The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).

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Shaping Toronto: Union Station

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2016.

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Union Station under construction, August 1, 1917. Photo by John Boyd Sr. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 14352.

Pierre Berton called it “the soul and heartbeat of Toronto.” Over its history, Union Station has welcomed new arrivals to Canada, bid farewell to soldiers going off to war, hosted nobility, and endured cranky commuters. The City’s government management committee’s approval earlier this month of a proposal to develop space under the Great Hall for a culinary market and cultural event space is the latest step in the long evolution of our main downtown transportation hub.

Toronto entered the railway age in 1853, when a train departed a shed on Front Street for Aurora. Five years later the first incarnation of Union Station (so named because it was used by multiple railways) opened on the south side of Station Street between Simcoe and York. A shed-like structure, it couldn’t cope with the rapid increase in rail traffic, which prompted railways to build new stations elsewhere.

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Canadian Illustrated News, August 2, 1873.

The Grand Trunk Railway decided a new main station was needed. Built on the site of the original station, the second Union Station debuted on July 1, 1873. The opening ceremony was a muted affair due to the untimely death two months earlier of contractor John Shedden, but the new station was nicely decorated with evergreens for the occasion. Designed by E.P. Hanneford, the new Union was a grand building inspired by English railway stations of the previous decade, and was graced with three towers. Facing the harbour, it helped shape the city’s mid-Victorian skyline.

Like its predecessor, Union #2 couldn’t cope with the demands of a booming city. Facility improvements, including an 1894 expansion which blocked the original façade from view, barely alleviated the station’s woes. “The general consensus of opinion,” Railway and Shipping World reported in 1899, “is that the Toronto Union is one of the most inconvenient stations in America, expensive to run and unsatisfactory in very many respects.”

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The second Union Station, June 15, 1927. City of Toronto Archives Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 79, Item 236.

A catastrophe provided an opportunity to remedy the situation. The Great of Fire of 1904 wiped out nearly all of the buildings east of the station along Front Street, leaving room for a new facility amid the rubble. Within a year plans were underway for Union’s third incarnation, along with a railway viaduct to reduce the injuries and fatalities piling up at level crossings. While Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk formed Toronto Terminals Railway in 1906 to run the new station, two decades would pass before it opened for service.

Over that time, governments, property owners, and railways squabbled over everything, especially track placement. While construction began in fall 1914, the combination of quarrels and First World War material shortages delayed completion of much of the station until 1921. It stood empty for six years, part of the great Toronto tradition of stalled projects like the Bayview Ghost and the Spadina Ditch.

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Row of ticket offices at Union Station, during the period it was unused, June 13, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 908.

The delays became such a joke that when the new station received a royal opening on August 6, 1927, the Globe joked that “it took Edward, Prince of Wales just eight and one-half minutes on Saturday morning to accomplish what all of Toronto has been trying to do for the last six years.” When regular service launched four days later, the press gushed about improved passenger amenities and safety. Among the modern conveniences were a lunch counter, large dining room, full telegraph and telephone facilties, barber shop, beauty parlours, and, as the Globe noted, “individual bathrooms containing the most sanitary appliances.” Lingering viaduct work delayed Union’s final completion until 1930.

Stylistically, the new Union benefitted from its Beaux Arts design, especially in illuminating the Great Hall. In their survey of the city’s architectural history Toronto Observed, William Dendy and William Kilbourn praised main architect John M. Lyle’s work with natural light, which “gives the Hall its special character as light floods in through windows set high above the cornice on the south and north sides, and especially through the four-storey-high windows framed by vaulted arches at the east and west ends.”

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The second incarnation of Union Station was also a major transfer spot for the military during the First World War. Here, the 48th Highlanders are returning from Europe in 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 823.

During the Second World War, Union was an important military transfer point. Morley Callaghan described for Maclean’s how a soldier on leave could enjoy Union’s creature comforts, especially while killing time before a hot date:

If someone important is waiting, not there in the station but up in the city, and the date is a few hours off, the soldier can wait there in the station and enjoy all the comforts of a hotel. He can go into the drug store and buy himself a bottle of eau de cologne, if he wants to smell like a rose, and then go downstairs and take a bath. Then he can come up to the barber shop and be freshly shaved. If he is hungry he can go to the main dining room, if he has the money, or he can go to the coffee shop or the soda fountain. He’s not just in a depot, he’s in a communal centre.

After the war, Union’s amenities were among the first tastes of Canada thousands of immigrants enjoyed.

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Toronto Calendar, December 1971.

As intercity train travel waned during the 1960s, and plans for the redevelopment of the railway lands emerged, it looked like a fourth incarnation of Union might emerge. The destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1963 to make way for a new Madison Square Garden and a nondescript new train terminal was echoed when the Metro Centre proposal emerged in 1968. Had it proceeded, office towers would have replaced the Great Hall, while train service (including the recently launched GO) would have moved south into a primarily underground structure. Proponents argued that, as with its earlier incarnations, Union could not be expanded to handle projected passenger growth.

By the time local councils approved Metro Centre in 1970, the project faced public outcry over Union’s death sentence. Grassroots preservationist groups, having witnessed heritage demolitions galore over the previous decade, were buoyed by fights over the Spadina Expressway and Trefann Court, as well as the rescue of Old City Hall. “Union Station became a rallying point for those who might not have otherwise become involved in the issue of planning downtown,” John Sewell observed years later. “That planners and city council would be so cavalier about this structure was something that raised the ire of many—to such an extent that the Ontario Municipal Board refused to approve council’s decisions implementing the scheme.”

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, July 21, 1974.

With the election of David Crombie and a reform-minded council in 1972, Metro Centre’s days were numbered. Though elements like the CN Tower went ahead, the province killed any notion of demolishing Union when it announced expansion and renovation plans for the station in 1975. Work was carried on as the station’s function continued to evolve into primarily serving GTA commuters.

In recent years, Union has been a construction site, as years of squabbling over how to revamp the facility are finally showing results. GO’s new York Concourse opened in April 2015, while work on the Bay Concourse (last renovated in 1979) is scheduled to finish in 2017. The subway station gained another platform. An outdoor market proved popular this past summer. One can argue that the station will continue to be the city’s pulse for decades to come.

Additional material from The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station, Richard Bébout, editor (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1972); Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1993); Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986); The Shape of the City by John Sewell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); the July 2, 1873, August 8, 1927, and August 11, 1927 editions of the Globe; the March 15, 1943 edition of Maclean’s; and the May 28, 1975 edition of the Toronto Star.

Scarborough Gets an RT

Originally published on Torontoist on March 22, 2015, based on an article published by The Grid on July 15, 2013.

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985.

Torontonians love arguing about the same proposed transit lines ad nauseum. The current quest to bring Scarborough the subway it deserves as a replacement for the Scarborough RT‘s replacement feels like a replay of past battles where a streetcar/LRT line was displaced in favour of a pricier, sexier option.

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Toronto Star, January 29, 1975.

Among the priority studies recommended in January 1975—by a joint provincial/Metro Toronto task force on the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century—was a high-speed transit line linking the recently approved Kennedy subway station to Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern, and Pickering. Scarborough officials saw this line as key to spurring development in a downtown area based around the new civic centre, which would employ 25,000 people.

Based on passenger capacity projections, the plan that emerged was a streetcar line on its own right-of-way. While Scarborough officials glowed about the development possibilities, others, like Toronto city councillor John Sewell, believed the opposite. In a series of Globe and Mail op-eds, Sewell argued the line would serve commuters who worked in downtown Toronto and would be cursed by debt and low ridership. His appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to hold public hearings was rejected when it approved the line in September 1977.

Another early opponent was North York Mayor Mel Lastman. During a December 1978 North York council meeting, Lastman said that TTC services in his jurisdiction shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the selfishness of a fellow Metro municipality. (Lastman went on to exhibit just that when he later fought to preserve the Sheppard subway line as a development tool for North York.)

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985. The forthcoming systems elsewhere were Vancouver’s SkyTrain (opened December 1985) and the Detroit People Mover (opened July 1987).

The streetcar line was intended to commence soon after Kennedy station opened in 1980. Instead, TTC staff reports presented in June 1981 recommended a new vehicle Queen’s Park had heavily invested in. Through its interest in the Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), the province had been promoting the Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) since the mid-1970s as a cheaper alternative to subways. While there were technical problems with the system’s linear-induction motors, the province saw the vehicles as ideal for a future network of TTC and GO lines. When the TTC approved the system switch, Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey was confident the transit provider would work the bugs out.

Scarborough mayor Gus Harris thought there was “something very screwy” in the TTC’s sudden change of heart. He was quickly isolated for his concerns over ICTS testing problems; Scarborough council approved the switch after a six-hour debate. Their decision was boosted by promises that the province would cover cost increases and that the vehicles would be quieter than streetcars. Some councillors regretted their vote when reports of exploding motors during testing filtered back to them a few months later. One TTC official dismissed the lack of public scrutiny of the project, noting that most people didn’t understand the complexities of ICTS technology.

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Toronto Star, February 22, 1985.

Though several TTC officials favoured naming the line “Metro Rail,” the name “RT” was revealed as the winner of a public contest in January 1982. Speculation that riders would humanize the line’s name to “Artie” proved idle.

Local testing of the new vehicles began in April 1984. The public received free rides on the test track that summer. John Sewell, by now a Globe and Mail columnist, still wasn’t impressed with the line, calling its seating “uncomfortable” and “not private enough.” Gus Harris publicly reversed his position, going from an “I told you so” attitude as project costs rose from $134 to $196 million, to boosting the technology as a sign that Scarborough was “the city of the future.” There were bugs galore, starting with the return of the first four cars to UTDC due to uneven wheels. Late fleet delivery prompted the TTC to operate a reduced schedule once the line opened; shuttle buses would run after 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday.

Up to 1,000 dignitaries and TTC employees attended the RT’s opening ceremony on March 22, 1985. Harris called it the “greatest day in the history of Scarborough,” while a message from Premier Frank Miller (who didn’t attend) observed that “the RT is proof positive that Ontario can challenge the world and produce the best facilities anywhere.” Guests were treated to champagne and a performance by U of T’s Lady Godiva Band at Kennedy station. Also attending were placard-waving protestors angry at the TTC for not making the new line wheelchair accessible.

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“Wheelchair protest: As invited guests prepare to board Scarborough’s new $196 milliion rapid transit system at Civic Centre yesterday; protestors showed up in wheelchairs to complain that the disabled have been denied access to the new line.” Published in the Toronto Star, March 23, 1985. Photo by Alan Dunlop. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0011910f.

The next day, 30,000 people flooded the seven kilometre line to take advantage of free rides during the first official day of service. The biggest complaint during the RTs first week was the small size of the two-car trains. Other complaints soon arose, especially from neighbours between Kennedy and Lawrence East stations who found the RT too noisy. Despite attempts to fix the problems, caused by flat spots on the wheels and rail joints, several complainants eventually wound up with sizable property tax breaks for their misery.

As other problems emerged, the transit system of the future no longer looked so bright. The extension to Malvern was killed due to cost, as ICTS didn’t prove much cheaper than a subway. As early as 1987, local politicians mused about converting the line into a subway, but the TTC indicated that would also cost too much. There was speculation that the RT had to continue operating so that UTDC could sell its system, which had been bought by Detroit and Vancouver, overseas. The line was shut down for over two months during the summer of 1988 to replace a turnaround loop at Kennedy whose curves were too tight for the ICTS cars to handle. As the line’s lifespan dwindled, thoughts about its replacement came down to the LRT proposed in Transit City and the subway championed by Mayor Rob Ford. Whichever form wins, don’t count on it being the last word.

Additional material from the December 21, 1976, December 4, 1978, June 17, 1981, March 25, 1982, July 12, 1984, August 15, 1984, March 7, 1985, June 3, 1985, and October 12, 1987 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the January 29, 1975, September 30, 1977, December 11, 1978, June 17, 1981, June 22, 1981, January 23, 1982, March 23, 1985, and March 24, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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A sample of the anti-Scarborough LRT articles John Sewell wrote for the Globe and Mail, this one taken from the June 10, 1977 edition (click on image for larger version).

Attention Subway Customers: Wi-Fi Has Arrived

Originally published on Torontoist on December 10, 2013.

The good news: free Wi-Fi service is now available on subway platforms. The bad news: it’s currently limited to two key stations, and you still can’t use your regular mobile phone service.

After a two-week soft launch that began on November 25, the TTC officially introduced TConnect at a press conference this morning. “In a time when we talk a lot about transit infrastructure, we don’t actually see a lot get built,” observed TTC Chair Karen Stintz. “Today is a time we can celebrate new infrastructure being built in our TTC that’s going to help commuters every day communicate with home, communicate with work, and communicate with each other.”

The infrastructure for TConnect was provided by BAI Canada, which signed a 20-year contract with the TTC in December 2012. The service is currently available only at Bloor-Yonge and St. George stations, but Stintz promised that the downtown loop south of the Bloor-Danforth line will be connected by the start of the Pan-Am Games in 2015. Though cellular capability has been installed, a lack of agreements with the major mobile carriers means you won’t be gabbing on the phone while waiting for the next train.

While we encountered annoying videos upon logging onto the service during the soft launch, all we noticed today was a welcome screen plastered with sponsor logos. Service was smooth on our test phone while walking around all four station platforms, but it vaporizes the moment your train exits the premises.

For much of the press conference, it was hard to tell if the purpose was to celebrate the launch of Wi-Fi, or push Stride Gum and Huffington Post Canada. Mondelēz Canada has signed on to provide “messaging” for Stride, Oreo cookies, and its other popular processed products. HuffPo will offer news and other original content which, as AOL Canada general manager Joe Strolz suggested, “fuels social media interactions.”

Whether commuters will utilize TConnect’s content or rush past it to their usual information sources is yet to be seen.

UPDATE

As of 2018, Wi-Fi is available in all station, though not in between them.

Are Bike Lanes, Trees, and Mid-Rise Development in Eglinton Avenue’s Future?

Originally published on Torontoist on October 8, 2013.

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Is this what a future Golden Mile could look like? Image: City of Toronto.

Scene: 5 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in the future. It’s time to wind up the workday at one of the firms calling the city’s latest “innovation cluster” home. After a short stretch in a park that used to be a Walmart, you wander to the neighbourhood’s main drag to run a few pre-dinner errands. You marvel at the streetscape before you: tall trees, mid-rise developments, wide sidewalks, and commuters whizzing by in the bike lane. Out in the middle of the road, an LRT glides by on a vegetation-filled track bed. To think this humming, green streetscape along Eglinton Avenue was once Scarborough’s grey “Golden Mile” of industry…

This scenario could come true if the long-term visions in the City’s Eglinton Connects planning study are implemented. Over the past year, the project has looked at landscape and infrastructure improvements to Eglinton Avenue to complement the Crosstown LRT, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. Officials involved in the project foresee Toronto’s “centre of gravity” moving north when the transit line is finished.

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Segment of a map of what Eglinton Avenue might look like in the future, with sticky notes.

A final round of consultations on Eglinton Avenue’s future will include three public sessions, the first of which occurred at George Harvey Collegiate Institute, near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue, Monday night. Attendees browsed a 40-foot-long map, which included the Eglinton Connects recommendations for reconfiguring Eglinton between Jane Street and Kennedy Road. A prominent feature was a bicycle lane running mostly at sidewalk level along the entire stretch, giving cyclists a straight route across the city. Sticky notes were provided, so people could place their concerns on the map. Those concerns ranged from fears about developers sneaking in too-tall buildings, to commentaries about the unused TTC property at Eglinton subway station. The map is expected to be posted online shortly.

The Eglinton Connects plan’s 20 recommendations were organized under three themes:

Building Eglinton: Rezone properties to allow construction of mid-rise buildings along most of the corridor, with high-rises permitted at major hubs and intersections. Entrances to underground LRT stations should be integrated into neighbourhood-appropriate developments above them. More rear laneways and landscaped areas should be built to ease the transition from taller buildings to existing residential areas. Create more public spaces like parks and plazas. Recognize heritage properties with conservation districts.

Greening Eglinton: Green up the corridor by planting large trees along the street to grow a shady canopy. Provide better links to existing recreational trails and the city’s ravines. On the surface portions of the LRT, plant vegetation along the tracks.

Travelling Eglinton: This is based on the “complete streets” theory, which calls for planners to provide enough room for cars, bicycles, transit, and pedestrians. Dedicated bus lanes would be removed, travel lanes realigned, and current on-street parking levels retained. Wider sidewalks and protected cycling lanes would be built. In neighbourhoods designated as “Main Street Character Areas,” streetscape elements could include street furniture, patios, and gateway markers.

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The study also includes six focus areas where the changes would ideally be more radical. Current big-box retail areas like Westside Mall and the Golden Mile would, City planners hope, be replaced by new developments made up of commercial, recreational, and residential properties. Smaller sites, like the Metro supermarket at Bayview and Eglinton avenues, could be chopped up with new streets, assuming the owners of the properties could somehow be brought on board.

Before and after a one-hour presentation, attendees at Monday’s consultation were free to quiz City and project officials. There was a brief general Q&A session, where concerns raised ranged from questions about funding sources, to whether the proposed 90-centimetre buffer between the street and the bike lane would be sufficient for piling snow during winter clearing.

There are two more sessions coming up: tonight (October 8) at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute (730 Eglinton Avenue West) and tomorrow night (October 9) at Jean Vanier Secondary School (959 Midland Avenue). Each will run from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. If you can’t make it, an online survey is available. The study report is supposed to be completed by the end of 2013, and a final presentation is expected to go before city council next spring.

Articulating the TTC’s New Bendy Bus

Originally published on Torontoist on October 3, 2013.

How does riding the bendy portion of one of the TTC’s new articulated buses feel? Stand in the middle of the rotating section and you’ll notice little difference from elsewhere in the vehicle. Move closer to the edges and the experience resembles a slow-but-smooth merry-go-round.

One tip: if you’re tall, stand elsewhere in the bus unless you like ducking your head. The ceiling in the joint area is a little lower than normal.

Media and TTC officials experienced the new articulated buses during a test run between the TTC’s Hillcrest complex and Bathurst Station this morning. The feel of the ride was a little different than what passengers are accustomed to. For one thing, the predominantly grey interior makes the inside of the bus seem a little brighter than normal. Footrests improve the comfort level on raised seats. We suspect the plentiful aisle space will allow the vehicles to fit far more than the official peak capacity of 77 passengers (48 sitting, 29 standing). We also noticed many video cameras lining the roof.

When the articulated buses start rolling officially, the routes they serve will see less-frequent service to offset the increased rider capacity in each vehicle. When asked about this, TTC CEO Andy Byford pointed out the positives. He claimed that the extra set of exit doors will shorten stop times by speeding up passenger unloading, and that the higher capacity will provide passengers with better odds of getting on a vehicle. How this will play out in reality, with rush-hour passengers who could care less about the cost efficiencies that come with fewer drivers and vehicles, remains to be seen. Byford also indicated that, unlike the new streetcars, the first new buses won’t be equipped with Presto technology.

Also on hand was Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who marvelled at the gizmos drivers require to operate the vehicle. He praised TTC drivers for being “technically competent and socially alert.”

The vehicle used in today’s run is the first of 153 new Nova “Artic” buses that will go into service between December 2013 and January 2015, marking a return after a decade’s absence—though the articulated buses the TTC was using a decade ago were made by a different manufacturer. The buses will be a Christmas present for riders along the 7 Bathurst route, while long-suffering passengers of the 29 Dufferin bus may see the January arrival of the Artics as a New Year’s gift. Other routes slated to see the new buses before the end of 2014 are 6 Bay, 36 Finch West, 53 Steeles Express, 63 Ossington, and 85 Sheppard East. As for other routes, the buses will only be used where the demand exists and where garages can service the longer vehicles.

A Hot Time in the Old Town Hall Meeting Last Night

Originally published on Torontoist on February 29, 2012.

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Left to right: John Parker, Anna Pace, Andre Sorenson, Karen Stintz, Josh Matlow.

“This is going to be a heated meeting,” an audience member confided to us before last night’s transit town hall meeting began at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre. That prediction was prompted by an angry woman at the opposite end of our row, who bemoaned the number of business bankruptcies tied to the construction of the St. Clair right-of-way and suggested that meeting organizers Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) and Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton–Lawrence) have disgracefully spread lies about the benefits of LRT.

The attendee’s rage was revealed to the rest of the overflowing room early in the question-and-answer period, when she asked if there was a plan to handle potential lawsuits from businesses affected by construction of the new transit lines. When Stintz attempted to respond, the questioner yelled over her, causing the rest of the audience to urge her to respect the TTC chair (“Let her talk!”). Stintz noted that planners had learned from mistakes made along St. Clair, and, as she would throughout the night, assured the audience that St. Clair–style construction issues would not recur: “I want to make sure people don’t leave the room with the notion that we’re building St. Clair all over the city. That is not the case.” As the audience cheered, the questioner yelled, “you’re a liar,” then repeatedly called Stintz a liar as she fled the room amid a chorus of boos.

Though that was the most dramatic incident, tensions were evident between supporters of the transit plan approved by City Council on February 8 and those backing Mayor Rob Ford’s call for subways and a fully underground Eglinton crosstown line. Most speakers from Scarborough fell in the latter camp, their questions couched in feelings that the eastern suburb deserved better than a transit system they perceived as second-rate. Matlow, responding to a question about why people keep coming back to the subway option asked by a man representing a LRT-friendly coalition of BIAs, said that Scarborough residents and their desire for improved service had been exploited by Mayor Ford, in the “the most cynical type of politics” he had ever witnessed.

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Former Scarborough councillor Kurt Christensen listens to the response to his question.

Among the voices from Scarborough, one of the most amusing was a doctor who surveyed his fellow east-end physicians and found that nearly all agreed subways were needed. Far more bellicose was former Scarborough city councillor Kurt Christensen, who believed high-rises built around Scarborough Town Centre justified a subway, traffic at busy intersections along Eglinton would be nightmarish, and LRT shouldn’t be built because both the Scarborough RT and St. Clair line have, in his mind, been disasters. Stintz’s response was blunt: there is no money to build an underground line to Scarborough Town Centre.

Using money wisely was a recurring theme for the organizers, as was examining the evidence backing city council’s plan. Throughout the meeting, Matlow urged the audience to forget promises or rhetoric they’d heard and carefully consider city council’s option, a fiscally responsible plan that he feels would “use every dollar to increase, enhance, and expand public transportation for every corner of the city.” Matlow also reiterated a message he posted on his website on Monday: that if anyone devised a sound, feasible plan for building a subway, he would support it (though he admitted his subway preference was a downtown relief line).

Stintz’s opening remarks were brief. She noted that when the town hall was being planned in December, she and Matlow had imagined they’d be updating their constituents on the Eglinton project and not hosting a forum on recent transit developments. She stressed that financial resources were limited, and emphasized the need to provide the most service to the most residents. “Modern cities have subways, buses, LRTs,” said Stintz. “That’s how modern cities work. That’s how our city works.”

Following the introductions, University of Toronto professor Andre Sorensen gave a presentation on “Transit and Density.” His slideshow depicted a gridlock-clogged future for Toronto, with potential productivity losses of $6 billion if current infrastructure isn’t improved by 2031. Maps showed areas of residential and job density better connected by the original Transit City plan than later, Fordian revisions. He noted that Eglinton was better suited for a rapid-transit line than Sheppard, due to its large chunks of mixed-use, low-density land that would be easier to redevelop. By contrast, existing residential neighbourhoods bordering Sheppard would be difficult to raze for higher-density developments, like condo towers, if the subway were extended west of Yonge.

The second presenter was Anna Pace from the TTC’s Transit Expansion Department, who gave updates on construction and design work on the Eglinton LRT. After her slideshow, Pace offered to show a video about LRT in Phoenix, but by this point the session had only an hour to go and the testy audience was eager to move on to the Q&A. Cries of “Enough!” settled the issue.

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Audience members raised concerns about emergency-response times, traffic flow, the type of vehicles being built for Eglinton by Bombardier, ease of converting the line to a subway, funding methods, suitability of LRT for winter conditions, implementation of “Shop Local” programs during construction, street beautification, and the timeline for a final decision. Despite occasional heckling, the responses from the councillors and presenters were treated respectfully—sometimes with loud cheers from the pro-LRT contingent.

Among the supportive audience members was Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), who told several reporters that he hoped the session cleared the confusion surrounding Toronto’s transit future. Parker noted that much misinformation had been spread, and said that David Miller’s close association with the original Transit City plan made any LRT line toxic in the eyes of those who despised the former mayor.

The next crucial dates for transit planning are March 5, when council will debate whether to change the composition of the TTC board (switching from the current nine councillors to a mix of five private citizens and four councillors), and March 15, when a special council meeting will be held to consider a blue-ribbon panel’s report on Sheppard Avenue transit. (The panel is widely expected to endorse light rail rather than a subway.) Until then, the conversation will remain a heated one. “Don’t go for the bumper-sticker rhetoric or false-promise rhetoric,” Matlow urged during his conclusion. “Look at the facts and you’ll come to your own conclusion.”

BEHIND THE SCENES

As of this writing (March 2018), council has supported a Scarborough subway extension, whose limited reach (one station) and high price tag are endlessly debated. Any link I might include will be useless tomorrow.

Put me on the record as not being a great fan of town halls where the loudmouths rule the floor, giving little room for nuanced thought or carefully considered questions. You won’t find too many more examples of covering such events.