Flash! Transit Created Suburbia!

In a flight of fancy which even the most ardent conservatives on this blog have never attempted, Lawrence Solomon wrote in yesterday’s National Post about the creation of suburbia. It’s all the fault of megaprojects by governments to build transit to the hinterlands. Really!

He starts off with the Statscan report that more trips are taken by car today than in years gone by, moves on to the BC $14-billion announcement for transit expansion and finally turns his sights on MoveOntario’s $17.5-billion. All of this encourages sprawl according to Solomon.

In Toronto, it’s all the TTC’s fault:

Before the province of Ontario directed the Toronto Transit Commission to service Toronto’s outer suburbs in the early 1950s, the suburbs were largely rural and undeveloped, with densities so uniformly low that they could support but a handful of public transit lines. Only after the province stepped in by creating Metropolitan Toronto as a vehicle for massive infrastructure spending in the suburbs did sprawl on a grand scale unfold. Within a decade, the TTC’s route mileage increased by 75%, almost all of it to accommodate the suburbs and almost all of it uneconomic. In the process, the TTC — until the advent of Metropolitan government a self-sufficient enterprise that helped make Toronto one of the continent’s most compact cities — became a burden for city taxpayers and an arch agent of sprawl.

This convenient rewriting of history ignores the fact that we didn’t even have a subway on Bloor Street until 1966, and then only from Keele to Woodbine. Suburban bus expansion got underway seriously after the subway was extended into Etobicoke, Scarborough and later North York. The real financial crunch for the TTC came in 1972 with the elimination of the zone fares at the insistence of suburbanites whose tax dollars were helping to pay for the TTC. By then, suburban sprawl was well-entrenched.

Solomon’s feet completely leave the ground with this gem:

… when politicians first started promoting a Greater Toronto, they recognized that the city’s transit systems, then privately owned, were a great deterrent to the desire for the rapid outward expansion of the city that was then in vogue. Privately owned public transit companies were interested in providing service to paying customers, not in developing routes that met the development dreams of local politicians.

… Only after the government did, indeed, seize the private transit companies could dreams of a Greater Toronto be realized. With profits from transit diverted from private shareholders to a public purpose — uneconomic routes servicing low-density areas — sprawl made its debut in Toronto.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the TTC has in been in public hands since 1921, and it was created because the predecessor Toronto Railway Company refused to extend service in such unprofitable, low-density suburbs as North Toronto, the Danforth, Bloor West Village and St. Clair Avenue West. Moreover, the city system was falling apart thanks to years of disinvestment, a classic problem with a private sector more bent on maximizing profits than on providing service.

With the creation of Metro Toronto in 1954, the TTC took over the small private bus companies serving the old suburbs, but major service improvements would not come until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those companies couldn’t possibly have funded the scale of suburban service expansion we have seen, and even the TTC did a less-than-stellar job. “Leading development with transit” was a phrase heard only in planning seminars, not at Council tables, as the suburbs grew.

The solution to everything would, of course, be an expressway network, not a transit system, and that juggernaut wasn’t stopped until nearly two decades after Metro came into being.

I have no problems debating the merits and faults of public sector investment in transit expansion, but the idea that somehow we wouldn’t have had suburbs sprawling beyond Barrie, Oshawa, Guelph and Burlington without transit is utter nonsense. Sprawl was built by and for the car, and transit has little chance of ever catching up.

Waterfront West January 2008 Update — Part II

[Yes, I know it’s February, but I had hoped to finish this post sooner.]

In the first part of this thread, I discussed the WWLRT plans from Dufferin Street west to Sunnyside. Now, let’s look at the route through Exhibition Place and into downtown.

The presentation materials from the Environmental Assessment are on the City’s website.

Dufferin to Strachan Through Exhibition Place

Four routes were evaluated:

  1. Extend west from the existing Exhibition Loop to Dufferin Street. This option includes relocation of the GO Station to just east of Dufferin, and the construction of a new Dufferin bridge over the rail/expressway corridor.
  2. Turn north at Strachan Avenue crossing the rail/expressway corridor and running west to Dufferin along the south edge of Liberty Village.
  3. Turn south at Strachan Avenue, follow the north side of Lake Shore to a southerly projection of Dufferin Street, then turn north to Dufferin Loop.
  4. Identical to the previous version except following the south side of Lake Shore.

The first option is preferred because it is by far the cheapest to build and has little impact on its surroundings in part, of course, because it is also the shortest.

The second option ranks highest for the Land Use criterion because it would serve Liberty Village rather than a collection of mostly empty parking lots. However, this comes at an impact on the Natural Environment that is undesirable for reasons not explained in the online material. (I was not at the public meeting and if someone knows the details, please comment here.) This begs an interesting question that, but for the environmental issues, this route would be a strong contender.

The remaining options, actually numbered 3A and 3B, are the longest and most expensive and rank lower on other criteria, although not fatally. The question remains of what to do about service to Ontario Place and to any future development of the lands on the Lake Shore side of the CNE grounds.

What is quite striking in the evaluation is the complete isolation of study for the Lake Shore routes west of Dufferin and those to the east. At no point is consideration given to an alignment that stays on Lake Shore all the way from Sunnyside to Strachan Avenue. This is a good example of how the “divide and conquer” approach to an alternative analysis can eliminate options by selectively ignoring them.

A similar issue can be seen in the evaluation of the options for connecting the WWLRT to the existing system at Sunnyside where the Colborne Lodge Road scheme is downgraded because it is “More difficult to connect streetcars to other routes and TTC transit facility at Roncesvalles.” Oddly enough, the study ignores the planned connection at Dufferin Street as one of the possible connections to Roncesvalles Carhouse.

Exhibition to Union Station

As this part of the study is only now getting underway, we’re back at the first steps where basic options are reviewed and eliminated. After a brief look at various bus options as well as streetcars in mixed traffic, the option of streetcars on dedicated lanes is the one carried forward for detailed review. This is no surprise considering the context that all other lines in the study area are similar implementations.

Next comes the choice of alignment in which two options — Front Street or Bremner Boulevard — are compared at a cursory level. The Front Street alignment is rejected because of, among other things, “Greater connectivity to Waterfront West streetcars and Union Station”.

You may recall a few paragraphs back I talked about an alignment of the WWLRT on the north side of the rail/expressway corridor. Quite obviously, if this were the chosen alignment from Dufferin to Strachan, then a similar alignment eastward from there would connect well with it. Again, this is an example of a segmented alternative analysis dismissing options because of assumptions made regarding other sections of the line.

Without question, an alignment north of the railway has its own problems, but by structuring the analysis as the TTC has, this alignment is discarded without proper study even though it would, by their own admission, provide better service to Liberty Village.

Moreover, the TTC has not considered the rather obvious possibility that a route could come east through Liberty Village and a local version of Front Street as far as Bathurst, then jog south to Bremner Boulevard. Obviously, an all-Front route right over to Union would run into problems with street space, not to mention proposed major changes in road use in the Union Station Precinct.

The next stage of the EA will look at alternatives in the chosen alignment via Fort York and Bremner and will discard any discussion of a Front Street alignment because the EA process has already filtered them out. This sort of approach gives Environmental Assessments a bad name.

Ridership Projections

Projections for the section of the line west of Dufferin are included in the EA materials. These show 2000 to 2400 peak period trips eastbound at Dufferin, and (by an ad hoc rule about the distribution of trips within the peak) means a peak hour of about 1200 rides. To this we must add the riders who will board east of Dufferin, although the route through Exhibition Place itself will add almost nothing. From Strachan to Bathurst, we will pick up demand from the new condos, but these folks will also be served by the existing Harbourfront line via Queen’s Quay and Fleet.

Once the line reaches Bremner Boulevard (by whatever route), it will serve the new condos under construction west of Spadina, and all of this riding will try to fit into Union Station Loop via a new connection to the tunnel via the basement of the Air Canada Centre at Bay and Bremner.

The operational complexity of Union Station Loop with the many waterfront services remains a concern to many people involved both in the waterfront transit studies and Union Station itself. Detailed design and operational planning for this component must proceed immediately so that we understand the implications of focussing all of these new lines on a single terminal.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The TTC needs to address the fact that there are many separate current and future demands for transit in, broadly speaking, the West Waterfront, and stop trying to design one facility that will somehow serve all of them. Here are the questions the EA must address:

  • Why is the projected demand west of Sunnyside so low even though population is growing in the Queensway and Lake Shore Corridor? What are the destinations of people living in these areas, and how much is the simulated demand affected by travel time?
  • What benefits could be achieved with an alignment following the north side of the rail corridor west from Bathurst to Dufferin and possibly beyond?
  • How will Ontario Place, the south side of Exhibition Place and the Western Waterfront (which gave its name to this line in the first place) be served in the future, and should this be a separate route from a line serving Front Street, Liberty Village and south Parkdale?
  • How will the Bremner Boulevard line interoperate at Union Station with other waterfront services?

Now that we are finally studying the entire WWLRT route, we must see how the various parts of the line can fit together to provide attractive routes into a previously ignored part of the city.

“Evergreen” Won’t Be LRT in Vancouver

To no great surprise, Translink has announced that the Evergreen line will be built using Skytrain technology, not as a conventional LRT line.

I have always wondered how this LRT scheme managed to get a foothold in a city so dedicated to one mode and where LRT proposals had constantly been sidelined. Indeed, building one orphan line off in the burbs hardly made sense.

The business case rests on faster travel times for ALRT which translate into higher future ridership (a claim that has been used consistently for modal comparisons in other corridors) and on lower operating costs at least in part because the line would be an extension of an existing system.