Once again, in the interest of full disclosure, I will state that I am supporting Mayor Miller for re-election. Having said that, I count myself among the camp of Millerites who feel that all the talk of structural reform in the past three years overshadowed crucial work on portfolios such as transit. We still put off to tomorrow improvements we should have made yesterday, and the transit system does not even keep pace with current demand.
Let’s have a look at Miller’s Transit City platform. You can read the details at this link.
Miller’s basic premise is that “good, reliable transit is at the core of a prosperous, liveable city”. If we actually see this borne out with spending priorities and real moves to improve transit, this will be a welcome relief from years where transit got the short straw. This is not just a question of spending, but of recognition that every aspect of city planning must be seen in the context of making transit better.
Mayor Miller proposes a network of rapid transit routes, a mix of busways and LRT, to move people quickly and affordably throughout the city. Alas, he overreaches here by assuming that all forms of LRT (and busways for that matter) are equivalent.
A detailed description requires a post of its own (yes that’s coming soon), but here is a brief discussion:
LRT or busways can provide “rapid transit” type service only if they operate on “rapid transit” principles of wide station spacing and a fare collection scheme that allows short stop service times. If you run streetcars with closely spaced stops, lots of interfering traffic signals and pay-as-you-enter high-floor cars (see Spadina), you won’t get subway-like speeds. Just imagine the Yonge subway stopping at Gerrard (not a subway stop) to let a few cars make a left turn across the tracks, or loading everyone through a door where theirtransfers and passes can be checked.
If we were to put LRT on the same alignment as the Scarborough RT, we would get almost the same speed, depending on whether or not we continued to have completely grade-separated operation. Similarly, a line in the Finch hydro corridor should make good time provided that it gets good priority at cross-streets and doesn’t stop at every lamp-post.
Miller states that the St. Clair right-of-way has half the capacity of a subway for less than one tenth the cost. Half a subway is 18,000 passengers per hour. This is equivalent to 167 75-foot streetcars per hour or a three-car train roughly once a minute. This is not really practical even on a completely dedicated right of way like the SRT, and certainly not in a street where you have to deal with traffic lights and limited space for platforms and passenger circulation at stops.
In practice, our surface routes have demands nowhere near 18,000 passengers per hour, and the benefit of any surface right-of-way lies in traffic segregation. Speed depends on how closely you place stops and what sort of priority you give at crossings, as well as the fare collection scheme.
If we are going to talk about surface transit initiatives, we need to avoid overplaying what can actually be accomplished. The important point here is that we do not need and cannot afford a subway under every main street, but we can do a lot to improve transit quality without subway construction.
Mayor Miller pledges to “make streetcars and buses as speedy and reliable as the subway”. Reliable we can do, with big changes both in transit priority and route management, not to mention more buses and streetcars. “Speedy” is impossible for reasons discussed above. “Speedier” will come from better, reliable service that gets priority over other road users.
Mayor Miller often speaks of the new buses that will improve service in the suburbs. In fact, these will enter service in late 2007, and many of them will go to accommodate the backlog of ridership growth, not to provide improved quality of service as foreseen in the Ridership Growth Strategy. Moreover, Council has done nothing to continue this initiative by ordering even more buses to allow for growth or more convenient, less crowded service.
If there is a single glaring omission from this platform, it is the absence of any talk of improving regular surface transit operations for the vast majority of riders. This will cost money, but it’s as much a part of making Toronto a “Transit City” as all of the rapid transit schemes.
Proposed “rapid transit” plans include busways on North Yonge, Kingston Road and to York University, and LRT in the eastern and western waterfront, as well as a line all the way up Don Mills from downtown. It will be vital to distinguish between limited-stop services (Yonge north, York U) and routes that are expected to continue serving local demand.
Also proposed are new lines in the Finch corridor (no technology specified) and a St. Clair/Eglinton LRT to the airport. I agree that we should be building LRT via Eglinton to the Airport, but connecting it to St. Clair is a non-starter. Either we continue into downtown via the rail corridor (which, presumably, Miller would use to get from Eglinton to St. Clair), or we bite the bullet for the first stage of an LRT tunnel on Eglinton at least to Eglinton West Station. (A separate bullet in the platform talks about a rail link to the airport that protects and serves local communities and presume that these are not two separate proposals.)
Elsewhere in Miller’s platform, we find the Spadina subway extension, the SRT Malvern scheme and the Sheppard East subway. That’s a potload of rapid transit spending that is going to crowd anything else off of the table. A huge challenge for Miller will be to keep funding room for the basics like more buses and streetcars and the LRT plans while people clamour for their subways.
Mayor Miller commits to buying “quiet, accessible, faster, high-capacity” LRT cars to replace the “aging” streetcars. Please tell this to the Budget Advisory Committee, the City’s finance staff and Queen’s Park, all three of which seemed bent on blocking any move to acquire new streetcars, whatever we call them.
Finally, Mayor Miller claims that we will improve capacity on the Yonge line by 40% through new trains and signalling. Running the trains more frequently will require changes at Finch Station (probably a northerly extension) to allow for faster turnarounds, and will definitely require some changes on the Spadina line (currently planned as part of the York U extension). Don’t plan to see those empty, uncrowded trains until a decade from now, at least.
[A discussion of the technical limits on subway headway that arose in the comments to this post has been moved to its own item here. If you want to respond on this issue, please do so in that thread.]
If you’ve read this far, you will probably think that I am really down on David Miller and his transit plans. That is not true — indeed it is refreshing to see someone who looks at the whole system rather than just one pet project. But Mayor Miller needs to align his vision with funding policies at Council, priority schemes on the roads, more vehicles and better line management from the TTC, and some basic technical issues about what transit can and cannot do.
What we do need more than anything is leadership on transit and planning issues. These are not portfolios to abandon to other members of Council, to other priorities, to the hope that the TTC can muddle through.
We will not get everything in Mayor Miller’s platform, but Miller believes in transit and he’s the best bet we have for a renaissance of the TTC.