Reader Comments on Subway Plans (2)

Comments from readers of this site come in from time to time, and my intent is to save them up for a single linked post.  This allows them to comment on each other, and me to comment on all of them in one place.

Here are more thoughts on subways in Toronto, especially the York U line.

Kevin writes:

I think you have overlooked the importance of the form of a city. In New York, my hometown, one never has to ride a surface vehicle because one can take the subway anywhere one would want to go. The same is true with Paris and London. I should like to see a Toronto with no need for buses unless you live in the underserviced far-away suburbs. Now in Toronto, I ride a bus every day to travel to a downtown destination from a downtown location.

An extensive subway system at any cost, I say. And before we start worrying about things like extending the Sheppard line, why don’t we first start building routes downtown?

For the most part, cities that have very intensive subway systems like New York, Paris and London built most of them a long time ago when construction was comparatively cheap, when cities were compact and roads did not make a huge call on the public purse, and when there was a huge, ready market of passengers.  Indeed, some lines were built privately because it was actually financially rewarding to do so, at least for the short term.  (The whole issue of private ownership of transit systems and the hidden subsidies available via tax laws and other schemes is a matter for another day.)  There were so many riders that New York had three separate private subway companies competing with each other!

Cities grow to the form they have partly due to the nature of their transportation networks.  Toronto does not have the density downtown (or anywhere else) to support the kind of closely spaced networks of subway lines found in the other three cities.  A Queen Street subway (which some of my correspondents propose) would decimate surface transit downtown by sucking everything from Dundas to King into one line, and the stations would be at best one kilometre apart.

Like it or not, we don’t have unlimited capital, and we have to look at surface alternatives to handle the growing demand in and around our city.

B. writes:

Two thoughts.

1. York University: I’m one of the many folks who understands what you are saying about the huge cost of it all, or think I do, but remains viscerally and emotionally attached to it. Maybe it has something to do with a sense that development grows around subways, and not the reverse. Maybe it’s the time I spent in Washington DC seeing something like that happen in NoVA.

So can’t this thing be financed by development? The north part of Toronto continues to be a very desireable area for many. Can’t York U be pressured to do its part of the bargain — turn its campus into the dense hub for a whole new-and-growing part of the city? Ditto and doubly so for Vaughan, which last I heard figured that it would seat a gigantic car park on top of the Steeles stop on the proposed Spadina extension: can’t somebody say to them, hey, your end of the bargain is an ambitious mixed-use walkable area suitable for a transit-oriented community, and congruent with all the dollars being spent on development up there anyway?

In other words, shouldn’t this be all about how the rest of the world is going to sit tight on that Spadina extension until York U and Vaughan come up with concrete density plans to take advantage of it? Isn’t that what Li Preti needs to be told — not show me the buses lost, but show me your density vision? It’s time for them to put up. They’re capable if prodded, and the city will be better for it.

2. On regional-wide approaches to transit: please, please, say something about York Region Transit when you get to this. VIVA is great and all, but the transit map there is a mess. VIVA hubs without bus lines connecting to them. A grid oriented to getting commuters to the subway, not to enabling them to get around the suburb and get some local-to-local flows going. Did I mention routes that don’t connect to hubs?

It goes back to the same issue in my opinion. Regional transit will never, ever work very well without density, at least in clumps. Enough with surrounding tall condos with concrete moats. These communities just do not work. There is no local media in these suburbs, there is noone covering the issues, and it is just getting worse and worse.

First off, the Washington Metro cost a bundle and was a prestige project for the national capital.  It also opened as a separate network from the surface bus system with no transfer privileges.  The net effect was that poor inner city riders were stuck on the buses while the commuters from the suburbs got nice subway trains.

As for York U and redevelopment:  There is land south of the University that is owned by a developer who was supposed to build high density, but changed his mind “because that’s what the market wants”.  Some of York’s own land is made more developable by the subway although it’s ironic that with the station in the heart of the campus, someone living on the periphery will have a long walk to the station.  Moreover, there’s no guarantee that people living in a condo at York would actually work downtown as opposed to driving north, west or east.

A great myth of Toronto and subways is that development can pay for them.  This is only true if we have closely spaced stations, massive development along the line and in nearby areas that can be served with short feeder routes.  This type of development will not happen on the Spadina line given the existing and likely land use.  Only the Finch/Keele intersection is a likely spot, and that’s not enough to support a subway line.

As for Viva (or any other spiffy new regional services including the LRT network I would love to see), if it isn’t integrated with local riding demand, if it does not provide convenient trips for a significant proportion of the population, then its market will always be limited.  By extension, the attractiveness of transit as a service that deserves public funding will be constrained if it is perceived as less than useful to most 905ers.

Rebecca writes:

I too believe this subway extension to York U is misguided and is a pre election strategy to get 905 votes. I have concerns as the TTC has to struggle to maintain the current subway system, it’s surface network, and additonally faces the replacement of the Scarborough LRT. I would like to make these politicans ride a bus during peak times for example on Eglinton routes.

It seems a shame that all levels of government can’t cordinate a unified strategy as the feds are building an airport-union rail link,the province is making noise about the York U extension as well as laying more GO track and the cities and regions are trying to improve service in their respective transit zones.

Speaking from a Toronto perspective I believe not building Eglinton West subway was the biggest mistake a provincial government ever made.  Could you imagine a subway from Eglinton West station along Eglinton west to Renforth either with a direct or shuttle link to the airport?  I know can’t afford it,however the majority of the public are not going to use slow, transfer & extra fare required transit.  Governments might as well spend our money on more roads and scrap any meaningless climate change accords.

Eglinton would make a wonderful LRT line, and the airport should be served from the south by the west end of that route.  As for Blue 22 and the direct but very expensive service to downtown, that proposal should be killed and replaced with an LRT line in the same corridor.  The airport service would run from Union up to Eglinton and then west via the Eglinton line.  This would have the advantage of actually being useful to people along the route, not just airport-to-downtown trips.  I will comment in more detail about this soon.

Matt writes:

I think I like this suggestion. GO Transit rail service is at impossible levels on all lines aside from those on the Lakeshore corridor between Burlington and Oshawa (especially Oakville and Pickering), and light rail is a lot better than spending the money on the Spadina subway, especially with a significant need to replace the Scarborough RT with an eastward extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway, and eventually making the Sheppard “stubway” into a longer route.

Furthermore, with growth currently occuring in Scarborough (among other places), it should be considered important to emphasize these projects over a subway extension that does not need to go into Vaughan, York U, or even Finch Avenue.

They should probably wait 25 to 30 years to get the subway extension done.

My feeling about our subways is that the existing lines have gone as far as they should go.  There will always be pressure for “just one more extension”, but that will soak up every available transit dollar forever.  The only way to really address the situation is to look at extensive improvements to commuter rail, a network of LRT lines and improved bus services.  Each has its place and the whole collection can have an impact much greater than one short subway line.

A transit vision on that scale is desperately needed.  I plan to show one version of what we could do in a major post this weekend or early next week.  Stay tuned.