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City Hall Watcher #120: Intersection Inspection looks at Eglinton & Dufferin, Yonge & Soudan, and Front & Bay, plus mysterious trips, library stats and more!
Hey there! For some of you it’s been a while. This is the first FREE issue of City Hall Watcher since the wintery depths of February 16. Just think about how different things are now. Back then, we were gripped by a global pandemic, wondering how our governments would tackle a third wave, and also asking when — and how — we would all get vaccinated.
Ten weeks later and, well, uh, it’s a bit warmer outside, I guess.
But lots of stuff has been happening in and around Toronto City Hall, as paying subscribers to this publication can tell you.
If you’re not a subscriber, this issue should give you a taste of what you’re missing. I’ve got an all-request edition of INTERSECTION INSPECTION, a recurring feature that goes deep into the data behind individual Toronto intersections. Readers have written in with many requests for intersections they’d like to see me inspect, and I am happy to oblige.
Becoming a subscriber is easy. Just click the button below. It costs just five bucks a month or $50 a year, plus tax — it’s a bargain and a deal.
— Matt Elliott
Intersection Inspection, all-request edition
Intersection Inspection is a recurring feature in which I look at historical data from various intersections to look at how travel patterns are changing for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
I use the Traffic Volumes at Intersections for All Modes Open Data dataset to conduct this analysis, which is super cool because it dates back all the way to the go-go 1980s.
The requests have been piling up, so I figured this was a good week to deal with some of them. You can click on any chart in this newsletter for an interactive version.
Intersection Inspection: Dufferin & Eglinton
Reader Jeff wrote in to request Oakwood & Eglinton, saying that he used to live nearby and was curious how the data looked after “seeing the years of construction and just the general state of the road.” He also pointed out that looking at an intersection on Eglinton would help make this feature “a little less ‘downtown.’”
And he’s right! It’s time to bring this feature north of Bloor. The bad news is that Eglinton & Oakwood doesn’t have much data, so let’s shift our focus a few blocks over and look at an intersection that offers us a ton of historic data: Eglinton & Dufferin.
First reaction: a lot of cars. Our previous downtown-centric Intersection Inspections saw higher pedestrian and cyclist volumes prior relative to cars, but Eglinton & Dufferin has been serving about 20,000 cars a day like clockwork since the mid-80s. It’s impressive how little variance there is here in the car volumes — summer, winter, whatever. There are going to about 20,000 cars at Eglinton & Dufferin.
Car volumes haven’t really grown significantly, though, even as the population has. Pedestrian volumes, on the other hand, have ticked up steadily, with 2016 numbers about double the numbers in the 1980s.
One way this kind of data can obscure, things, however, is that it’s almost impossible to see how buses serve this intersection. Eglinton West and Dufferin are both busy bus routes, but buses amount to a tiny sliver of yellow on my chart.
If you separate the buses out, it’s easier to see that there are actually a hell of a lot of them. 745 buses in an eight-hour traffic count works out to about one bus every 90 seconds or so.
So a fairer way to consider this data might be to make a broad estimate to how many bus riders used this intersection on these days. There’s no way of knowing exactly how full these buses were, but the TTC defines a “very busy” standard bus as one carrying more than 40 riders, so let’s use 40 as our multiplier to keep it simple — it’s probably an undercount, if anything. If we do that, our Intersection Inspection chart suddenly looks like this:
Bus riders suddenly become the most frequent users of the intersection, with bus riders far outnumbering cars in recent weekday counts. (April 16, 2016 was a Saturday. April 18 was a Monday.)
I loved that there’s so many data points for this intersection, but it was a real drag to learn that there’s no data more recent than April of 2016. In 2016, the intersection still looked like this:
These days, of course, it’s a chaos zone with Eglinton Crosstown construction. (Wave to the crossing guard!)
It would have been fascinating to see how the numbers have changed during the construction. Thankfully, our next request gives us a glimpse of how construction has changed travel patterns.
Intersection Inspection: Yonge & Soudan
Reader Sandra requested Yonge & Soudan, an intersection just a few blocks south of Yonge & Eglinton. “The staggered lights for pedestrians and cars—three-stage, is very confusing and visibility is very poor,” Sandra says. “I have to drive there to visit my Dad and I drive one kilometre an hour to make sure I am seeing everyone.” It definitely looks a bit confusing, and my guess was that we’d see spillover impacts from the Yonge & Eglinton construction chaos here.
Its data looks like this:
Again, more data points but would be nice, but that is a significant drop in car and pedestrian volumes in 2019 compared to every other year data was measured. Got to be because of construction and just generally people avoiding the area around Eglinton in the era of Crosstown construction, right?
It will be fascinating to monitor intersections like this after the Crosstown project is finished. I am very interested to see how long it will take for the area to bounce back.
Intersection Inspection: Bay & Front
Let’s head back downtown now. Reader Sean was interested in Bay & Front, just outside Union Station. “Can you please do Front & Bay? I believe it’s the city’s busiest for pedestrians and the crappy cement barriers placed in front of Union Station are an extreme annoyance.”
I agree on the barriers. They were haphazardly installed after the Yonge Street van attack and then just left in place. They take a lot of the juice out of Union Station, which is looking real spiffy after its renovation. A staff report indicates a better-designed barrier system is in the works, to be installed by the end of 2022.
Anyway, as you’d expect, a bananas number of pedestrians come through here every day:
An obvious statement: 41,842 pedestrians is a lot of pedestrians.
The weekend versus weekday variability here is pretty incredible. February 26, 2019 was a Tuesday, while March 2, 2019 was a Saturday. Pedestrian volumes were almost twice as high on the weekday.
The low 2009 counts are a bit puzzling — both weekdays — but could be chalked up to whatever amount of construction was taking place, I suppose. Let me know if you have any theories.
Fun, right? I’m continuing to gladly accept requests for future editions of Intersection Inspection from subscribers. You can jump on board and make your own request by subscribing with a couple of clicks.
More from Matt: on vaccine frustration, and scooters
📰 For the Toronto Star last week, I wrote about the frustration that comes with trying to get a vaccine appointment in a hotspot neighbourhood. If you’re curious, I’m still hunting.
🗞 For the Star this week, I switch gears and talk to someone who sells e-scooters, and is wondering why a staff report is recommending the city ban their use on public streets. Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
In other news
Before Jim Karygiannis was removed from office, he took a trip to Stepanakert in the Republic of Artsakh — in, or near, Azerbaijan — with the $2,545.29 trip covered by the local government of Stepanakert. The trip was to attend the Pro Artsakh Forum, which ran from October 10, 2019 to October 14 — where attendees were given “an opportunity to engage in constructive discussions on prospects for peace and prosperity in the South Caucasus, as well as on ways to break the isolation imposed on the people of Artsakh.” Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty had some questions about the then-councillor’s travel, including some confusion about how many nights Karygiannis spent in locations during the trip, and how many meals were received. Karygiannis was removed from office before those questions could be answered, so Batty has made all his documents related to the trip public. The former councillor also blamed a war.
Some raves for ravine journalism. The Globe’s Oliver Moore and Alex Bozikovic have a pair of articles looking at the city’s ravine system. The first looks at ways to improve equal access, while the second looks at issues like invasive species — and too much road salt that ends up in the waterways.
CBC’s John Rieti has been scouring the street-sweeping beat for the last year and swept together a hell of a story: the City awarded a street-sweeping contract to a company that lacks the equipment to properly sweep streets.
“But the terror of it is real.” The Star’s Nadine Yousif talks to Denise Campbell, City Hall’s Social Development ED, about building alternatives to the police.
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: 🗂 The General Government & Licensing Committee met this morning. They received their annual report on properties owned by corporations who owe more than $500,000 in back property taxes. This year’s champ: 600 Queens Plate, owned by Woodbine Mall Holdings, with a debt of $5.9 million. A staff note says the property has been sold to Amazon.
🌬 The Board of Directors of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund met to consider some requests for investment in projects that lower greenhouse gas emissions.
📚 The Toronto Library Board meets tonight. They’ll review a report on library use in 2020, which was the first year ever in which electronic circulation of library materials surpassed physical circulation. Just barely:
Will it last post-pandemic?
TUESDAY: 📉 The Economic & Community Development Committee meets.
They’ll consider Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion for a pilot project that would allow people to drink booze in parks without being hassled by the man.
Also on the agenda: fireworks. It turns out a lot of people wiled away the time during quarantine by setting off some pyrotechnics.
Staff aren’t recommending any changes to firework bylaws, but the Canadian National Fireworks Association is lobbying for their Vendor Certification & Employee Training Program to be part of an improved plan to better educate people about fireworks safety.
💳 The Debenture Committee will meet to consider issuing $350 million worth of new debt. Most of the new money will go to Transportation Services, with $128.6 million going to the Gardiner and $153.7 million going to local road repairs.
🏢 The TCHC Board meets. Their agenda includes a report on the eviction moratorium that Council recently requested be extended through at least June 17. TCHC says they’ll honour that request, noting that there were 28 pending evictions for non-payment of rent as of March 31.
WEDNESDAY: 🚧 The Infrastructure & Environment Committee meets. After months of lobbying and deliberation, staff are recommending the committee and Council ban the use of e-scooters on city streets. Expect a big debate about that.
🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $3.6 million for road and sidewalk repair in Etobicoke York.
THURSDAY: ✍️ The Executive Committee meets. One fun report includes a list of 27 outstanding report requests made before the pandemic. Lots of work to catch up on, whenever this pandemic thing is over.
That report also includes an analysis of councillor compensation, showing that following the cut to the size of council Toronto councillors should probably be considered significantly underpaid:
Another significant item on the agenda is the endgame of the PayIt saga, which started with an unsolicited bid by a company who would like to provide digital payment services for Toronto. The report recommends committee and Council approve a negotiated deal. Tech Reset Canada has written a thoughtful response. There’s an event tonight with a smart line-up of speakers giving their take. You can sign up here.
FRIDAY: No meetings scheduled.
NEXT WEEK: It’s gonna be May. Council meets Wednesday and Thursday.
City Hall Watcher #120
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with more news. In the coming weeks, subscribers will get a new edition of LOBBYIST WATCH — my monthly summary of what lobbyists are lobbying about — and a Council preview and recap. Plus it’s almost time for an update to the COUNCIL SCORECARD. And of course there’s always lots of room for more data-based analysis with features like Intersection Inspection and Open Data Challenge.
Here’s the catch, though: you got to subscribe to get it. Hope you’ll consider it.
Either way, thanks for reading! If you’ve got a question, comment or request, let me know by replying to this message or leaving a comment.