The Mythical Finch West BRT (Update 2)

In what has to be a major “oops” for the TTC, a keen-eyed reader, Michael Forest, noticed that according to the map of the proposed Hydro corridor alignment for a Finch BRT, the western terminus is the Humber Valley Golf Course, about 5km east and south of Humber College.  This error occurs in both the background report and in the staff presentation.

The inability of the TTC to provide accurate maps now appears to have affected its ability to plan new routes.

It is unclear how a “Hydro” alignment would actually reach Humber College because the Hydro corridor turns southwest (past the golf course) to reach the Richview switching station.  On Finch itself, there is no parallel Hydro corridor from a point just east of Weston Road to Humber College.  How the TTC could cost such a route when none exists (unless there are many student golfers) is a mystery.

(One option might be to deploy a fleet of Swan Boats from the Golf Course via the Humber River to traverse the remaining distance to the College.)

Updated May 15 at 8:00 am:

The actual distance from Finch & Keele to Humber College as given by Google Maps is 10.9km, almost 2km more than the length cited by the TTC in its preliminary comparison of alternatives (9km).  The route is longer if via the Hydro corridor because of access between the corridor and Finch.  The distances cited by the TTC appear to be the length of a route to Humber Valley Golf Course which lies between Weston Road and Albion Road where Sheppard Avenue would be if the river valley were not in the way.

The corridor, as some have already observed in the comments, crosses Finch between Highway 400 and Weston Road, about 4km west of Keele.  Any BRT to Humber College cannot avoid centre-of-the-road construction for the 7km west of this point.

Original post from May 13:

At its meeting of May 11, 2011, the TTC considered a preliminary report on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) options for the Finch West Corridor.  This scheme arises from the non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park (not yet presented to Council for ratification) that replaces the proposed Finch LRT with unspecified improvements to bus service on Finch between Finch West Station (at Keele Street) and Humber College.  The staff presentation to the Commission contains additional information, notably costs estimates and some operating details that are not in the report itself.

Various options are considered both for the route’s alignment and for the technology to be used.

Alignment Options

  • Mixed traffic on Finch Avenue (this is the “do nothing” option)
  • Addition of “queue jump lanes” at busy intersections with transit priority signals and farside stops
  • Construction of a dedicated bus roadway in the Hydro corridor north of Finch
  • Construction of dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Finch

Queue jump lanes would, allegedly, speed service on Finch by allowing buses to slip past lineups of right-turning cars.  It is unclear how many locations on Finch west of Keele would actually benefit from such a change, especially outside of peak periods, and the degree to which this would actually speed service over the route.  Those are topics for a detailed review.  (It is ironic that the photo illustrating the problem in the presentation does not appear to be taken on the affected portion of Finch Avenue.)

A dedicated bus roadway in the Hydro corridor would continue the route already in place east of Keele Street, but to the west it would encounter problems with terrain and major intersecting roadways, notably at the west branch of the Don River and at Highway 400.  These could be addressed, but the situation is not as straightforward as simply paving a road under the Hydro pylons.

Dedicated lanes in the middle of Finch Avenue would effectively duplicate the infrastructure needed for the LRT line (actually a bit wider to allow for safe clearance of passing buses), the very reason the LRT scheme was so hated by Mayor Ford.

Although the Hydro lands are superficially attractive, they there is a major problem beyond constructability.  Demand on Finch is concentrated on the street itself and is not all located at the major intersections.  Walking distances to transit service would be substantially increased especially for riders going to/from locations south of Finch and/or not at a major cross-street where access to the Hydro corridor would be comparatively easy.  The planned operating speed for the corridor indicates a wide presumed stop spacing, probably only at major arterials.

The two most beneficial schemes (dedicated facilities for buses, regardless of location) are also the most expensive, and therefore the least likely to be built without financial assistance to the already-overburdened TTC and City budgets.

Technology Options

  • Standard diesel buses (adding buses to the existing service)
  • Articulated diesel buses
  • Trolley buses
  • Proof-of-payment fare collection and all-door loading

Two options involve simply running more buses on the existing route (see analysis below) or running an equivalent service using artics.  If larger vehicles were used, then a move to POP would be essential so that the full capacity of the buses would actually be filled with passengers.

The TTC has never looked kindly on trolley buses, although the language in the report is tempered somewhat in the staff presentation.  The real problem in this case is that, like the Transit City LRT proposal, a network of lines for a new technology is required to make an investment in that technology worthwhile.  The marginal cost of switching one route to TBs loads all of the startup and specialized maintenance costs on one project.

Another concern would be the degree to which a BRT facility would be used by Finch buses (as TBs) as against other routes piggy-backing on the reserved roadway.  The full advantage of electrification may not be available to every vehicle on the route.  In any event, bus technology is not up to the eventual demand for this corridor and a debate over TBs versus diesel diverts attention from the LRT vs BRT issue.

Options for Further Analysis

The presentation contains a table listing five combinations of alignment and technology together with preliminary costs.  (See page 16 of the presentation)

The TTC report claims that current service to Humber College runs every 160 seconds.  In fact, there are four services on Finch, most of which to not go to the College:

  • 36A to Kipling (every 8′)
  • 36B to Humberwood (every 8′)
  • 36C to Jane (every 16′)
  • 36D to Weston & Milvan (every 16′)

Thus, the AM peak service to Humber College is every 8′ (PM peak is 6′).  The peak hour ridership west of Keele is 885, while east of Keele it is 1,010.  This translates to an average peak load of 39 west of Keele and 45 east of Keele.  I leave it to regular users of the 36 to comment on actual conditions both as to headway and crowding.  Demand for the LRT proposal was projected to peak at 3,000 per hour west of Keele, and 2,200 east of Keele.  However, all day ridership would not be proportionately higher and this begs a question of what the demand pattern for this route will really be.

Standard Buses in Mixed Traffic

In this scheme, 10 buses would be added to the existing service from Yonge to Humber College.  At an estimated speed of 20km/h and a round trip distance of about 30km, these buses, by themself, would provide roughly a 9′ headway (1.5 hrs or 90 minutes round trip, divided by 10 buses).  Current service to Humber College is every 8 minutes, and so this would roughly double capacity on the western part of the route.  The effect would be less further east where branches of 36 Finch West merge into the service.

(If the added buses only operated to Finch West Station, they would save about 12km on their round trip and provide more service, but Finch West Station won’t be an option until about 2016.)

Articulated Buses in Mixed Traffic

This option is simply a capacity-for-capacity equivalent of the first option with artics rather than with standard diesels.

Articulated Buses with Queue Jump Lanes

This version saves one artic bus relative to the second option and increases the projected speed from 20 to 23km/h.  (The actual saving would be greater because of benefit to the existing service, not just the added buses, but this has not been included in the summary.)

Improving the speed to 23km/h reduces the round trip time from Yonge to Humber College to about 78 minutes.  In this analysis, the TTC has chosen to save vehicles rather than increase capacity (the same stunt they originally proposed for St. Clair) in their scheme.  This is an improvement for TTC budgets, not for customers.

BRT on the Hydro Corridor

This scheme would see 12 articulated buses operating between Humber College and Finch West Station at a projected speed of 35km/h.  With a round trip distance of 20km, this would provide a headway of about 3 minutes (a round trip time of about 35 minutes operated by 12 buses).  Stations would be widely spaced, on a par with the faster parts of the subway system.

Only four buses would be saved on Finch Avenue itself because considerable demand would remain on that street.

BRT on Finch Avenue

This scheme would provide reserved lanes as far east as Keele, and would have a net addition of 3 artics to the Finch Avenue service.  Operating speed would improve to 25km/h.

This option is expected to be available by 2014, while the Hydro corridor option would not be available until 2016 presumably because of special requirements at major crossings.

There is no mention of the time required for an Environmental Assessment or Transit Project Assessment for the options involving substantial construction.

Cost Comparisons

Although cost estimates are shown for the five options, there are several factors that undermine their credibility, at least for comparative purposes.

  • Only the marginal capital and operating costs associated with each option are shown.
  • There is no provision for maintenance spares (typically 15%).
  • There is no provision for garage modification costs (applicable to all artic bus options).
  • No value is assigned to the standard diesel buses that would be released by conversion of Finch to artic operation (35 buses plus 5 spares at a replacement cost of $650K each is $26m)
  • No value is provided for the modifications needed at Finch West Station to accommodate frequent bus service on Finch Avenue that was originally to be replaced by an LRT station.

The presentation states that the BRT on Finch option is $600m cheaper than LRT, but this is not a valid comparison because it ignores both the difference in future capacity and the fact that the Finch carhouse, part of the project, was intended to serve as a base for at least one other LRT line.  LRT vehicles and infrastructure have a substantial lifespan well beyond that of a bus fleet.  Without question, building BRT is cheaper than LRT provided that’s all you ever expect to run.

Commission Debate

During debate on this item, the Commission asked that a more definitive report come forward as soon as possible so that it could be incorporated in the budget deliberations, and staff agreed to report in September.

Commissioner Parker, showing a rare independence from the Ford orthodoxy, stated openly that “we all believe that the right way to go is LRT”, but that this option has been taken away.  There would be no subway on Finch because the demand does not justify it, and buses are a second best substitute for LRT.  Parker felt that the ultimate goal should be supported by whatever is done in the short term, e.g. the construction of a dedicated right-of-way.  The preferred option is the biggest challenge [because of opposition to taking road space], but we [the TTC and Council] need to get to work on this now.  Anything other than LRT or BRT on Finch would only be a stopgap.  [This is a paraphrase by me of Commissioner Parker’s remarks.]

Other Commissioners noted that there are many projects competing for funding including Sheppard, the Waterfront and the Airport, and Commissioner Norm Kelly suggested that talk of any construction on Finch was akin to “playing air guitar and thinking you’re making music”.

Commissioner Crisanti, a Ford ally new to Council, was clearly looking for the cheapest way out, but that really isn’t a viable option.  Debate on what might happen will now go into the background until staff reports back.

The underlying question — is a Finch “rapid transit” intended to serve long-haul riders across the top of the city, or the many riders who use local service on Finch itself — must be addressed as part of the debate.  What will demand look like once the Spadina extension to Vaughan opens and more riders flood east to the subway?  How many trips will be unaffected by the subway?  Any cost comparisons must look at demand patterns and service plans in a post-Spadina world.

All of this may be moot if Toronto cannot figure out how to pay for what is now a local project.  Even the simple act of adding 10 buses to 36 Finch West would add operating costs of roughly $3m per year.  What service cuts elsewhere would be needed to pay for this, and is Finch the appropriate place to spend what little money is available?

Toronto and the TTC set the pattern for transit budgeting with the service cuts that just went into force.  One can argue that these marginal services were unneeded, but the amount saved is small, and it may be more than consumed simply by unexpected increases in diesel fuel costs, let alone any new service.

Providing good transit service requires the will to fund and operate it, not simply drawing a few lines on a map and calling that a plan.  Whether we actually see a plan for continued improvement of transit service through the coming Ford era will become evident over the next few months as the City considers its budget options for 2012 and beyond.

49 thoughts on “The Mythical Finch West BRT (Update 2)

  1. At least the commission recognizes that Ford’s second mythical subway (Finch West) will never happen. I never believed that Ford would be able to build his first mythical subway (Sheppard) but many people fell for the false promise and elected him. Now some of them are starting to realize what they have done. They elected a guy who not only canceled a fully funded and under construction transit plan (Transit City), but they elected someone who is slowly dismantling Toronto’s bus network too. Somehow, his approval rating is still at 70%!

    I highly doubt there will be service improvements on Finch West, even if this is as simple as running a few extra buses in mixed traffic. With a $700 million budget shortfall expected for 2012 and no funding from the Provincial and Federal governments, where is the money going to come from to buy, operate, maintain and store new buses?


  2. Folks might find this article in the Montreal Gazette interesting.

    When we compare what’s happening in Toronto with what’s happening in Montreal we get a tale of two cities with increasing ridership. While the TTC in Toronto is reducing service on 42 bus routes, the STM in Montreal has implemented the 10-Minute Max Network on 31 bus routes and is adding service to 40 more bus routes.

    With an expected $700 million budget shortfall for Toronto in 2012 I fear that our bus network will undergo further significant cuts. What will the bus network in Toronto look like at the end of Ford’s term?


  3. If 36 Finch West is such a busy line how is it there is no Express service?

    Steve: One factor is the heavy demand at local stops that an express service would miss. Although many riders are destined to or from what would be an express stop (usually a transfer point), they are coming from or going to a “local” stop in between. This problem also affects walking distances to any service in the Hydro corridor.


  4. With the budget shortfall to deal with I would be surprised if they actually did anything to Finch. Not surprised if another couple of small local routes will only operate Monday to Friday rush hour service only to pay for that.


  5. Steve

    What information is there from the most recent ridership survey of the Finch West Corridor? How much do we know about passenger boardings and alightings – where, when, how many people, how long is the average trip, etc.

    You mentioned that many of the passengers who might arrive on Finch at a main transfer point would still want to go to a “local” destination – would the LRT with its less frequent stations be able to accommodate this high level of demand for local service?

    Second, I recall reading that it was possible to widen Finch Ave. so that there would be no loss in “mixed traffic” lanes while still providing room for the LRT. Full widening does not appear to be mentioned as one of the potential advantages to the Finch corridor – a widened Finch corridord with LRT or BRT could be a compromise that Ford might find acceptable (though not ideal).

    Now, you mentioned that the exclusive ROW for buses would have to be wider than the exclusive ROW for the LRT. How much of a difference would there be (assuming any information has been put forward showing the difference)?

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: The O/D information is shown in charts within the report (there is a link in my reply to the next comment in this thread), and this demonstrates how spread out the destinations are along Finch, not to mention how little of the demand goes downtown.

    The report uses similar diagrams for lane widths as are found in the LRT EA, but the additional requirement for buses is a bit over one foot, or 7.38 vs 7.00 metres. For the LRT scheme the width depends on whether centre poles are used, and the LRT designs show 7.38m where there are poles.

    Re station spacings: see my response to a later comment. The LRT on Finch would have had stops much more closely spaced than would be practical given the limited access to the Hydro corridor and the projected operating speed of 35km/h. They would be further apart than the existing bus service, but closer than BRT on the Hydro lands. Of course, BRT on Finch would also have the station layout of the LRT scheme, but it would require a decision to use the road space for transit.

    We will see later this year whether Ford’s TTC is willing to tell the boss that the only reasonable thing to do is to build on Finch. That, plus the cost of any of the seriously “BRT” proposals, will ensure that nothing happens until Ford is gone.


  6. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two ways to do things: The right way and the TTC way. The TTC way isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is so bloated with bureaucracy and an inept ability to accept progress and listen to their customers that any conclusion they come to implement is usually extremely inefficient and/or appears quite cheap – even when the answer is painfully obvious.

    In this case, why not re-introduce the branch of the Finch West bus which traveled south to the Spadina line? It could be even more efficient now that the subway reaches north to Sheppard and that there are now bus lanes along Dufferin. Still too complicated without at least several studies? Why not edit the stop announcement or have the bus driver inform passengers that they can transfer at Dufferin to get the express bus to the Spadina line. Or would the union raise hell at the fact that they want their drivers to do something new?

    Granted, these are interim solutions till the subway opens. Once that happens, this does not address heavy traffic along the corridor itself.

    Steve: The union has nothing to do with it. What shows up if you look at the origin-destination plots (Figure 4 on pdf page 8 of the report on the TTC agenda) is that the vast majority of riders on the Finch West bus are not destined for downtown, but for other suburban locations. They are not served by a bus that runs to Downsview Station. The TTC learns this sort of lesson from time to time when they try to gerrymander routes to feed the subway.

    In any event, as you say, the subway extension voids this discussion anyhow. One point worth noting is that the proposed LRT to subway connection at Finch West was quite straightforward and convenient compared with what will be necessary if the Hydro corridor option is chosen.


  7. Who wants to wager a bet that the Blue Night service is next on the chopping block? I’m sure enough brain dea…… errr Ford supporters find bus service running at 3am a 6 wheeled steel gravy boat running down the road.

    Steve: And more suburban Ford supporters will discover that they are not on Ford’s transit map.


  8. Is a busway through the hydro corridor really that bad of an idea, Steve? To my understanding, it’s been on the City of Toronto’s, TTC’s and GO Transit’s radar for decades and there even plans to bad a ALRT (a la Scarborough RT line) through it since the 1970s. What I like most about BRT vs. LRT is its relative affordability. Comparatively the estimated $1.2 billion the 17km Finch West Transit City line would’ve cost to only go part way across the city, could build a transit corridor right across the entire city – from Highway 27 to McCowan is the average $6 million per kilometre it took to build the York U busway in the same corridor is any indication. The greatest expense includes crossing obstacles such as Highways 400 and 404(underpass) and the G Ross Lord reservoir (overpass).

    Alot of the other physical challenges e.g. parking spaces around Yonge are just a matter of changing land use (parking structures, for instance could recliam land space). Also about buses bypassing trip generators along Finch proper, who says routes along the corridor cannot have branches which splitter off at certain points to reach trip generators to the south? One instance of this could be in Scarborough where a connecting north-south hydro corridor between Pharmacy and Warden can provide buses a short cut to the Bridletowne area. Also think about Sheppard Subway/85A Sheppard and Yonge Subway/97Yonge. Two parallel services can exist in the same area (express-limited stops/local frequent-stops) with both being warranted.

    Steve: The TTC studied a route in the Finch corridor before Transit City came along, and concluded that it was a bad idea because the demand was remote from the Hydro lands. Back when the GO-ALRT line was proposed, the suburban development didn’t exist yet, and could have been structured to support what would literally have been a new transit line in the middle of a field. Things have changed. As for the relative cost, as I have already written, you get what you pay for. A BRT corridor on the Hydro lands cannot serve the fine-grained demand on Finch or help to stimulate more development there. That was an essential part of the LRT proposal.


  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t most of these beloved local stops have disappeared in the LRT proposal?

    Steve: Many, but not all, and the stops that remained would have been on Finch, not a few blocks north of it. As a matter of fact, stops were added to the LRT line following the public consultation. There would have been three stops between Keele and Jane, two between Jane and Weston, three between Weston and Islington. If the line were on the Hydro lands, there would be at best one stop between each of the major arterials.


  10. A report about the Finch Hydro Corridor, written by “Hatch Mott MacDonald”, is cited in the Finch Bus report. Do you know where it is available (or any other Hydro Corridor studies)?

    Steve: I believe that it is an internal TTC document that was never released, but is worth asking for.


  11. Also, page 16 of the presentation states that the “operating expense” for a BRT on Finch Avenue would be -900. Really? A profit?

    Steve: That shows the fault of the marginal costing and omissions in the report. The net number of buses goes down relative to current operations, and so they save money. Note that this makes no allowance for the additional service required to carry more passengers.


  12. Has any consideration been given to acquiring the OC Transpo articulated buses that Ottawa is retiring soon? This would allow a low cost trial to determine if artics would be a good choice. Otherwise, it takes about 2 years to order something that expensive and actually get delivery. Then, you put them on the route and find out they are not the solution you were looking for.

    Steve: Nothing like taking buses that are barely a decade old and are being replaced by the manufacturer with newer models because the old ones were such a problem for OC Transpo. The TTC has been farting around on the subject of artics for years, and always manages to buy enough 40-footers to postpone any actual decision on longer buses to the indefinite future. Having said that, it’s important to remember that artic buses on a route like Finch demand a change to all-door loading and proof-of-payment, and the TTC isn’t very keen on that either.


  13. People voted for Ford because they want the cuts. Don’t keep blaming Ford for doing what the Voters told him to.

    To put this in the simplest way that I can:

    Toronto voters decided to vote your bus away. If you want to blame anyone, blame them.

    Steve: Ford ran on a platform saying that the city was awash in “gravy”, excessive spending that could be cut without hurting services. He also had the advantage that his opposition was not running the best possible campaign, and they split the vote.

    Toronto voters voted to take away other people’s services, not their own. One by one they are discovering that they are “other people” to folks across town.


  14. I read the report … first of all, I don’t understand what their Option 4 (BRT Humber – Keele Street in Hydro Corridor) means in terms of real geography. The table on Page 16 gives a detailed analysis of this option, including the route length (10 km), the projected number of buses, and some cost estimates.

    The trouble is that Finch hydro corridor does not run anywhere near Humber College. The hydro corridor runs from the east to just west of Hwy 400, then it veers south-west.

    Page 13 of the report has a route map, titled “Infrastructure – Hydro Corridor”. In fact, it shows a BRT from Yonge to Humber Golf Course :). The Golf Course is indeed located near the diagonal section of the hydro corridor, south of Finch and west of Weston Rd, but east of Islington. The actual Humber College is located 5 km further west, just west of Hwy 27.

    Steve: Oh dear, oh dear. Not only does the TTC not know where its routes go and when they run, they don’t know where Humber College is. I will update the main post with this info. Thanks for catching this — the underlying map even clearly identifies the “terminus” as the golf course.


  15. Now, if the primary concern is capacity west of the future Keele subway station, then the BRT hydro corridor option is of little use. West of the point where the hydro corridor crosses Finch (that’s about halfway between Hwy 400 and Weston Rd.), the BRT will have to be in the middle of Finch, since the hydro corridor alternative simply does not exist. In theory, the BRT can use the hydro corridor east of that point and up to Keele, but that section is only 3.5 km long (negligible travel time reduction) and is filled with obstacles (Hwy 400, Black Creek, and the soccer fields).

    Amongst the options currently on the table, artic buses plus building BRT in the middle of Finch seems to be the best choice. The projected demand of 3,000 pphpd is hard but not impossible to meet with BRT. If each artic bus can carry 75 people, then 40 buses per hour, or a bus every 90 s, will do it.

    In future, the median BRT can be converted to LRT. The disadvantage of that sequence, compared to building LRT from the onset, is that the residents would have to endure two construction periods. But at least, a large part of BRT capital costs will be re-utilized when the LRT is build.


  16. This ‘oops’ makes the Finch West BRT all the more “mythical”. How prescient of you, Steve!

    Steve: Congrats go to Michael for spotting the error. I kept looking at that map and the estimated lengths of the BRT lines with the sense that something was wrong, but didn’t spot it myself.

    This error will foul up the cost estimates both for construction and for vehicle requirements.

    Amusingly, the author of the report with the original error would like to become one of the “citizen” Commissioners. I would love to be on the interview team.


  17. I used that bus route for 8 years until a year ago; I decided to keep tabs of its idiosyncrasies as part of my job – it’s what led me to this website in the first place.

    As noted already, the usage is mostly local and pretty much splits into a west cohort and east cohort at Keele. All the north south transfer routes also have the same neighbourhood focus with mostly local traffic going between points; very few people who get on from Sheppard on north are still on at Eglinton. I wonder if this is something particular to the north west or do we see this local focus replicated in the north east as well? If so, there are repercussions for any Scarborough LRT line and the Sheppard extension.

    The maps provided are from 2006 but from what I notice, the only slight change in ridership would be quite a few more people in the east getting off at Dufferin to catch the York Rocket (for a person across from the north east, its as fast to go to Finch, take the 36 and then transfer as it is to take the rocket from Sheppard). Very few people take the 36 to get to Downsview.

    The AM destinations are rather focused on education institutions, with the exception of the two industrial areas around Alness and Arrow. Which makes me wonder why the focus on Humber College. In the morning, maybe only 5% of people at Finch station wait for the 36B. I suspect a breakdown of people going to York and Humber would show they come from areas relatively close. Seems another example where the totals off loading at a university and a college pushes the TTC to think in one way when reality is another.

    Using the line is a pain, with massive issues in the evening rush hour with headways and almost daily eastbound short turns at Dufferin and Bathurst and westbound at Weston. I suspect customer complaints are what is really driving looking at this line.

    With the new subway in 6 or 7 years, we do not know for sure what is going to happen. Potentially, people could discover the potential to head south slightly quicker and slowly begin to use the Finch West to access employment and education. I have my doubts though. Given the grid like trips people take now, a winding subway that goes far east of where they are heading may not get all that much traffic. The assumption that everybody wants to go downtown isn’t seen on this line now and it would take quite a shift to start this up.

    Another example of why saying “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work outside of cornfields in Iowa.

    I believe the Finch West line needs more capacity along it. Even if people do end up using the subway, given the current usage patterns, the demand along the line is not going to drop – if anything it will grow.

    A hydro corridor route makes sense if you like to look at lines on maps; but the need is on Finch, not in getting people close to where they want to go on Finch. It would be like saying adding capacity on College could be done to ease capacity need on Dundas.

    I’m not sure what would work but I’m also afraid that we are entering a time when we will be attempting to maintain capacity across the system, rather then figuring out how to add to it.


  18. OgtheDim says:

    “I wonder if this is something particular to the north west or do we see this local focus replicated in the north east as well?”

    I’m my experience many people who use Sheppard are long distance commuters. There is local demand but I often notice that many of the people who get on the 85 at Don Mills station are still on the bus when it reaches Neilson or Morningside.

    Sheppard East is a route where building an LRT line makes sense since there is a lot of ridership on Sheppard itself and these commuters are traveling long distances.

    Extending the Sheppard subway to Scarborough Town Centre (STC), as Rob Ford dreams of doing, only makes sense if STC is not the terminus of the line. If the line were to swing north east to Markham and Sheppard after leaving STC then the line would be more useful. Ford’s fixation with extending the Sheppard stubway to STC only addresses the needs of riders who need to go to the mall or the mall’s transit hub. There are many others who need to travel further east on Sheppard and who have no desire of getting stranded at an artificially manufactured transit hub.

    I doubt any service improvements will occur on Finch West. The current administration seems very anti-transit. Building a bus lane on a hydro corridor north of Finch makes no sense to me especially when the demand is on Finch itself. The fact that TTC officials cannot find Humber College on a map makes me very doubtful that they can design and construct a transit corridor in a hydro field. On top of that they will need permission from Hydro to use their land.


  19. Another one of the options presented was to build a bus right of way in the middle of Finch. That’s unlikely to happen but if that’s the option the TTC were to choose it just shows that Ford has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

    This is because the Finch West LRT would have a similar set up (operating in the middle of Finch in it’s own ROW), was funded and scheduled to start construction soon. Now the City has to figure out what it wants to do on Finch and figure out how to fund it.

    It sounds like Ford wants to reinvent the wheel when we already have the blue prints. Unfortunately, his “reinvention” is of an inferior design.


  20. I noticed the map error, but the whole “OMG Finch East is so busy…” pageflip “… And that’s why only Finch West will see any kind of supposed BRT” made me facepalm so hard that I closed the page.

    Steve: The larger problem on Finch East is that the section within North York was kept low density thanks to Mel Lastman, and it does not lend itself to widening for anything. The short-lived scheme by Metrolinx to extend the Finch LRT to Don Mills Station would have run into huge opposition, and is another example of the danger of simply drawing lines on a map because they look nice.


  21. A ROW is the way to go on Finch, but doing it on the hydro corridor would be useless in serving Finch, haven’t we learned anything from the RT?

    Too bad trolley buses would pose to much a hurdle for the TTC.


  22. Finch East, in Scarborough, is also quite distant from the Hydro Corridor.

    Steve: Yes, with the dodge that Finch makes to the south between Hwy 404 and Vic Park, the spacing roughly doubles between the corridor and Finch from that point eastward.


  23. Steve, Is this the same hydro corridor that has had some sort of pathway construction over by Senlac by the city?

    Steve: Yes, there is a pathway from Talbot running east to Finch Station. Any new busway in these lands will displace existing parking at this station.


  24. Its interesting to hear there is a difference in destinations between Scarborough North East and Etobicoke/North York North West riders. There is a widespread tendency in TTC discussions for people to assume that everybody wants to use transit in the same way. In particular, the subway and the downtown is seen as the main destination point in the mornings; yet, from those maps, that isn’t the case for every neighbourhood.

    Could it be that transit policy for the North West is being made by people that simply take a subway up from Davisville, stand at Finch and go “Wowsers! Look at all those full 36, 53, 60 and 39 buses!”, not understanding that most of the 36 bus riders mostly get on from Keele East and even then most don’t go downtown?

    Probably the same people that assume everybody from Mimico on the Queen Car wants to go places via Osgoode and Queen Stations.

    Transit riders don’t do straight lines.


  25. Here’s another option, Toronto. Wait till 2012 and elect anybody but Ford. While the current mayor attempts to expand the subway, I propose a Transit City II that could serve the hard to reach, less dense areas of the city; Finch, parts of Scarborough and Etobicoke with connections to the airport and the Mississauga LRT.

    Such a network could connect an expanded, yet still skeletal, subway system (the parts that actually get constructed) to the outer suburban regions and meet the goals of bringing more affordable rapid transit to within reach of all Torontonians especially, those in economically disadvantaged areas.

    There was a 25 year plan for transit in the city that should transcend the erratic whims of the electorate and the elected politicians. By the time we realize that ‘the war on the car’ was just an meaningless political catch-phrase, it might not be too late to save ourselves.

    Steve: The next election is not until 2014.


  26. OgtheDim says:

    “There is a widespread tendency in TTC discussions for people to assume that everybody wants to use transit in the same way.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I would also add that the TTC makes the assumption that everybody uses transit in the same way. In my part of town the TTC assumes that everyone either wants to travel to (a) Scarborough Town Centre or (b) downtown Toronto.

    This is shown in how the routes are designed to run in my area. The bus routes will funnel people to Scarborough Town Centre or Kennedy station with the assumption that people are going downtown.

    The bus routes assume that people travel during rush hour and not during other times of the day. The two east-west routes that reache my neighbourhood either (a) runs only during rush hours and/or (b) comes every 30 minutes.


  27. Your article says that Finch West buses in mixed traffic have an average speed of 20 km/hr and articulated buses in mixed traffic with jump queues would have an average speed of 23 km/hr. That seems rather high. I thought buses/streetcars in mixed traffic average up to 15 km/hr; LRT in reserved lanes in the street average 20 km/hr; subways with closely spaced stations average 30 km/hr. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something.

    When you say that the MOU between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park has not yet been presented to Council for ratification, does that mean there will be a ratification vote? I thought the mayor could avoid such a vote provided there were no cost increases.

    Steve: The speeds are those stated by the TTC. FYI the scheduled speed of the 36B service from Yonge to Humberwood is 20.0 km/h in the AM peak and 18.4 km/h in the PM peak. Whether it actually achieves those speeds is another matter, as anyone who must deal with short turns will tell you. I suspect that the TTC simply copied the current AM peak speed in their estimates.

    As for approval of the MOU, there are various changes that will require Council approval, and the MOU itself specifies that the Mayor must obtain this as part of the deal. Council will have to make changes to zoning, and pass the necessary enabling legislation for tax increment financing on the Sheppard project, just for starters. The Environmental Assessments must be funded somehow, not to mention the purchase and operation of additional buses and a new bus garage. Ford has been lucky enough to keep the costs and approvale under the radar so far, but he cannot do this forever.


  28. A Finch East/West ROW BRT might be useful for some things but the local demand of 36 Finch West probably isn’t one of them. The SW alignment of the hydro corridor towards Etobicoke North GO invites the thought of a Pearson-Etobicoke North-Yonge/Finch-Old Cummer GO-points east crosstown service operated by Metrolinx at a premium fare, terminating at Pacific Mall/Milliken GO or somewhere like that. Hey – stretch it out to the CP line and maybe you can get federal dollars from Dean Del Mastro’s toy train!


  29. Mark Dowling said: “A Finch East/West ROW BRT might be useful for some things but the local demand of 36 Finch West probably isn’t one of them. The SW alignment of the hydro corridor towards Etobicoke North GO invites the thought of a Pearson-Etobicoke North-Yonge/Finch-Old Cummer GO-points east crosstown service operated by Metrolinx at a premium fare, terminating at Pacific Mall/Milliken GO or somewhere like that.”

    I like that proposal, and my own thoughts are similar. In the long term, one can imagine multiple services co-existing in the Finch corridor, for example:

    a) Finch West service with a local focus. Ultimately an LRT but might start as BRT; runs in the street median; stops every 400 – 600 m.

    b) Finch Hydro Corridor express BRT. Runs from the airport, stops every 2 km (at major concessions). West of Yonge, it won’t get many local riders, and will mostly serve transfers and long-haul trips. But between Yonge and Don Mills, some trip generators (the Old Cummer station and the Bayview Mall) are actually closer to the hydro corridor than to Finch East. After turning north and reaching Steeles at Pacific Mall or at Warden, it could even run into Markham if the demand is there.

    c) Finch East BRT. In the street median from Malvern to Seneca College / Don Mills, then turning north and joining Finch Hydro Corridor BRT to reach Yonge, avoiding the 6-km section of Finch East that is difficult to widen and has less potential (that section would retain local mixed-traffic service).

    However, in the near term we can only expect improvements on Finch West, west of Keele – if anything at all. That’s the section of Finch marked for improvements in the Ford’s new transit plan. It is very unlikely that the current administration will want to enhance transit elsewhere on Finch. They are making noises about Finch West only because they got some heat over access to the northern Etobicoke and Humber College. For the connection between Humber College and the future Keele North subway station, street-median alignment looks like the only viable option.


  30. Royson James had a good column on this topic last week. Perhaps the most salient point is that, in this political climate, the changes that are most likely to occur (lowest cost and least impact on car traffic) are also those that should not be considered “special” — they should be standard practice. It says something that one of the options considered for “enhanced bus service” is — how novel! — adding more buses to the route so that there is enough capacity for the expected ridership! And, where this means the street is overwhelmed with buses, consider articulated buses!

    Even the capital improvements, at least at the more modest end of the spectrum, should be considered to be standard practice. The TTC should be actively looking for opportunities to make bus and streetcar service faster and more reliable, particularly as part of road reconstruction, and they don’t have to be at the level of exclusive rights-of-way. One of the better “transit priority” measures in the City doesn’t look like a transit measure at all: it’s the southbound right turn lane on Vic Park at York Mills. This is a southbound bottleneck for general traffic as the third southbound lane turns into a right turn lane, but buses bypass the bottleneck in the right turn lane into a far-side stop and are rarely delayed (since right turns move unimpeded at all times). Buses then have lower delays south of York Mills because the bottleneck meters the amount of traffic that can get through.

    Once the GPS feed is formally activated on buses, it should be easy for the TTC to prepare some Munro-style diagrams to find out where the hot spots for delays are on the line, and determine whether there are any solutions that would get buses through more quickly. But that’s not something that should be limited to Finch West; it should be done for every line.

    Look at stop locations—for example, the 12 Kingston Road usually gets caught both at Gerrard and at Musgrave, two traffic lights about 100 metres apart with a bus stop in between; moving the stop to the north side of Musgrave would probably allow buses to get through both signals in one shot.

    Look at service co-ordination (pulse timetables for lower-frequency routes and at GO stations, to make transfers easier).

    And most importantly, actively manage schedules and headways where within TTC’s control to improve reliability.

    This may well be a dark four years for the TTC, in part because of the administration’s ideology (“respect for ‘taxpayers'” at all costs, except in the case of a certain subway extension), but also because the TTC has used up most of its bank of goodwill over the past few years. However, “efficiency” doesn’t have to be a dirty word if it improves riders’ experience.


  31. For all that you guys knock Ford for his “mythical” subway plans. At least he’s got conviction and determination to go ahead with his plan. He’s trying to find a new way to fund the Sheppard subway and this Finch corridor project. For all you say about the guy, at least he trying his hardest to get it done. It is my opinion that he truly believes that what he is doing is the right thing to do in terms of transit for Toronto.

    If only more people stuck to their guns and followed through on their promises. He said he was going to build subways, and he’s that’s what he’s attempting to do. His approval rating is 70% because he’s doing what he said he would do.

    While I did not vote for Mr. Ford, and I may not agree with his policies, I can’t help but barf a little inside everytime I hear someone complain about something that they knew was going to happen, if he was elected, way before the votes were cast.

    Steve: People may have known what Ford was planning to do, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain when he actually tries to implement it, especially with funny-money financing that violates the very principles he claims to uphold.


  32. Michael Forest proposed an LRT on Finch West (perhaps starting as BRT) plus BRT (starting as enhanced bus service) on Finch East with a premium express bus service along the Hydro Corridor from the Airport to Scarborough.

    Since he was the one who noted/noticed the interesting terminus for the Hydro Corridor proposal from the TTC, I suggest that TTC & Metrolinx quietly start pushing for his suggestion. I’m sure that Brampton, Mississauga and York Region Transit would also be supportive of such services.

    Back to Finch tho … again, since it is possible to widen Finch in certain segments, that message needs to be stated clearly to Ford & councillors. Otherwise we will be stuck between the rock and the hard he…er… hard place.

    And as for Transit City – if it is brought back to life it needs to be brought back as one plan, not a “bus plan” and “LRT plan” … one plan for frequent rapid transit service throughout Toronto, with technology and mode (enhanced bus, BRT, LRT, or Subway) all dependent on existing and projected demand.

    That way people will see Transit City as one network that will benefit them somehow – instead of an “LRT plan” or “bus plan” that won’t reach them

    Cheers, Moaz


  33. On the Finch corridor note, I cam across an interesting map in the airport master plan suggesting that the southern section of the Finch corridor may yet be used by the GO 407 BRT. Unfortunately there is still nothing official on the specific route of the system outside of the 400-Unionville initial stage, but a turn south at the 400 does match up better with the existing proposed alignment than a western extension…

    Anyway, I’ve illustrated the proposal here.

    For anyone connecting all these proposals, this busway’s eastern connection to Scarborough Centre and Pickering are a big part of why I think that a busway is more suitable for the SRT extension than rail.


  34. “For all that you guys knock Ford for his ‘mythical’ subway plans. At least he’s got conviction and determination to go ahead with his plan.”

    Just because some has conviction and determination, doesn’t make it a good idea.

    Besides Ford only came up with this plan so his transit platform would be more then a blank sheet of paper. After only a few months it is too early to say how much determination he has. I suspect all the talk about the Sheppard subway will disappear in a year or two as it becomes clear his ideas are impractical.

    On the other hand, how many decades has Steve Munro been calling for a streetcar network like Transit City?


  35. Rob Ford’s election platform had NOTHING for Finch West nor Eglinton.

    Shows how transit oriented he is, unless he is told otherwise by his clique.


  36. You could get a Finch BRT route to Humber College by following hydro right of ways by following the one on Finch down to the Richview transmission station and then making a right turn there to follow the hydro right of way that carries a huge six circuit power line north from there on the east side of highway 27 up to Humber College Blvd. Following the hydro ROWs would work but it wouldn’t be desirable at all given the indirect routing that involves a long trip south only to double back north again. Wasn’t there a routing proposed in the original Transit City plan that would’ve been somewhat similar to get the Finch W. LRT out to the airport via Humber College and Eglinton, eventually?

    Steve: Nope, the idea was always to go to Humber College straight along Finch. The route to the airport was a bit vague, but would have continued west and south via Woodbine Live, certainly not down the hydro corridor past the golf course.


  37. Are guided buses capable of Multiple Unit Operation? Can guided buses be coupled to make trains?

    Steve: My response to that would be “it depends”, and an important controlling factor is just how “guided” the buses are. It’s one thing to run along a right-of-way where the vehicles are constrained by a “track” of some sort, or possibly using some sort of radio guidance system. However, if the buses are ever going to run into an area where they don’t have exclusive right-of-way, things would get more complicated. Also, of course, someone need to invent a “multiple unit” control system for bus engines and braking systems. This sounds like one of those Rube Goldberg development projects that certain government agencies (or private sector firms feeding at the public trough) could waste a vast amount of money on.

    The more people try to make buses like trains, the more they remind me of the advocates of “personal rapid transit” which blends the worst aspects of the private auto with infrastructure-intensive forms of rapid transit.


  38. As an LRT line, the 20-year peak ridership would be 3000 pphpd (exceeding the capacity of BRT without by-pass lanes). But I guess as a BRT line, the 20-year peak ridership would be lower, possibly below 2000 pphpd. So, is it not valid to claim that in 20 years, the capacity of a Finch BRT would be exceeded (because the ridership may grow at a slower rate for BRT than for LRT)?


  39. Page 2-2 of the Environmental Assessment for the original Finch West LRT plan says:

    “Given the transit forecast demand is between 2,300 and 2,800 customers, approximately 45 to 55 buses would be required per hour to service the demand”

    I guess the report writers assumed that the ridership would be that high, whether it’s LRT or BRT.


  40. Why would the TTC have opted for centre platforms for some of the Finch LRT? One presentation said that additional property requirements would be due to the presence of centre platforms (and I guess that takes more space).

    Steve: Where there is a centre platform, the street design cannot use the trick of integrating turn lane layouts with platform space such as is done for farside stops on Spadina and St. Clair. Although a shared platform does not, strictly speaking need to be twice the size of one platform, the road would still be wider than with offset platforms.


  41. Fordites (Stintz, Pasternak, etc.) have been claiming that most of the 36 Finch bus riders are headed for the subway during morning commutes. Looking at the destinations map on page 4 of the preliminary report on BRT, I’m having trouble seeing how they could be right. Could one determine what proportion of Finch riders head downtown or to other parts of the City?

    I’m thinking about counting the circles that are close to Finch Avenue West in the origins map to get the ridership originating around Finch. Next, I would count the circles throughout the city (areas that are reached by conceivably taking the subway as one leg of the trip, excluding the area around Finch West) to get the ridership that once rode the 36 bus that also take the subway. That would get a rough estimate of how much ridership originating on the 36 bus that actually heads straight for the subway. I’m unsure if this approach is correct, or if the above politicians used this technique to back up their claim.

    What units are the coloured circles given in? Does a circle of size 700 actually mean 700 people?

    Steve: I don’t know the dimensions/scale. Obviously the received wisdom is that Finch needs subway-oriented service, and that’s no doubt true for some, but not for all riders. The only way to “justify” using the hydro corridor (which itself only exists for less than half of the proposed route) is to presume that the vast majority of corridor riders would actually benefit from it.


  42. If centre platforms can preclude turning configurations, and if they make the road wider, why the use of centre platforms? What advantages do they have over off-set platforms?

    Steve: It depends on the layout of surrounding lands, and in a few cases, connections to other services. For example, if a station is also a transfer point to the subway, then it could have one common surface platform that would include the vertical access to the subway below. Sometimes, there is only room to widen a road on one side of an intersection.


  43. If I’m reading the preliminary plans for the Finch LRT correctly, motorists can only cross the tracks at intersections with LRT stops.

    Hypothetically, if we had an LRT with stops 500 metres apart (and motorists can only cross tracks at the intersections with stops), then what’s stopping very long trains of 4 or more LRV’s from being considered? Even if blocks are less than the train length, I wouldn’t think it would make a difference for other traffic since they can’t cross at those smaller streets anyways.

    Steve: If you have trains that long, this implies very substantial demand at stops and that translates to a lot of pedestrians who have to make their way across traffic flows to get to the loading island. We seem to be getting embroiled in discussions about very high capacity LRT when many potential corridors don’t need that level of service.


  44. I didn’t see any one who uses the 36 route in the comments when I scanned through (if I missed them, I apologize). I have lived at Jane/Finch, and now live off of Sentinel. I can tell you that the 36 is underserved; if coming up from downtown on the Yonge line between 4 and 6 pm, I regulary watch 6 or 7 39 route buses leave before a 36 bus picks up, and by then 4 or 5 subway loads have arrived, and the outside waiting area is full (and oh, how fun that is in winter) and has about 3 bus loads of riders waiting. Getting on the bus during the morning rush means standing up until you get to Keele.

    As for the distance between Keele and Jane, most people get off at Jane and Keele, obviously. The other three main stops are Sentinal, Tobermory, and Driftwood, east to west. Sentinel obviously runs up to York University, and has it’s own bus route. Those three streets have the largest clusters of apartment buildings between Keele and Jane, and in my opinion would need stops in a new system.


  45. I was going to wait for a Finch transit update to continue this discussion, but seeing how that’s off the table, I might as well ask now.

    Steve said:

    “If you have trains that long, this implies very substantial demand at stops and that translates to a lot of pedestrians who have to make their way across traffic flows to get to the loading island.”

    This wouldn’t necessarily mean that every LRT station would see a proportional increase in passenger traffic, would it? As you’ve mentioned elsewhere on your blog, just because the Yonge Subway transports 30,000 pphpd south of Bloor doesn’t mean Wellesley Station would have to handle that passenger flow.

    If the same logic applies to LRT lines, then why not just grade-separate the potentially heavily-used LRT stations, and keep the lightly-used stations in-street?

    Steve: This is valid provided that the train length stays at something that will fit into an on-street setting. Even if only one person gets on or off (someplace like Bessarion Station say), you still need room to stop a full-length train. A good example on the old streetcar system was, of course, the transferway between the Bloor-Danforth streetcars and the Yonge Subway. This kept the streetcar/subway interchanges off of the road, but provided a convenient link for riders. The service provided was two-car PCC trains on a headway of about 60 seconds.


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