A Grand Set of Comments

Herewith a batch of reader comments about A Grand Plan and related topics, and my replies:

Matt writes:

Steve, could you comment on the technical feasability and reasonability of converting the Sheppard line to LRT operation and extending it at grade?

Steve:  I believe that there are problems with headroom in the tunnels for overhead (even with pantographs) for new LRVs.  A second problem would be that an LRV fleet would be built with low floors for surface operation, but the stations are high platform.

Really, I wish we could do this because it would make extending the line so much cheaper, but alas we’re stuck with a transfer at Don Mills for an eternity, and another one at Yonge for through riders.

Mr. Conspiracy writes:

What if a future downtown relief line is extended past Union through the Bay Street tunnel with stations at Queens Quay/Bay and Harbourfront Centre, and veers north again with a station at Skydome/CN Tower/Convention Centre?

If that’s done, the Queen’s Quay route wouldn’t have to connect at Union.  It can go past Bay and continue along Queen’s Quay.

Steve:  Actually there is another possible variation on this, but I’m unsure of the alignment and need to do some research.  As part of the World’s Fair proposal, there is a scheme to run a high capacity LRT line (circa 20K passengers per hour) along the south side of the railway embankment and thence, probably via a bridge, into the Port Lands. 

Consider the possibility of a Downtown Relief Line (aka Don Mills LRT) coming into downtown via the south/east side of the CN right-of-way, through Union Station, and out the other side on its way up the Weston corridor.  At Eglinton, it would connect into the Eglinton LRT to the Airport.  This would, oh-by-the-way provide access to the fairgrounds from a very wide range of locations in the city.  However, we’re unlikely to see it built in the timeframe (2015) since we’re spending every penny we have on a little subway extension (or maybe two).

The Queen’s Quay services (east and west) handle a different, local market, and they would use the Bay Street tunnel (with a much reconfigured loop at Union) to access the subway.

David White asks:

I am interested to know what kind of transit grand plan would allow us to demolish the Gardiner from the Humber to the Don, make Lakeshore Blvd a truly urban street downtown and reconfigure Lakeshore Blvd to be a complement to the Western Beaches.

Steve:  There are a few issues with the Gardiner.  First, we need to substantially eliminate the amount of commuting traffic to downtown now on that road.  One of the things I notice living beside the DVP just north of the Viaduct is that it’s not full inbound in the morning peak because some of the traffic peels off further north (mainly at Eglinton).  Similarly, the northbound traffic tends to back up north of me around Eglinton or Lawrence.  This begs the question of the origin-destination pattern for the DVP traffic.  On the west side, things are different because there is no place west of downtown that siphons off substantial traffic.

Better commuter rail service in both corridors can provide some relief, but we need to know where people are going and which trips really cannot be diverted.  There is also the small problem of commercial traffic.  If you have a link to any decent studies on all of this, please send it to me.

Christopher King writes:

Personally, I am of the opinion that a monorail system would be more effective for meeting Toronto’s needs.
Subways are too expensive to develop, and take a considerable amount of time and property.  Streetcars, although pretty and environmentally friendly, only serve to cause traffic congestion.

A monorail, requires very little land to work on, with the exception of it’s mounts.  It can make stops in large buildings and complexes, who can develop around it.  And as ridership increases it doesn’t have to be completely rebuilt in order to make accomodations, like Scarborough’s RT is going to have.

Here’s a final point to throw some weight behind it.  If, gods forbid, another Winterstorm ‘99 should ever occur, a monorail system will not be affected by the snow accumulation as the GO, the subway and the street cars were.

Steve:  First off, the capacity of a monorail is about the same of a heavy bus line.  It is no substitute for higher forms of rapid transit such as LRT or subways when capacity is an issue.

Although the line only requires “its mounts” as you put it, this gets really messy at stations unless you can fit them inside of buildings.  Great for a greenfield development, but rarely possible in an existing city.  This is one place where the “GO Urban” scheme of the Ontario government came unglued in the 1970s.  A station at, say, Eglinton and Yonge, would cover the street from curb to curb because you need stairways, escalators, whatever for vertical access plus the platforms.  Think Chicago elevated but with concrete rather than ironwork.

Rebuilding the RT is not a function of more ridership, it’s a function of technological obsolescence.  The RT cars are old and cannot be economically replaced.  The line was deliberately built so that nothing bigger would fit on it (to prevent conversion back to the original LRT proposal), and now we face big costs to expand the infrastructure regardless of what we build.

As for snow, assuming that there is no problem with wind-blown snow and rain getting onto the power rails and freezing (that’s the big problem on the RT), you may have a point.  However, we don’t make a technology choice for events that infrequent.

Sorry to sound so negative, but I’ve been down the route of “lightweight elevated guideways” before.  My favourite experience was a public forum when the then Minister of Transportation, Gordon Carton, was reaching for a description and came up with “flimsy”.  The room exploded in laughter, and the scheme was doomed.

Greg W. writes:

With regards to the Eglinton line, you suggest running underground from Keele to Leaside.  I was walking part of the route this weekend, and thought of another solution.  Why not develop two one-way streets with surface transit.

Eglinton Ave from Keele to Leaside would be a east-bound one-way with 3 lanes of traffic, 1 lane of parking / right hand turn lanes and a bike lane.  The northern most lane would be a westbound street car / BRT lane.  This would allow riders to board the street car from the curb.  It would also mean that left-hand turning cars would be able to see oncoming street cars and let them pass accordingly.

You could then connect and widen the streets running one block north of Eglinton into a similar one-way west-bound street with east-bound transit lane.  Much of this street is currently single-family residential, but could be re-developed as per the official growth plan to be higher density residential and business.  To maintain the current flavour of Eglinton (especially the areas west of Bathurst), there would be requirements for ground floor retail space in the buildings.

Steve jumps in here:  I know the set of streets you mean as they are a handy short-cut around the traffic jams on Eglinton despite all of their stop signs.  The problem with this scheme is that the neighbours might be a tad upset about such a reconfiguration in a residential neighbourhood where so much effort went into discouraging through traffic.  Redeveloping this area would take decades, assuming we got agreement that it was worthwhile, but we need the Eglinton West LRT sooner rather than later.

As a general observation, I have problems with any proposal that is contingent on major changes in existing land-use unless the area is derelict.  Transit should not be a neighbourhood wrecker.

Regarding GO Transit, I was just reading that in Durham region you can transfer from DRT to GO and back to DRT without paying an extra fare.  It’d certainly extend the reach of transit in Toronto if that was allowed between GO and TTC.

Ah TTC and GO fare integration.  Well, if you can ever get the two systems to stop fighting over who should get your nickel, it’s a wonderful idea.  In practice, we won’t see this until Smart Cards come into general use, and even then you will pay a premium because neither system wants to give up revenue. 

In the TTC’s and GO’s defence, I have to note there is a slight difference in scale.  Durham transit exists primarily as a GO Transit feeder, and it is in their interest to piggyback on GO services.  For GO, a local hop within DRT territory is probably using spare capacity and therefore has no marginal cost. 

The situation for the TTC would be much different.  If you could take a bus to a GO station inside the 416, hop onto GO for a trip downtown, and then get on the subway, all for your original TTC fare, GO would turn into a mini-subway network within the city.  This is an area where they do not have surplus capacity, at least during the peak period.  It would be intriguing to see whether this could work for off-peak travel.

That’s all for this batch.

4 thoughts on “A Grand Set of Comments

  1. Steve,

    This may not be exactly what Greg W/you are thinking of… but there is a little known program (that was resusitated and make more prominent when Rick Ducharme went from GO to TTC CGM) called TTC Times Two.

    If you start your trip on TTC to get to a GO station within TO (I’m not sure if TTC service stops at GO stations in 905), you get a transer and take GO then use the TTC transfer to reboard TTC to your local destination (most likely inbound to Union/subway/streetcar, but also outbound from Union to your Toronto GO station and local destination via TTC bus).
    From ttc.ca:

    “TTC Times Two”

    TTC and GO Transit Transfers

    TTC Times Two – Passengers who ride the TTC immediately before and after a GO Train/Bus trip can use the TTC transfer from their first TTC ride to board the second TTC vehicle.



  2. YRT (York Region Transit) has a special arrangement with GO, where you pay only 25 or 50 cents (I forget the exact number) to ride on YRT to a GO station.  YRT also has special bus routes specifically designed to shuttle passengers to meet trains.

    This also works on TTC buses in York Region (many do connect to GO stations).  If only the TTC would see the light in this idea … although, GO isn’t used as a mini-subway in York Region, just as a trip downtown.


  3. What the TTC needs is fare zones to be put back into the system again to make money.  Many people would say that the TTC is not a money making service and I agree 100%.  The way the TTC deals with its finance is just sad when compared to other systems that are much younger than the TTC and are making twice as much than the TTC can make in a year.

    Steve:  The TTC recovers 80% of its operating costs from the farebox, higher than any other system in North America or Europe. 

    The only answer to the TTC’s problems is charge by the distance you travel, and hey if you don’t like it than you just will have to get with the program once the GTTA is established fully.  Many riders on the TTC would complain about fare zones but hey, guess what the 905 riders have to deal with this.

    Steve:  Actually fare by distance penalizes the very riders — long haul commuters — we want to get onto the transit system.  If anything, extending the subway beyond the Toronto boundary is going to push “Zone 1” further out than it is now. 

    Also another way the TTC could make more money would be making a standarised fare just like all the transit systems around the 416-area: $2.50 for 2 hours on all 905 transit, as for the TTC it could be $2.25 for 90 mins.

    Steve:  It is much simpler to move people to flat rate fare purchases with monthly passes.  The cost of building and operating the infrastructure to keep track of fare-by-distance is immense, and flat rate purchase of service makes the system more attractive.  The “smart card” scheme now under consideration for the GTTA is a hardware vendor’s dream.


  4. Is there a minimum height the pantograph must reach up? Why not lower the pantograph so LRT’s can fit in tunnels? Unless the height of the LRT car-body itself precludes this option.

    Steve: It’s the height of the car plus the clearance needed for the wire that determines the tunnel size.


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