The Spadina Subway: The Elephant in the Room

Today, the CBC reported that Ontario’s Minister of Finance says that the Spadina Subway extension will go ahead whether the Feds contribute any money or not.  This could be read partly as wishful thinking along the lines of “Harper will be gone before we actually have to pay for it”, but there’s another darker implication.

Quotes from Dwight Duncan in the CBC article include:

“This project will go ahead with or without them,” Dwight Duncan said Tuesday.

“Our hope from the beginning has been that [Ottawa] would be there. They’ve made undertakings publicly about supporting infrastructure and we’ll see where that money lands.”

Duncan said the province will have to dig into its own reserves.

“We have fiscal room. We have contingency [funds],” he said.

If that is the case, however, Duncan said the project would likely take longer than the planned 10 years.

If Queen’s Park has no money to assume the remainder of the Spadina cost without stretching the project timelines, I have to wonder where they will get the funds to help support all of the other badly-needed capital projects in Toronto and the GTA.

Anyone who thinks we are at the dawn of a new age of provincial funding should think very carefully about what that one subway extension is doing — hogging all of the capital funds into the distant future at the expense of the rest of the transit system.

It’s time that Queen’s Park started talking about an overall, long-term approach to transit funding rather than project-at-a-time announcements.  Maybe the only real duty of the GTTA is going to be to stand at bus terminals selling pencils to pay for one subway extension.  I wonder if they still even use pencils at York University?

4 thoughts on “The Spadina Subway: The Elephant in the Room

  1. Hmm… I reckon that if the city threw in some, the entirety of the Trust money would cover a subway from Downsview to York U/Steeles.  Then a fan outwards of LRT routes could be built instead of the subway to nowhere part 2.

    Pity about the Vaughan extension – but then what would all those Liberal 905ers say?  Not to mention 407ETR who would probably see a bump from the “transitway” stop.


  2. I can’t understand the transit enthusiast’s love affair with LRTs, and the opposition to the Spadina subway extension.

    I ask you, is the Spadina LRT any faster than the bus it replaced? The answer is obviously no, and it’s speed that people want. Instead, the Spading SUBWAY should have been unhooked from University and extended down Spadina to Queens Quay, and then on to Union.

    Steve:  If the Spadina Subway had gone to Union, it would have far fewer stops than the University line, and anyone bound for places on University Avenue (eg the Hospital District) would have to transfer at Union and double back.

    If we took this “density/LRT” approach to everything in the past, the Bloor subway, and the University sections would never have been built! Would we be better served by LRTs on Bloor Street today? Clearly the density and ridership levels in the 60s on Bloor did not justify subway construction.

    The point is this — the Spadina Subway extension into York Region will will allow a growing population centre, and the northwest region of Toronto, quick and easy access into downtown Toronto. That’s what it’s for — putting an LRT up there is not going to get people out of their cars.

    Steve:  The Bloor streetcar was carrying 9,000 passengers per hour and parallel routes in the same corridor like Harbord and Carlton added to this total.  That is roughly double the expected demand on the York University extension in 2021.  The point about Bloor is that there was an existing demand which clearly was going to grow with the emerging suburbs in the 60s and 70s.  Even the BD extensions went into areas where there was strong growth in demand that could be handled on the subway.

    By contrast, the SRT line is in an area where demand could have been handled quite well by LRT and the line could have easily been extended to serve other neighbourhoods.  This is exactly the same as the situation we now have at York U and Vaughan Centre.

    An additional problem is the emphasis on people going downtown.  Most of the congestion in the 905 and outer 416 is caused by people travelling between the suburbs, not those going downtown, and the Spadina subway does not address this type of demand. 

    The LRT proposal is NOT intended to handle people going all the way downtown — that’s what all-day frequent service on the GO rail lines to the north will do.  The LRT line is intended to be part of a network in northern 416 and southern 905 that will address the much more diffuse demand pattern in those areas.


  3. 9,000 passengers per hour on Bloor in the 60s — was that peak?  Even so, that is very light subway loading.  I seem to remember the same negative comments being said about University in the 60s.  And let’s not forget Bloor ran with 4-car trains for the first ten years or so.  We need to give Sheppard time — if it ran from Weston Road to STC it would be a success and a real alternative to the 401.  The problem is simply that it doesn’t go far enough.

    Steve:  As you can see from the charts I posted as part of a commentary on the integrated subway service, the demand on the Bloor Subway westbound at Sherbourne in the AM peak was just over 20K/hour compared with about 29K/hour on the Yonge line southbound from Rosedale.  The corresponding figure eastbound from Spadina was 21K/hour.  These numbers are more than double any projected riding for the Sheppard, Spadina or Scarborough routes and there is no comparison between them. 

    As I also said, that 9K/hour on Bloor was just for the Bloor car with 2-car trains of PCCs, and does not include loading on parallel routes like Harbord or Carlton that was part of the Bloor corridor for subway planning purposes.

    The statement about four-car trains on BD is not true.  It ran with 6-car trains except late evenings and weekends, much as the Yonge line did.  Eventually the practice of running short trains was discontinued when the TTC discovered that it cost more to make and break trains than simply to leave the long ones in service.

    Besides, aren’t subways supposed to be hubs for bus routes in the suburbs?  Why does the density around the stations themselves have to be high?  I think the whole LRT vs. subway debate should instead focus on *WHY* subway construction, when adjusted for inflation, is so much more expensive today than it was in the 1960s.  If anything, it should be cheaper.  Don’t those tunnel boring machines do most of the work that was previously done manually by workers?  With the tunnels going under the street, doesn’t that save on land expropriation costs?

    Steve:  Actually, you’ve got it wrong.  Deep bore tunneling is very expensive compared with cut-and-cover and that’s one reason why the Sheppard line cost us so much to build.  The boring machine digs the hole, but there’s an army of workers behind the machine.  Moreover, a lot of the cost (track, signals, electrical systems, ventillation) are common to whatever way you build a line.  Stations, which cost at least $100-million each, are always built as cut and cover.  Land costs are comparatively minor as a percentage of the total.  The only way to really save money is to not be underground in the first place.

    As for the SRT, ICTS is a superior technology to LRT — downgrading the line to LRT would be a mistake in my opinion.  The capacity on the line can be doubled by simply purchasing more equipment.

    Steve:  No, it can’t.  The Mark II cars will not physically fit through the Ellesmere tunnel or the curves at Kennedy Station.  Moreover, this approach dooms any future expansion to ICTS technology which will cost substantially more than LRT. 

    Why is everyone saying LRT would provide greater capacity than a revamped SRT with more trains?

    Steve:  Because it would do so with the ability of extending the RT to Malvern, and possibly west along Sheppard.  Also, it could be part of a Scarborough network.  If you want the RT to remain a free-standing service isolated from the rest of the network, you may as well extend the subway.  


  4. Steve, where are you getting 21k/hour on BD in 1966?  I have the OD report in front of me — all day volume easbound at, say, Spadina was 52,000: approx. 23,000 were on Downtown trains, the remainder were on Woodbine trains.  I’m looking at the All-Day Passenger Flow Diagram.

    Steve:  I have to do a “mea culpa” here and correct my statement about the per hour flows — they were for the AM peak period.  The peak hour would have been about 10K.

    Having said that, I return to two basic arguments.  First, Bloor-Danforth had huge potential demand that the corridor would handle in future decades.  Second, that the demand pattern in the suburbs is not oriented to one or two large volume corridors, and if we only build subways we will concentrate all of our capital on a small proportion of the potential market.

    I know that my position is to start with LRT as the first premise and then look at subways only if demand reasonably justifies them rather than the other way around.  This is deliberate:  starting with subways skews the debate and forever defers the point where we say “this is where the subway ends”.  It would be like never building GO Transit, and spending decades figuring out how we could expand the subway system to serve the same market.  That’s what happened, in effect, on Sheppard where demands that properly belong on a good commuter rail system were used to justify the subway construction.

    Coming back to the ICTS/LRT debate, the fundamental question is this:  do we ever want to build a network of routes in Scarborough, or do we accept the RT in its current location as the end state?  If we do, then just go buy a fleet of Mark II’s and don’t ever talk about extension or networking.


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