Why Transit City is an LRT Plan (Part 1)

One year ago, with much fanfare, the TTC launched the Transit City plan.  Those who have followed the debates on my site will know we had a lot of discussions about whether lines were in the right place, what demands would be placed on the system, whether the cost estimates were reasonable and many fine details of individual route designs.  As I said here, it felt as if I was running a one-man Environmental Assessment for the whole plan.

The official EAs are now starting for some routes (Sheppard, Finch West and Eglinton), and Waterfront West is already underway.  Although not officially part of Transit City, we also have studies for the eastern waterfront and Kingston Road.

Notable by its absence in Transit City is one common part of every EA that has gone before:  an alternatives analysis.  Many here have debated the LRT-only premise, and even some of the professional planners are miffed that Transit City came out as a single-mode proposal.

I have little sympathy for this view.  In years past, studies for a variety of transit projects have gone through the motions of looking at alternatives, but the fix was in from the beginning.  Some current resentment is at least partly a question of sour grapes among those who have a brief for other schemes sidelined by the Transit City announcement.

This post will appear in several segments as I get a chance to write them, and I may do some polishing along the way, possibly even pulling the whole thing into a single paper in a few weeks.  I will open the posts to comments, but will concentrate on getting all of the material written and up first.  I’ve found that moderating the comments can take a lot of time, so please bear with me.

My current plans for this series are:

  • The origins of Transit City (this post)
  • Why LRT?
  • A comparative review of technologies
  • Expansion and extension options for Transit City

Public agencies wishing to pillage my work should feel free to do so provided credit is given.  This material is produced pro bono.

The Origins of Transit City

In the mid 1960s, the TTC foresaw the need for two types of routes serving the growing suburbs — some subway extensions, and a group of lines operated with updated streetcar technology that we now call Light Rail Transit (LRT).

Intermediate capacity rapid transit lines are conceived as operating on private or exclusive grade-separated surface rights-of-way but with lighter equipment, minimal station facilities and on-board ticket collection wherever possible.  Initially, service on such lines might be provided by PCC car type vehicles.  It is believed that the capacity of such lines should be in the order of ten to twenty thousand passengers per hour and the TTC is undertaking a study to arrive at a possible design of a suitable lightweight vehicle for this type of high speed service.

“A Concept for Integrated Rapid Transit and Commuter Rail Systems in Metropolitan Toronto”, TTC, February 1969

The complete network included:


  • The Yonge line extended north from Eglinton to the Finch Hydro Corridor
  • The existing Bloor-Danforth line from Islington to Warden
  • The University line extended north from St. George Station to Wilson (the Spadina subway)
  • The Downtown Relief line from Flemingdon Park to Queen, and then via the Queen Subway to the Humber Bay


  • A northeast line from Warden Station to Malvern
  • A line across the Finch Hydro Corridor swinging southwest through Etobicoke to meet …
  • A line from Islington Station via a Hydro Corridor meeting the Finch line with …
  • A branch west to the airport
  • A line from Wilson Station north to the Finch Hydro corridor

GO Commuter Rail:

  • Service added to the CN Weston corridor including an airport spur
  • The CPR North Toronto corridor with service from Milton to Malvern and beyond, and
  • The CN Richmond Hill corridor

This is a very different network from what we got, but it established the pattern of concentrating on long-haul trips via commuter rail, LRT and subway.  The surface network was assumed to fill in itself around whatever rapid transit lines were built and this certainly happened during the rapid system expansion of the 1960s and 70s.

GO transit has expanded, although on different alignments at least partly due to the relative intransigence of CPR (as against CNR) as a host for commuter rail services.  The LRT plans were overtaken by Queen’s Park’s high technology transit schemes.  Eventually, they brought forth the Scarborough RT and little else.  Indeed, the whole idea that there was anything between buses at the low end and subways at the high end was actively ignored by Queen’s Park as a threat to the viability of its technology.

By the 1980s, this left us with two expensive options for rapid transit — conventional subways, or the Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) which we now know as the “RT”.  Rapid transit was not so much planned, as announced and fought over.  Limited funds constrained what could be built, and politics rather than planning took precedence culminating in the Sheppard line.

During the period when every good planning text would have us building transit to lead and shape suburban development, instead we built small subway extensions and ran minimally acceptable bus service primarily to feed the rapid transit network.  This pattern was accentuated when growth spilled into the “905” and these communities had little or no transit service.

Meanwhile, the original suburbs (the ring of the 416 around the old city) aged, the planning mix of housing and industry that looked so good on paper grew tired as industrial needs changed and companies moved, and the populations housed in suburbs evolved from the classic middle-class 50s ex-pats from “the city”.

We now come to the late 90s, an amalgamated City, and its new Official Plan.  This plan recognizes that the city as we have built it needs to change on two counts.  First, parts of it need rejuvenation, new neighbourhoods and land uses to reflect current and future populations and economic activity.  Second, the suburban, car-oriented model simply doesn’t work on many counts:  cost, environmental effects, land requirements, and the isolating design of streets and neighbourhoods where pedestrians are foreigners.  The population growth expected in the next few decades cannot be managed with the current suburban model.

This problem exists in the 905 too, but the Official Plan is for Toronto, the 416, and for many suburbs decades older than their new cousins beyond the City boundaries.  If the 905 is ever going to deal with its developments, the 416 must show the way with “new”, reimagined suburbs.  This won’t be easy as developers prefer to build what they know.  If the City doesn’t support change through planning policies and through changes in the transportation services, then all we will get is more car-oriented buildings and sterile car-dominated main streets.

Anywhere distant from subway lines, transit is a distant second choice because service is dolled out like gruel to Dickensian orphans — be happy with what you’ve got and don’t ask for more.  Even where transit should be competitive, cutbacks in TTC operations and a loss of pride in running truly first-class service expose the core “city” system as a poor example to our suburban cousins of what transit might be.

The TTC’s Ridership Growth Strategy aims for some small-scale improvements, but even this has been repeatedly thwarted by Council’s refusal to fund better transit service.

In spite of this, the Official Plan looks to vastly improve transit generally, and particularly to improve operations on major streets, “The Avenues”.  Here redevelopment would be encouraged at a density and in a form that could bring the sort of street traffic — pedestrians and transit users — at a level more commonly seen in older neighbourhoods.

Alas, the Official Plan doesn’t actually have a transit plan in it thanks to jurisdictional disputes between City and TTC planners.  There’s a network of transit priority routes that sort of, but not quite, mirrors the Avenues, but there is no sense of a real network where roads would be changed to provide space for transit, priority for transit vehicles and riders, and reliable service that would make the TTC a valued service outside of downtown Toronto.

In a way, we were lucky.  Instead of an Official Plan that reproduced the subway plans of decades past, we had a vacuum waiting for something better.  That something was Transit City.

Transit City was not the product of the usual bureaucratic inter-agency haggling with all sparks of creativity snuffed out by decisions the public and politicians never get to see.  That’s no secret.  The plan’s launch was very much the work of Mayor Miller and TTC Chair Councillor Giambrone, together with their staff and a lot of fast work by the TTC to fill in the technical details.  The project website isn’t part of the City’s or the TTC’s standard offerings, and the graphics have a style all their own.

Most important about Transit City is that Torontonians could think about transit in a new way, could see that someone cared about transit as a network, not as a handful of political vanity projects.  That’s the optics, but there are good ideas under the covers.  Transit City is not just a collection of lines on a map, a “subway in every borough” plan like so many that have come before.

Unfortunately, the momentum of the Transit City launch was badly stalled last summer when the expected new tax revenues from land transfers and vehicle registrations were deferred by Council.  That’s on track now, but vital months were wasted with political haggling and transit went onto the back burner.

In my next installment, I will look at the reasons for basing Transit City on LRT technology.  This choice surprised many and annoyed more than a few.  I will also look at what Transit City is supposed to accomplish and how this differs from planning both of past decades and even work now underway at Metrolinx.

As a public service, I will try to put aside my bias in favour of LRT and examine the network and the alternatives we might otherwise have.  Yes, I know it will be a stretch, but no more a stretch than expecting people whose solutions to every problem involve either busways, road widenings or subway tunnels to look at LRT fairly.

30 thoughts on “Why Transit City is an LRT Plan (Part 1)

  1. An impressive and highly informative post on the background of Transit City thus far, Steve. I’ve been posting interim results on my blog *cough* utterly immodest plug *cough* pertaining to my research into expanding Calgary’s LRT service as part of a larger land use and mobilty public exercise, and although I suspect that the long-range solution I have in mind for Calgary is closer to a light metro than to the smaller-scale LRT that Transit City envisions for Toronto, it’s encouraging to hear that bigger-than-Hahbuhfrawnt light rail transit is being seen as a viable alternative in twenty-first-century Toronto. Looking forward to seeing your subsequent posts!


  2. I honestly can’t believe that I never managed to find any actual material concerning the LRT proposals before you mentioned it, Steve. Had the city and province built the LRT network and PCC like new streetcars we probably would have avoided the heavy CLRVs (which pretty much smashed up all the city’s streetcar system trackage) and the waste of money ALRT technology.

    I actually, in fact, have seen an artist’s rendering of what the PCC-like LRVs for the TTC might have looked like, as a copy of the drawing was included in John F. Bromley’s “Fifty years of progressive transit” book from the early 1970s. I have also seen a drawing of Hawker Siddley’s “Municipal Service Car” from the early ’70s as well in Mike Filey’s 1996 book on the TTC (can’t remember title right now).

    And of course the CLRVs have a manufacturer’s plate in the car showing that they were made both by Hawker-Siddley and the UTDC so I can only assume that at some point the two companies decided to put aside their differences and collaborate (since I think the two companies were originally competing with one another for the new streetcar bid of the early-mid 1970s).

    On a side note, as I am aware the ALRV’s bogies were made by some German company, and in a way they look very similar to that of a PCC. Did the TTC and UTDC choose that new design because the CLRV’s bogies were inferior in comparison (and if I’m not mistaken the CLRVs originally came with different wheels originally and were then refitted with PCC like wheels due to issues with the existing track)?

    Steve: Hawker-Siddeley’s car was a derivative of the PCC and they were working with the Czech firm, Tatra, who had bought the PCC patents years before. That’s the design you have seen in various publications.

    All was going smoothly until Queen’s Park got into bed with Krauss-Maffei on the ill-fated maglev personal rapid transit scheme. Only when this fell apart technically and financially did Queen’s Park, in desperation, turn to streetcars and Light Rail as a way to show that they were doing something useful.

    The UTDC took over Hawker’s design, but bastardized it through design changes that were totally inappropriate for a city car. On the premise that high-speed suburban operation was required, they designed a car that can travel at 70 mph (110 kph). That’s a ridiculous speed unless your stations will be several kilometres apart. This high speed in turn required heavyweight trucks for stability, and we wound up with the monstrous trucks under the CLRVs.

    The original wheels were the “Bochum” design, much in favour at the time on European LRT systems. However, these were not designed for North American style “thundertrack” where the rails are embedded directly in concrete and the entire roadway acts as a gigantic resonator. To add to the problems, the natural frequency of the wheel assembly happened to be one which (a) is really good at vibrating concrete and (b) is right at a pitch easily detected by humans. These wheels also performed poorly on single-blade switches because they tended to deform rather than pulling (through the axle) the wheel on the off-side into the curve. A perfect example of bad engineer through a complete lack of understanding of the subsystems. (All of this came out in a detailed research paper years ago.)

    The CLRVs were retrofitted with “SAB” wheels that are descended from the PCC design. These wheels vibrate at a higher frequency that is (a) too high for the concrete and (b) is less offensive when heard through the air (which attenuates the sound anyhow). The wheels also work well with single-blade switches because the rubber sandwich goes into compression and helps the wheel pull its off-side mate into curves. Coupled with the TTC’s rubberized trackbed, the noise level for streetcars is now much below original levels.

    The TTC keeps talking about doing research into current noise levels, but after almost two years of waiting, I still haven’t actually seen any engineering data to back up the empirical observation that streetcars are now much quieter. The myth of noisy streetcars continues at some public meetings, notably those in areas where old style track has not yet been replaced.


  3. One thing I don’t get is, how back in the ’60’s, they could talk out of both sides of their mouths: create new streetcar-type services while trying to implement a plan of eliminating streetcar services. And, despite Transit City, I fear this disconnect still exists, even though major improvements have been made to the streetcar infrastructure.


  4. “Notable by its absence in Transit City is one common part of every EA that has gone before: an alternatives analysis. Many here have debated the LRT-only premise, and even some of the professional planners are miffed that Transit City came out as a single-mode proposal.

    I have little sympathy for this view. In years past, studies for a variety of transit projects have gone through the motions of looking at alternatives, but the fix was in from the beginning.”

    I am puzzled by this statement, since a plain reading of your post implies the Transit City has the “fix” in for LRT for every “new” line (SRT and Sorbara Line being “pre-fixed”).

    Steve: Whenever you sit down to draw lines on a map, you make assumptions about where those lines can go and what they are going to do. For example, if your heart is set on building subway lines, then you probably won’t build very many, and you may be tempted to put them places where construction will be comparatively easy (open space, middle of expressway, etc). You will design a network primarily for long-distance travel with widely-spaced stations. The network may even be successful on its own terms, but it will serve a very different type of demand than the goals in our Official Plan.

    I will return to this when I get into comparisons of technologies later in the series.

    Transit City began with the premise that it would be a surface network, and it would provide substantially more capacity than routes already in place. Many of these already have bus services running at the limits of what can be done with those vehicles. This produced the question “what could we get if we built an LRT network on streets?”

    BRT could help a bit, but not much, and I will go into that in more detail when I turn my attention to the claims of BRT advocates.

    The TTC shouldn’t need to be forced to produce an alternatives/modes analysis for an line EA or a Commission/Provincial/Federal funding request – they should have done one on day 1 they decided to examine a line for additional provision. Any competent business would. Maybe an open sourced analysis would have come up with a similar answer, untainted by intra-city “balance” and other considerations that don’t get reduce congestion by the greatest amount – but a religious/ideological approach to transit provision is as wrong now as it was in the 1970s. However this is an ideological approach that you agree with.

    Steve: It’s not ideology. It’s the very real world where the TTC was incapable of producing any plan that didn’t consist of a network of subway lines. The decision to go with LRT was a political one led by the Mayor as I have already said. The challenge was to see what could be done, and done on a large scale, rather than the endless years we’ve spent finding the money for just one more subway line.

    When Bill Davis announced a network of Maglev ICTS lines, or David Peterson announced subways to every corner of the city, they didn’t produce alternative analyses either, and studiously avoided any discussion of LRT.

    Only by putting an LRT-centric plan out in public view can we start to have a discussion of what LRT might actually be able to do. If this were a fringe technology used by only a handful of cities, this might be an odd thing to do. However, LRT is commonly used in many ways around the world, even in that bastion of conservative thinking, Calgary. (Vancouver would have had an LRT network, but the then-premier didn’t like streetcars, and the Davis government had an in with the BC administration.)

    As for reducing congestion, anyone who claims that any transit plan will do that is telling a huge fib. The goal is not to reduce congestion, but to divert future growth in demand onto transit. As my primary example, I offer the Gardiner Expressway. GO Transit’s lakeshore rail service has not caused the Gardiner to sit empty. Just last Wednesday, I spent an hour at the Metrolinx offices and the view out the window was a traffic jam headed out into the sunset. GO’s purpose is to provide an alternative to more road construction and a way for people to get downtown quickly and in reasonable comfort.

    Whether GO succeeds all the time is another matter, but nobody ever claimed that GO trains would reduce congestion. Roads will always fill up because everyone thinks there’s room for just one more car — their own.

    The Transit City website has a web poll (unscientific, yes) that says for every vote gained by all other LRT lines combined, Eglinton gets just over two. But instead we rush to build Sheppard West (fourth, 6.7%) and Finch East (sixth, 3%).

    Steve: I think you mean Sheppard East and Finch West. Also, of course, the Eglinton line is one of the initial three to be studied. All of these have an important role in linking together pieces of the future network. Moreover, they place the emphasis on east-west rather than north-south travel so that we re-orient thinking to travel somewhere other than downtown.

    “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

    If only JFK had recognised that building light rail in Topeka would have been a “quicker win”… he could have been chair of the Toronto Transit Commission or Mayor of Toronto.

    Steve: We may not be going to the moon, but we are going to build a transit network. If JFK had run the moon project like Mel Lastman and others ran Metro and the Megacity, they would still be arguing where to put the launch pad. Of course it would have to be in North York, probably at York University, but Scarborough would put up a strong fight and would get its own launch pad as a consolation prize. It would actually be built just west of Victoria Park.


  5. Steve says: However, LRT is commonly used in many ways around the world, even in that bastion of conservative thinking, Calgary.

    But of course, you’re aware that the only way in which the C-train resembles Transit City is in the use of railed vehicles. Yes, there’s a short section of the C-train (like 2km out of 40km) that runs on the street, but otherwise it runs separated from traffic, and blocks cross streets with gate arms, like a train would.

    People pointing to Calgary and Edmonton as places where LRT is popular, and expecting the same popularity in Toronto, need to know that the C-train and the Edmonton LRT are basically subways that happen to have small vehicles. The popularity of these subway-like systems actually undermines the case for Transit City.

    Steve says: Vancouver would have had an LRT network, but the then-premier didn’t like streetcars, and the Davis government had an in with the BC administration.

    Polls suggest that Vancouverites are very happy with the SkyTrain, and would prefer more SkyTrain expansion than a move into LRT. You have previously explained this by saying that people like what they already have, but I’m wondering if you’d like to do a poll of 501 riders on that question?

    Steve: I am well aware that there is a big difference between the Calgary and Edmonton systems and the one in Toronto. My point in mentioning them is that they are not subways in the conventional sense of the word. This sort of thing is applicable to some of the outlying areas in the GTA where there will never be subway-level demands.

    In Toronto, we are facing huge increases in population and we have nowhere to put them. A few subway lines here and there won’t do because the origins and destinations are too diverse.

    As for the 501, well, if Vancouver ran crappy service, people wouldn’t think much of Skytrain either. They haven’t had to endure long waits in the cold for RT trains to show up because the computers were broken or the rails iced over. They haven’t packed into replacement bus services. Yes, it’s a question of what you are used to. The 501 could be much, much better than it is, but it suits a lot of people at the TTC to argue otherwise.

    Transit City won’t be the C-train, and it’s not intended to be. However, parts of the network can run in exclusive right-of-way or tunnel. Being able to connect the more conventional surface operations with sections like that is the great strength of LRT. I will turn to this in more detail in future posts.


  6. I noticed that on the Sheppard East LRT that “the Sheppard East LRT EA study is evaluating going as far east as Meadowvale”. Meadowvale and Sheppard is just south of the Toronto Zoo entrance.

    Why not end it at the Toronto Zoo? It would definitely bring in more patrons to the zoo if the LRT could go there.

    If they do need an area just for parking of cars for the LRT, they could use the old Beare Road Garbage dump. Fitting location for rusting heaps of metal, an old garbage dump!


  7. @ W.K. Lis:

    Why end the LRT at a place that sees so little demand for half the year? I would just end it at Meadowvale and run a one or two-bus shuttle operation during the time of year when the zoo actually has people visiting. There’s a ton of room for a terminal at Meadowvale, and quick service to the zoo is still possible even with one or two buses due to the extremely short distance between the terminal and the zoo.


  8. I appreciate the pro bono nature of all your work – thanks for it, and the good content.

    There is a definite need and use for LRTs – but at the same time, we do need to have a worthwhile EA process that does examine alternatives, as at times we will get better value with either less expenditure or more.

    Two examples: the first being the Weston corridor – which if we could install a busway (and looking to Curitiba for some inspiration) perhaps we could get an excellent, quick, cost-effective service in a new direction and line than any LRT. We currently don’t have any TTC transit service on this line, and while I think the highest/best use of the corridor is for transit vs. bikeway, we should think of a busway first to Front St., then upgrade to rail as it’s shown to be a good route. I think it probably merits an LRT, maybe from the get-go, but overall systemic needs are great.

    The second example being the WWLRT – which is undercut in its own EA for being “not cost-effective” as first proposed, and it seems to be less worth it in its newer routing. That EA said direct into the core was best, and we should study this.

    That didn’t happen, and while there’s been a bit of movement 15 years later to expand the EA a little bit to include Front St., there still is minimal interest in truly effective transit that serves existing ridership vs. helping to develop an area. This is an instance where there is such high travel demand, such high frustration with most existing travel and significant piles of politricks that we should pause and assess in a more logical and coordinated way a range of options, including a more robust system that is directly feeding into the core a lot of people from Etobicoke, with few stops. It may not be the 1949 era “subway” on Queen, but we would almost certainly get better value with a wider and imaginative comparison of what our options are than merely the WWLRT. (Can we really trust the Metro-era plans?!)

    The other caveat with the Transit City is that it doesn’t do much but drain core pockets – there isn’t really much for the older core of Toronto. And the new streetcars won’t help either.


  9. With the Zoo Train people-mover long dead they could use the guideway for an LRT branch and the yard/shops for vehicle storage!

    Back to the discussion about LRV trucks:

    As I understood it the ALRV trucks were a development sharing with the H6 subway cars and nothing more. I find them to be dramatically inferior to and noisier than the CLRV trucks and hideously ugly – they look like they were thrown together with scrap pieces of metal. The CLRV trucks may be overbuilt but they clearly show that care was taken in the design throughout and especially in a visual sense. I’ve always said that function should come before form but should not preclude visual appeal. The fact that the CLRVs sometimes have trouble with smooth tractive and braking effort is purely due to the choice of gearing and questionable electronics, both clearly fallout from bad political decisions. If these cars had been used for the type of service they were built for then I doubt so many people would be so unfairly bad-mouthing them. I really wish folks would quit the CLRV bashing, especially when the ALRVs are much worse (except for having real HVAC).

    Most of today’s problems with the fleet as a whole are due to inadequate investment in preventative maintenance and subsystem evolution. Any new cars we end up with will be a big experiment and could be much worse right off the top. Technology can work wonders in the right hands. The people who develop transit vehicles need to stop acting like know-it-alls, drop the superiority complex, and actually do the real research necessary to give us true value for our investment dollars. And then the TTC needs to stop letting our costly investments rot away. Transit City will only succeed as LRT in the minds of the general public if we get top-notch LRVs designed for the service they will see and if they are maintained in a state of good repair.


  10. The reason they’re rushing to build Sheppard E. first is simple — they want to kill the idea of a Sheppard subway extension as quickly as possible.

    The alternative to the $9B TC plan is about 40 km of subway (using 8.6 km per $2B / Spadina) as a rough estimate.

    What do people here think? Would 40 km of new subway in Toronto have more of an impact than TC?


  11. Hi Steve:-

    As for streetcars being quieter, you reminded me of the times when the CLRVs were rewheeled. With the as delivered wheels, walking on any street with mixed PCC and CLRV service, one could tell without looking what car was approaching by the noise they made; but when the CLRVs were rewheeled, one had to look up to tell, for they sounded identical.

    Your quote:-“The myth of noisy streetcars continues at some public meetings, notably those in areas where old style track has not yet been replaced.” T’aint no myth! How the present TTC and their ancestors differ in looking after noise complaints by the public is inversely proportional against the present day resident getting any satisfaction. By letting the present management know about the past, results in one being pooh poohed and the next thing to being called a liar! Kingston Road is a prime example of how the present day track maintainers have lost a lot in public relations. I recall in a discussion it was intimated that by allowing this noisy track to continue it was to gain political and local acceptance for streetcar abandonment! If the 1980’s managers were still looking after things, you wouldn’t hear the noise like you do now, that problem would have been dealt with within days of it being brought to their attention, but now, “Foeget abouwt it!”

    Yes the track on the Kingston Road is the old style, but it is possible to eliminate all of the whirring noise generated there by grinding the rails. A lost art! Streetcars travelling on the Kingston Road should not be felt in basements on Queen Street more than two blocks away, but they are. No myth Steve, Urban Legend.

    Oh and this noise, although thanks to the rubber surround doesn’t enter the ground with quite the same obnoxiousness, still grows on the new style track too with no intention at present of the TTC ever eliminating it. The reason why is because on the new track, this noise will never be generated again, so the engineering models tell them. Guess what, corrugation grows on rubber imbedded track too, surprise guys and gals. Engineering model broken! Even though the ground doesn’t get the same bad vibes as on the Kingston Road, one’s eardrums do!

    Mr. D

    Steve: Ah yes, corrugation. I remember being told how there would be no need to grind rail on the RT because the tractive effort was delivered through the LIM not through the wheels. Alas, those little wheels still do manage to bounce on the rails and that’s what makes corrugations.

    The TTC has to go out and grind the SRT rails from time to time to keep the locals happy.

    Another comment here spoke of the arrogance of system designers, and I think that is definitely the right word for it.


  12. Steve,

    It is very reasonable that the LRT technology has been pre-selected for TC, over subways or busways. Subways are too expensive to build a network, while buses do not have the needed capacity.

    However, within the LRT paradigm, another choice has to be made. Will the LRT lines focus on providing fast longer-range trips? This is how cities with no “heavy rail” subways, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, tend to use LRT. Or, will those lines cater to premium local service, so that people living nearby can get to where they work / study / shop without using a car? This is more like the role of streetcars in the old City of Toronto.

    Those two goals are not mutually exclusive, but obviously if the routing and stop spacing are optimized for one of these goals, they won’t be optimal for the other. The original TC plan was mute on this matter, while the recently released design details for the Sheppard E line point more to the “premium local service” role.

    I believe that the first, “fast longer-range service” role should be emphasized, for the Sheppard, Finch, and Eglinton routes at least. If an LRT line is so fast that people prefer to take a local bus and transfer to that line, then a good patronage is guaranteed. It will happen whether the density growth occurs right on the LRT street, or in the vicinity of it. And that of course means diverting trips from the car domain, and improving the modal split.

    The “premium local service” approach banks on the assumption that a good LRT service will build density along the street, much like subway stations build density around them. But that is a little bit of a gamble. The problem is not just the today’s high level of car ownership, and the fact that “inner suburbs” have been optimized for a car.

    Perhaps the biggest problem is that the city is much bigger now than it was in the days of streetcar-centered communities. Hence, places of interest for any particular person are much more likely to be far away from where he / she lives. Yes, many people will happily shop for groceries 2 or 3 LRT stops from their house, but few will choose employment / high school / university / hockey club based primarily on the location. People will need to travel to another end of the city, no matter how good a local transit service they get.

    That, in turn, means that if an LRT line is not too fast, it will attract development / higher density, but only along a section that is close to a transfer point (subway). The rest of the line might not attain its full potential.


  13. I was thinking, if the LRT were to terminiate at the zoo, why not build a Durham Region Transit regional hub at the zoo? Ridership on the LRT and local TTC route, and in Durham would make modest gains over time. Connect their BRT spine to that hub and you got a good rapid transit hub.


  14. re: relative noise

    Streetcars are quieter on the street – although I’m not sure if their is much difference to the newer buses.

    The main difference, is that the steel on steel noise of the streetcars penetrates residences for some distance. We’re off Kingston but the 1st noise we notice in the morning is a Kingston Rd streetcar sometime between 5 and 6 am. You don’t hear buses because the sound at the lower frequency doesn’t penetrate.


  15. Reading here about how the present CLRVs got to be what they are today brings back memories of when they were on order. I distinctly remember reading one of my dad’s Rail and Transit magazines that, if I remember correctly, 22 of the cars were to have a higher horsepower propulsion package for use on the Scarborough LRT. Were the specs changed back to conform to the rest of the cars after the LRT got rubbed out because of ICTS?

    Steve: As far as I know, all cars have the same propulsion package.


  16. Steve

    Thank you for posting this and I look forward to seeing the rest of the series. I think it will be a very useful way to show people that there is some value in opening your eyes and examining all of the alternatives.

    Here in Malaysia people are finally starting to take a look at better public transportation and the government seems to be showing an interest in options that will make better transit available to more people.

    Instead of building elevated “metro-style” networks (here they call them LRT), the government is actually opening their eyes to the possibility of tramways, expanded electric commuter rail service, and bus-rapid transit.

    I think that your series will prove to be a very useful resource to me over here in Malaysia.



  17. We could use those fast CLRVs on an Etobicoke quick to core run via Front St. if we had a less of a local service maybe with one stop in Parkdale, one in Liberty Village and a few in the core eg. Spadina, John, Union, maybe Bathurst.


  18. “The reason they’re rushing to build Sheppard E. first is simple — they want to kill the idea of a Sheppard subway extension as quickly as possible.”

    This only magnifies the “mistake” that is the Sheppard Stubway. Leaving it as such will only mean that we would never see the true value of return for this line

    I’m going to veer to the left to say that at the very least, the extension of the Sheppard line should at least be considered. I’m not looking forward to the Sheppard Stubway remaining in its present state for the next 50 years. Either you close it down and swallow the cost or you expand it to make more use of it.


  19. I think I must agree with Stephen regarding the future of Sheppard. At the least, the line ought to be extended to Downsview in the west, and the Scarborough line in the east. Perhaps somewhere along the way a stop can be built at Mel Lastman’s house – that way he gets what truly is his own personal line, and the rest of us can get out and tell him just how “wonderful” it is.

    But Sheppard in its present state is, of course, incomplete, right down to the single platform at Yonge, with the roughed in central platform. By the time the route was built, surely it was known that the budget would never allow for future extension. Why then did they bother with the middle platform? Dangling there, taunting us… Like the hole they filled in at Eglinton West….


  20. Stephen, it seems that the Metrolinx people may be thinking in the same direction as you. The transit green paper shows a conceptual diagram for their “bold” plan including extension of Sheppard west to Downsview and east to STC. Of course, this is not a recommendation at this point, but it’s interesting to see them even discussing it.

    We need to be very careful to ensure that doing so would not be a further waste of money overbuilding capacity that will not be needed, but at the same time, the current situation is untenable. Someone travelling from Bathurst & Sheppard to Victoria Park & Sheppard should not end up using three separate technology/vehicle types for a relatively short journey along a single corridor.


  21. Many people have called the Sheppard subway a mistake, claiming that the reason it was built in the first place was purely political and that many more deserving projects were ingored in its favour. Yet now we see that one of the first TC lines to be built may be Sheppard, even though the highest demand on any TC line will be Eglinton, by far. This again sounds like politics to me, and makes the current crop of municipal politicans no better than their Lastman predecessors.

    Even though the Sheppard subway was indeed a mistake, the current plans will only accentuate that error by ensuring that the subway remains a stubway for decades to come. We’d be better off leaving the Sheppard LRT as the last TC project, and see where we are at in 10 or 15 years.

    Instead, we should focus all our efforts on building the Eglinton TC line first, as it would provide the greatest opportunity to really showcase what LRT can do: ROW at the eastern/western ends, subway through midtown, providing a true cross-town alternative to BD. It would cut through all the former 416 boroughs and cities, so everyone would be happy. A Sheppard LRT will not be nearly as good a showcase, because we’ll still be stuck with a senseless transfer at an impractical location. It’s too bad that politics has to get in the way…


  22. In response to Stephen Cheung:

    I agree completely. The Sheppard line was probably a mistake, but we’ve got it now, we should work with it. This line was designed primarily as a high speed route between the two designated centres, and while this is probably not as important in the short to medium term, will likely be needed one day.

    My concerns about Transit City relate entirely to Sheppard and Scarborough. I don’t think Transit City is all the LRT we need, and I think we will need for more subways in time (certainly short extensions to what we have), but Transit City IS a great start, and what is most needed right now. Yes, mid speed (best term I can think of for TC style lines, more than a streetcar, but not really full rapid transit) local service in the Sheppard/Finch corridor is needed, but lets put it on Finch. We would get a continuous crosstown line (for the same cost, or at least amount of track), it wouldn’t interfere with the Sheppard subway, which I think we will want to complete in 20 years, and would serve the same basic market. A single project encompassing Finch from Morningside to Humber College with a spur to Don Mills station would be ideal to demonstrate light rail in Toronto, would still use the existing Sheppard subway, would still connect to an extended SRT and wouldn’t damage our ability to turn the Sheppard line into the cross regional service it was originally intended as. It’s also likely to save us some money in the short term with much simpler construction at Don Mills station.

    The rest of my issues with Transit City are really quite simple; the SRT refurbishment is a mistake and the extension is the quite possibly a worse mistake than the original line (especially given the real usefulness of interlining this with a Sheppard/Finch LRT). Kingston Road needs to be included as a TC projects if there is to be any hope of it happening with this round of funding, and I would like to see a better analysis of an SRT extension on Ellesmere rather than the Malvern corridor (better served by GO anyway) than was done in 1992, when the TTC essentially said the ravine watershed would be affected so the route wouldn’t be considered.


  23. One reason the Sheppard subway was conceived in the first place, I once read at the time, was that the Sheppard East bus line was supposedly the TTC’s heaviest suburban bus line in terms of ridership. This was sometime prior to Mike Harris cancellation of everything but the Sheppard East subway. Can anyone confirm that?

    Steve: The Sheppard East bus built up faster than Finch East through the 80s, but the latter did a good job of overtaking it by the 90s. The real raison d’etre for the Sheppard line was the idea that Sheppard and Yonge was to be “downtown North York”, Mel Lastman’s answer to Bloor and Yonge with its very own subway junction.


  24. Well after what you just said, an LRT line would be justified on Finch East as well. One question I have on the RT extension; I was just looking at James Bow’s website checking out what he and Peter Drost wrote about extensions to the line and I’m wondering if this present proposal has any of the same shortcomings that Mr. Bow and Mr. Drost point out in the 1992 proposal. Has anything changed at all?

    Steve: Nothing much has changed for the alignment, but politically, the SRT extension does two things. First, it connects with the Sheppard LRT giving a link down to STC while preserving the east-west continuity across Sheppard. Second, it provides (in theory anyhow) for a northerly extension to Markham. Cross-boundary is all the rage these days. Of course, if it were an LRT line, given the demand projected at Sheppard East station, it would be on the surface.


  25. I went to the LRT meeting last night on Milner and it was great to see the options we could vote on. I am very glad they are considering extending the Sheppard Subway as far a Consumers Rd. I hope it would be one more station to Victoria Park where this subway would then connect with the Sheppard LRT. It makes more sense to this transit user to have rapid transit beneath the DVP then over top of the overpass there. Also the Consumers Rd area has a lot of workers who would definitely put this extension to use. It would also benefit the Scarborough north east population as well.

    I was reading through some earlier posts about extending the Sheppard Subway west to Downsview. Think this is a fantastic idea as it would give many transit users an alternative way to get to York U when that extension is complete. I would really like Toronto and the TTC to invest some more in the Sheppard Subway- it is a good piece of infrastructure that is spurring a lot of construction and investment along the Sheppard corridor where the current subway operates.


  26. The sheppard subway should be completed to Vic park as stated in the original plans many years ago(phase one). This line was built during the recession years so the costs were cut by finishing it only to Don Mills.

    My uncle use to work at johny’s burgers and he has stated many times that there are huge plans to add office space and condo’s to that intersection. This will only happen if the subway reaches Vic park. Bental real estate has drawings for two 50 storey office towers on that corner with provisions for a subway station entrance to Vic park within this development. Ridership will double with this extension by picking up new passengers from the LRT and Vic park bus.

    The new NFL stadium planned for Toronto will be at Downsview park and when we get the Bills, this western extension would be back on the front burner.

    Leaving Sheppard as a white elephant line is not a good idea either because as stated by others, it only amplifies the mistake by leaving it as is. politicians and planners have short changed this line long enough, we got it now so let’s make better use of it. Heck, the EA for the sheppard subway was done years ago so building the two stop extension requires only funding. The LRT would be better of terminating at Vic Park.

    Steve: Extending the subway east to Victoria Park and west to Downsview Station would cost, roughly, $1.5-billion based on 6km of construction at $250-million/km. There are some arguments for an extension to Consumers Road based on topology and the logistics of getting across the DVP, but beyond is not justified. Don’t forget that those 50-storey towers will draw their employees from all directions, not just from the west, and that the Sheppard Subway itself won’t be the primary way people get to work there.

    As for Downsview, we don’t build a subway to serve a stadium, especially when there’s another line there already.


  27. Steve wrote about the SRT extension, “Second, it provides (in theory anyhow) for a northerly extension to Markham.”

    This totally ignores any interlining possibilities with any VIVA Phase 3 LRT implementation that may some day exist.

    The YRT/VIVA official plan carved out several years back outlined providing major service from the Markham service to Don Mills subway station. This was originally done with route 90 during rush hours, then was increased with VIVA Green. Last year Green was cut back to rush hours only, but earlier this year route 90 was extended all day and on Saturdays to Don Mills.

    As other rapid transit alternatives move closer to Markham’s border, it is likely that the plan will be revised to target these alternatives for connections.

    Steve: To be abundantly clear, my reference to northerly extensions is in the context of my preference for an LRT line in place of the SRT. As ICTS, it will never go north unless the Minister of Finance moves to Markham.


  28. If you don’t mind Steve, I would like to correct a misconception here.

    Calgary and Edmonton chose to build a lot of the LRT on existing rights of way (ie quasi-expressway or railway lines) not because it improves service quality but because it simply is cheaper then building it down a city streets. And not the entire LRT runs on existing rights of way.

    And good portions of both systems run in the median of city streets. Edmonton South Line when it opens later this year will run entirely in the median or the side of a city street. Just south of Health Science Station much of the LRT is actually running along old streetcar suburban houses.

    In Calgary, Sunnyside Station actually replaced one of the streets in Sunnyside. The city elminated one street of Sunnyside to make way for the LRT. All that remains of the old street is a one way which is used for residents to get access to their houses. The same trend continues from there all the way up to Banff Trail.

    In Calgary again on the NE Line, the 36th Street ROW runs down a median of a street which is very similar to that in Toronto. It is true it hasn’t created the vibrancy which you are looking for in Toronto, but that has more to do with the development policies than the LRT.

    None of this has hurt the service quality for the LRT. On 36th Street the LRT runs about 70 km/h. While between Sunnyside and Banff Trail it runs about 65 km/h. It only slows down to 20 km/h when it enters the tunnel underneath 16th ave, because residents complained about LRT track noise (poor track planning).

    If you look at the debates which are going on in Edmonton about extending the LRT the West LRT, the proposal for different corridors is completely related to cost and not to service quality.

    The Mayor and some councillors want the city to buy out abandoned rail road tracks in the city, and use those for LRT. So that it eliminates the cost of building tracks. Those of you know the history of Western Canada, will be aware that when the Liberals used to have a strong grip over Alberta and Western Canada – no I have not been drinking today, why do you ask – they build far to many rail road lines in the prairies. Edmonton and Winnipeg were the two hubs of train lines and both cities are full of abandoned rail lines. So there are plenty to choose from.

    The Mayor also believe by running them on abandoned rail road lines, the city will have the option to also build new communities around the LRT, simply because that entire area is still undeveloped. That being said, I don’t think in Toronto there any rail corridors which are undeveloped so the only real option for Toronto is build them in the median of city streets.

    Other councillors want the West LRT to run along the Whitemud Freeway (a full expressway). The Whitemud needs to be expanded so they figure they can shoot two birds with one stone.

    And the rest of council wants it to run along 69 ave I believe because the communities there are already developed and they can be transformed into TOD communities. But this might require quite a bout of land acquisition which adds to the cost of the LRT, and it will require the creation of more grade separated corridors.

    Even if Transit City this is not going to be ‘like’ the C-Train, the argument that the LRT cannot run in the median of city streets and still be considered rapid transit is false.

    Calgary’s LRT is described as a ‘light’ metro not so much because it is a light metro. But because the city worked very hard to define it that way. Like in Toronto, Calgarians at the time wanted the best and most expensive option which was a Subway System. But the city knew that Calgary could not run as a Subway, and the LRT solution was being dismissed as a streetcar.

    So the city train branded the new LRT line as the C-Train, a unique solution which Calgary though up of running the Subway at grade thus eliminating the cost building tunnels. Now the city isn’t as worried about the criticism that the C-Train is simply a streetcar because people have grown to accept the LRT. Its at a point where the city rarely refers to the LRT as a the C-Train anymore. It is simply LRT.

    It might be something Toronto would want to consider when they are trying to brand Transit City. At the end of the day the debate is more about politics then it is anything else.

    Steve: Thanks very much for all of these details. One important difference between Calgary and some of the Transit City corridors is that the downtown mall, shared by several lines, imposes a headway constraint. Lines sharing this mall must run at comparatively wide headways so that all of the trains will fit. Shorter trains on more frequent headways would otherwise be possible. This has an impact on the frequency of service on the individual lines and the impact of their median operations on other traffic.

    As for branding, the problem is that far too many people have already talked about “streetcars” in the suburbs, and have drawn comparisons with the existing system and its successes or lack thereof.


  29. About the transit mall, that is currently being dealt with. The City is considering moving route 201 (SW-NW) line into a tunnel underneath 8th Ave. The EA currently in process for this and it might be given priority over the West LRT (that is a whole another story).

    The city is currently in the process of expanding the headways from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. It has caused 7th ave to become gridlocked – this when Mayor Bronconnier should listen to that little voice in his head ;).

    I was wondering then what kind of headways are going to be on Transit City? Is that going to prevent the city from giving the LRT from having full traffic priority at some intersections.

    Steve: I have read the reports about the 8th Avenue tunnel and that’s what prompted my remark about limitations on branch headways when everything has to merge onto a common track downtown.

    The peak demand forecast for Transit City is just under 5,000 per hour and that’s on Eglinton where the line will be in tunnel. Sheppard and other lines are more in the 3,000 range. If we run two-car trains with a capacity of 300-350 passengers, that’s a 5-6 minute headway and there should be no problem grabbing signal priority when it is needed. Whether we will actually get it is quite another matter.

    If demands on the surface sections rise to around 4,500, then we’re down to 3-4 minute headways, and at 6,000 it’s 3 minutes or less. That starts getting into the range where there is almost always a train, one way or the other, for every light cycle and the real issue is to optimize how they use the cycle.


  30. A propos of Aman’s comments, it’s probably worth mentioning that the western extension of the existing northeast-to-downtown Line 202 of the C-Train is slated for construction with a combination of elevated, underground, and street-level rights of way, and that a downtown metro is being investigated both for the northwest-to-south Line 201 and the southeast-to-downtown Line 203, owing in no small measure to the headway constraints you cited.

    Looking further into the future, though, the expansion of the C-Train system will be a long-term conundrum out here because from the standpoint of freight rail rights of way, the proverbial low-hanging fruit is gone–there’s not much piggybacking left to do on any railway corridor that actually travels to where people actually reside and want to go.

    Future expansion of the C-Train system is going to depend on finding ways to accommodate existing road and land use, and on finding ways to pay the capital costs that this process will incur. The challenge I’ve set for myself is to square this circle by selling the strategic benefits of a more comprehensive network to my compatriots–tuning them in, so to speak, to WII-FM.


Comments are closed.