At the TTC meeting last week, there was a long presentation about the status of the various Transit City projects. The TTC’s website contains only the two page covering report with absolutely no details, but lucky for you, my readers, here is an electronic copy. As and when the TTC actually posts this report on their own site, I will change the link here to point to the “official” copy.
Warning: 7MB download: Transit City February 2008
While there may be individual issues to prompt kvetching in this report, overall I am impressed by what is happening. For the first time in over 30 years, we have not only a unified plan, but a unified set of studies. I may be naïve to expect all of this will actually be built, but we are in far better shape knowing what might be than if only one or two lines were on the table.
Here is an overview of the report along with my comments.
Of the various Transit City proposals, three have been selected as the top priority for design, funding and construction: Sheppard East, Etobicoke Finch-West and Eglinton-Crosstown. All lines were scored against various criteria, and those coming out on top overall got the nod. This doesn’t mean work stops on the others, but at least we know the staging.
Projected total ridership is highest for Eglinton, Finch and Jane, with Sheppard East in 5th place. Partly, this is due to the length of the routes and their catchment areas. Note that Waterfront West brings up the rear, unsurprising given the area it draws from.
The lines rank roughly the same way for the number of car trips diverted to transit and the reduction in greenhouse gases. There’s something of a compound effect here as several measures all vary more or less as a function of ridership.
Transit City, again with the exception of Waterfront West, touches the City’s priority neighbourhoods where better transit is needed to increase mobility and economic opportunities for the residents.
Notable by their absence are the Waterfront East lines (Queen’s Quay, Cherry Street and Port Lands) as well as the Kingston Road line in Scarborough. EAs are aready in progress for these, but they don’t make it onto the overall status report.
This is a shame because we must stop making distinctions between “Transit City” itself, and other related transit projects that will compete for attention and funding.
When you put the various scores together, Eglinton, Finch and Jane rank 1-2-3 with Sheppard coming in at 4. Jane, however, has alignment problems that need solving at the south end, and politically, building most of the new lines west of Yonge Street wouldn’t fly at Council. Also, Sheppard has strong support from the local Councillors and it’s better that we take advantage of it before rumblings of “we want a subway” come to the fore.
The EA has started for this project, engineering feasibility studies are complete, some preliminary community meetings have already been held, and the first official EA meeting will be on April 7 (location TBA). The hope is that an EA report will go to Council in July.
One intriguing wrinkle is that the TTC will study a branch of the line down to the Scarborough Town Centre. I find this amusing considering that such a line would duplicate the proposed RT extension, and could pave the way for a full-scale LRT conversion of the RT. That will never be allowed to happen, and we can expect ice-cold water to pour down on this option.
Design at Don Mills Station is a concern given the depth of that station, and the real question is whether the subway should be extended one stop east, or the LRT dive into a tunnel before crossing the DVP so that it could make a connection one level up from the subway station.
One issue that we have debated here at length is the discontinuity of trips crossing Yonge Street, and this shows up in the Finch West study as well.
Etobicoke — Finch West
This project is running about four months behind the Sheppard line, and the TTC hopes to complete the EA by the fall of 2008.
Several alignment issues are to be resolved including the interface at Finch Station, getting across the 400 and the CPR MacTier Subdivision, and the western terminal’s location. This could be at the airport or is Mississauga or some combination of the two.
Also part of this scheme will be service to the developing entertainment centre in Rexdale.
Eglinton — Crosstown
This EA will also get underway in the spring, but given the complexity with a long underground section, the engineering studies will take longer and completion is expected in spring 2009.
Among the issues for this project are the connections with Kennedy, Eglinton and Eglinton West Stations, how to cross the CPR MacTier Subdivision, and some of the same western terminal options as on Finch West.
I will come back to the airport as a separate topic later.
Scarborough RT Upgrade and Extension
Much as I would like to see this as another LRT line, this is well underway as an RT project. The EA completion is targeted for early 2009. Unlike other projects, this one has a stale-date because of the gradual disintegration of the cars and the control system. For those who are wondering, the SRT is still operating on manual control weeks after the snowstorm, and running tolerably well.
One question in this project is that of an alignment for extending the line north of Sheppard. This is well down the priority list from the TTC’s view, but of course more important for Metrolinx. We shall see how the priority debates evolve over the coming years. In any event, no extension into York Region is possible until the line is rebuilt and extended. The question then will be whether we have an elevated RT in the middle of an arterial road complete with the station structures needed to access it.
Although it ranks dead last in the priority scores, this is a line with a partly completed EA. A major issue here is the alignment through Parkdale as I have discussed in other posts.
Councillor Perks, representing Parkdale, spoke at the meeting noting that a Master Plan is already underway for redesign of the western waterfront and south Parkdale. He asked that decision on the alignment be held off until later in 2008 so that it could be part of the Master Plan.
When local Council members make requests of City agencies, they are usually heeded, but for reasons passing understanding, Councillor Perk’s issues were brushed aside. What’s the hurry? Any line that ranks so low overall won’t be funded for a long time, if ever, unless it has unanimous support and can be easily implemented.
The Don Mills line EA was already underway as a BRT study, and it has now been resurrected as an LRT scheme. Meetings will be held through the summer with a final report to Council in December.
This line has major issues as several readers have discussed in threads here already. There is the question of the interchange at Don Mills and Eglinton (all surface; one surface, one underground; both underground), the interchange at Don Mills Station (a logical, but tricky physical connection point to the Sheppard East line), and the whole question of getting from Thorncliffe Park down to the Danforth.
First off, we need to know whether the Leaside Bridge could handle the extra load of an LRT. It was originally built four-lanes wide for a streetcar extension, and the additional strength permitted expansion to six lanes. Whether there is enough in reserve to handle an LRT line remains to be seen.
Here is a 1928 view of the bridge looking south from the City Archives. Eagle eyed viewers will recognize the old-style TTC overhead poles that were on this bridge originally in anticipation of the streetcars.
If the Leaside Bridge can’t handle an LRT line, then a complete rethink will be needed of where and how the Don Mills line will cross the valley.
From this point south, the line could go down Pape or Broadview. Although I live at Broadview, my money is on Pape as it offers a better location for extension south and west into downtown. There is no way that suburban LRT trains can trundle into downtown via Broadview Avenue.
Scarborough — Malvern
The TTC hopes to have the EA for this route to Council by December 2008. Issues to be resolved include potential service to the UofT Scarborough Campus and where, exactly, the line would end north of the 401.
This line, as I mentioned, has a number of issues to be resolved that will delay the EA until mid-2009. These include the narrow roadway south of Eglinton and whether a connection south via the Weston rail corridor would be preferable.
This gets us directly into the potential territory of Blue 22. If the a line were to run southeast from Eglinton to Union Station via the rail corridor, the need for Blue 22 would completely evaporate. This would also act as a “western relief” line into downtown from the northwest.
I understand that the folks at GO regard this possibility as competition for their own service, but I think they are foolhardy. They have never been interested in serving travel within the 416, and a strong local transit service would complement their own operations.
The GTAA (Greater Toronto Airport Authority) is strongly supportive of this plan, contrary to statements made by another respected transit author some time ago. They know that their own shuttle cannot possibly handle the demand, and view the extremely low transit share (1%) of airport trips as unacceptable and unsustainable. Building more parking is simply not an option. They would like to see the LRT service come right into Terminal 1. Metrolinx is also strongly supporting this plan.
(Note that the comments above are based on a meeting between TTC staff and the GTAA that took place between the creation of the presentation materials and the TTC meeting, and the presentation was not updated to reflect new information about strong GTAA support.)
A report on airport connections was considered at Toronto’s Economic Development Committee on February 28, and it is on Council’s agenda this week.
Meanwhile, Blue 22 is still on the table, officially, but my guess is that a reasonably fast trip for a regular TTC fare to Eglinton West Station will destroy what little credibility Blue 22 still might have. All the same, it has its supporters, and the death will be long and painful.
LRT Maintenance Facilities
I have already reported here that the TTC is considering two new suburban facilities, one in the east and one in the west, and that joint operation with Mississauga is a strong likelihood for the western carhouse. There will be a report to the TTC by staff later this spring on this subject.
One big issue is the about-to-grow fleet of “City” streetcars. New cars will be on the property well before a new carhouse will be available and the system will run out of space in 2013. Even that date, I suspect, involves using some space at Hillcrest as I can’t think of any other location to build a temporary yard.
The Request for Proposals for new cars is on the street, and the TTC hopes to award a contract for the base system’s cars in September. These would be single-ended cars for street operation largely on the existing system quaintly referred to by the term “legacy” in the presentation.
A separate contract for “Transit City” cars would follow in 2010. These would be double-ended cars for operation on the new lines.
The big problem, of course, is money. Who will pay for all of these new cars?
All new Transit City lines and vehicles will conform to AODA standards (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), while cars for the “legacy” system will require some way to bridge from streets where curbside loading (such as proposed for Cherry Street, Queen’s Quay and Roncesvalles Avenue) will not be practical. A review of options for the existing system’s routes is underway.
The TTC hopes to put forward a standard design for the new LRT lines where they lie in the middle of arterial roads. Although there will be site-specific needs in some places, we should not have to reinvent the basic street design over and over again.
A selection of views from existing systems brought the expected “ooos” from the gallery, with a fervent desire that we could replicate the palm trees from San Francisco on Sheppard Avenue.
The TTC recognizes that the new streetcar/LRV design will require proof-of-payment (POP) on its entire light rail network because passengers will not board by passing a farebox. At this point, the question is whether fare cards would be validated on board or at wayside equipment. A related issue not mentioned in the TTC presentation is that of fare-by-distance versus fare-by-time. If one “fare” buys a fixed amount of system use (say two hours), then the equipment requirements are much different from a system where passengers must check in and out of vehicles so that the distance travelled can be calculated.
In the presentation, you will see a Toronto Parking Authority pay-and-display station. One option the TTC is considering is whether these could double as fare vending/loading machines.
The signalling system will be designed to control the Transit City vehicles much more like a subway line than a streetcar line with enforced spacing, speed control and central activation of switches. Whether the TTC can actually make this work remains to be seen, but at least with modern radio and GPS-based vehicle location, such a system should not be as prone to weather sensitivity as technology of past decades. Salt and ground currents in particular are a big problem for legacy signalling systems, and this technology must be avoided for Transit City.
Centre poles will be used for overhead suspension as this is far simpler in the suburban environment where the Transit City routes will be built. Many of you know of my opposition to this design on St. Clair, but that is specific to a tight urban environment where side poles were already in place for the existing streetcar and could have been used to minimize right-of-way width.
Trackwork will include centre storage tracks at key locations, and crossovers both at terminals and along the lines. All switches will be double-blade.
Tunnel design criteria are now under study. Although the presentation does not mention this, an obvious question is whether the tunnels and stations should provide for eventual full subway conversion or be sized for LRT.
Public consultation has been run through Chair Giambrone’s office and an information booklet about Transit City will be prepared by Kevin Beaulieu, his executive assistant.
The EA process itself is under review to determine how it can be streamlined for these and other projects. Dare I suggest that simply having so many projects underway at once will relieve the transit advocate community of needing to educate the people managing each project over and over and over again about Light Rail Transit.
Official Plan Amendments are required to bring the City’s Official Plan and various other schemes, including Transit City, into line with each other. We have The Avenues, the Surface Transit Priority Network, and the Higher Order Transit Corridors. No surprise: they don’t line up with each other.
Staffing is a huge problem because, despite the army of consultants who have fed on the EA process for years, expertise on many areas is rather thin.
With all of this work rolling ahead in parallel, we will have stacks of detailed proposals for new LRT lines lining our library shelves (or at least taking up a lot of disk space) in the near future. Never before has LRT been taken this seriously in Toronto, and such a mass of information, including studies of many different types of implementation, will both set a standard for the GTAH overall and go a long way to showing the public and the politicians what can be done.
Conveniently, all of this will be sitting in full view just before the next round of elections, and the urge to put shovels in the ground and smile for the cameras will move these projects along.
I think back to the TTC’s plan for a suburban LRT network in 1966 and wish that we could have built so much already, but finally we are starting.