Sheppard East LRT Preliminary Design

Now that the TTC and City have held the first open houses for the Sheppard East project, it’s time for a few comments on the design so far. 

The presentation materials are available online.

This study is proceeding under the new, accelerated schedule for Environmental Assessments and it will be important to stay on top of what is happening.  Adam Giambrone’s office has advised me that there will be a third iteration of the open house at Scarborough Town Centre (details to be announced).  Following that, the next opportunity for public input into the overall design will come in late May.

The presentation marks a departure from many previous transit studies in emphasizing how the Sheppard line fits into the policies of the Official Plan, and explains the Plan’s vision for the future of major corridors, “The Avenues”.  The material contains a lot of information about the planning context for the line shown in a very compact way that is quite approachable.  I hope that this will be the standard format for such materials in coming studies of other lines.

In the evaluation of technology alternatives, I was pleased to see the TTC take a position that the capacity of BRT in the Sheppard corridor was not up to the future demand.  Although their standard chart of capacities by mode shows BRT going up beyond 5,000/hour, they have now added qualifying text about the need for bypass lanes to achieve more than 2,000/hour.  This is a much more realistic take on BRT than that claimed by its advocates.

With a projected peak demand of about 3,000/hour, the Sheppard East line falls well below the level needed to justify either of the grade-separated options such as subway or ICTS, and this leaves LRT as the selected mode.

I am pleased that the presentation mentions, but does not overly stress, the way that LRT can aid in land use goals.  Ironically, this is done by citing a study for the Region of Waterloo.

Photos of sample new vehicles are attractive, but I can’t help noticing that they are all running on narrow streets with a strong pedestrian flavour.  For future public sessions, it would be useful if the TTC could show LRT in a context closer to that we will see on suburban arterials.  The photos here are good examples of what we would like to see on, say, Queen or King Street, if only we could kick most of the auto traffic off those routes.

The road design looks similar to what we have seen on St. Clair and on Spadina with a few exceptions.  Most importantly, the right-of-way available on Sheppard should avoid crowding of the lanes and the sort of design trade-offs that so angered many in the St. Clair corridor.  Bike lanes are included, but inevitably there will be conlicts at intersections, and the layout illustrated here precludes parking.  How this will be resolved remains to be seen.

The stop designs use the familiar nearside left turn lane with a farside loading island for transit.  A few points worth noting here:

  • The islands, at 60m, are twice the length of existing islands and are intended to handle two-car trains.
  • The option of using a common centre platform does not appear here.  This is odd considering (a) that such an arrangement is shown in one of the BRT photographs and (b) that the Transit City fleet will be double-ended and have doors on both sides of the vehicles.

Although a single platform, possibly wider than 3m, may pose a challenge for intersection design, I believe that the TTC should seriously consider this wherever possible.  We already know that there will be three-track sections at selected points for turnbacks, and the third track would lie in the “shadow” of a central platform. 

Such a design could also be useful at the Agincourt GO Station where Sheppard will pass under the railway in a new grade-separation.  A single central platform could include a vertical connection up to GO track level that avoided pedestrian traffic on the street.

At Don Mills Station, there are three options as we have already discussed here at length in previous threads.

  • Build a surface LRT by expanding the existing bridge over the DVP/404 and terminate the LRT in a surface station at Don Mills.  Vertical links by stair and elevator would be provided down into the existing Don Mills Station.
  • Take the LRT into an underground station either at mezzanine or subway level.
  • Extend the subway to Consumers Road with an integrated LRT terminal, presumably on the surface as in the first option.

The future connection with a Don Mills LRT line is not mentioned.  I will reserve judgement on these options until I see the detailed plans and how well (or not) each version fits into the street.

Other options to be studied for the line include an extension to Meadowvale and a branch to STC via McCowan Road.  The latter is intriguing because, of course, it raises the question of the Scarborough RT as LRT, and a Sheppard/McCowan linkas branch of that route.  (This also shows up as one of the options for the SRT extension discussed elsewhere.)

One big concern not addressed in this presentation is the matter of stop spacing and transit signal priority — two of the major determinants of service speed on this route.  It’s important that we get this “right” and show motorists how LRT can speed down a congested street, rather than showing transit riders that they are second-class, always waiting for other traffic to take its turn.

18 thoughts on “Sheppard East LRT Preliminary Design

  1. Someone needs to tell the folks at the Tridel Sales Centre on Sufference Rd to stop touting a future TTC station there, as it has become quite clear that it will not happen. They wouldn’t even be able to get a revised 190 route through there, as there are no planned east/west streets across the railway tracks.

    The most ironic thing is that Tridel is touting this as a very green community (in fact, the street is being renamed Village Green Square), yet anyone who moves there will have no real transit alternative to the car. At best, they will have a five minute walk to an underserved, overcrowed 43 bus. How appealing. Looks like yet another lost opportunity for public transit…

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  2. I’m a bit concerned about the stops, but it really ties to the issue of transit signal priority. If we’re going to get a Spadina-style “transit signal” implementation coupled with far-side stops, the original vision of Transit City is in serious trouble.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that a proper implementation in which the vehicles are guaranteed to get a green light as they approach the intersection virtually requires that stops be after the intersection to avoid an unpredictably-long stop right before the intersection.

    Until this gets nailed down, it’s going to be unclear what direction we’re going in here.

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  3. Center platforms are probably risky business in this scheme. With disembarkment happening in the middle of the street, the LRV cuts off the view from the platform of auto traffic coming down behind it, this does not happen when you get off on a side platform since the platform is then between the LRV and said auto traffic, meaning the disembarking passenger can see everything as they get off. Even if we consider the presence of a stoplight at every station, we all know that some riders in a rush are going to “not notice” their light was red, so it is important that they be able to see all auto traffic as they get off. Can you imagine if some of the Spadina LRT stations were center platforms? Death trap, and Sheppard would be worse since it is easier to speed along a suburban street. I think it is safe to consider the GO Station as a valid exception if the station design allows access to the sidewalk only via walkways alongside the grade-separated GO bridge, meaning that disebarking passengers never cross the busy road itself, but take an overpass. Before any accusations of me babying riders, the TTC would like to avoid lawsuits. Stupid people do use the TTC, so the TTC has to take preventative countermeasures for stupid people.

    As for Don Mills connections, I think it is important to distribute transfers to minimize crowding. If Sheppard LRT, Don Mills LRT, and Sheppard Subway all connect to each other at the same point, it is a recipe for a crowded mess that is going to be unattractive since you could end up with the sensation of being a salamander swimming upstream trying to get through the station when making connections, particularly to the Don Mills LRT at the surface (that thing cannot possibly enter the bus bay either). Furthermore, it is really only a matter of time before the Finch East LRT will also materialize. I think that it makes the most sense to connect the Sheppard East LRT to the Finch West LRT via Finch East since we cannot run a Sheppard LRT overtop the existing subway (nor through the subway, that scheme is simply not practical even though it probably is physically possible), as there is no good argument to justify the costs. Given the Finch East LRT being so likely, an extremely convenient method to connect the two exists along the east side of the 404. There’s even room for a station at Van Horne if they feel it is a good idea (I think it might be a good idea, these neighborhoods would get no convenient access off Finch Ave.). This allows Sheppard East LRT to eventually become a viable crosstown route in future, without conflicting with Don Mills operations (on a shared segment between Finch and Sheppard) and still maintain interlining possibilities (at Finch and Don Mills intersection). Given the advantages and available options, extending the subway to Consumers is probably a smart move to allow manageable crowd distributions and future network connectivity, creating the most attractive system and luring the most riders with the investment.

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  4. Although nearside stops would be preferred, farside stops can work as well if supplemented with a proper traffic signal management. Once the LRV passes the previous control point (either the previous stop or the previous traffic light), send a signal to our intersection. If it is still at Green for Sheppard, keep that Green on, just until the LRV passes. Then, it only has to stop once, for passengers.

    Regarding the option of interchange terminal at Consumers (as opposed to Don Mills), will that trigger a more complex EA process? A short subway extention will be needed, which looks ineligible for the simplified Class EA.

    Steve: This is a good point and I’m not sure the folks at TTC have picked up on that. It is possible, however, that they have an old but already approved EA for the line to go further east.

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  5. Are we really going to see that kind of Pedestrian Vibrancy with LRT on these roads? It seems a little over blown, because looking at those pictures the road is still going to be quite wide and the sidewalks are going to be quite narrow. Actually they look far more narrow than they are currently.

    Steve: The “vibrancy” comes from the change in built form, the increase in residential density, and the fact that the width of the street is broken up by the LRT right-of-way. It will take time, but we have to start somewhere.

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  6. Steve wrote, “…the layout illustrated here precludes parking. How this will be resolved remains to be seen.”

    Much of Sheppard either has no parking on street, or where it is permissible, either very few know that it is or just avoid it for various reasons. I do know there is a church between Pharmacy and Warden that often overflows onto the street, and there may be a few other similar situations. For the most part, I don’t see much to be resolved for parking.

    Centre platforms would likely be most useful where mid-block stops are justified. Thinking about Pharmacy to Warden and Warden to Birchmount, both of these stretches have two stops between the main roads, but could be good candidates for a single mid block stop that would be better served by a single island platform.

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  7. re: stop spacing

    There was a board showing the proposed stops (some still under determination for exact location) as the Thursday meeting. It looked like there were 23 stops. (There was a big crowd around the board most of the time – so it was hard to count.)

    The city planning staffer I spoke with said the stops would be 400 m apart in the retail dense zone – and would widen outside of that. That works out to an average of about 600 m. Noone would answer the speed question – probably tired of being asked by the end of the night.

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  8. Steve,

    You will be happy to know I created a Google Map of the stop spacing that I saw when I attended the Scarborough RT/Sheppard East LRT EA last Tuesday. It’s a bit of a shame that the map here isn’t in the presentations.

    Stop spacing is good. On average, stops are 550 metres apart. There’s some larger gaps, such as Midland to Brimley and McCowan-Shorting-Markham.

    The line, and the proposed stop spacing can be seen here (don’t mind my own snide commentary):

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114180632665318786768.00044afde50d54d4cd812&ll=43.790809,-79.2729&spn=0.028873,0.058365&t=h&z=14

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  9. As time goes by, it becomes more obvious that Transit City as announced is the urban planning equivalent of a 20-page term paper written overnight.

    Does Sheppard at Morningside even *look* like it could support LRT service?

    Does the Morningside Bus have ridership levels remotely near LRT levels?

    Steve: That’s why the TTC has already said that they are looking at Neilson as an alternative route.

    Is the 190 getting more and more crowded, necessitating a direct connection to STC (hopefully interlining to Malvern with the Scarborough RT renovated to LRT)?

    I have an idea: build the Sheppard LRT on the same alignment as the original Sheppard Subway proposal. The line will bend south at Agincourt (hopefully with a connection with the GO Uxbirdge and GO Crosstown lines) via elevated viaduct, and then meet with the line from Kennedy just before STC.

    In the west the Sheppard LRT will emerge from the subway and continue on-street to Downsview, where a special LRT platform with connections to bus and subway can be built.

    Of course, too many politicians’ egos would be busted, so we’ll have a series of dead ends and transfers where there should not be.

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  10. Thanks to Sean for reproducing the map. I too was surprised to see it didn’t make it to the PDFs posted online. (I was also a little disappointed by the PDFs’ massive image compression that made it nearly impossible to read half of the presentations!)

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  11. I was hoping that they would have narrowed the street and then some how tried to visually block the other side of the street using the Trees or other architecture.

    Another idea would be Calgary’s Plan to build new TOD Development around some of the LRT Stations. Such as Dalhouise, Brentwood, Banff Trail, Lions Park, Bridgeland, Heritage and possibly Whitehorn and Anderson Stations.

    What they are proposing is having a main street on the outskirts, which will be very hostile to pedestrians. The parking lots would surround those buildings and e on the rear enterence of the buildings. Then all the buildings would be clustered together along a pedestrian Right of Way or a very minimal used street. This will resemble a much more traditional street. The LRT will feed pedestrians into this street and it would be very pedestrians friendly.

    I won’t bother explaining it much more. Here are the plans: http://www.calgarytransit.com/pdf/transit_oriented_development_guidelines.pdf

    I figure it would be a good compromise between the automobile, transit and pedestrians. It would encourage more people to walk to there next destination as opposed to driving. If they decided to implement this along 36 Street NE, it would be come a very vibrant street as would the surrounding suburban communities.

    The final option I was hoping for would be what is being planned on a stretch of 17th AVE SE in Calgary, known as International Ave. The plan is to run a European style LRT down 17th avenue and is it as a way to increase the pedestrian friendliness of the street. This plan is not yet supported by council but the business in the community are pushing for it. Sorry I don’t have the full plan, it was taken down a few weeks ago but these two give you a good idea:

    Click to access charrette11.pdf

    Click to access charrette12.pdf

    I hope that Toronto plan is successful but I can’t help but wonder if these other plans might be better suited for a suburban environment.

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  12. The station spacing is extremely problematic for fast tram service. Any engineer can agree to this. There are simply too many stops. With that many stops, future capacity expansion will be too difficult. If the station spacing is about 400m apart or less, it would be impossible to run 300ft long trams in multiple units. In addition, a moving block signal system cannot be used with so little space. It needs space so that trams can creep up to each other as oppose to a full stop.

    Steve: The new trams will be 30m, or about 100ft, long, and a two-car train would be 60m.

    The TTC should build the Sheppard with a limited amount of stations. It should be like Victoria Park, Warden, Kennedy/Agincourt GO, Midland, Brimley, McCowan, Markham Rd, Neilson and Morningside. With limited stations and proper tail tracks, there is no reason why the Sheppard tram line cannot achieve a 60 seconds headway with 300ft trains operating in multiple units. We should be future oriented when designing the line.

    On a side note, the TTC should fix the Sheppard metro line. Extend it west to Downsview and east to Victoria Park. From a network point of view, it is much more easy to use (less transfers). It can also divert some of the traffic away from the Yonge line. For example, from Victoria Park, one can take the metro to Downsview Station. From there, one can switch to the Spadina line to Finch West station. From there, one can connect to the Finch West tram line. It is much better than overcrowding the Yonge line.

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  13. Close stops will encourage medium density development along Sheppard which would create strong neighbourhoods along Sheppard. However, the closer stops are together, the slower the maximum speed of the LRT, and ultimately of travel times. I hope the ttc can find a good compromise between these opposing goals.

    I’m probably not the first to bring this up, but what if the Sheppard LRT replaced the Sheppard subway by running LRT vehicles in the Sheppard subway rather than subway cars? This would eliminate the need to transfer between the Sheppard subway and the Sheppard LRT, would lower the cost of operating the Sheppard subway (underused as it is), and free up subway cars (for the Yonge line, or to replace cars undergoing maintenance). Karl wrote ‘that scheme is simply not practical even though it probably is physically possible’, not sure if this is the idea you were referring to. I’d like to know why this hasn’t been considered more seriously though.


    Steve: The idea of converting the Sheppard subway to LRT has been discussed here. It is technically possible, although there would need to be a station-by-station examination to figure out how to handle the platform height. The new LRVs will be low floor cars and if the track level is not changed, the platforms must be lowered. This is a major change for elevator and escalator landings because there must be a transition to the new lower level.

    It is conceivable that the track could be raised, but the question is whether there is enough headroom on either side of the station to allow for the transitions at a reasonable gradient.

    Personally, I prefer this to massive expansion of the subway, but there’s a lot of ego tied up in that line, and converting it to LRT (which is what it should have been all along) requires that many people must eat crow. It might become an endangered species!

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  14. Sheppard should definitely have been built as LRT in the first place.

    However, converting the subway to LRT essentially means spending money to downgrade the service. Surely that transfer at Don Mills is awkward, yet those who will have to transfer there are better off than those who wait for a crammed bus at a shelterless stop under rain.

    Rather, live with the redundant transfer, and spend the funds to actually improve service elsewhere (for example, apply towards the Finch E LRT to form a full Crosstown link with Finch W).

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  15. You’re right about the missing future connection with a Don Mills LRT line that was not mentioned. How many carhouses will there be and how will the vehicles go to and from them?

    How will be the connection made? Will there be provision for a tripper service from Sheppard East to go down Don Mills to Pape Station, or as part of a Downtown Relief Line Tripper? Or will we have to transfer for a trip?

    Still more questions to be answered.

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  16. What’s wrong with installing non-revenue rail for Sheppard, From Victoria park to Don Mills, If the connection between LRT/Subway is made there. Heck there’s room between Don mills and Vic park on Sheppard, to build a car house. Of course we would have to expropiate a building or two.

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  17. w zenetos said, “What’s wrong with installing non-revenue rail for Sheppard, From Victoria park to Don Mills.”

    An interesting concept – plus for a slight cost savings, such a non-revenue connection could be built with a single track. After seeing how much of the London/Croydon system uses single track for revenue service, there is no reason why this couldn’t be done for a deadhead connection.

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  18. re: EA for Subway extension

    The City planner I spoke with at the meeting said that the EA is already approved for the subway extension.

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