The Spadina Debate: Replies to Comments

This post is a compendium reply to various comments received today as I think it’s worthwhile to organize the things various people have said and my responses to them.

Will Taylor commented about the Bloor-Danforth subway:

It’s politics, not ridership patterns, making the decisions here.      

If anything, the TTC should be focussing on relieving the massive congestion on the Bloor-Danforth subway. In the morning rush, I find myself waiting for 3-4 trains to pass before I can squeeze myself in. Sadly, the Downtown Relief Line seems to have fallen off the radar.

Yes, congestion on the B-D line is a very serious problem and there isn’t a huge amount of reserve capacity just sitting there if only they would run more trains.  One big problem is service reliability — the smallest upset cascades into big problems and backlogged riders.  What to do about B-D is an issue all to itself.

Dahlia writes about the demand projections for Spadina:

I’m sorry I didn’t read the whole thing, but in your section about York University demand, you neglected to consider the tens of thousands of staff, faculty and additional guests/researchers/visitors to York. People who attend events there (concerts, theatre, lectures, etc.) are also not just York community members.      

And I believe you also didn’t consider the potential increase in registration at York by students in the 416 because of increased accessibility (they may currently be more interested in UofT or Ryerson for this reason).   

The riding estimates came from the TTC’s Environmental Assessment for the line.  If there are more riders to be had, the TTC, of all people, should have managed to find them.  The numbers include an allowance for planned growth in York U student population by 2021 after the line is opened.

My own scheme (discussed elsewhere) does not deny York U better service and access, but does it by connecting the campus to a much larger rapid transit network using LRT (streetcars on private right of way) rather than subway.  I will talk about technology options in a separate post.


Thanks to Thickslab for the nice comment about my beard on his own blog.


Thanks also to my old friend Mike Filey for his political encouragement, but I prefer what I’m doing now .

Greg Mckhool writes:

I would love to see your opinion on the proposed station locations on the about to be announced York U subway extension. I look at the 4 stops and only one of them is even at a major intersection! What is the rationale for that Sheppard W. stop on the edge of a light industrial wasteland? And why is the Steeles stop not at Jane? This kind of configuration looks like it will frustrate attempts to connect major bus service to the subway (e.g. Jane north/south).     


The Steeles West Station’s entire raison-d’etre is to hook up with (a) available land for a gigantic carpark and (b) align with a future extension north to the Vaughan Corporate Centre.  It is intended to serve as a focal point for York Region Transit and, as such, where exactly it is matters little.  Of course this just perpetuates that line’s avid desire to avoid running under streets that might actually have any development on them, and instead be totally dependent on feeder services.

York University Station is, of course, on the campus and will get almost its entire demand from that site.

Finch West Station is in a reasonable location and is also the source of some additional riding (see comments later on about the Finch West Bus).

Sheppard West exists only because there are still people who believe that we will have a weekly rock concert, a monthly Papal visit, at least two sports stadia and maybe even a big box home furnishings store with no parking all in Downview Park.  The projected usage will set new standards for the TTC in underutilized stations.  For a good laugh, look at the station plans to see that the only way someone will get to the subway is to ride in on the Sheppard Bus.

A few people wrote about the Finch West bus both as a source of riding and as an overpacked nightmare.  People who now endure the ride over to Yonge Street would love to just hop onto the subway at Keele and Finch.  A good point, but do we build a subway to deal with every overcrowded bus route?  Wouldn’t it be better if we looked at other ways to make widespread improvements to transit in the northwest part of Toronto?  I will come back to this a bit later.

On the subject of commuters transferring to the subway from GO Transit:  That is exactly what I don’t want them to do.  The single biggest demand for this line comes from commuters who will get on at Steeles West and who should, instead, be on GO trains.  The demand projections claim that GO will add only a handful of additional trains by 2021 to the line that parallels Keele Street.  It would cost a lot less to get these riders downtown via GO so that we could concentrate on building a transit network to serve demands that are going elsewhere in the region.  The projected transfer traffic is infinitessimal:  275 in the am peak period.  Staying on the train is so much faster even if you have to double back a bit from Union.

My friend Gord over at the Toronto Environmental Alliance writes:

Of course, all of this presupposes that we should be expanding transit to this area. In an era of constrained transit funding, we must choose those projects that get the most rides for fewest dollars. The TTC is still nearly 9% below 1990 ridership levels and this is mostly due to reductions in service. Interestingly, the project ridership of the proposed subway is 30 million rides per year (in 2021) this is just shy of the shortfall in TTC ridership.      

Also, in an era when urban sprawl is one of the most serious problems we face we should invest in transit projects which support compact form. The Spadina subway proposal comes with a 3000 unit parking lot at it’s terminus. At the same time the am peak station by station riders suggest that only 4000 people will board the subway southbound. In other words the subpromotes autodependant srawl in York region as much as it promotes development near subway stations in Toronto.   

From another point of view, the nature of the alignment and the few opportunities for intensified development along the line preclude this being a significant reason for building a subway rather than something simpler.

Dave Leavitt writes:

While I agree there is a need for more spending in transit in general, and specifically in the poorer served areas such as Rexdale and North Scarborough, you can’t possibly suggest that LRT (or Light Rapid Transit) is the answer to this particular problem. Just look at the Scarborough LRT as a prime example of the system being flooded.      

LRT trains break down sooner, cost 3/4 of the cost of subway trains and still require you to lay down track and infrastructure (ie; building of stations, hydro lines, etc…). LRT would make a great addition the subway line, not necessarily a replacement. The subway extention to York University is a good start, but we need to take the subway up into York Region and get those people on the main routes. Then, we can build LRT to serve populated but underused (commercially) areas. Buses can then run shorter routes.   

I agree that “LRT” as implemented on the Scarborough line is a joke.  It costs a fortune and has many of the same problems as a full blown subway.  The problem is that the SRT is not true “LRT”, it was only called LRT by its advocates as a smokescreen back when the new technology was first considered.  The alternative (indeed the original design) was for trains of streetcars on private right-of-way with grade crossings (controlled by traffic lights) rather than bridges and underpasses.  I will write more about LRT in a separate post.

Real LRT is more like the system in Calgary that runs on a transit mall through downtown and on surface rights-of-way for most of its suburban branches.

And finally, Richard Leitch writes:

“Build a T-shaped LRT network consisting of an east-west spine (in effect, the mid-range plan for the Viva LRT).” Thus, is the east-west spine in the 905 region?      

Since LRT is 1/10 to 1/5 of the cost of a subway, how about having LRT lines fan out of Downsview to go along Sheppard and Finch in addition to York?   

To be honest, I didn’t want to include a Finch or Sheppard LRT in my proposal only to concentrate on the benefit for York Region, and because some people might think I had gone completely off the deep end.  Yes, a Finch LRT would be quite wonderful as part of this scheme and it would deal with the problem of better service to the northwest part of the city.

All of this might seem to be pie-in-the-sky, but the construction lead times are a lot shorter for LRT than subways, opening the system in stages is a lot easier, and you can build a lot more for the same money.  People all over the GTA need to see the kind of options that would be available rather than being force-fed one small subway extension that won’t serve most of them.

Thanks to everyone who wrote!