there is no “best” form of transit, simpliciter—just best for particular circumstances. LRT “will meet the needs of today and the needs of tomorrow” and it is best for Sheppard. It has the “potential to promote the evolution of the Sheppard Avenue corridor…by providing a route all along the Sheppard Avenue corridor” by stimulating street-level vitality. Also, it is the appropriate choice given the density in the area, and will serve more people.

10:04 AM: Live…it’s Dr. Eric Miller, from Peru! First questioner is Councillor Mary Fragedakis. Her concern is that people in the eastern portion of Scarborough won’t have their lives improved at all by Ford’s subway, since it wouldn’t reach them. Miller agrees.

10:02 AM: Skyping—just this one time—will be allowed. Glad we spent 15 minutes on this.

9:55 AM: We are still discussing Skype.

9:54 AM: And now, a debate about the magical, mysterical concept of Skype. Seems the chair of the expert panel on Sheppard, Eric Miller, is at a conference in Peru. Council needs to vote to allow him to answer questions remotely, since the procedures currently call for only persons in the room to take part in a meeting.

9:46 AM: Number of pro–light rail petition signatures introduced at the last major meeting, about Eglinton and Finch: 24,000.

9:42 AM: Meeting has been called to order. First matter: petitions! Norm Kelly has some. Chinese Canadians on Behalf of the Sheppard Subway: 3,609 signatories. Subways Are For Everyone: 447 signatories. Add in one more from Kelly and one from Del Grande, and that brings us to about 4,000 signatories on pro-subway petitions.

9:30 AM: Rob Ford and his allies have, over the past weeks, floated and then ruled out any number of revenue tools that could be used to close the very large funding gap currently standing between Ford and his subways. One major question about today’s debate is whether Ford is willing to commit to any of those tools and actually propose a motion on the floor of council that would, for instance, increase property taxes in order to pay for a subway on Sheppard. This would be a political challenge for Ford, given that the central plank of his mayoral campaign—given far more prominence than any ideas about transit—was the claim that Torontonians are overburdened by taxes and a Ford administration would keep them at a minimum.

The other key question that we’ll be keeping a close eye on during the debate is how several centrist councillors, whose votes will determine this one way or another, seem to be leaning. Those councillors: Gloria Lindsay Luby, Jaye Robinson, and Ana Bailão. Several other centrists—especially Josh Colle and Mary-Margaret McMahon—are right now expected to vote for LRT. They are, however, the likeliest to be persuaded by a compromise option that includes new revenue tools to help pay for a subway.


The blue ribbon panel’s report on Sheppard, supporting light rail [PDF].

Gordon Chong’s report on Sheppard, supporting a subway [PDF].