City Hall Watcher #10: Toronto employment is booming, except where it isn't

Retail jobs on the decline, a million cyclists on Bloor Street, Vision Zero coming to the Danforth & much more

2018 Toronto Employment Survey

The Planning and Housing Committee on Wednesday will receive the 2018 Toronto Employment Survey.

It’s a great report, especially if you like blue circles.

The good news? Toronto gained 26,940 jobs last year — 15,580 full-time gigs and 11,360 part-time. That brought the total number of jobs in the city to 1,523,180

2018 Toronto Employment Survey

That’s an all-time record, and it appears Toronto has now firmly and permanently recovered from the economic crash that really hurt the city’s economy in the early-to-mid 1990s. The grunge era was rough.

But note: the city still has fewer full-time jobs than it did in 1989 and the number of businesses remains way down. There’s still room to grow to really capture the heights of the go-go 1980s.

More bad news? Toronto saw job growth in every category of employment except retail, where the city actually lost 60 jobs.

2018 Toronto Employment Survey

The report explains: “Retail employment was stable in 2018, losing 60 jobs (0.0% growth). Structural trends in the retail sector that suggest this slowing growth include growing consumer use of online channels, increasing automation in retail environments, and concentration of retailing in fewer, larger locations.”

If this trend continues, it has implications for the city’s work on the anti-poverty and youth employment files. The retail sector offers some of the most accessible entry-level jobs.

2018 Toronto Employment Survey

The loss of retail jobs is especially pronounced downtown, where 1,150 retail jobs vanished last year.

That loss was more than offset by the addition of a whopping 18,800 office jobs in the core, and downtown continued to post stronger growth figures than the rest of the city, as it has for the past five years. 

2018 Toronto Employment Survey

Still, worrying signs for the retail sector in Toronto. Something to think about as we wait for our next Amazon package.

Proposed as-of-right zoning for basement apartments draws rave reviews

Also on Wednesday’s Planning & Housing Committee Agenda: a proposal to loosen the regulations around secondary suites (basement apartments and the like). 

There’s a ton of technical language whenever staff write about planning stuff, but the simple version of this proposal is that it removes a bunch of goofy old rules that were designed to limit the number of secondary suites, especially outside the downtown area.

With the new regulations, for instance, it will no longer be against the rules for townhouses located outside the city’s R zone (which roughly corresponds to the old City of Toronto boundaries) to offer secondary suites.

Crucially, the new regulations also ditch rules that require houses in some zoning areas to be a certain age before they can have secondary suites. In a large part of the city, the current waiting period is five years. In one part of the city it’s 40 years. 

The proposed new regulations — which should lead to more rental units in the city — drew positive reviews from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, the Voice of the Poor Advocacy Committee Ontario, and planner Sean Galbraith, though he understandably hopes City Council does not screw this up.

The proposed regulations will need to pass through committee and then City Council.

Also on the Planning & Housing Committee agenda: a set of proposed changes to the zoning bylaws governing shelters. Similar to the secondary suite changes, this proposal ends the requirement that shelters not be located within 250 metres of each other, and that all shelters be located within 80 metres of a major street.

Councillor Brad Bradford pitches Vision Zero on the Danforth — for a weekend

City of Toronto report

Newbie Councillor Brad Bradford has a request on Tuesday’s Toronto & East York Community Council agenda for a Vision Zero pop-up on the Danforth between Woodbine Avenue and Woodmount Avenue.

Based on a proposal by 8 80 Cities, it could include the installation of a bunch of the measures advocated for by Vision Zero: removal of two lanes of traffic, more traffic calming measures, more mid-block crossings, extra seating and greenery, activations and bike lanes. 

City of Toronto report

Don’t get TOO excited, though. All this would be temporary. Bradford’s request asks staff to work out the details and recommend a weekend in July or August where this stuff could be installed, and then subsequently removed. 

“It will be an invitation to residents in my community and from communities all across Toronto to come and see how a complete street looks and feels,” writes Bradford in a letter to Community Council.

The request will need to be adopted by Community Council before staff can begin work and make this a reality.

Related: Subject to committee and council approval, a similar project will take place on Spadina Road, North of Lonsdale Road. There, the Forest Hill Village BIA wants to replace a boring old parking space with a fun and inviting parklet — a teeny tiny park. It’d look something like this: 

Forest Hill Village BIA

This was supposed to happen last summer, but logistical and design issues delayed it. It’s back in the works now, with it planned to remain in place from June to November, provided it gets approval.

Cycle Toronto: nearly one million cycling trips across Bloor Street per year

Cycle Toronto has crunched some numbers from the City of Toronto on the Bloor Street bike lanes, installed a few years back between Avenue Road and Shaw Street. The headline figure is impressive: 980,646 cycling trips were recorded in that time.

Spitting distance of one million rides.

Cycle Toronto

Their chart is a good demonstration of the seasonal variance in cycling volumes. Kudos to them for releasing their raw data too.

By downloading it — and of course I downloaded it — I was able to pull out the top five busiest 15-minute periods recorded along the bike lanes between February 2018 and January 2019.

Top Five Busiest Periods for the Bloor Street Bike Lanes, Feb 2018-Jan 2019

  1. Monday, September 17, 8:45 - 9 a.m. - 208 cyclists

  2. Tuesday, May 29, 8:45 a.m. - 9 a.m. - 201 cyclists

  3. Wednesday, May 23, 2018, 8:45 - 9 a.m. - 198 cyclists

  4. Tuesday, June 5, 2018, 5:30 - 5:45 p.m. - 198 cyclists

  5. Monday, June 11, 2018 - 8:45 a.m. - 9 a.m. - 197 cyclists

The data suggests that these lanes are being predominantly used by commuters, not recreational cyclists. The busiest times all coincide with morning or evening rush hour, and a time period that falls on a weekend doesn’t appear anywhere on the list until #841. (Sunday, August 26 between 2 and 2:15 p.m. — if anyone has any ideas as to why this would be the most popular non-weekday period last year, let me know.)

Cycle Toronto is arguing the high levels of usage on Bloor justifies expansion. Hard to argue otherwise.

Proposed Queens Quay people mover not likely to do much people moving

City of Toronto report

The city has posted their presentation and display boards from a meeting held March 4 on the latest developments in the Queens Quay Transit Link saga.

If you’re new to this, the issue is this: developers and businesses along Queens Quay East were promised an LRT transit connection. In an ideal world, that LRT would connect with Union Station to allow transfers to the subway. But the “loop” available for transit vehicles at Union is too small to handle the 4,000-8,000 passengers projected to make that connection at rush hour each weekday morning by 2041.

So the city has had to grapple with two options: either renovating the loop to handle more vehicles and more passengers, or implementing an alternative solution to get riders from Union down to Queens Quay.

City of Toronto report

Much analysis — at one point, they were also considering a moving sidewalk, like at the airport —revealed that renovating the loop to accommodate a direct connection from the LRT would:

  • Get riders to their destination faster

  • Attract more riders  

On the other hand, the alternative — a short cable-pulled “people mover” kind of like what they have at Disney parks — would:

  • avoid construction risks that come from building near the train tracks at Union

  • Maybe get built slightly faster — the projected construction timeline for the People Mover is 3-4 years, compared to 4-5 years from the loop renovation

And both carry the exact same cost estimate: $650 to $700 million.

Based on all that, staff are recommending Council support the direct connection option. The recommendation will first go to Executive Committee on April 9.

Funding source is still TBD, though, in a weird twist, the funding could come from a billionaire tech giant.

In other news

  • “McGilvery is still mad at the mayor. But not waiting anymore. He’s already looking ahead. Rebuilding.” The Toronto Star’s May Warren has written one hell of a piece about people who made hones beneath the Gardiner Expressway this winter.

  • Mayor John Tory placed a call and gave an interview to Ron Johnson, editorial director of Post City Toronto, after the outlet ran a critical editorial about his handling of the homeless crisis. Pressed on whether he should raise property taxes to tackle issues like homelessness, Tory told Johnson, “If you asked me, if I raise taxes, would I be able to do more? I’m not sure the answer would be yes … it has nothing to do with money. It has to do with the capacity of the industry to actually produce [3,300 units of] affordable housing within the context of a viable business plan. And so that’s why we’ve gone with Housing Now as a first step.”

  • TVO’s John Michael McGrath digs into a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office showing that increased federal investment over the last few years has mostly been offset by decreased investment by the provinces. In other words, the federal government — against their intentions — wasn’t helping to increase overall investment in programs and services, but rather help provincial governments reduce their deficits and debts. The problem was especially acute in Ontario: “Ontario alone accounts for more than half of the claw-back: according to the PBO report, we spent $8.2 billion less than planned from 2016 to 2018; all other provinces combined for just $7.3 billion in reduced spending.”

  • A clarification from last week’s issue. TTC chair Jaye Robinson confirmed on Twitter that her vote against the planned 2019 expansion of Toronto’s bike share system was a simple case of hitting the wrong button. A mistake — we all make ‘em.

The week ahead

MONDAY: The Infrastructure & Environment Committee met earlier today. They approved closures of the Gardiner and DVP for the next three years for the Ride for Heart and the Toronto Triathlon Festival, though the reports do note that the events will get a bit tricky when construction really ramps up on the “hybrid” Gardiner East.

The committee also agreed to suspend Aplus General Contractors Corp. from bidding on city projects for three years. (The Star’s Francine Kopun has more on that story.)

Looking forward: the committee saw a presentation detailing staff work plans for the rest of the year. Mark your calendars:

  • A report on the 2019 Cycling Plan Implementation will come in Q2

  • The Reimagining Yonge plan — with those controversial bike lanes on Yonge Street in North York — is set to come back to the committee in Q3

  • A TransformTO Implementation plan for climate change mitigation is also set for Q3

  • The Vision Zero Road Safety Plan for 2019-2023 will come in Q3

  • The Congestion Management Plan for 2021-2025 will be delivered in Q4

Just so much to look forward to.

TUESDAY: On the same day the federal government unveils their new budget, Council will break up into small groups for Community Council day. The agendas for Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke York and Toronto & East York contain the usual variety of street namings, traffic calmings, tree removal proposals, parking changes, liquor licenses and fence exemptions.

Of interest: residents of Lawton Boulevard in Councillor Josh Matlow’s ward want speed bumps installed. A city-issued poll found 73% respond in favour of the traffic calming measure. But because the poll didn’t achieve a response rate of 50%, staff are recommending against them.

This rule continues to confound — the city holds the democracy for installing speed bumps to a much higher standard than they do the democracy for electing actual human beings.

The committee is likely to overrule the staff recommendation and approve the installation of the traffic calming, but if they almost always do that, why have the requirement?

WEDNESDAY: The Planning & Housing Committee will meet to hear more about the Employment Survey and the changes to regulations governing secondary suites and homeless shelters. 

Meanwhile, the Civic Appointments Committee will meet to consider candidates for appointment to the TTC, the Library Board, the Exhibition Place Board, the Toronto Zoo Board and the Accessibility Committee.

THURSDAY: Mayor John Tory’s Executive Committee will meet to consider a report on the provincial takeover of the city’s subway system. The city is now preparing to spend $2 million for additional staff and third-party advice as negotiations continue. The city is going to ask the provincial government to reimburse those costs. Worth a shot, anyway. 

117 letters objecting to the subway upload have already been filed with the City Clerk.

Also on the agenda: a report on the city’s limited ability to prevent the presence of hate-sponsored rallies, recommendations for the slate of advisory bodies this term, a plan to create new affordable housing and long-term care spaces for seniors at 640 Lansdowne Avenue, a request from Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong to enforce the residency requirement for city-appointed board members, and a request that the committee approve $5 million for an after-hours light show exhibit at the Toronto Zoo.

CBC’s Haweya Fadal has more on the Zoo light show request. Some councillors will probably crack some “bright idea” puns when this comes up for debate. You don’t need to laugh.

FRIDAY: The Toronto Parking Authority board meets. On their agenda: a tribute to the late Major General Reginald W. Lewis, who served General Manager and President of the Parking Authority of Toronto from 1974 to 1990. He’s credited with creating “a number of mixed use car park developments, which at the time was a ground-breaking concept in parking.” 

In 2016, the TPA recognized Lewis as “Mr. Toronto Parking.” He passed away on February 25. The TPA board will consider a motion to “develop a fitting memorial tribute to permanently commemorate Mr. Lewis' stature in the history of the Toronto Parking Authority and the reverence in which he is held to this day by staff who worked under his leadership and guidance and those that knew of him.”

City Hall Watcher #10

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Next week! A look at what — if anything — Toronto got from tomorrow’s federal budget. Plus: a preview of the March council meeting set for March 27. See you back here Monday at 5 p.m.