John Sewell Recent Political Initiatives

What John Sewell wants for St. Clair transit

1. More transit service on St. Clair.

The number of streetcars has been reduced on St. Clair by about one third in the last fifteen years. During the evening rush hour in 1990, 27 streetcars were scheduled every hour, but today, for the same period the number is 19. With worse service, the number of transit riders has dropped. In 1976, there were 39,000 riders on the St. Clair Streetcar; by 1995 that had dropped to 30,000, and today it’s about 32,000.

We need more streetcars on St. Clair. When the TTC first proposed the reserved right of way in 2002, it wanted to reduce the number of streetcars in rush hour even more. It has since said it will not reduce service, but it has not agreed to increase service. John Sewell wants to increase rush hour streetcar service as a start.

2. During rush hours, provide a reserved right of way for streetcars and prohibit left turns on St. Clair.

To ensure that streetcars can zip along the street during rush hours and don’t get caught up in commuter car traffic, the city should impose bylaws which prohibit cars and trucks on the streetcar tracks during rush hours. At the same time, left turns along St. Clair should be prohibited during rush hours.

These bylaws should be backed up with good enforcement, both using cameras, and by police or special constables appointed by the TTC with power to give out tickets.

These simple and inexpensive steps will ensure that streetcars travel more quickly along the street, providing better service. We don’t have a good estimate of the saving in time, but these changes should be much more successful at speeding up streetcars than the permanent reserved right-of-way that the TTC wants to build since it permits many left turns for cars at stop lights (just like on Spadina Avenue), and those turns will delay streetcars. The TTC estimates that the average time saving with its permanent reserved right-of-way will be just one minute on a ride from Yonge to Jane Street, perhaps because the TTC proposes to have fewer stops, perhaps because there’s not a serious congestion problem at the present time. The proposal I want to see provides the best of both worlds during the critical rush hour periods – a reserved right of way, no left turns, and as many stops as now exist.

As well, an assessment of signal and timing operations should be made, as well as a review of various intersection arrangements, to develop an appropriate priority treatment at signalized intersections to reduce transit delays at any time during the day. Loading arrangements should also be reviewed to remove loading delays, perhaps allowing entry through rear doors, as on Queen Street.

3. Widen sidewalks on St. Clair

Wider sidewalks means there is a more comfortable pedestrian environment, and there is room to plant trees, as well as for merchants to easily display their goods and restaurants to have their patios without occupying the traveled part of the sidewalk.

One way to widen sidewalks is to get rid of the transit islands in the middle of the street – these islands are not pleasant places to wait for a streetcar. Instead, the sidewalk should be widened at all transit stops so people can wait on the sidewalk, and then can walk across one lane of traffic to get to the streetcar. This is what is now done on College Street between Spadina and Palmerston – it works well.

The TTC’s plan is to narrow sidewalks at most intersections. The TTC says this most be done to allow space for its reserved right of way, transit islands, the left-turn and U-turn lanes, and two lanes of moving traffic. Some sidewalks become very narrow – just look at how narrow the sidewalk has become at the south-west corner of St., Clair and Yonge.

It makes no sense to narrow sidewalks on a street as wide as St. Clair, and with as much vibrant street life. Sidewalks should be widened.

4. Retain virtually all curb-side parking in retail strips on St. Clair

Curb side parking slows down traffic, and provides a buffer between moving traffic and the sidewalk. Curb side parking spaces along the retail strips also provide important benefits to local stores and businesses. The proposal to create a reserved right-of-way during rush hours retains virtually all existing curb-side parking.

The right-of-way plan would substantially reduce curb-side parking in order to provide space for two lanes of moving traffic. Along with narrower sidewalks, this will make St. Clair a more unpleasant place to walk, and local businesses will be threatened.

Other retails strips which works well – such as the Bayview Strip south of Eglinton – retain curb side parking. That’s the example we should follow on St. Clair.

5. Install Bike lanes on St. Clair

Bike ridership in Toronto is increasing, and St. Clair would be a good route for cyclists if bike lanes were created. Let’s put bike lanes on St. Clair.

The TTC’s plan does not allow for bike lanes. The TTC says there isn’t room for its reserved right-of-way, transit islands, left turn/U-turn lanes, and two lanes of moving traffic. (As we know from the Spadina Avenue reserved right of way, bike lanes can’t be fitted in.)

6. What to do?

The TTC has begun construction of its reserved right-of-way between Yonge Street and Vaughan Road, and it will be completed before the end of the year. If elected, I will attempt to cancel the TTC plan west of Bathurst, and make the kinds of changes suggested here instead – changes that lead to better, faster streetcar service, more comfortable sidewalks, less commuter car traffic, and bike lanes – at a cost that is less than the TTC’s plan.

The ideas outlined here make sense and do more to promote transit use than the TTC’s plan. These ideas were suggested by the merchants along St. Clair when the TTC held its famous `consultation’ during 2004 - 5, but the TTC and the current councillor Joe Mihevc, a director of the TTC, showed little interest in these ideas. I was one of the many people who spoke out in favour of these ideas, as did the Save Our St. Clair association – but City Hall wouldn’t listen. We need a City Hall which does listen to community feedback, a City Hall that pays attention to what neighbourhoods say.

John Sewell.
July 12, 2006.