Now that shovels are poised to start digging north into York Region, we need to take a hard look at just who this line is going to serve. The information is this post is taken from:
The TTC’s own Environmental Assessment report of the line to Steeles at this link, and
The York Region Environmental Assessment report on its plans for Highway 7 and the Vaughan North-South Link at this link.
First we have the TTC study which assumes the line will end at Steeles Avenue. In Appendix M, starting at page 13 in the PDF (page 22 of the source document), we have the travel forecasts, and the summary appears on page 15 (25).
Assuming that the land use assumptions are met, the extension is expected to carry about 17,000 AM peak passengers southbound into Downsview Station. No peak hour figure is given, but typically about half of the 3-hour peak load travels in the peak hour. This translates to about 8,500 in the peak hour.
Northbound AM peak travel to York University is estimated at 5,500. This gives us about 2,750 northbound riders to York University in the morning peak hour.
Before anyone jumps in here, yes, I know that student trips don’t follow the same temporal patterns as office workers. I used to work near Queen’s Park across the street from the UofT campus and am quite familiar with the ebbs and flows of students on the transit system. The point is that we make decisions about transit investments and technology choices based on peak demand.
The impact on modal split is quite interesting, and it can be inferred from tables 6 and 7. South of Sheppard, the total trips across the Sheppard Avenue screenline go up from about 82,000 to about 124,000 from 2001 to 2021, an increase of 50%. Of this, auto trips are projected to rise by about 30% while transit trips go up by about 70%. Most of this increase is on the subway, but some is on GO Transit. This is a modal split change from 55% to 62%.
Now let’s look at York Region. They have several EAs in various stages of completion including one for the Yonge Street South Corridor (Finch Station to 19th Street) and one for Highway 7 with a north-south link to the top end of an extended Spadina subway (this is the Vaughan North-South Link which I will refer to as the VNSL).
York Region uses the same reference date, 2021, for their models as the TTC does for the Spadina Subway. The ridership projections, Chapter 4 of the final EA report, assume that by 2021 the Spadina subway would have reached at least York U if not Steeles Avenue. Part of the trunk Highway 7 service is assumed to divert both ways south to York University on a combined 2 minute service.
The projected ridership to York University is 2,200 passengers in the peak hour. This is estimated to rise by only 20% if the VNSL is converted to subway technology. Note that this includes both student and commuter trips bound for central Toronto. This is an astonishingly low ridership projection.
Table 4.3-6 contains the projected change in modal split for various origins and destinations within the 905 and the 416. With the surface rapid transit option (BRT), the modal split to Planning District 1 (downtown Toronto) goes from 33.7% in 2001 to 40.5% in 2021. Overall modal splits for other OD pairs rarely get into double digits.
Finally, Chapter 12 discusses the conversion of the VNSL to subway technology. There is no reference to potential ridership, only to the choice of alignment for the project.
Let’s bring all of this together. The TTC projects a peak 3-hour load of about 17,000 southbound to Downsview, equivalent to a peak hour somewhere around 8,000. Many of these will be existing riders, but many will also be new to the TTC. York Region projects 2,200 peak hour passengers into York University, but it is unclear how many of these are destined for the university and how many for downtown Toronto. Obviously some of the Vaughan to downtown riders are counted both as York Region and TTC riders, and we also need to factor in some reasonable increase for a subway in the VNSL rather than a BRT line.
However, we’re stretching things to say, as the TTC’s website does, that the York Region study “determined the need for an extension of the subway line from Steeles Avenue to Highway 7, with an interim median transitway between York University and Highway 7.” The York Region study showed where to build a subway, but it most certainly did not establish the need for such a line.
Moreover, there is no consideration given to the effect on traffic bound for central Toronto from an expanded GO Transit rail service in the corridor parallel to the Spadina Subway (the line that will, ultimately, be extended north to Barrie). This will remove a chunk of the potential market for an extended subway line by making commuter rail service available to people who might otherwise drive south to the subway.
Meanwhile, the EA for the Yonge Street South corridor (serving Richmond Hill to Finch Station) shows a much higher level of demand, so much so that the study cautions both that LRT will be necessary as a replacement for BRT because buses will be incapable of handling the load, and even an LRT will require significant priority, including possibly grade-separation from Yonge Street, to handle the demand coming south into Finch Station. Growth in this corridor may be reduced somewhat by improvement to the Richmond Hill GO rail service, but that will only defer not eliminate the problem.
This raises serious concerns about the capacity of the Yonge Subway line and the degree to which it will be overloaded by traffic originating in York Region. Some additional subway capacity is planned by the 2021 horizon of these studies, but we risk overcommitment of local subway service within the 416 to handle regional demand.
If we are going to have funding for a network of lines, if we are going to treat the GTA transit networks as a single entity, then we need to start planning that way with an integrated projection of demands for various corridors and service scenarios. The GTTA would do well to launch such work as soon as possible so that we know how all of this will fit together.