Over the next few days, I will attempt to summarize and comment on the main areas of the Metrolinx Draft Draft Regional Transportation Plan. Yes, that is “Draft Draft” because the version now online has not yet been approved by the Metrolinx Board. Once they do that, and any changes are added, it will be the official “Draft” plan. The final plan is to be approved in November for transmittal to Queen’s Park so that this can feed into the budget process for 2009.
For easy reference, I have posted copies of the maps on this site. These are high resolution PDFs.
The full report is available in the agenda for the Metrolinx Board Meeting on September 26. Look for appendix A in items 8 and 9. (Warning: that these are big files.)
The draft report boils a large number of goals down to eight “big moves” to which all component projects are attached, one way or another. These are:
- A fast, frequent and expanded regional rapid transit network.
- A complete walking and cycling network with bike-sharing programs.
- An information system for travellers, where and when they need it.
- A region-wide integrated transit fare system.
- A system of connected mobility hubs.
- High-prder transit connectivity to the Pearson Airport district from all directions.
- A comprehensive strategy for goods movement.
- An Investment Strategy to provide stable and predictable funding.
(Source: Metrolinx THE BIG MOVE Page 19)
I cannot possibly deal with all of these in one post, but there are a few important items that deserve mention right away.
- An “integrated transit fare system” does not require Smart Cards as a pre-requisite. This distinction was made quite clearly in Rob MacIsaac’s presentation both at the press conference, and later today when I asked him to confirm it during the followup briefing. The Presto system will eventually roll out across the GTA, but fare integration can occur before the full implementation of the card. I will talk about this more when I come to financial issues in a later post.
- Mobility hubs are seen not just as glamourous places to transfer between transit lines, but as development nodes and destinations in their own right. Municipalities are expected to create plans for such hubs so that development around major transit stations will support the transit network. Indeed, Metrolinx is quite aggressive in stating the degree to which local municipalities will have to bring their own plans into a supportive role for the regional plan.
- Pearson Airport is now described as a “district”, not just as a place where people go for air travel. This is a vital distinction lost on proponents of Blue 22 (the Toronto Airport Rail Link, or “TARL” as some would have it). The goal of transit is not to serve only travellers, but the large number of people who work at and in the immediate vicinity of the airport.
- Goods movement is a weak link in this plan, not that there is much that can be done without a major investment in roads. To that end, two items are troubling. One is a reference to the need for elimination of gaps and bottlenecks at regional boundaries. If one were paranoid (or simply experienced) one might expect to see a lot of road widening rammed through Toronto’s suburbs on the grounds of regional rationalization. The other, more serious proposal, came only in the verbal presentation where MacIsacc talked about a new rail freight line running in an expressway across the top of the region. The problem is that no such expressway appears on the maps.
- The Investment Strategy pushes hard decisions about funding off for several years with the hope that we can build and open some routes before asking for more funding from tolls, sales taxes, etc. This strategy is clearly political to avoid controversy about “new taxes” and the inevitable fire and brimstone right-wing attack for one if not two provincial election cycles. This may be good politics, but it’s a weak point in the future of the Regional Plan.
Although the report presents 15 and 25-year plans, there is actually another variant, a 7-year plan based on available MoveOntario 2020 funding. The provincial money will, Metrolinx hopes, cover the cost of 15 top priority lines that will be substantially built by 2015.
- VIVA Highway 7 and Yonge Street through York Region
- Brampton’s Queen Street Acceleride
- Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Corporate Centre
- Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill and capacity improvements
- Eglinton rapid transit from Pearson Airport to Scarborough Centre
- Upgrade and extension of the Scarborough Rapid Transit line
- Finch/Sheppard rapid transit from Pearson Airport to Scarborough Centre and Meadowvale
- Express Rail on the Lakeshore Line from Hamilton to Oshawa
- Rapid transit in downtown Hamilton from McMaster University to Centennial Parkway
- Hurontario rapid transit from Port Credit to downtown Brampton
- 403 Transitway from Mississauga City Centre to the Renforth Gateway
- Rail link between Union Station and Pearson Airport
- Rapid transit service along Highway 2 in Durham
- Improvements to existing GO Rail services and extension of GO Rail service to Bowmanville
- Early phases of BRT service on Dundas Street in Halton and Peel
If and when the hoped-for share from Ottawa shows up, this could carry Metrolinx out to about 2018 with further work on MoveOntario.
As several people have pointed out here and on other blogs, notably absent is significant relief for the Yonge Street corridor via commuter rail improvements or additional subway capacity to the core area (the Downtown Relief Line).
Metrolinx fudges the technology issue by lumping a variety of modes into the generic moniker of “rapid transit” including:
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
- Light Rapid Transit (LRT)
- Automated Guideway Transit (AGT, of which the Scarborough RT is an example)
This continues in the best tradition of provincial bafflegab where we take a term everyone understands to mean “subway” and restyle it as something else. This allows Metrolinx to talk about the large proportion of the GTA population that will live within 2km of “rapid transit”. This is misleading and should be fixed. (The last time this sort of subterfuge happened, we got “Advanced Light Rapid Transit” as the name for the RT which is not “LRT” by the fundamental definition that it requires a dedicated right-of-way.)
Other possible transit modes include:
- Express Rail (high speed, electrified commuter rail service with frequent headway and high capacity)
- Regional Rail (GO Transit, but with more frequent service)
A big issue with these names (and their descriptions) is that their claimed abilities cover a very wide range, and no distinction is made, for example, between “BRT” that is little more than a reserved curb lane for buses, and “BRT” that is a dedicated highway with multilane stations.
Environmental and congestion issues came up for question today because it is unclear how much less, if at all, these problems will be in 25 years’ time. The common problem to these and other network issues is the expected 50% growth in population of the GTA over this period. The amount of additional travel this represents more than makes up for the shift of riders to transit. The transit modal share is predicted to rise from 16.5% to 26.2%, but the number of AM peak trips will go up from 467,000 to 1.1-million. This will require more than twice the transit capacity across the region even though less than 1/3 of the trips will be by transit.
[Note to people wondering where I got that figure: From the Metrolinx report, we know the transit modal share and count of trips, and it is easy to work backwards to get the total trip count and the non-transit trips. These rise by about 1/3 and I strongly doubt they have all taken up cycling or jogging.]
Congestion impacts and costs are tricky to predict because one must consider not only the nominal cost of one’s time sitting in traffic, but also the extra fuel cost and impact and the mobility implications of trips not taken because they are impractical. Even with all of the added transit riding, peak car trips will rise by about 1/3 (offset partly, but not completely, by increased occupancy) and this inevitably means more congestion, not less. This will likely be more severe in the 905 areas where much of the travel cannot easily be diverted to transit and the modal split, though improved, will remain low.
An important consideration with the Draft RTP is that it is not intended as a definitive plan, but only “conceptual”. Recommended alignments and technologies are to be refined through “project-level Benefits Case Analysis”. We have just managed to get the Environmental Assessment process, for better or worse, down to six months, and this added analysis bodes yet another source of delay if Metrolinx, the municipalities and the transit systems cannot agree on the terms of the analysis.
This bears directly on the technology controversy for Eglinton Avenue where an AGT scheme is not dead, merely lurking in the shadows. Although the official demand projections for this line have not been published, I understand that once the corridor was properly configured in the model (reasonable speed and station spacing for a more local service), the projected demand fell well into LRT range roughly matching the TTC and City of Toronto’s own figures.
Alas, Metrolinx seems to be fixated on a cross-Toronto AGT corridor. Rob MacIsaac can honestly say “we are not going to build a subway on Eglinton”, but that’s not the question. A line of that size, including a retrofitted and extended SRT, would make a plum contract for a proprietary technology vendor whether we actually need it or not.
Some Transit City proposals are also up for refinement. On the Sheppard-Finch corridor, alternatives are to be studied including:
- Westward extension of the Sheppard subway to Downsview.
- Connection of the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects via Don Mills. This obviously implies an eastern extension of the Finch LRT line for which detailed study would be needed, as well as completion of at least the northern part of the Don Mills line which is not in the 7-year plan.
The Metrolinx Board has a critical role as all of this rolls forward through “Draft” to “Final” stage. MacIsaac, when asked about possible changes based on public feedback, allowed that the extensive consultation to date indicates that Metrolinx is basically on the right track, and they don’t expect to make major changes.
My view is rather different. Metrolinx has already said that it’s a conceptual plan that will need refinement, and in all of those details lie many controversies. Plans that look good on paper today will inevitably change to meet local and regional requirements, and it is vital that we not lock in to a new set of “stone tablets” with an immutable plan. Particularly in the short term as we shift from a road-oriented region to transit and as we move from ad hoc project funding to sustained capital and operating revenue, the plan will need to evolve. This is not to say we study everything to death, but equally we don’t want to fight battles in 2020 about lines that made sense only in the context of late 2008.
Things change. The fact that we even have a draft Regional Plan is a big step, but it needs to go somewhere and receive support, not sit with the many other grand schemes on every planner’s shelf. That’s the real challenge for Metrolinx.
(In future posts, I will turn to specific areas of the draft plan as well as the investment strategy.)