A Tale of Two Maps

Two days ago, Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee approved both the Environmental Assessment Report for the Sheppard East LRT and an Official Plan Amendment extending the scope of the transit corridor east on Sheppard to match the LRT line.

Scarborough Councillors popped the Champagne corks, or at least sparkling water, and I got an invitation to talk about the significance of the occasion on Metro Morning.

This should be a big event — approval of the first leg in a suburban LRT network.  Back in 1972, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee fought to save what we now call the “legacy” system as a base for suburban expansion, and I have waited a very, very long time for this day.

Over the decades, a combination of Provincial meddling in transit and local subway megalomania  stymied transit’s ability to keep up with, let alone form suburban growth.  All the planning mantras about leading development with transit from the sixties and seventies are little more than quaint memories.

Finally, early in 2007, the TTC and City announced the Transit City plan for a network of seven new LRT lines.  Work began immediately on detailed studies, and three EAs are already underway with the Sheppard Line’s being the first to come up for approval.  The Don Mills study recently had a round of public meetings, and the Eglinton study will roll out in the fall.  Add to these the non-TC projects in the eastern waterfront and the Kingston Road study, not to mention proposals outside of Toronto, and there’s a lot of LRT on the table.

But wait — don’t start buying your LRT souvenir kits yet. 

Once again, Queen’s Park, this time in the guise of Metrolinx, is poised to derail LRT planning in Toronto.  In their White Paper on regional transit options, two of the three test networks show a “Metro” on Sheppard from Downsview to the Scarborough Town Centre, and on Eglinton from Kennedy to the Airport.  So much for two of the critical, top priority Transit City lines.  If this goes ahead, we will be left a much less extensive, fragmented LRT network.  That’s a recipe for going nowhere fast.

Metrolinx has concocted a new term “Metro”, but doesn’t really tell us what it is.  Word leaking out of Metrolinx suggests that it may mean, on Eglinton at least, an underground “RT” line.  This is extremely troubling because the projected demand on Eglinton is way below that needed to justify RT technology, and this has all the earmarks of yet another sweetheart deal for Bombardier. 

Even though the public meetings for Eglinton have not started, we already know from statements by the TTC that the underground portion will be built to accommodate future conversion to full subway.  Personally, I think this is excessive, but given the cost and upheaval of underground construction, better this be done at the outset.

Eglinton’s big advantage as LRT is that it can surface in the outer sections and greatly lower construction costs.  It can also interline with other routes including Jane and an airport-to-downtown service if we ever break the stranglehold Blue-22 has on the Weston corridor.  As RT, it’s a one-of, albeit a big one-of.

A major problem with the whole Metrolinx process is that it operates completely outside of the normal assessment protocol for municipal projects.  We still don’t have projected demand figures for individual parts of their test networks, and so have no indication of which components make the greatest contribution to better transit usage and connectivity.  How can there be technology selections without knowing what the lines will actually achieve?

Of course, Queen’s Park is good at this sort of thing having foisted the Toronto-York subway on us, and probably a Richmond Hill line for good measure.  Publishing demand estimates for the entire network might be just a tad embarrassing.  Metrolinx would also have to explain why their demand estimates are so much different from the TTC’s and why they chose different technologies for specific corridors.

Metrolinx is fond of public consultation, but the overwhelming purpose seems to be to validate work they have already done, not to direct its future.  By the time of recent “stakeholder meetings”, it was clear that the “test cases” were the basis for whatever was going into the draft Regional Plan if only because they had such little time and resources to try out alternatives.  Anyone who knows how reports get written in the public sector (or private for that matter) can work backward from the target publication date to a point where, for all practical purposes, major changes are impossible.  That date passed at least a month ago.

If there is one thing Metrolinx seems to be good at, it’s proposing that we spend lots and lots and lots of money.  In the current setting, the feeling seems to be that we have a transportation crisis and we have to spend our way out of it. 

Spending money as a transit policy is nothing new.  David Peterson’s Liberals announce a “subway in every borough” plan that even the TTC didn’t know about just before they were defeated by the NDP.  The Sheppard subway, originally omitted from the mix because of its cost, was reinstated to make the total dollar value look credible as an election goody.

The NDP inherited this plan and seized on it as a job creation process for the construction industry as the early 1990s recession set in.  They were totally uninterested in looking at lower cost alternatives.

Oddly enough, even Metrolinx acknowledges that just building more transit isn’t enough, and we will have to fundamentally change the way people think about travel (and the travel demand itself) to achieve Provincial targets in reduced emissions.

Some of this will come from technological change — the demise of the gas guzzler — and some from the ownership and use of fewer cars per household.  Some will come from long term changes in land use and travel patterns, but this sort of thing takes decades to make an impact.

Meanwhile, Metrolinx proposes spending tens of billions on transit, mainly on regional services and infrastructure, but misses the most important component, local systems.  A transit trip starts at the front door and the local bus stop, and much better local service is essential to make transit a real alternative to car travel in most of the GTAH.

After transit became politically important with the demise of the Spadina Expressway, we had one plan after another that would spend billions on projects of dubious value, most of which were never built.  They succeeded only in convincing people that the transit alternative was too expensive and unreliable.  Metrolinx can build a good network or they can build an expensive network, but I have yet to see how they will marry the two concepts in a network that is an effective use of capital and operating funds.

Creative accounting is another potential boondoggle for Metrolinx in which we might finance transit lines by having the private sector build them and lease them back to us, possibly even operate them.  Until now, capital debt costs (or long term lease arrangements) that are carried by municipal or provincial budgets have not shown up on transit operator’s budgets as a yearly expense to be recouped from subsidy or from riders.  We must be very careful not to so burden transit with a huge debt (whatever we call it) that we cannot afford to operate the service.

Only yesterday, I sat in the Metro Morning studio as Michael Hlinka talked about the decline of the auto industry and the possible bankruptcy of General Motors.  This has big implications for Ontario’s ability to finance a big transit network.  We could spend all our money on a few lines with the maximum vote-getting potential.  We could choose technologies because the vendor has a shiny brochure rather than because they are appropriate.  And we will be right back where the last decades have brought us with a transit system that cannot serve, let alone attract, the vast majority of potential customers.

There are two maps, two visions of where Toronto’s transit should go.  Transit City should have been part of the Official Plan, but thanks to interagency politics it wasn’t.  In a way we were lucky because the prevailing wisdom at the time was heavily subway-oriented.  Now, with Metrolinx, it’s almost as if Transit City never happened.  Yes, some of the lines are still there, but I’m not convinced that Metrolinx really understands what they were supposed to do or how an LRT network could work.

My fear for all the people on Sheppard East who might ride the LRT four years from now is that they will wait a very long time thanks to a ham-fisted regional agency that would rather build big and bold than build well.

19 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Maps

  1. For the most part i agree but i see one proposal that might be actually a smart one.

    If an ALRT Vehicle is built along the Eglington corridor, it can still remain relatively cheap AND it can curve north and continue as the Scarborough RT. Imagine an ALRT line that is no longer useless because it curves from E-W to N-S at Kennedy station and continues on into Scarborough. The line would have to be underground from Kennedy to about Victoria Park. From just west of Vic Park, the line can be elevated in the large area south of Eglinton avenue and continue on in that form (Anyone who’s seen Eglinton avenue knows that there is plenty of free open space from Laird to West of Vic Park or atleast along Eglinton) all the way to Laird Dr where it would go underground.

    Then from around West of Jane the line can be put on an embankment along the Richview Expressway corridor and continue to the airport. I’m quite sure that was the plan if the LRT was proposed since the only cost is a few overpasses at major intersections along Eglinton West.

    The only major increase in Capital for this proposal would be from Vic Park to Kennedy to go underground (Which is only a few kilometers) but if you factor in the advantage of having the seamless integration into the existing scarborough RT, i think it is well worth it.

    Add in the benefit of having subway level platforms for the Scarborough RT (which probably will not require conversion anyways) and that problem is also solved.

    The rest of Transit City should stick the way it is, but i really see a major benefit in making the Eglington LRT into an ALRT because of its unique corridor that has lots of free land on the Western portion (Jane to Airport) and the eastern connection that can be made with the existing SRT.

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  2. Why not try a little reverse psychology? If you want Eglinton to be built as LRT, go out and advocate that it be built as a full six-car four-track subway line with express and local stations. Then, they’ll do the opposite. At least, it always seems that you’re advocating one thing and they’re doing the opposite.

    Steve jumps in: Only four tracks? What about the anywhere to anywhere junctions with the Yonge and Spadina subways? We always need flexibility in operations, even if we never actually use it. Pesky problems like supporting high rise towers during construction are only minor impediments.

    With respect to Sheppard E. as the first LRT line, you have to admit this move is totally political and intended to kill any possibility of an eastward Sheppard Subway extension fast. Based on need, Finch should have went first. But, from a network connectivity standpoint, connecting the Sheppard subway from Downsview to STC makes sense, especially with the two northward extensions of YUS. Folks from Richmond Hill and Vaughan will have subway service to STC with just one transfer.

    Even though I’m pro-subway, I have to admit that Metrolinx’s subway plans are not very well thought out. For starters, this is not 1962. BD was built from Islington to Warden in only 6 years … SIX. And, actually, it was supposed to be five, with a full opening by 1967.

    Building a subway today on Eglinton from the airport to Kennedy would take, what, 20+ years? And even if we did that, we would need a north-south spur off it going downtown (think of the original Bloor-Danforth-University concept).

    Finally, what’s the basis of building Eglinton with ICTS? … so that it can be linked up with the SRT? And why build the underground section to subway standards? Nobody is ever going to close that line for years to upgrade it.

    Steve: I am amazed that an ICTS proposal can surface, so to speak, that will never be challenged on questions of capacity or tunnel size, but perish the thought an LRT might not be upgradable to a full subway. It’s a double standard, and shows where the real sympathies lie.

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  3. I agree with you steve, and I disagree at the same time. You are right that we need a network in order to have a system that works, but I must say that I think you are wrong, IMHO, when you make references to “empty” subways on ‘finished’ eglinton or sheppard lines. With gas prices possibly hitting $2 before too long, I think that the idea of a mass-shift from cars to buses is not out of this world. If the TTC is to see massive ridership growth it will need ways to move those people. I’m curious what 1974 ridership numbers were at finch. I know that today, in rush, trains arrive/leave Finch station already with a healthy standing load. Just because an eglinton subway might not crush load itself in 2012, does not mean it will not in 2032, or even 2022.

    Where the real problem comes is on places like the Yonge line where we are already stretched to the limit. An 8% capacity increase will mean little if we get 25% more riders by that time. What we need is not transit city OR more subways, it’s transit city AND more subways. The government can either pony up, or watch the province die from it’s lack of action on transportation.

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  4. Call me crazy, but I almost think that having Bombardier as the inevitable winner of the Toronto LRV contract may work out in favour of LRT technology. The provincial government (and, by extension, Metrolinx) is interested in preserving heavy industry jobs by any means possible. Since Bombardier will win the initial Toronto LRV contract, it is highly likely that they will be sole-sourced for any future Transit City orders due to convenience. If the province supports TransitCity++, they basically have a huge order guaranteed for Bombardier, and even more so if Metrolinx decides to interline with new LRT services in the regions.

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  5. Steve said: I am amazed that an ICTS proposal can surface …

    The only thing I can think of is that someone at “Metrojinx” has a “thing” for the RT cars. “Oh, they’re so tiny and cute!”.

    You’ll know they’re really serious about an RT line on Eglinton when they pull out my yellowed 1981 Toronto Sun contest entry for ICTS’ name … “the holly trolley”.

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  6. I can see why Metrolinx is in favour of a Sheppard extension, given that the Agincourt GO station seems to be an important part of their plans.

    However why can’t we have both? Build the Sheppard East LRT pretty much as designed (worse-case scenario, start it at Victoria Park), running in 2012. And let Metrolinx build the Sheppard subway extension, with stops at Consumers, Victoria Park, Agincourt (interchange to LRT and GO), and Scarborough Town Centre … opening in 2020 or later east of Victoria Park. The subway doesn’t impact the value of the LRT, and can have much fewer stations.

    And if Metrolinx really, really wants to build a subway down Eglinton, then let them and build an LRT down Lawrence. Or York Mills/Ellesmere. Or Steeles. Or St. Clair East …

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  7. The longer they dawdle on any decision (and this is not to say, OK choose RT and build the damn thing, because let’s face it RT is transit’s version of the SUV), the longer people will NOT abandon their cars, even if gas goes to $3.00 a liter or higher. Where are the planner’s brains? It would be so nice if they got over territorial disputes regarding planning, and that’s exactly what this is, a case of “if it’s not our idea we ain’t funding it”.

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  8. Politics as usual. When will the politicians ever learn how to build an effective transit system, not just one that wastes millions of dollars to “help the construction industry” or “create jobs” to create a couple kilometers of underused subway? I am starting to wonder if it is even possible for politicians to construct an effective transit system given their conflicting goals of winning votes and getting reelected. We have not properly invested in rapid transit since the early 1970s. Perhaps we should give private enterprise a try? Private enterprise is not very susceptible to political influence and so it has the potential to be far more efficient than public ownership. It does have the potential for problems, as anyone who has been to London will attest, but it can be very successful (think Hong Kong).

    Steve: Pardon my wild laughter. Private enterprise is only interested in transit if they can make lots of money, preferably with no risk at all. Anything that will be built in Toronto will only get built because governments chose to spend money on it. We could have the worst of both worlds where facilities are overbuilt, or built in the wrong place, at public expense, and then a “private” operator comes in to make a profit operating the system without the little burden of actually having to pay for it.

    Private enterprise not susceptible to political influence? Private enterprise IS political influence. That’s where subsidies and tax breaks come from.

    HK is successful because there is the population density to support profitable transit regardless of who runs it.

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  9. What in the name of Frank J. SPRAGUE is going on here? ICTS Along Eglinton? I just don’t believe it! I’m not as against ICTS as you are, Steve, BUT using it for Eglinton is totally insane. Even though I’m somewhat more for subways than you are there’s absolutely no way in Hell I could ever disagree with you on being against RT technology for Eglinton. I’ve been perfectly content to have an LRT tunnel which can be upgraded to full subway use down the pike. I can hardly wait to see what to see what this illustrious Metrostinx(lol) cooks up next. How about a swan boat ride down the Don and Humber Rivers?

    Steve: Metrolinx would never implement Swan Boats because none of the “professional” consultants would recommend them.

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  10. There is one reason, and one reason alone, that Eglinton should not be a continuation of the existing ICTS – track guage. Use of the standard guage as found on the Scarborough RT would prevent use of any other TTC rail equipment, at the very least service vehicles and test gear. This would ensure that the line was never converted to anything else ever and would be the most significant barrier to network connectivity. It would also drive the start-up and maintenance costs through the roof relative to the resource-sharing possible with the other technologies.

    One scary thought is that this could be used as a justification for the pending renewal costs of the current and north-eastward extention of the Scarborough section. Creative accounting indeed!

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  11. Loading gauge would be the more likely issue to watch for – I would imagine relaying the track to the proper width would be trivial in the costs of a conversion such as contemplated above.

    As for standard gauge, my opinion is that the TTC has an opportunity here to start moving to standard gauge for TC/Metrolinx lines and yards – especially since ICTS is being retained in Scarborough. But why waste an opportunity to add complexity to a TTC order?

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  12. ALRT / ICTS is not a good choice for Eglinton. If ALRT can run on elevated guideways, so can regular LRT.

    Speed and capacity will be similar, but the LRT choice will allow: route interlining; service linkage between other parts of the TC network; ability to shift the cars between Eglinton and other TC routes as needed; likely, cheaper procurement due to volume discounts.

    Regarding the HRT subways on Eglinton and / or Sheppard E, those may be considered, but only if the provincial goverment can guarantee the funding both for those subway lines (full length) and the remaining Transit City LRT routes. Otherwise, the funding might sease at some point as the economy weakens, leaving us with a couple of subway extentions and perhaps a new stubway along a portion of Eglinton, but no transit improvements in other parts of the city.

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  13. Small point Rainforest – ICTS does not preclude interlining, or at least not in Vancouver. They do do things differently on the Left Coast so we can’t rule out that TTC would find a way to stymie an interlining implementation here. The procurement item might also be a wash depending on where an Eglinton order would be tacked on the SRT order.

    The way to keep capacity of Eglinton core within LRT levels is to ensure the alternatives to funnelling into the Yonge Line are present and effective – Don Mills, Richmond Hill Line Eglinton GO, extending St. Clair to Jane etc.

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  14. Well, an ICTS route can interline with another ICTS route. But the planned Eglinton’s connections are mostly LRT (Don Mills, Jane, Kingston Rd – Scarborough East), hence interlining with those would be most useful.

    I am very curious to see what happens on the Richmond Hill GO line. With frequent service, that would be a substantial relief for Yonge subway. However, some say that the Richmond Hill cannot be easily double-tracked, and that would limit the frequency, especially with the freight trains competing for the track as well.

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  15. Mark Dowling wrote, “…ensure the alternatives to funnelling into the Yonge Line are present and effective – Don Mills, Richmond Hill Line Eglinton GO…”

    An ideal connection could be made about 400 metres east of where Eglinton passes over Wynford Drive by adding a station on the Richmond Hill GO line where it passes under Eglinton.

    Rainforest wrote, “some say that the Richmond Hill cannot be easily double-tracked, and that would limit the frequency, especially with the freight trains competing for the track as well”

    This line is already double tracked where it has to share track time with freight traffic (Doncaster diamond to Richmond Hill). It could be argued that frequent enough service might require a third track. Any extension northward (possibly as far as Vandorf) would require double tracking, which is easily done on that part of the line.

    The significant work would be at Doncaster where a grade-separated crossing with CN’s York Subdivision would be necessary. If all-day service were to be more frequent than 90-minutes, an additional passing location would be needed somewhere south of Oriole, but full double tracking would not be necessary.

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  16. @ Calvin Henry-Cotnam

    Thanks for the info regarding the Richmond Hill line.

    So, you are saying that there is no significant freight traffic south of Doncaster diamond, towards Eglinton and Union? That makes the prospects better.

    However, wouldn’t double-tracking be required anyway for a really frequent passenger service? Perhaps 30-min or even 20-min headways can be sustained with passing locations. But if the goal is to meaningfully relieve the Yonge subway, headways in the 10-min range or better would be needed.

    Steve: Indeed, if you believe the Metrolinx “Test Case”, the Richmond Hill line could be down below 10 minutes as a quasi-subway. Maybe someone from their team should ride the train once or twice to see what the right-of-way looks like.

    Also at that sort of headway on Richmond Hill and Lake Shore, there would be major issues with Union Station. People who only draw lines on maps don’t worry about little details like this.

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  17. Rainforest asked, “you are saying that there is no significant freight traffic south of Doncaster diamond, towards Eglinton and Union?”

    There is virtually none. There used to be regular runs down to York Mills, where the Leaside line branched off, but now that this line is gone, that need went with it. I can’t say if there is any industries remaining that receive any cars on a regular basis, but the only other possible freight traffic would be emergency re-routing on the odd rare occasion. The line is used by VIA’s Canadian (6 trains per week) and OnRail’s Northlander (12 trains per week).

    Aside from Steve’s comments regarding the problems at Union with 10-minute service, I would suggest looking at ‘frequent’ commuter rail service in other cities. Outside of rush hours, 20-30 minute headways are not uncommon. In the case of the RH GO line as an alternative to the Yonge Subway, it is the peak service that is bursting Yonge at its seams – there is plenty of capacity outside of this on the subway. The key in a more integrated system where the two lines complement it would be to provide a convenient way for one who takes one in one direction to take the other for the return trip. This would involve not only an equivalent fare, but also a convenient way to start and end in the same location. Perhaps with a shuttle bus.

    In the early 90’s, I worked downtown with a colleague from Newmarket who took GO. Back then, there was one train per day, but there was bus service that took the same fare. The trouble was, the bus station was as far west of Yonge Street as the train station was east, making it difficult to go out on one and return on the other – and that was with one single agency!

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  18. I cannot believe that ICTS is back. They wouldn’t let it die in Scarborough. Enough already.

    I have a bad feeling that by 2020 all we’ll get is two subway extentions to Vaughn and Richmond Hill, the Sheppard LRT and new cars for the Scarborough RT by 2020. I think the Eglinton and Don Mills lines will be held up for years due to one being a subway (or ICTS) and one being a potential DT relief line.

    Steve, when do you estimate the EAs will begin for the Jane, Malvern and Finch lines?

    Steve: I don’t think you will see these EAs until sometime next year as they are considered part of the second tier of Transit City. Also, who knows how Metrolinx may mess things up.

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  19. Come to think of it, perhaps Metrolinx is just interested in looking at all the alternatives, LRT and otherwise just to make sure that LRT is the best thing for Toronto after all. In the good old U.S. of A. when Uncle Sam-I-Am(anyone who remembers the book Green Eggs and Ham from their childhood will know where I got this one from) doles out the moolah, the transit agency on the receiving end MUST look at several alternatives before pushing on with the desired mode to be built. That being said, I am firmly convinced that while Eglinton may well not need a full subway now or anytime in the near future, if and when the need for a full subway ever develops depends on how much of a role the underground segment of the LRT plays in attracting riders with most likely faster running compared to any surface street running anywhere on the TC network or legacy network and also what kind and level of development or redevelopment occurs or is allowed to occur. One thing I know for sure is that if I were an apartment, condominium, office, or retail developer of major magnitude, I’d be licking my chops like nobody in his or her right mind would ever believe at the possibilities around every last unerground station along Eglinton and wouldn’t care if whether that tunnel was LRT or full subway. In fact for all I’d care the TTC could buy back every still-existing pre-CLRV streetcar ever to turn a wheel in Toronto to run underground version of the F line in San Francisco. My goal would be to make anything I build to render a fulll subway absolutely necessary. Quite an aspiration, don’t you think?

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