Metrolinx White Papers Available for Review

The official version of the Metrolinx White Papers 1 and 2 are now available for review and comment. 

For those who read the draft versions in the agenda of the April 25 Board Meeting, the major change lies in the addition of appendices discussing alternative test cases and the challenges of achieving the Ontario targets for reduced environmental impact of the transportation network.

Appendix E reviews two alternatives to the test cases already discussed.

  • Model B2 starts with the original “radial” network, but adds six major highways highways plus a ten percent increase in regional arterial capacity through road widenings in the 905.  It is also based on the land use scheme from the “linear” network because the population densities of the radial and web schemes would overwhelm the road capacity in the 905.  More about that later.
  • Model C2 starts with the original “web” network , but omits planned provincial and municipal road improvements, the highway 407 east extension, and the proposed 404 and 427 extensions.

The results are not very surprising. 

The B2 case causes the modelled travel to shift from transit to roads and travel times by road to go down.  Note that the total demand for all test cases is fixed by the presumed land use and the trip pattern it will generate.  Induced demand caused by an excess of road capacity is not included in this model although a well-known effect of building any new major link in the network is the creation of demand because formerly impractical trips become viable.

The report is silent on how long the reduced congestion implied in this model would actually last.  Building more roads provides short-term relief, but eventually they fill up again especially if growth in demand from new residential and commercial construction continues.  The question is always “when is the road system finished” in the sense that further capacity increases are impractical.  We have already seen this in the 416, but the 905 (or at least some parts of it) cling to the dream that the end date for road-oriented development is long in the future.

The C2 case results in a small change in the transit modal split (from 29.0 to 29.5 percent over the entire region) because the changes in the road network do not affect most travellers in the 416.  In the 905, there are small increases in transit use, but nothing striking.  What this clearly shows is that it is not enough to not build roads, but a significant additional investment in transit is required to affect the modal split.

Travel time comparisons are shown for various non-core-oriented trips, but these show little effect from the additional or removal of roads from the network because the modelled trips generally lie along routes that are not affected by the network changes.  However, the modelled congestion cost of option C2 is about $2-billion/year higher than other test cases that do include new road building.

This is a major conundrum for network planners.  The cost of congestion is significant, but providing the capacity to relieve this also works contrary to the goals of improved transit usage in the GTA as a whole.

Appendix F discusses the issue of how Ontario can achieve its reduction targets.  This is a change from the draft White Paper approach where only the diversion of car trips to transit was considered as a source of environmental improvement.  Now, Metrolinx recognizes that this shift alone cannot address the huge growth in transportation demand in an area whose population will grow rapidly, and whose structure makes service by transit extremely difficult.

Roughly half of the emission savings to meet the target are now ascribed to technological improvement and/or change in the car and truck fleets.  Better fuel mileage (through better propulsion technology and smaller vehicles) will be required to meet this target.  There will be some reduction in trips or diversion to other modes, but the big impact comes from better vehicles.

This has implications for the future demand on the road network.  If, in effect, we cede the 905 to an auto-orientation, we may even threaten such transit improvements for that region as might otherwise be funded, and the idea that we will muddle through somehow is a dangerous invitation to inaction on the transit and land use fronts.  We must look beyond the short term when we might, briely, spend our way out of congestion and hope that rising fuel prices will shift people into cars and trucks with better fuel efficiency.

4 thoughts on “Metrolinx White Papers Available for Review

  1. The problem with the test cases is that they’re overcomplicated and unrealistic. There are also other factors that can reduce congestion such as decentralization of the downtown Toronto area into suburbs, free transit, car pool/parking lots along major highways, truck reduction on highways during peak periods.


  2. I think it’s silly to think that we can move ahead without some kind of road and/or highway improvement in the 905. While we can certainly limit what and where these get built, the reality is that when you plan to almost double your population, you are going to need a few more lanes of traffic. What will really be telling is if we can increase employment in Toronto while holding our road space to a fairly stable level, we can increase transit’s mode share within the 416 far easier then we can in the 905 with it’s “sprawl”. Once we conquer the 416, we can move on to the 905.

    Steve: The purpose of the test cases with more or fewer highways was to establish what the effect of such changes would be on the modelled flow and modal choices. What this confirmed in many ways is that we are already beyond the point of no return in the 905 — fewer roads causes lots of congestion, but little move to transit because the roads removed from the plan are not in areas well-served by transit. More roads relieve congestion, but cause only a small overall shift away from transit, again because the roads are not competing with most existing transit operations.

    However, these questions remain: How long does it take to fill up the new road capacity and congestion to return to present levels, and what do you do then? Also, remember that even if transit market share goes up only slightly, absolute numbers of trips go up a lot, and much more transit will be needed just to stay at the current share.


  3. Andrew, decentralization is highly unlikely. Fundamentally, people want to live downtown. They want to be able to walk and to bike to something useful and fun around the corner and to take transit for longer trips. New development downtown, and the expansion of downtown densities outwards will only increase with the ongoing rise in the costs of energy and transportation fuel.

    Decentralization would actually increase demands on transit and reduce its modal share, because it introduces greater distances between useful destinations. Great distances encourage the use of cars, because cars are best at accomodating random travel between spread-out destinations. This decreases the use of transit, while at the same time increasing the infrastructure investment needed to provide the same level of transit service.


  4. Leo, I disagree. In the early 80s I believe, Metro Toronto introduced the concept of decentralizing office space and city services offices to nodes on subway & RT lines. For instance, they allowed increased allowable density at Yonge/Eglinton, Scarborough Town Centre, Yonge/North York Centre, Bloor/Islington, and probably some others, to divert the crush of riders coming downtown to work. It worked, as evidenced by the built towers at these nodes, as well as reduction of overcrowding on the Yonge Subway, so much so that the Downtown Relief Line was no longer on the table.

    In addition, a much more balanced flow of passengers resulted on the subway lines at peak hours, heading to those spread out nodes. For instance, I ride the Yonge line north from Bloor every morning, and it’s often standing room only all the way to Finch.

    By the same token (pun intended), the Transit City network of LRT lines promises to attract a lot more riders to the TTC by providing fast and reliable rail transit, which has been shown the world over to attract far more riders than any bus line.


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