A Look At Candidates’ Transit Policies: David Miller

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. 

4 thoughts on “A Look At Candidates’ Transit Policies: David Miller

  1. You know, I’m surprised how long this bus row will take for the Yonge St. corridor, it’s way way way long overdue.  Plus it should only serve express routes, because when you have only one lane and having local [buses] run on them as well will create a backlog of buses behind it.  This bus only lanes will have to be able to accommodate Viva and YRT services that do not stop in Toronto, and as well as TTC buses blocking up a lot of the reserved lanes on Yonge St.  So I think these lanes will have to be big so all buses can by pass each other.

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  2. In the absence of an Eglinton subway, why would you consider an extension of St. Clair through Weston to the airport as being a non starter?

    Steve:  The time it will take someone to get to the airport via a long trek via a local service on St Clair will limit the attractiveness of this service.  If we come down the Weston corridor, better we keep going at least to Bloor to make an easy connection with the subway.  The problem with this alignment is at West Toronto junction.

    I would like to see a review of operations at that junction that looks only at GO, CN and CPR operations, leaving out “Blue 22”.  Do we really need a grade separation of the railways, or would a much shorter tunnel for an LRT underpass be sufficient?

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  3. I live in ward 14, and I voted for David Miller last time, and I guess I will again this time, but without as much enthusiasm.  When I learned Gord Perks was going to run, I was excited, even though he doesn’t live in the ward.  But once I saw Miller’s name all over his campaign literature, I started having doubts.  When Joe Pantalone (who is leading the fight to run the pro-car Front Street Extension into my ward) told his supporters to send their money to Gord, my doubts increased even more.

    First, I was hoping for a more independent voice, rather than a Miller crony.  As you note, Miller has been a bit of a disappointment on transit issues, and if Perks goes to City Hall on the mayor’s ticket, I am afraid of more disappointment.  Like Adam Giambrone, will Perks be the next idealist to become mired in befuddlement and inaction upon arriving at city hall?

    And second, Perks has lately been heard boasting about how he “saved the streetcar.”  As far as I am aware, the big streetcar battle was in the 70s, and its main general was none other than Steve Munro.  I suppose the idea of scrapping the streetcar has come up a few times since then with varying degrees of seriousness, and Perks has obviously promoted the cause of transit.  But I am now sensing more ambition than idealism with Perks.

    Perks has been an effective advocate for the environment and transit, so I am torn.  But can an activist really be a politician, or will one role kill the other?

    Steve:  Gord’s a good friend of mine, and I am surprised to hear that he might take credit for stuff that I did when he was far too young to be out on the hustings.  I will check, but suspect he is referring to something more recent such as the Metropass changes.

    My feelings about Miller are clear from my analysis of his platform — he means well, but there’s a gap between intent and delivery, and some problems with technical and financial reality.  Adam Giambrone means well, but there are times he seems to think he know more than he really does.  The real question is whether he can develop into a strong politician who listens as much as he talks.  Joe Pantalone’s support for Gord is an intriguing twist given that they do not agree on the Front Street Extension.  Whether Joe is making a down payment for future support remains to be seen.

    I’ve known Gord for a long time, and he’s not the sort of person who does others’ bidding if he doesn’t agree with the position.  Watching him move into a Council role should he win will be interesting.

    [Updated November 8, 2006]

    I have talked to Gord and he confirms that he has not claimed responsibility for saving the streetcars.  This happened before he was old enough to be politically active.  His opposition to the Front Street Extension remains strong, and the friendship/support of Councillor Pantalone arises from many other green issues on which they concur.

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  4. Does anyone have a list or even a map of the proposed LRT / Streetcar ROW lines?  Also, how well would having these lines integrate into Miller’s plan for the “avenues”?  I know one of the proposed ROW’s is Kingston road, from Vic Park to Eglinton.  How effective would this line be as a rapid transit link if it doesn’t link up with any subway lines?

    Steve:  No, there is no consolidated map.  One big problem we have is that we study things in isolation (partly due to the way everything is oriented to the EA process) rather than as a network.  Even in the Official Plan, there is only the map of avenues, but this does not necessarily correspond with where the transit corridors might go.  Transit lines don’t just serve the areas they pass through, but are part of a larger network.

    I agree that the Kingston Road proposal does not make a lot of sense if it’s going to be in isolation.

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