Over the past month or so, we have seen many articles in the Star and Globe about transit, transportation and planning especially for the suburbs. This is the first of a series of posts on these topics.
For part 2, click here.
First, a recap:
- In the Star on August 9, Royson James, writing in Forget auto pilot, get [a] real transit plan, starts off well by recognizing the pitfalls of auto-oriented development and the lack of real pressure for transit-oriented development outside of Toronto. However, James steps in a pothole when he embraces John Stillich’s scheme for a Sheppard-401 cross-Metro subway line. The Toronto region has immensely complex transit problems, and they won’t be solved by one ruinously expensive subway line, especially not one that tries to duplicate the expressway network.
- The Globe ran a four-part series The Suburbs starting on Monday, July 31. One segment by Jill Mahoney covered Vaughan completre with its booming population of affulent residents. Most intriguing in this article was the scatter diagrams showing the residential and work population densities. Vaughan has a lot of inward commuting almost all of which is done by car. The Spadina subway extension is (a) years away and (b) will not serve a lot of this commuting traffic.
- Sunday, July 23 saw Paul Bedford’s front page feature We Want Change! detailing the findings from over 400 emails received by the Star’s What If? that asked readers to comment on what would make Toronto better. Transportation and especially transit featured strongly in the emails.
- Margaret Wente weighed in with The war against the car will never succeed in the Globe on Saturday July 22. Her solution to the transportation problems of the poor is simple: buy a used car. She is apparently unaware that buying it is only the first step — owning it is far worse with insurance, gas, parking and ongoing repairs. Moreover, this approach does nothing to relieve road congestion, but rather makes it worse.
- On July 21, Royson James extensively quoted Rod McPhail of the City’s Planning Department on the need for a network of LRT, or, if that is politically untenable due to the road lobby, more subways especially to the northeast and northwest.
- In response to Ontario’s Places to Grow report, The Star ran a front page story on Friday, June 16 called 4 Million More People, But Without the Sprawl by Kelly Gillespie.
- Jeff Gray, aka Dr. Gridlock, wrote about the Madrid Miracle and the huge, ongoing transit expansion program in that city in the Globe back on March 27.
All of this has been piling up in my bundle of clippings, and it’s time to offer comments of my own.
The Madrid Miracle
Every so often, Toronto gets to hear about some marvellous foreign city from a visiting dignitary or transit official, and people rightly ask “why can’t we do that here”. The most recent example is Madrid with its large and growing network of subway lines. I can almost hear the subway advocates saying “See! We told you!” and going back to their maps of subways criss-crossing Toronto.
The problem whenever people compare cities and systems is that they only look at selected information. Here are a few major differences between Madrid and Toronto:
- Madrid built 56.3 km of Metro routes including stations and vehicles between 1995 and 1999 at a cost of only $2.25-billion. Another 54.6 km was built between 1999 and 2003 at a cost of $3.9-billion. Even allowing for inflation, the cost/km is much, much lower than the cost of subways in Toronto — roughly 100 km for $6-billion and change, or $60-million/km including vehicles. The Sheppard Subway cost us close to $200-million/km.
- The 2003-2007 plan includes another 47.4 km of subway and 45 km of “Metro Ligero” or Light Rail at a cost of about $6-billion.
- There is no distinction between transit modes in Madrid’s fare system — the Metro, the buses and the commuter rail system are all one network. Fares are overwhelmingly based on passes which are priced depending on the number of zones through which you will travel.
- Madrid is a much older city, and a compact form is the norm there even though there has been huge population growth in “the suburbs”. The Madrid “GTA” has roughly doubled in population in the past 30 years to about 5.5-million.
- Transit was losing its market share to cars, and there was concern with suburban development until governments decided to reverse the trend and invest heavily in public transit construction and service. Total ridership in this region is about 1.6-billion rides per year.
The International Union of Public Transport has an overview of Madrid at this link.
There is a very large report (6MB) here describing the expansion of the Madrid transit system (in Spanish).
Information about the Metro is available here.
Information about the City is available here.
Having a system like this in Toronto would be a delight, but (a) you don’t build anything overnight, and (b) the dispersed suburban form of the GTA already exists. The demands do not fit easily with a network of Metros even if we could build them. Indeed, the demands are much more in keeping with a widespread bus and LRT network, the very type of network nobody wants to build.
If we had built our suburbs to give transit at least a chance of being attractive, we might have a hope that just running a lot more service and building some trunk lines could make up for lost time. Sadly, that’s not what we have, and we cannot undo decades of bad planning with a few new buses.