|OneCity transit plan map (http://www.onecitytransitplan.com)|
People in Toronto have long awaited transit. We need it – there’s no question about it. Toronto’s transportation problems have caused us to lose much productivity and economic activity. A Metrolinx study illustrates a $2.7 billion* loss in GDP simply because we’re stuck in transit. This is expected to balloon up to a $7.2 billion* loss in GDP by 2031.
But how do we resolve it? It’s commonly known that traffic congestion in Toronto will not get better in the next decade or two. Even if we build transit at a furious pace, the level of congestion we are facing is only expected to stay the same. And that’s only if we can build transit – everyone seems to have ideas, but no one seems to want to pay for it.
That’s one aspect of the 2012 OneCity transit plan brought forward by Councillors Stintz and De Baeremaeker that tries to address what so many conveniently ignore. Yes, we need to pay for it somehow, and asking taxpayers to pay for it makes sense. Toronto has some of the lowest tax rates in all of Canada. You certainly do get what you pay for.
But let’s talk about the actual plan itself. Simply by looking at the map, it is obvious that it is a conglomeration of transit plans that have amassed over the years. Lines from the Transit City proposal are evident, creating the bulk of the ten proposed LRT lines. Some subway extensions from Network 2011 and before are visible, such as the ‘North York Relief Line’ (which, conveniently, doesn’t relieve anything at all), a Bloor subway extension to what appears to be Scarborough Centre, and most famously of all, the Downtown Relief Line (renamed the Don Mills express line, though it won’t be express and even more certainly won’t run under Don Mills for most of its route).
Conveniently, it looks like this map is a rehash of Toronto-related transit in Metrolinx’ champion plan The Big Move. The two even have similar timelines (well – if one ignores the delays caused by the ‘interest’ in subways by our car-friendly mayor).
It’s a welcome start, but it doesn’t stop here. Just like the plans before it, there are many problems that need to be addressed – and since all the individual problems from previous plans were never remedied, this plan carries these issues as well – in bulk.
Let’s discuss each line in some detail, starting with subways, then LRT, then streetcar/buses.
Proposed Subway Lines
1) Downtown Relief Line (Don Mills Express)
The Downtown line (I prefer this name, so I’m sticking with it) has been the focus of almost every amateur transit planner in Toronto for quite a while now. Almost everyone’s alignment has it heading south on Don Mills from Eglinton, turning west through Thorncliffe Park, and south onto Pape. Once the line reaches the existing GO Lakeshore East corridor, everyone’s alignment changes. Some people want it along Queen to dual-purpose the line with replacement or realignment of the 501 Queen streetcar and ‘relieving’ the Yonge subway. Some people want it along King to rid the TTC of one of its highest ridership routes. Some even have it going down to Union. Everyone’s alignment differs, and this is going to be an issue for quite a while.
But back to the proposed Downtown line in the OneCity map. The line seems to head south on Pape until Queen, then veer west along Queen and finally onto King, terminating at King station.
This alignment provides some form of relief in that it encourages some reverse commuting if one were to travel to Ryerson University or other businesses. But I believe that the fact that the line does not connect to the University side is a big mistake. King and Bay is business central – there are tonnes of riders that would be aching for subway access, and it’d warrant it. We need to know where these riders are coming from, and if the 25 Don Mills has the capacity to bring people down to Eglinton (or if people are even willing to take that bus to get down to the Downtown line). It’s good to see that this proposal doesn’t end at Bloor like the Metrolinx version – this accommodates passengers coming in via the Crosstown.
I also wonder about how the line would be designed, once it hits high-density downtown. New TTC stations are gigantic – almost every new station is monstrous in that it includes a 10m wide platform, a mezzanine, and sometimes even a gigantic bus terminal. The downtown line will require different stations. Downtown is cramped, streets are narrow – if we follow any sort of street alignment, construction is going to be an absolute pain with such a small easement. The only way I can see stations being built is if we stack them (i.e. eastbound platform on top of the westbound platform). And then there’s the line delay problem at terminal crossovers that almost every TTC subway passenger faces. Will the Downtown line be the first to use an arriere-gare?
Conveniently, the plan also ignores the need for any sort of subway train yard requirements (though this may be due to how conceptual this plan is). You can’t hope that subway trains will disappear overnight and be back in the morning for rush hour.
2) Bloor-Danforth Extension into Scarborough
This line has been proposed by many as a method of eliminating the forced transfer from the Scarborough RT (SRT) to the Bloor-Danforth line. Most iterations of the line illustrate cutting through what is currently residential, doing a curve to the north and eventually ending up under McCowan. A station would probably be around the existing movie theatre area at Scarborough Centre, a fair distance from the existing SRT station, and finally the line extends up to Sheppard East.
It doesn’t work for me. Firstly, I’m not a fan of abandoning corridors. Secondly, the SRT is doing a fine job at carrying the loads it is designed to, and the conversion to LRT will open the possibility for Eglinton interlining and will increase line capacity by a ton. Since the SRT is completely grade separated unlike the other street-running LRT lines, it has the capability for automated transit control (like the underground section on Eglinton), which will allow extremely close headways. The conceptual design for the SRT conversion has a loop for SRT trains to turn back at Kennedy station. This is good – the lack of a crossover will permit SRT trains to lose line delays that are currently experienced at terminal stations. Any sort of delay would be experienced only at the terminal station at Sheppard.
It’s known that Sheppard doesn’t warrant a subway, thus the LRT option. But what makes McCowan (and by extension Scarborough) deserve a subway any better? It has even less redevelopment potential, with the 401 in its way and cuts through suburban areas on a diagonal currently not supported by roads. The existing SRT rebuild proposal is fine – it works, and the line will survive and have capacity for years to come. Not to mention it’s going to cost us both time and money to change the design (probably hitting 60, 90% now) simply by scrapping the SRT into a subway. It would also leave bus operations alone instead of creating a better, easier system to navigate, save for a small change in running time for route 54 as it will no longer have to loop.
Ridership on the SRT was approximately 40,000 per day in 2009. The combined ridership along Eglinton Ave. East of Kennedy Road based on routes 86 and 116 (in 2010-2011) would be about 38,000. I would rather extend the subway eastward to Kingston Road along Eglinton Avenue. This will greatly reduce bus traffic along Eglinton East, providing relief for many of these commuters and removing their transfer, while providing rapid transit options to those coming in from north-south routes such as Bellamy and Markham Road. It also provides the ability to break the Markham Road route into two pieces for better operation. However, this corridor is also earmarked for LRT via the Scarborough Malvern LRT, so this extension may not be required at all. Road-running LRT services will likely not get the same kind of bus feeder system as subway stations do, save for the Eglinton line.
Not to mention that you can’t build a subway in four years, so you’d eventually have to either shut down the SRT or replace its rolling stock (which are not in production, and newest used vehicles are ATC-equipped from the 90s). Good luck.
3) Sheppard West Extension
The famous ‘North York relief line’ is prominent on this map, providing a link from Don Mills all the way across to what will be Sheppard West station. It’s said to only have one new station at Bathurst. This may be helpful in that people that currently transfer at Sheppard-Yonge may want to ensure that they have a seat heading south by crossing over to the other side, generating ridership for the Spadina line. It will certainly help TTC subway operations as it will allow trains to head to and from Wilson yard to the Yonge line. But is it worth the high capital cost?
The Expert Advisory panel that looked at whether subway or LRT was the choice for Sheppard East also determined that it may be feasible to run the Spadina line and Sheppard line as one to generate the ridership required to sustain a subway, as both are currently not running close to their capacity at all hours. However, the TTC’s previous experience with interlining is sour as the small number of lines would mean that almost the entire system would be stopped if there were to be a delay on a single line.
4) Yonge Subway Extension
York Region Rapid Transit Corporation has been pushing for this extension once it became evident that the line to Richmond Hill Centre wouldn’t be coming anytime soon. It makes sense in that lots of buses would be removed from Yonge Street between Finch and Steeles. The TTC will be extending the tail tracks north of Finch Station (currently scheduled for 2014) to approximately Drewry – might as well bring the line all the way to Steeles to eliminate bus traffic. Over 100 buses pass through this area per hour – that is a huge amount of traffic. The subway extension is worth it and should’ve (also, was to) been done a while ago. The capital cost is worth saving the ten-fifteen minutes trudging up and down Yonge Street during rush hour, benefitting all riders on the crowded Steeles buses and YRT/Viva passengers. Plus, as a side advantage, it’d finally stop the Steeles East and Steeles West passengers that get off along Yonge, and certainly stop the passengers that try to get off the Steeles East Express at Yonge/Steeles. IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.
5) I-METRO-E (Scarborough Express line)
Originally put forward by Markham councillor Jim Jones, the I-METRO-E is a repurposing of the existing Stouffville GO corridor for rapid transit. We’re looking at a subway line on a corridor that currently has one track. There is no space on some of the right of way to put another two tracks.
Yes, another two tracks. You cannot run rapid transit (knowing TTC, probably a 5’30” headway at first; 150 seconds at best with ATC) on the same line as GO trains without a bypass track. Since there is no way of properly scheduling rapid transit such that trains will show up at this location at this exact time, trains cannot easily weave around each other. Therefore, three tracks are required, reminiscent of New York City subway operations, where two outside tracks are local and the centre is peak directional express. There’s no space – you need to expropriate a lot, and this includes people’s backyards. As an example, try to design the other two platforms at Agincourt while minimizing costs (i.e. keeping as much of the existing station as possible) – where’s the other platform going to go? You will never achieve an 86 minute running time with only two tracks.
Regardless, that’s not the only problem that lies in this proposal. It expects to get downtown using the Lakeshore East corridor. That corridor is saturated with freight, VIA Rail and GO Transit. You’ll never get away with putting rapid transit on it. No more tracks fit on it. Not to mention that Union Station is currently at capacity, and double berthing will only provide capacity for a short while (i.e. an end-of-pipe approach). Perhaps it would be better to feed passengers onto the Bloor/Eglinton lines at Kennedy.
Another problem – fleet requirements. If it becomes a subway line it’s almost guaranteed to be using Toronto Rocket cars. Where are you going to store there? Doesn’t look like there’s space for two more tracks, never mind a new yard.
Let’s stick with double tracking and GO electrification. Even 12-car BiLevel trains running hourly will definitely open up a ton of capacity. Study the AMT Deux-Montagnes line – it’s a single track for most of the way, and even allows bidirectional electrical operation.
6) Etobicoke Express
Quite simply, this is not happening. The OneCity plan calls for complete redesign of the Air Rail Link into a commuter subway. This may sound good, but it completely alienates the ARL concept.
It is not meant to be a commuter line. It is meant for you to get from Union to Pearson in the quickest time possible, hassle free. It is not going to stop up to ten, fifteen times, lengthening an airport commuter’s travel time to forty, fifty minutes. It is a premium express service. Other cities have premium airport expresses, so what’s wrong with Toronto having one?
Not to mention that TTC will have a heck of a good time trying to convince GO to allow it to use a corridor that will be saturated with GO and VIA Rail trains in the future.
Rapid transit berthing will bring even more issues to Union Station. Let’s stick with the Sumitomo DMUs for now; electrification will happen and the ARL will continue to keep its premium status. Heck, with electrification, the running time will reduce and it will become even more premium. Station design is too far ahead. We’re not wasting money to change it.
I would rather a subway line be stuck under Weston. GO will be double-tracking and introducing all-day service on its routes sometime soon, and this will help alleviate midday transit requirements. The Weston mobility hub will be rebuilt into a destination.
That’s it for subways. Onto LRT.
1) Don Mills LRT
This is imported from Transit City, except now it terminates at Eglinton. This needs better scope definition as it is another route that could be both subway and LRT. What kind of turnover is prevalent on the existing route 25? Could we run a route 25E instead?
2) Finch West LRT Phase 2
This was imported from Transit City, except funding has lowered its priority. Not absolutely necessary as passengers can be accommodated by articulated buses once Finch West LRT phase one is complete, and transit service heading west will increase due to the new subway access.
3) Finch West LRT (Airport Extension)
What kind of alignment is this? This line is poorly drawn. Study it first before putting it there. From what it looks like, it’d be easier for it to parallel or even somehow use the ARL spur line. But this seriously needs more study – a quick Google maps search illustrates the line passing through a large park.
4) ECLRT Phase 2
This is imported from Transit City. It’s welcome, but I’d rather have it branch off into two lines – one will go to the airport, and one will enter Mississauga. However, this will mean service that is twice the headway of that in Toronto. There could always be a short turn service in Mississauga if necessary.
5) Waterfront West LRT
This is imported from Transit City. A new line would extend from the existing Exhibition Loop parallel to the Gardiner Expressway, and connect with existing streetcar tracks at King Street. It suffers from capacity issues at Union Station, and would run TTC-gauge LRVs. It is questionable to see if this is actually ‘rapid’ as it shares much of its corridor with conventional streetcar routes. I would prefer this become a 500-series streetcar route, if it were to ever be built.
6) Jane LRT
This is imported from Transit City. I am unfamiliar with the alignment, but I understand from other transit advocates that the road is too narrow at some portions for a median ROW (looks to be south of Lawrence), inflating costs to either elevate or dig.
7) SELRT Malvern Branch
The Malvern branch of the SELRT is an ill-conceived method of accommodating Malvern Centre passengers that would’ve taken the SRT.
8) SELRT Zoo Branch
Why? Ridership to the zoo is only seasonally high; we need to take a look at where passengers are coming in from. There is a reason the Zoo Rocket failed. The Zoo Rocket had an average number of 26 passengers per bus. This line would have too many sunk costs and it’d be infeasible to run transit service all the time to the Zoo.
9) SELRT Meadowvale Extension
Not really much to say here, except that it’d extend the LRT route further into suburbia. I can’t say much due to lack of familiarity with the alignment, but it looks like it’d only attract put another hundred houses in range of rapid transit at a fairly high capital cost.
10) Scarborough Malvern LRT
There isn’t much to say here either, other than a direct port from the Transit City plan. I can’t say much due to lack of familiarity with the alignment.
Now, finally: buses and streetcars.
1) Ellesmere BRT
This bus service may be run as a DRT Pulse service instead, since Durham Region is interested in providing a direct transit service to Scarborough Centre. But as a DRT Pulse service rather than a TTC service, it may not be attractive to TTC customers based on the fare policy. It may be attractive to UTSC students commuting from Scarborough Centre.
2) Kingston Road BRT
This is from the Transit City bus plan. I am unfamiliar with this corridor, but the Kingston Road bus (route 12) only had 6400 daily riders in 2011.
3) Wilson BRT
Why along Wilson? Does it deserve BRT better than say Finch East or Dufferin? I think articulated buses would be good enough to serve this route.
4) St Clair Streetcar Extension
Not a problem – can be extended, but must loop somewhere, and expropriation will definitely be required for this. The streetcar cannot connect with Jane LRT due to gauge change.
5) Waterfront East Streetcar
No one wants to fund Union Station capacity improvements. A new portal will be needed on Queens Quay east of Bay for this streetcar to happen, but no one wants to provide the money. I don’t believe the TTC has budgeted for streetcars to run on this route as well.
All that said, let’s move onto general issues that need to be dealt with.
Why is conventional transit, i.e. local bus and streetcar, completely ignored in this proposal? This only attempts to fund rapid transit improvements – but not fund regular operations. This rapid transit plan will increase operating costs by a lot, and the system must be prepared to fund these operating costs. The TTC must be prepared to increase its workforce. Maintenance costs for LRT lines will likely be covered by Metrolinx. Small improvements like queue-jump lanes, all-door boarding, and transit priority signals will enhance transit at small capital costs. It’s not always about making the map look good.
I previously said that asking taxpayers to fund this makes sense. But when I say taxpayers, I don’t mean Toronto taxpayers. I mean GTA taxpayers that will be using this transit network. Simply because you live outside the municipal boundaries doesn’t mean you can escape these costs. We need to be fair and if you’re a suburbanite that happens to use this transit system or happens to drive in Toronto, you need to help pay for easing congestion.
This plan needs to tackle improved bus and streetcar operations, such as moving to headway-based route management and using higher capacity vehicles (i.e. articulated buses) to reduce frequency for better, more consistent service. The TTC is already looking at using articulated buses on six routes, four of which will receive rapid transit improvements in this plan (and two of which are already receiving rapid transit, based on the Metrolinx 5-in-10 plan). Articulated buses should be re-introduced on routes that used to have them, such as 39 Finch East (or 199 Finch Rocket) and 53 Steeles East. Bunching is notorious on these routes.
Even adopting the Transit City Bus Plan (TCBP) will bring massive improvements to bus operations. It planned to add or improve express bus service to 15 bus routes, and it would certainly be a welcome change. However, it was highly dependent on LRT lines being in operation to free up buses. Aspects of the TCBP were highly customer-centric, such as more shelters and next vehicle arrival signs inside shelters, which is conformant with the new TTC CEO’s customer-oriented view.
The streetcar system is already going to receive new, higher capacity vehicles, and this will help route management in that they will be less frequent, so easier to manage. From a customer view, this is slightly worse, but it means more consistent service throughout the network.
It also needs to look at fare systems. Are you going to stick with a flat fare system? Are you going to charge by distance? What technology are you going to embrace?
What will these rapid transit requirements mean to the road landscape? Will we embrace non-automobile forms of transport, such as walking and biking? Or will we be stuck with autocentric design?
What kind of redevelopment is planned in the vicinity of these lines for Toronto? We can’t keep on building sprawl. Could lines be built in hydro corridors? What kind of ridership would be attracted to a line built in the Scarborough hydro corridor (i.e. the corridor that extends from approx. Eglinton and Victoria Park to Sheppard and Meadowvale)?
Where will all these trains be stored? Toronto’s running out of space.
What kind of stop spacing and frequency are we looking at here for LRT routes? Is it good to provide a service with stops frequent enough that no bus service is required? Or should we adopt larger stop spacing and provide a feeder bus service parallel to the LRT?
What is ‘BRT’ in this proposal? Is it the same system as say York Region’s viva? Is it simply articulated buses running in mixed traffic? Is it a direct port of New York’s Select Bus Service? It’s not clear what this exactly is, and how it’d improve transit. It could simply be more frequent buses that bunch for all we know. This is another concept that needs better scope definition.
As stated, this plan needs more study, and I think The Big Move 2.0 will cover a lot of the same ground. Let’s wait for that to come out before we adopt a plan, because this plan only considers Toronto and ignores all the growing municipalities around it that are responsible for a lot of the congestion experienced. At least the Big Move 2.0 will cover both goods movement and passenger movement, something that tends to be ignored in transit studies (i.e. freight traffic on Lakeshore). We need to look at this holistically; Toronto doesn’t function on its own – everyone needs to work together if we want to truly build a transit system that benefits us all. We can’t keep drawing lines on a map and say that’s what we’re building without looking at the big picture.
Lastly, what will this improved transit network mean in terms of the environment? It will consume quite a bit more energy than the current system does – where are we getting this energy from? Is it renewable? Human systems are completely non-sustainable – i.e. we consume more than we produce. Power requirements are simply going to escalate, and costs will as well. So do we really need to expand our transit system to great extents? Could we not redesign a city that brings you close to work? North American energy requirements are excessively more than that overseas – why? Are we able to establish ourselves as the leading city in North America?
It really all boils down to this: as people, what do we really need?
Make a plan, stick with it.