Where Should Metrolinx Be Going? (Part 2)

In the first part of this article, I wrote about many of the ancilliary aspects of the transit system and ways to move people around the GTAH.  Active Transportation.  Mobility Hubs.  Transportation Demand Management.  Now it’s time to look at the transportation networks.

When we review the various proposals, it is important to remember that right up to and including the White Paper, the networks were only samples intended as fodder for the demand assignment model.  “Let’s see what happens if we put a line here” is the basis for these exercises, although some knowledge of the overall behaviour of the GTA informs where one draws lines on the trial maps in the first place.

The test cases originated with a group of reports written by IBI as part of the startup of the GTTA, later Metrolinx, called Transportation Trends and Outlook for the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, and the Strategic Transit Directions report within this.

Next came the Metrolinx Green Paper #7 on Transit, followed by White Paper #2.

All of these reports are available on the Metrolinx website.

Strategic Transit Directions

Going back to this report (dated January 29, 2007), I was fascinated by some of the material it contains and how this has, or has not, been reflected in Metrolinx work over the past 18 months.  At the risk of being accused of “cherry picking”, there are important findings in this document.

  • The genesis of the GTTA and of all the studies was the problem of cross-regional travel.  This is the nub of all the arguments about new highways and transit lines, not to mention fare integration.  However, the report found that the largest market for growth in transit use lies in the intra-regional travel (within the regions), not in the trips between the regions.  The latter do grow, but not as quickly.  This is particularly true in the 905 where it appears a rebalancing of the work/live mix in land use assumed by the 2031 projections may aid a rise in trips with local destinations.
  • Local transit must undergo massive improvement both to handle intra-regional demand and to feed the regional commuter system.  “… improvements to local transit systems [are required] in order to realize the benefits of enhanced cross-regional transit and to provide an effective GTAH transit network based on an integrated hierarchy of transit services.” (Page 15)  “A higher order transit network will not be successful without the improvement of surface transit feeding these facilities.” (Page 42)
  • New lines must have stations close enough together to serve local demand because there isn’t enough inter-regional travel to justify subways or other modes with significant infrastructure costs.  “… the trip density of longer trips (greater than 15km) in many travel corridors would be insufficient to support a high level of transit and it must therefore be able to serve shorter trips as well in order to be viable.” (Page 3)
  • Despite the growth in transit, the modal split will remain low on an overall basis with Toronto having the lion’s share of transit usage.  The modal split will only be above 30% for trips to and within Toronto.  Trips between and within the 905 regions will not break into double digits except for Hamilton even though the percentage change will be large.  Congestion problems will be quite severe in the 905 because the vast majority of trips will still be served by car.
  • Building or adding to roads cannot keep pace with development and relieve congestion.  “The continuing expansion of downtown Toronto as an employment centre can only be served by public transit.”  (Page 15)

Updated:  The table of projected transit demand for each region shows that across the GTAH the total number of transit trips will double by 2031 for the most aggressive network with much of the growth coming inside the 416.

The modelled transportation networks predate Transit City and do not contain any of its elements directly.  There is a BRT/LRT route on Eglinton (also referred to as a higher order line at one point in the document with no technology specified), as well as a line in the Finch hydro corridor.  Other major transit changes for the 2031 simulations include various well-known subway extensions on Yonge, Spadina and Sheppard, as well as the SRT to Malvern.  Several new and improved GO rail services provide substantial improvement to the commuter rail system.

There are four networks, and to those familiar with the Metrolinx papers, this will start to sound familiar.

  • The Base Case includes existing and planned routes that were in the pipeline when the report was prepared.
  • A Radial network focuses on commuter rail and subway expansion outward into the 905 from the 416.
  • A Circumferential network adds BRT and LRT lines parallel to the perimeter of the 416 giving various new east-west lines as well as some north-south services in Mississauga.
  • A Combined network merges the elements of the Radial and Circumferential schemes.

Critical to all of them is the concept of a hierarchy of services mentioned above.  Just doing commuter rail or a few busways or one subway doesn’t begin to handle the variety of trips the network as a whole must address.

The projected peak point demands are a bit surprising in places, until one looks at the interaction between various network elements and the assumptions underlying the model.

For the most aggressive of the plans (“Combined”), the peak point demands in 2031 are shown below with the “Base Case” network in parentheses where there is a value for comparison.

  • BD Subway 24,000 (29,500)
  • YUS Subway 46,500 (43,000)
  • Scarborough RT 6,500 (6,000)
  • Sheppard Subway 11,500 (7,000 – shorter version of line)
  • Eglinton 11,500

The number for Eglinton has been used by Metrolinx in its advocacy for something bigger than an LRT line, but oddly enough the City/TTC projections for the same line give a peak demand half the size.  Digging around in the Needs and Opportunies report, I find that the projected total trips to Yonge/Eglinton (transit plus auto) rises from 22,900 in 2001 to 37,100 in 2031. (Page 64)  Where exactly all of these added trips are going is something of a mystery unless the area is about to see massive redevelopment.

The SRT demand projections are lower than the TTC’s but this is easy to understand in a model with a Sheppard Subway extended to STC and new GO service into Agincourt. 

Of particular interest is the big drop in the modelled demand on the Bloor-Danforth Subway.  This implies that the model has shifted north many trips that now use the BD line as the fast crosstown route.  This has been discussed by many contributors to this blog, and I am personally familiar with the benefits of using the BD line, out of the way though it may appear to be for some trips.  (The shift of trips south to the electrified “Super GO” as it was then called is already in the base case which assumes GO electrification and frequent service on the Lakeshore corridor.)

All of these show how important it is to know the underlying assumptions in the demand models, the elements of the network and the projections for population and employment.

In the next part of this series, I will turn to the Metrolinx papers and how they have evolved from the original IBI review.

2 thoughts on “Where Should Metrolinx Be Going? (Part 2)

  1. Hi Steve,

    The following two quotes from the report you cited (“Transportation Trends and Outlook …”) appear contradictory:

    1) “Local transit must undergo massive improvement both to handle intra-regional demand and to feed the regional commuter system.”

    2) “[percentage of transit] Trips between and within the 905 regions will not break into double digits except for Hamilton even though the percentage change will be large.”

    The second quote implies that the modal split for trips between and within the 905 regions will remain below 10%. If so, then maintaining a decent local service frequency would require a huge subsidy. Only the feeder routes for subways or GO lines going into 416 are feasible as frequent services.

    This is a pretty unfortunate conclusion, but it follows from that report.

    Steve: Yes, it is rather sad. When you see modal splits under 10%, it doesn’t look very impressive. One other point I should have mentioned is that there is a big jump in the total number of trips due to population growth. The combined effect of shift to transit and growth in travel overall is the much larger requirement for local service even if the percentage of the market is still small. This is a real conundrum politically because even that growth won’t come without investment in more service, and the political will may be absent to spend money on a small portion of the total demand.

    I have added the table from the IBI report showing the growth in each of the regions to the main section of this post.


  2. Read in the Globe that Metrolinx put a $55B dollar plan together. I didn’t get too many details but this plan includes Transit City and the Move Ontario 2020 plans. This $55B plan also includes lots of highway and road improvements. Looking forward to the details of this plan.

    Steve: See the Globe’s website for the article.


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