The Final Report of the Scarborough RT Strategic Plan came up for discussion nearly at the end of a very long Commission meeting on August 30. This was preceded by a long presentation on the Capital Budget, approval of the Bombardier subway car order and a moving deputation by the wives of two workmen seriously injured by on-the-job carbon monoxide poisoning. Lengthy debate was unlikely.
Councillor Michael Thompson, Chair of Scarborough Community Council, led off the deputations by presenting a position agreed to by 9 of the 10 Scarborough Councillors. Versions of this previously reported in the media and in an earlier post on this site did not convey the full story, and this will be important as debate on Scarborough’s future transit network continues. Here are the high points:
- Support for the RT upgrade to use Mark II cars but this is conditional on extension of the line to Malvern
- A new RT station at Brimley Road to be included in the upgrade project
- Further extension of the RT beyond its planned terminus at Markham and Sheppard to Malvern Centre
- A minimum of 40 km of new LRT lines on various Scarborough corridors
- Examination of a Sheppard Subway extension STC
- Long term plans for a Danforth subway extension to STC (the next time the RT wears out)
- Integration of Scarborough’s transit network with other initiatives by York and Durham regions and by GO Transit
- Creation of an appealing brand name for the RT in the manner of Vancouver’s Skytrain
Councillor Raymond Cho, the dissenting voice on Scarborough Council, agreed that the RT should be extended to Malvern Centre (Nielson & Finch). He argued that the original Environmental Assessment for this line was done before the developments in the area had been built and that a review of the plan is needed. Cho differs from the other Councillors in wanting the Sheppard Subway extended east to Sheppard and Meadowvale.
Various members of the activist community spoke to the proposal, but there was little consistency in their positions. This is always the Catch-22 of activism. As individuals, each person gets to argue and support their own scheme (there are at least as many activist-created rapid transit schemes as there are activists, probably more). Activist groups are notoriously difficult to sustain because, in the absence of a single, common threat (a major environmental problem, an unwanted local development), consensus is very difficult to achieve, and there is often doubt about who speaks for whom.
I brought up the rear with a slightly modified version of the presentation posted earlier on this site. A few references were changed including:
- Remarks about possible bias in the presentation as shown by pictures of the Vancouver Skytrain were omitted because these were not actually displayed in the meeting (they are part of the material on the project’s website).
- My initial sense that Scarborough Council was supporting an all-LRT option was, of course, no longer valid and my proposal for more extensive study of this could not be piggybacked on their position.
Commissioner Ashton asked that I address the cost differential between the RT and LRT options. I replied that although the simple RT upgrading proposed by staff was about $140-million cheaper than the LRT alternative, this differential would be eaten up by the extra cost of RT technology for any extension of the line beyond McCowan Station. I also noted that in an earlier presentation on the Capital Budget, the project cost shown for the RT was $501-million, not $360-million. Even allowing for inflation, there is a discrepancy between the two figures that needs to be explained.
Councillor Ashton then asked TTC staff about the LRT issue. Bill Dawson of the Planning Department replied that the main concern for an extension was the projected demand of 8,000 passengers per hour on the RT itself. With a design load of 140 per car, this translates to 57 cars per hour. In practice this would mean a two-minute headway of two-car trains, or a three-minute headway of three-car trains. If the RT extension is built partly on street, the latter would require very large stations. Dawson was concerned that service reliability could not be maintained for the line as a whole with this level of street right-of-way operation.
This is a fascinating statement coming from TTC staff. In effect, they are saying that they could not maintain proper service without a totally exclusive right-of-way. There is no question that 8,000 pphpd is a substantial load for an LRT line (comparable to demand on the Bloor-Danforth streetcar before the subway opened). What is missing here is any discussion of whether the line might branch and serve different parts of north-east Scarborough without trying to run the full service on a single, street-based route.
Moreover, we need to remember that the projected demand is for year 2031 when the new RT will once again be up for replacement, and buildout of a full LRT network in Scarborough is easily a decade or more in the future.
These capacity issues, as presented by TTC staff, convinced Ashton to support the RT-based proposal.
Commissioner de Baeremaeker moved the staff recommendations with an amendment asking for a report by yearend 2006 on possibilities for a Scarborough network.
I am not hopeful that the momentum for an upgraded RT will be stopped if only because it is, superficially, the cheapest alternative in the medium term and can be most easily implemented. However, the wish list from Scarborough Council will be a challenge both for the TTC and for City Council in many ways:
- The assumption that there is actually $1-billion just sitting there for Scarborough’s taking is based on a concept of “equity” with North York and its Spadina extension. Money doesn’t grow on trees in any municipality, and even the Spadina subway is in jeapordy due to funding cutbacks.
- The Malvern RT extension has an old (early 1990s) EA approval, but this is hopelessly out of date. When the extension north to Finch (or beyond) was discussed, a flurry of activity among staff indicated that this might not be easily incorporated in the scheme. Obviously, the further the RT goes, the more it will cost. No right-of-way for an extension has been protected north of Sheppard Avenue.
- The Brimley Road station is an additional project cost regardless of which technology is chosen.
- Extension of the Sheppard Subway (regardless of its terminus) is extremely costly. Just to reach Victoria Park (the first logical step) would set us back about $400-million based on the estimated Scarborough Subway’s cost.
- Extension of the Danforth Subway is at least 30 years in the future (when whatever replaces the RT wears out). However, since this project is not part of the Official Plan, right-of-way protection will be difficult.
- Sadly, the additional LRT lines in Scarborough will not have an anchor route from which to grow. This will make the initial cost of any line higher, and I doubt we will actually see any of them built. Instead, TTC staff will propose a network of BRT lines, roads will be widened in a few places, and that’s all Scarborough will ever see.
I may sound cynical here, but the fundamental problem is that we have very severe financial problems in Toronto’s transit system. Billion-dollar plans come and go, but few will actually be built. Whenever new money comes available, the first thought Councillors have is “where can we build another subway” rather than “how can we improve the transit system”. Until this changes, transit riders will spend long, cold days waiting for the few buses and streetcars we deign to operate.