Will We Get It Right This Time?

In a previous post, I mentioned two background reports written by IBI Group for the Ministry of Transportation.  These can be found on the GTTA’s What’s New page.

If you’re pressed for time, read the Stratgic Transit Directions report as its companion, Needs and Opportunities, duplicates a lot of the material.  At the risk of seeming to cherry-pick sections that support positions I have advocated here, I will give a few excerpts and observations.

Travel demand in the GTAH (Greater Toronto plus Hamilton) is projected to increase substantially over the period 2001-2031 (2001 is the base year because the transportation survey data for 2006 was not available when these studies were written).  Even with massive investment in transit, the overall modal split for transit will stay much lower than needed to avoid massive traffic congestion, especially in the 905.  This is not to say that transit is a bad investment, but the problem is so great that the aggressive proposals included here won’t keep up with growth in travel demand.

In fact, we have been lagging behind travel demand for two decades as the 905 plus the outer 416 grew at a rate far higher than the transit system, and they grew in ways that make transit service very difficult to provide.  The mode split for transit actually went down from 1986 to 2001 because most of the growth in travel came in the outer part of the 416 where little has been invested in good transit service.

We have 20 years’ worth of catching up plus the demands of the next decades, and all this in a context where driving is a well-established way to move around the region.  Transit modal splits today are high where there is fast, frequent service and travel distances are comparatively short.  Regional growth, however, gives us long trips where transit, for the most part, cannot compete due to service frequency, transfer requirements, network structure and congestion.

The transit mode split for the GTA as a whole is projected to remain flat because transit gains will only keep up with gains in the auto sector.  Having said that, the magnitude of transit increases in various parts of the GTA needed are staggering — anywhere from 1.7 to 6 times the amount of transit riding.  Anything that drives more people to transit, such as a change in the relative cost of auto commuting, will make this situation even worse.

Meanwhile, the road system cannot accommodate the increased demand.  Car ownership is growing faster than new roadspace is created, and the major corridors have no room for expansion. 

Major widening of most highways within the GTAH is not feasible.  The continuing expansion of downtown Toronto as an employment centre can only be served by public transit.  (Strategic Transit Directions, Page 15)

The study concentrated on interregional travel both because that fits the Provincial role in transportation planning, and because the models don’t work very well at fine-grain, local levels.  However, the study does show and comment on the magnitude of local, intraregional travel observing that huge increases in local transit capacity are required to handle this growth.  Even within Toronto, where there is an established base of transit operations, there will be substantial growth in peak travel demand that is not core oriented and which, therefore, must be addressed by something other than the existing rapid transit system.

Three test networks were used to assess the impact of different approaches to increasing transportation capacity.  All of them are built on plans existing at the time of the study (this pre-dates Transit City and therefore reflects the TTC’s view of the world in late 2006) and no attempt is made to proposed a complete revision to network plans.  This has some drawbacks at a fine-grained level — proposals that made sense even a few years ago don’t necessarily make sense in today’s context — but it gives an overview of what would happen with three broadly different approaches to building up transit infrastructure and service.

The plans are a core-oriented version (“radial”) whose purpose is to concentrate on downtown Toronto and let the regions fend for themselves, a “circumferential” network which concentrates on the high rate of demand growth for interregional travel, and a combined network taking the best of both.  There is also a “base case” corresponding to the “do nothing” option that shows what will happen to demand even without new facilities.  Needless to say, the combined network performs the best overall because it addresses both major types of demand growth, but it’s interesting to see the effects when none or only one of two sub-networks is present.

Projected ridership on various lines gives a fascinating look at the (modelled) future, assuming everything is actually built.  Some numbers must be taken with a grain of salt because they reflect assumptions in the model about trip assignments.  For example, the projected demand on the SRT is only 6,000 at peak hour in 2031 partly, I suspect, because part of the ridership now projected by the TTC (over 8,000) is diverted to other routes in the IBI model.  The Sheppard Subway makes it up to 11,500 assuming it is extended to STC, but the Yonge Subway gets up to 46,500, an increase of 50% over its current peak demand.

The Eglinton LRT also reaches 11,500, well within LRT capabilities especially considering that the peak will probably lie in the underground section of the line.

The Spadina/VCC extension has a projected peak ridership of 9,500 assuming that some of the circumferential lines that would feed it are built.  This is certainly an improvement over the numbers in York Region’s EA for the line, but low enough that [yes, a lost cause] I still wonder whether this should have been part of a regional LRT network rather than an extension of the subway.

Looking at the analysis of various routes, it’s not hard to see where MoveOntario2020 came from.  The routes recommended in these studies show up as the first main block within MoveOntario, and various add-ons such as Transit City come at the end of the list.

The challenges for the GTAH are summarized on page 41 of Stratgic Transit Directions:

… approimately 75% of the growth in trips from 2001 to 2031 will ocur in trips destined to oneof the four GTA Regions where the transit mode split is typically less than 5% and comprised almost exclusively of captive transit riders.  A significant investment in public transit well beyond teh current status quo is required …

  • Downtown Toronto … While Downtown Toronto is easily the best served location in the GTAH by transit, most of the existing rapid transit service will be well over capacity by 2031.  Significant additional rapid transit capacity to Downtown Toronto will be needed by 2031.  [Note that in the context of this report, “rapid transit” includes GO rail.]
  • Intra-Toronto … Significant increases in transit and total trip-making are projected for intra-Toronto travel in absolute terms (a growth of 123,000 a.m. peak period total trips excluding those to PD1 [the core area]), although the percentage increase is much lower than some other areas of the GTA … the City will require significant new rapid transit investments combined with an aggressive revitalization of the surface transit network. 
  • Inter- and Intraregional … The highest growth market is projected to be intraregional trips that are contained within each of the GTA Regions (657,000 growth in a.m. peak period total trips by 2031).  Interregional trips are projected to grow considerably, but comprise a relatively small share of the overall trip market … The challenge is to implement transit services that provide travel choices to the private automobile, complementing Growth Plan land use changes so that transit is no longer seen as a travel mode option only by captive transit users.

The report goes on to talk about the three layers of the transit network:  the radial network, the circumferential network and:

Surface transit — A higher order transit network will not be successful without the improvement of surface transit feeding these facilities.  The final layer of the transit vision is to aggressively increase service and density of coverage on arterial/feeder bus services across the GTAH.  (Page 42)

… equal attention must be paid to ensure that local transit services perform at consistently high levels of reliability with high service frequencies and route density and convenient connections to higher order transit.  Most travellers will rely on local transit for at least one leg of their transit trip and without consistent reliable feeder services, transit service will not be able to attract choice riders and increase its competitiveness with the automobile.  (Page 45)

The Needs and Opportunities report contains much of the background information, but it makes an important point:

A seamless transit system without borders has been a long discussed vision for the GTAH.  The Province’s recent announcement of a GTAH fare card is a positive and promising towards achieving this vision but will not, by itself, create an integrated, seamless metropolitan region network.  (Page 76)

The Presto! fare card may make a contribution toward simplified travel, but the real changes will come with reduced fares for cross-border travel (and the loss of revenue that implies) and with vastly improved service.  At this point, Presto! is rather like having a fully loaded credit card in a mall full of empty shop windows.

Ontario needs to move beyond quick fixes that avoid the vital needs of transportation in the GTAH.  If the GTTA Board spends the next few years arguing, as Toronto’s Metro Council did for so long, on where one or two new lines will be built, we might as well send them home now.  Only with very large sustained investments in infrastructure and in day-to-day operations will transit make its mark on the GTAH. 

The funding sources must be as immune as possible to future governments, inevitable over a two-decade span, with priorities more attuned to tax cuts, to buying voters with their own money, rather than service increases.  As long as transit is seen as a poor second choice, cutting transit will always be on the table when someone talks about “government waste”.

Thirty-six years ago, Bill Davis killed the Spadina Expressway, but he did nothing to stop the growth of the GTAH as a heavily car-dependent region.  Will we do better now?

6 thoughts on “Will We Get It Right This Time?

  1. Steve wrote:

    “Anything that drives more people to transit, such as a change in the relative cost of auto commuting, will make this situation even worse.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    I presume that you are referring to the fact that the year 2031 is well over peak oil production. The IBI reports appear to presume that there will be some miraculous technological breakthrough that will prevent the end of auto commuting for all but the ultra-wealthy.

    That assumption may be politically appealing; telling the client what he wants to hear is a proven effective way for consultants to get more business.

    Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live in the real world where we can’t just assume away future problems. This leaves two potential alternative ways forward. The first is “business as usual until the crisis hits, leaving us in an emergency situation.”

    The second is to phase out auto use in an orderly way with a combination of progressively increasing road tolls, congestion charges, carbon taxes on gasoline, etc. This would lead to a sustainable transportation system in 2031 that is largely electrically-driven, ranging from LRT to the electric GO trains. The electricity can be provided with a combination of hydro-electric generation, nuclear power and a variety of renewable sources.


  2. Current provincial policy assumes that road transportation (cars and trucks) will continue to be the dominant means of moving people and goods in Ontario for the foreseeable future. That is why the MTO continues to plan for expanded highway capacity at the same time that rapid transit funding announcements are capturing more headlines.

    For instance, the 401 will be widened to a minimum six lanes over its entire length. C.f. this story in last Thursday’s National Post.


  3. “Will We Get It Right This Time?” seems as good a place as any to drop this comment:

    Looking at the Transit City plan, there are six LRT lines visible. All but one of them (Eglinton-Crosstown) branch off at right angles to existing subway lines and bear an uncanny resemblance to the threatened-with-mothballing Sheppard stubway. This raises the question “When is a stubway not a stubway?”. Looking at subway maps from around the world, they seem to be generally radial in form, with the occasional peripheral line. That is, most of the lines spread outward from the centre of a city. Are there any other rapid transit systems that use a grid form? Granted, LRT is not subway but isn’t it supposed to perform in much the same way?

    These new “stubways” will feed even more passengers into the already overstressed existing subway lines rather than complementing and strengthening the overall system. Are they the result of the same fiefdom politics that brought us the boondoggle of the Sheppard subway? The only lines that approach making sense are Eglinton-Crosstown, as one would, conceivably, be able to make a long journey on it rather than transferring to the subway (though how many riders would want to go from one suburban end of Eg to the other is anyone’s guess – if it does run to Pearson that would help, a lot), and the WWLRT, which would make more sense if it continued on as a WE(E for east)LRT as well. Then it would simply be the WLRT.

    Apparently, the TransitCity design is based on some misguided notion of serving underserved areas and some other notion about avenues. But aren’t underserved areas better served, transit-wise, by enabling them to connect to other far-flung areas more efficiently? Ask yourself – how many people take rail transit to go a few blocks within their own ‘hood? While there are undoubtedly some, the bulk of passengers use transit to go a fair distance to another part of town, most often downtown. It doesn’t make their lives any easier to force unnecessary transfers onto overcrowded lines.

    Transit City should be proposing highly functional, sweeping LRT lines that would serve to unite the city in their own right and make it more livable, not more stubways after the Sheppard model.

    Steve: What you are missing looking at that map is the GO Transit rail lines which are radial and which are designed for the long-haul, core-destined traffic. When looking at other systems, it is important to consider their development patterns and geography. Toronto has a growing everywhere-to-everywhere demand pattern that is not focussed on downtown. EVen cities with a radial network come to needing circumferential lines between the suburbs.

    An important point about Toronto is that it is (as John Bakker at the University of Alberta once remarked) only “half a city”. That was partly a western joke and partly an observation that where the other half of many cities would be, we have a lake. This concentrates demand into downtown on one side of it and forced early development to spread out further from the core than would be necessary (for a given population) if the development could have been circular.

    The Sheppard “stubway” would have been a very nice LRT line and, as such, would have been a cheap enough technology that extension right across to the western half of the city wouldn’t be in question. Moreover, it would have gone out into Scarborough years ago. I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of the LRT network that might have been, beyond saying that the Sheppard line is a triumph of Mayoral ego over responsible transit.


  4. I’m aware of the GO lines, Steve. They don’t negate the fact that the proposed LRT lines will feed most of their passengers into the existing main subway lines as opposed to operating as full-fledged rail transit lines in their own right carrying passengers from start to destination.

    And these proposed LRT lines are not circumferential or peripheral. They really are just more stubs for the most part. Yes more GO is needed AND new full-fledged lines in the 416 are needed too.


  5. I think the point from Mobius makes sense. When I visited New York – there is only one subway line that doesn’t go to Manhattan. In London, all the underground line go downtown. In Calgary, the C-train just goes downtown. I bet if you look at any other city its the same story.


  6. Beijing has a fairly grid like subway, Tokyo’s is not really a grid but less spirally. And I think it could be good to put transit lines in the periphery to increase the density. A lot more condos have been going up around the “stubway” since they put it there, and there will be a lot more offices and people on Eglinton if people can hop on the LRT from there.


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