Transit City (2) The East Network

Transit City is such a big announcement that boiling it down into reasonably-sized posts is a challenge.  Rather than writing one article about the routes overall, another on technical bits and pieces, and yet another on the possible future, I’m going to treat major portions of the network as one post.  My hope is to keep related discussions about individual lines in the same place.

The eastern portion of Transit City is made up of:

  • A Sheppard East LRT from Don Mills Station to Morningside.
  • A Scarborough-Malvern LRT from Kennedy Station east via Eglinton and Kingston Road, and then north on Morningside beyond Sheppard into Malvern.
  • The eastern part of the Eglinton LRT from Don Mills east to Kennedy Station.

In addition, two other studies are now underway:

  • Extension of the Scarborough RT east and north from McCowan Station to meet the Sheppard LRT.
  • Kingston Road from Victoria Park to West Hill.

All of the LRT lines would be at grade with the exception of the Sheppard line’s interchange at Don Mills Station.

This network will make a huge impact on our ability to get around in Scarborough by transit.  Rapid transit won’t exist solely for the purpose of getting people from the Town Centre to the Danforth Subway.  Increased riding on the new lines should also bring better riding and service on the bus routes that will feed these lines.

An important decision in this design is the location of the connection between the Sheppard line and the RT.  Rather than forcing service south off of Sheppard (as the subway proposal would have done), Sheppard stays on the grid and intersects with an extended RT at Markham Road.  This make the line valuable for travel within Scarborough, not just as route to the subway at Don Mills.

The Scarborough-Malvern line could operate as an integral part of the Sheppard line with through service east from Don Mills Station, down Morningside, and west to Kennedy Station.  However, there is a need for service north into Morningside Heights, and also the possibility of extending the Sheppard line east.  Which routes make the most sense is a decision for far in the future, but because we are talking about a network, not just one line, that’s a choice we can make when the time comes.

At today’s press conferences, both Adam Giambrone, TTC Chair, and Mayor Miller dodged the issue of whether the Sheppard Subway is off of the table.  Their clearly well-rehearsed line was that LRT lines can lead to demand growth that would, in time, justify installation of a subway line, maybe in 25 or 30 years.  From a planning perspective, that’s as close to “never” as we will ever hear, and it’s far enough off that any thought the investment in a surface LRT would be wasted is easy to dismiss.

If, indeed, the Sheppard East corridor ever reached subway demand levels, the obvious question would be something like this:  How much of the Sheppard demand is local to the line, and how much is going someplace else?  The people going “someplace else” could be moved onto another service such as a parallel Finch or Steeles route if that suited their travel pattern, and that could be a lot better for the network overall.  Again, this is a decision for the future and we should not preclude an LRT network as a starting point.

Some have suggested that the Sheppard LRT should run through the subway tunnels if only the platforms could be lowered.  Yes, the Sheppard Subway should have been built as LRT, but that decision is way behind us.  The real shame is that with the line underground and the stops so far apart, any hope of generating “Avenue” style development on much of Sheppard from Don Mills to Yonge is unlikely.

The planned extension of the RT to Sheppard is not part of the Transit City financial bundle.  Indeed, the likely cost of this extension, roughly $600-million, may force the TTC to take another look at retaining the RT technology.  With new LRT lines proposed all around it, the RT really will be an expensive orphan.  That’s a discussion for another thread.

The Kingston Road corridor study is already in progress.  Parts of that street badly need development, but there’s a big question about what form this should take and how much there should be.  The transit service will be an integral part of that design.  There are various schemes for a western destination of the route including:

  • A redeveloped Victoria Park Station
  • A connection to the existing streetcar system at Bingham Loop (Victoria Park and Kingston Road)

If the line comes into downtown via Kingston Road and then possibly the Portlands LRT (not yet even in the EA stage), I’m not sure it will be competitive for travel time with a route feeding into Victoria Park Station.  Again, these are options to be discussed and decided in the future.

The Eglinton line is the real giant in this plan.  It runs from Kennedy Station to western Etobicoke and will likely be the last line to be completed simply because of its cost and scope.  The eastern portion, from Don Mills to Kennedy will be valuable, but not until the Don Mills line is in place.  I will talk more about this in another post.

This is a well-integrated plan for Scarborough’s transit future and shows what is possible as an alternative to just replacing the RT with a subway line.  The cost of the Scarborough-Malvern and Sheppard East LRTs is about $1.2-billion, and the lines cover a lot more territory than the proposed subway from Kennedy to STC (at roughly the same cost).  Moreover, there are options for inexpensive extensions, a hallmark of LRT networks.  With luck, Scarborough Councillors will buy into this plan and support it as a foundation for the future of their neighbourhoods.

9 thoughts on “Transit City (2) The East Network

  1. There’ll be a lot of pressure to extend the Sheppard subway, at least to Victoria Park where there’d be a chance to build a better (same platform) transfer. No doubt that’d make things a bit easier, but it’d cost a lot more. Hopefully, having an LRT line along Don Mills will shift some riders off Victoria Park anyway, making Don Mills station a transfer point to three different directions of service.

    The Sheppard and Scarborough lines are the closest to Malvern of any plan yet, but still about 1 km from Malvern Town Centre. Since Morningside ends (no real hope of an extension into York Region), any thoughts on taking a left off Morningside to make Malvern Town Centre the terminus of the Scarborough line?

    Steve: The exact routes and termini of these lines are not carved in stone, and one big advantage of LRT is that it’s relatively easy to make minor adjustments and extensions without breaking the bank. I know there is a lot of desire for good transit to Malvern and this will come into the detailed planning of that line.


  2. The Scarborough plan is lacking in some respect. The 39 Finch bus carries almost 40000 people per day. This would be a prime candidate to convert it to tram technology. It will also link up with the Finch tram line west on Yonge.

    Steve: Finch really would make the better corridor east of Yonge if we started with a clean slate. Unfortunately the Sheppard Subway is already there and extending service further east is important. A Finch East LRT could come in a later stage once people start to embrace expansion of LRT technology in Toronto. Even with what’s announced so far, people are asking how we can pay for it all. Once they see what LRT can do (and this depends on the TTC getting the design and operations right), there will be support for more lines.

    I am surprised that there is no mention of Guide Light Transit. On routes like 129 McCowan, traffic congestion is a high problem. Passenger volumes are not enough to justify a tram line. With GLT, the TTC can built infrastructure like right of ways and power lines to run the GLT system. Once the passenger demand increases, it can be easily converted to tram technology since everything is there already. It is better to put the infrusture in place before so that we avoid the needs for a guideway or a tunnel.

    Steve: We have had our fill of experience with experimental technologies. The transit system’s job is to move large numbers of people in important corridors, not to be a dumping ground for whatever scheme someone has to fob off their latest development project. When there are thousands of GLTs all over the world, I will start to take that technology seriously.

    As for the Eglinton line, I just question how fast it would be. Right now, the ICTS line is pretty fast. It has station placement every 800m to 1000m and achieve 70 to 80 km/h in speed. I just wonder for a long line, whether trams are fast enough. I just cannot see a tram running 80 km/h down a busy street like Eglinton without hurting someone. Let’s face it, people walk across the Spadina right of way all the time. I really want to know what the travel times will be like on the Eglinton line using tram and ICTS technology. Finally, since Eglinton is such a narrow street west of the DVP, we should be considering monorail technology. This way, we avoid the need for tunneling. Since monorail guideways are so small, it should not bother people as much.

    Steve: If you read the announcement, you would know that for the portion of the line from roughly Laird Drive to Keele Street (the narrow part of Eglinton), the line will be underground. East of Leaside and west of the built-up part of York, there is plenty of room on the surface for a right-of-way. The idea of running ICTS on an elevated down the middle of Eglinton along with problems of station design and neighbourhood shadowing were dealt with 30 years ago during the GO Urban debates, and this is absolutely not an option for Eglinton.


  3. How difficult would it be to modify the Sheppard Stubway to use LRT equipment? This would allow extension of the line at surface level with less costly equipment and without transfer. Make any sense?

    Steve: It would be a lovely idea, and you are far from the first to suggest it. However, the optics are such that we are unlikely to see it soon. As and when people start to talk about a Sheppard West LRT, then converting the subway to LRT would make more sense. However, there is the little problem of platform height which would require modification to existing stations and would play havoc with accessibility that is all based on existing platform heights. DOn;t hold your breath waiting for an LRT train in Sheppard-Yonge Station.


  4. From what Ray said before, if they just raised the tracks where the platforms are at on the Sheppard Line (only at the stations, to minimize cost), wouldn’t that solve the problem of the platform heights?

    Steve: The problem is that if the tracks go up, the ceiling has to go up too and that is not an option at every station.


  5. on turning the sheppard subway to LRT – it would in fact be easier then first thought. From what I gather, the TTC is planning on running single LRT vehicles, and even if you take them out of Europe, this means a length of between 85 and 145 feet each. I assume they will be 100 feet, a nice round number that’s easy to play with. current platforms along sheppard can handle a 300 foot train, but can all be extended to handle 450. even if you hook two of the new LRT cars end to end, you are still talking about using onyl 200 feet of a 450 foot platform. with that length it is possible to raise the tracks for those 200 feet, without having to worry about what to do with the tracks once you are in the tunnel. surly there is enough room to lower the tracks by 3 feet within 125 feet of space, that’s only a 2.4% gradient.

    The biggest problem has less to do with platform heights and more to do with doors and gaps. the Sheppard line is built to handle heavy subway trains, which are wider then LRT. that would mean the “gap” we all “mind” would grow from about 4 CM, to about 40 CM or more. This can be ‘fixed’ by extending the platform. The other problem is that if the TTC continues to buy uni-directional streetcars, then they will only have doors on the right, which would make centre platforms pretty useless. The soulition to this is to run the trains in reverse, where eastbound trains use the northern track, and westbound trains use the southern track. All of these are fairly easy, and somewhat inexpensive. The biggest problem comes with how to turn around your streetcars once you reach sheppard yonge station.

    Steve: As I have said in a previous reply, raising the tracks also means raising the ceiling over the trains, something that is not possible in all locations, notably Sheppard-Yonge Station.

    A Sheppard LRT would likely run with two-car trains and would therefore require almost 200 feet of platform space. We certainly wouldn’t want to preclude that option even if one-car trains were used initially. This would mean a very steep grade for the change in height.

    Please note that I am not going to post any further discussion on the subject of converting the Sheppard Subway to LRT as I believe it is a huge distraction from the basic premise of Transit City — providing new services over a wide area.

    A much more responsible discussion would involve a redesign of Don Mills Station so that one platform was used for LRT and one for the subway to give a convenient across-the-platform transfer. Say with the subway on the north platform and the LRT on the south platform. The new LRVs will almost certainly be double-ended and will be able to reverse just like subway trains. Another alternative is to bring the LRT in at the mezzanine level so that people don’t have to walk miles from the current bus loop to the subway trains.


  6. In redesigning Don Mills Stn:

    It is nearly impossible to bring the Sheppard LRT in to the mezzaine level, since there is a walkway from the southeast corner of the intersection to the collector’s booth (north side of Sheppard).

    Steve: Don Mills Station is located well east of Don Mills and certainly any LRT facility connecting in with the east end of the mezzanine wouldn’t be anywhere near the walkway you describe.

    The 2 remaining options are to bring the LRT’s into the bus terminal via the Don Mills entrance (unlikely, since the terminal is already heavily used, and the curves may be too tight), and the platform option. Already, the subway platform option is not viable, since it needs to be shared with 2 lines and it deep underground (either 3- or 4-below). Also, this can cause confusion with the different lines stopping at the same platform (aka Museum during the recent diversions).

    Steve: The intent is not to stop the LRT on the same track as the subway. This is a terminal after all, and the lines could stop on opposite sides of a common platform. I do agree that it’s a long way down and that is one of the reasons I prefer the mezzanine option.

    In any event, this discussion has gone far enough. We need to concentrate on what these lines can do, not on nitpicking through the challenges of building individual segments and interchanges. Yes, that has to be done, but I get the impression that many people would rather carp at the problems than celebrate the possibilities.


  7. OK, I’ll bite: can we redesign Don Mills to have eastward LRVs on one track and westward subways on the other? As anyone who’s used Montreal’s Lionel-Groulx station knows, cross-platform transfers are great — almost ideal if you can time the trains to leave in sync. But I’d have thought having a single-track terminal for each vehicle type would limit frequency of service. I don’t suppose there’s some easy-to-excavate space on either side that would allow for a cheap addition of a third track…

    Failing that, the mezzanine level isn’t bad, and is roomy. Of course, there’s also the Don Mills LRT to accommodate somewhere. Or would that run straight through at street level to avoid complex turns?

    Steve: Given that Don Mills Road is well west of the main station, I expect that it could connect down to the mezzanine from surface stops built with vertical access in the middle of the road (rather like the old Bloor Streetcar arrangement at Yonge Street). This would take you into the mezzanine from the other end.

    This concludes the discussion on fine details of implementation. All of this is years in the future, and there are many options available. At this point, the issue is to make people and politicians aware of LRT’s capabilities and gather their support for it. One thing that should have been apparent already in some of the technical discussions is the flexibility we have in dealing with tricky locations, something that subway construction does not afford.


  8. Hi Steve,

    Sorry to comment on an old thread…

    If the Kingston LRT runs to Vic Park, do you believe that there would be benefit in extending the Kingston Road car from Bingham to Victoria Park Station (be as a mixed-traffic streetcar, not an LRT).

    Steve: No. If the Kingston Road LRT is going to connect with the subway, it should run straight across Danforth to do so.


  9. Benny Cheung said: “The 39 Finch bus carries almost 40000 people per day. This would be a prime candidate to convert it to tram technology. It will also link up with the Finch tram line west on Yonge.”

    I think that the idea of building Finch E LRT instead of (or prior to) Sheppard E has both pros and cons, and it looks like pros prevail.

    – Finch E / Finch W form a crosstown link through north Toronto.
    – Seneca College gets LRT access.
    – It is possible to combine the Finch E and Malvern LRT operations to form a semi-circle across Scarborough.
    – In a more distant future, an option remains to expand Sheppard subway further east.

    – Some reduction of the Sheppard subway ridership, but probably not much. Don Mills station would lose the Finch E rush-hour express branch, but continue to serve Sheppard E buses, Huntingwood, Van Horne, Scarborough Centre express, part of Victoria Park buses, and Don Mills LRT.
    – Expanded Scarborough RT would need an extra section beyond Sheppard to connect to Finch E LRT.


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