[This is a continuation from the previous post. Note also that some missing text has been inserted in the section about operating speed.]
Grade Separation if Necessary
Some parts of Transit City clearly require underground construction — Eglinton from Weston to Leaside, Sheppard at DVP / Don Mills Station, Don Mills through East York, the south end of Jane — but these are exceptions rather than rule. The advantage of LRT is that where space is available, surface operation is possible. BRT cannot run underground unless electric vehicles are used, and even then the capacity limitations of buses would require either very large stations or an investment in tunnels far out of proportion to the traffic they could carry.
The presence of some key underground or grade-separated LRT sections gives interlining possibilities such as:
- Service to the Airport via the Eglinton LRT linked with other routes such as Finch and Jane, a Mississauga LRT and even a “Blue 22” LRT via the Weston corridor to Union Station. This type of interlining is impossible with any other mode at reasonable cost.
- The Don Mills LRT is likely to be grade-separated south of Eglinton (although it reasonably would emerge onto a viaduct of some flavour to cross the Don Valley). This provides the option of continuing into downtown as a “Relief Line” from the east. Because service south of Eglinton would be completely grade-separated, it could be operated more frequently than the LRT surface operation on Don Mills Road to the north. (There is an extensive discussion of the Downtown Relief Line on spacing’s website.)
- A similar strategy of mixed subway-surface operation could be used to provide more intensive service on the central part of the Eglinton line while allowing for some services to emerge onto the surface where high capacity was not required.
Extensions into regions cannot possibly be afforded or justified with subway technology, but with LRT they can be part of the network.
The question of building to subway standards has also been debated here. This type of argument assumes we can always use something bigger, but it avoids some basic issues:
- LRT is a low platform technology while subways are high platform. Stations must be convertible, and modern accessibility requirements make this more difficult than in the early days of “semi-metro” proposals.
- Subways require provision for at least a 300-foot long station to handle four-car trains. This has implications for station locations.
- Subways run with wider cars than LRT. It may be possible to build a single tunnel (the Madrid model) to hold a pair of LRT tracks, but not necessarily with the width for full Toronto subway cars.
- A line intended to operate as a future subway will require a connection to the existing network for car servicing. The expense and complexity of such a link can be seen at Sheppard and Yonge where a huge excavation was needed to provide for two curves linking the lines. These curves were only possible because both the southeast and southwest corners were vacant for new construction.
We must be careful not to burden an LRT tunnel with costs and design constraints for a conversion that may never occur. Additional capacity, if such a day ever comes, may better be provided by a new parallel route rather than adding to what is already in place.
Speed but not speed at all costs
What is the ideal station spacing? How fast can service be expected to run? These questions come up when we frame the goals of a transit scheme in terms of getting people out of their cars. However, more is involved in a transit trip than the actual speed of the vehicle — the walk to the transit stop, the physical conditions at the stop (weather protection, space for passengers to accumulate), service frequency and reliability (how long do I have to wait, and how likely is it to show up when advertised), and finally how crowded will the vehicle be when I get on.
Indeed, the actual in-vehicle time for transit users is well-known to be a lesser determinant of riding habit than any of the factors mentioned above. If we concentrate too much on speed but forget the overall quality of the experience, then any new network will fail.
Stop spacing is dictated mainly by the street grid. Although pictures of streetcars flashing across intersections with railway-style crossing protection look impressive, the service levels on routes in cities with this configuration are much lower than proposed for Transit City. Indeed, in the debates over transit priority for Spadina, anti-priority arguments turn on the frequency of streetcar service that, if given priority, would block cross-traffic for much of the day.
In Toronto, stop spacing should not be greater than 1km. In theory, this means a maximum walk to transit of 500m, although local conditions don’t always favour walks to the “closest” stop. The street grid is such that there will be a signalled crossing for an LRT or BRT at least every 1km and in some areas, more often than that. Unless the transit line is given unquestioned priority at signals where there are no stops, then the idea that wider stop spacing will speed operation is dubious.
It’s also important to remember that most riders are not planning to travel from Scarborough to Etobicoke. Even on the fast BD subway, the lion’s share of riding goes from one side of the city or the other to the core, and commutes from Kennedy to Kipling are quite rare.
I am often amused by competing claims that the Transit City routes must be built as subways in order to provide enough capacity, and counterclaims that they must be built as BRT because LRT infrastructure is overkill for the likely demand. And, of course BRT can do everything because it’s so cheap and, wait for it, fits on the surface.
Many claims made for BRT are for implementations vastly different from Transit City, but I will come to those in a future post. Buses on the surface, even with their own lanes, will not run any faster than LRT in same corridor, probably slower at high volumes due to number of vehicles and congestion at stations.
Getting people out of their cars
Is the intention to woo existing drivers, or to provide attractive service for new populations in redeveloping areas? Getting drivers out of their cars is very hard because many trips tend not to lie easily on the transit network. Serving long trips, something the expressway network has encouraged, requires a parallel high-speed regional system. Just as the road network has local and express components, so transit needs local and regional services.
If we had built the road network like the transit system, we would have a small collection of expressways, some ending in the middle of nowhere, fed by a rudimentary collection of local streets, some of which might even be paved. We would hear sad stories of potholes and the limitations of horse-drawn carriages.
Transit needs the local component to be successful. New population growth should occur in areas where transit is a real option, and people will choose to live where such options are available. They won’t take transit for every trip, but for enough trips to make a big difference in the transit/car modal split.
Changing travel habits, looked at on the large, regional scale, will be long and slow, but transit must be in place first to support new development. Once a new neighbourhood travels by car through lack of alternative, the travel pattern is set for decades. A critical issue for Toronto is on the waterfront where there is a real danger that we will build “downtown suburbs” by skimping on good transit service. If we wait for people and demand to appear before building, we will guarantee an established population of car-drivers for whom transit, as usual, fails to offer a real option.
The Yonge and Bloor subways were not built to get people out of cars, but to carry huge and growing demand in existing streetcar corridors. Both lines depended on bus feeder services, not on walk-in trade or parking.
GO Rail demonstrably did not eliminate congestion on QEW/Gardiner, but prevented the need for much more road capacity. GO enabled growth in core employment while population growth came in suburban dwellings. Downtown is more attractive now due to changes in lifestyle and constraints on growth of commuter rail service. Indeed, reverse commuting is now a big road and transit problem requiring attention by all levels of transit agency.
Transit should provide for growth in demand to and between many neighbourhoods of which the core is only one, important yes, but only one.
In the next post, I will go into mode-by-mode comparisons of capabilities and impacts.