The SRT study to be considered at the TTC meeting on August 30 is available online here. There are three documents in all:
- The Final Report
- The presentation materials to be used at the TTC on August 30 (and presumably already used for the private meeting of Scarborough Councillors earlier this week)
- The covering TTC report summarizing the main issues and recommendations
I am not going to attempt to duplicate this material here and recommend that readers review the documents for detailed background to this issue.
First off, I must give credit where it is due. The Final Report is much more open about the history and technical tradeoffs of various schemes than similar reports the TTC has produced in the past, notably those dealing with subway extensions. Part of the document is almost a primer on technology and the realistic requirements for transit service in Scarborough. It is refreshing to see a real “alternatives analysis” that examines different implementations appropriate to different modes and how these relate to transportation and land use goals.
The report concludes:
- In isolation (looking only at the existing RT route), replacement of the current fleet with Mark II RT vehicles is the lowest cost option that can be performed with minimum disruption and greatest short-term capacity increase.
- Retaining RT technology leaves us with an orphan line where expansion is limited, at most, to a Malvern extension on a dedicated right-of-way.
- Conversion to LRT will be at a higher cost [for the existing RT segment] and cause greater disruption during construction, but would have better potential for system expansion. However, if Council does not commit to an LRT network with surface rights-of-way, this extra cost and disruption will be for nought.
- The inconvenient transfer arrangement at Kennedy should be replaced regardless of whether RT or LRT is used.
- Further analysis is needed to determine what other LRT or RT projects could be incorporated in an RT replacement project.
- Neither Bus Rapid Transit nor Subway are appropriate for this corridor for reasons of capacity (too little or too much). A Scarborough Subway would bypass areas already designated for increased density in the Official Plan, and would cost much, much more than any other alternative. If, despite this, subway technology were chosen, then a decision and commitment to this would be needed immediately given the remaining life of the RT cars and the lead time to fund, design and build the subway.
- There is a window of about one year to review and refine any RT or LRT network design before a final decision is required.
Based on this, the study recommends that the TTC:
- Approve in principle upgrading the SRT with new RT vehicles and make appropriate provision for this work in future capital budgets starting in 2007.
- Undertake a study of potential expansion including extension of the RT, BRT or LRT on a number of corridors and staged construction of the Sheppard Subway east from Don Mills Station.
- Eliminate extension of the Danforth Subway from further consideration.
The leap from the “conclusions” to the “recommendations” is bothersome particularly given the statement that we still have a year to decide on a final configuration. It is no secret that TTC staff are not enthusiastic about an LRT network. Historically, this was rooted in their dislike of streetcars, and more recently in their strong doubts that Council will ever agree to the tradeoffs needed to provide roadspace and priority for true LRT operations. An orphan line is an orphan line regardless of the technology, and if that’s all Scarborough will have, it may as well be the cheaper alternative.
Clearly, the TTC would like to see the RT extended to Malvern, and they already have an approved EA for this option. Whether it would meet an extended Sheppard Subway there is uncertain. What we don’t see here is a cost and network comparison for an all-LRT scheme. We already know, and the study acknowledges, that RT is more expensive to build than LRT. Moreover, it has more restrictive right-of-way and station requirements because it is completely segregated from other traffic. The more we expand the RT, the less the “advantage” of having an existing RT line will contribute to the total picture.
Many years ago during a presentation at Scarborough Council, the then-head of TTC Planning discussed options for the Malvern extension. That presentation clearly stated that the cost of replacing the RT with LRT and extending the line to Malvern would be less than the cost of an RT extension. Unfortunately, despite my extensive archives, I don’t have the details on that costing because they were not distributed in print form, and the meeting predated the era of websites.
I do know that the SRT study team is concerned that a Malvern LRT would be subject to greater potential service disruption as it would include at least some grade crossings and possibly some street operation in reserved lanes. Their concern is that the eventual target of 8,000 passengers-per-hour might not be achieved with reliable service under these conditions. However, this issue is not addressed in the Final Report, and we have no idea of what alignment or potential traffic conflicts were considered.
While this may be a legitimate concern, it is a subject for review as part of an overall study of a Scarborough network. The TTC has a bad habit of closing off debate by urging decisions such as the choice of a technology or an alignment and then dismissing any alternative proposals on the grounds that they don’t fit with an already-approved scheme. That’s why we never got any examination of an LRT network in the Spadina York U corridor even though the projected demands there are actually lower than those of the RT corridor.
The recommendations also make the leap to deciding on a Sheppard Subway extension rather than leaving this option open. At this point it is unclear whether a service east from Don Mills would be:
- A subway to the Town Centre
- A subway to Victoria Park with LRT beyond to Malvern
- A subway to Malvern connecting with an extended RT or LRT
- An LRT to Malvern connecting with the Scarborough LRT network (and possibly also to a Don Mills LRT)
Once again, the TTC is prejudging a major debate on technology options and, based on past experience, attemtping to preclude any discussion of alternatives.
Throughout the SRT Study, the direction articulated by Richard Soberman, the study’s leader, has been that LRT is the most flexible option for future network expansion. This is clearly reflected in the conclusions of the study. However, the Final Report clearly shows the hand of TTC staff where the recommendations do not flow from the main report and cannot be justified by it.
Although I am extremely skeptical of the value of retaining RT technology as readers here well know, I am at least prepared to be convinced by a fair comparative study of a future Scarborough transit network. The TTC doesn’t want to have that comparison, and by pre-judging the technologies for both the RT and Sheppard corridors, may eliminate the LRT backbone needed to make a larger Scarborough LRT network viable. In turn, this could affect the status of LRT in general as an option in other parts of Toronto by relagating it to a handful of downtown lines rather than a city-wide network.
On August 30, I will strongly recommend that the TTC does not approve the study’s recommendations, but instead takes the year we know is available to thoroughly examine the LRT versus RT issue.