Where Would a Queen Subway Go?

This post is intended to continue the thread of historical background to the problem of threading a Downtown Relief Line from the Danforth Subway into downtown Toronto.  It is not intended to endorse a specific alignment, but to show the sort of problems that existed 40 years ago and which remain today.

Back in June 1968, the TTC considered a report about an interim Queen Street streetcar subway and a later subway line.  (The linked version of this report has been scanned as text and formatted by me rather than leaving it as page images, but the content is identical.) This contains a number of observations of interest.

  • At this point, the alignment from Queen north was designed to connect with Greenwood Yard as a full subway.  This would be changed many years later to a Pape alignment south to Eastern for a possible ICTS/RT yard.
  • An interim arrangement with a streetcar subway from roughly Sherbourne to Spadina was examined, but it was thought that in the long term, the demand in the Queen and King Street corridors would exceed the capability of streetcar operations.  In hindsight, this is a rather large case of overestimation of future demand.
  • Construction of the Sherbourne Portal would be possible because the buildings on the north side of Queen had recently been demolished to make way for Moss Park.
  • Conversion of a streetcar subway to a full high-platform rapid transit line was considered to be difficult.
  • An alignment south of Queen Street was considered impractical because of the buildings that would have to be underpinned or demolished.
  • An alignment directly under Queen Street would probably require cut-and-cover construction with associated disruption due to soil conditions.  The possibility of more advanced tunneling methods is mentioned.
  • Widening Queen Street is considered an option because, in the good old days, tearing down buildings was the thing to do.  This would not play out quite so favourably as an option today.  The buildings are part of a vital streetscape.
  • An alignment behind the north side properties was considered, although it would still involve considerable building acquisition and demolition.
  • A study by the Metro Planning Department suggested that in the west, the line might travel northwest via the CN corridor to the vicinity of Islington Avenue.
  • The projected cost of the line is in the range of $25-million per mile, or $16-million per km.
  • The report confirms that structural provision exists at Osgoode Station for an east-west subway line.

I have also included here a scan of a drawing showing a possible alignment from Donlands Station south and west to the Broadview (this is labelled “north alignment”, but this portion is substantially the same for all variants).

donlandslegcSeveral points are worth noting from this drawing.

  • The tunnel would pass under Eastern High School and through an existing residential neighbourhood.
  • The alignment would require the demolition of a large number of vintage buildings along Queen Street.
  • The curve south to west begins at Dundas and Alton and ends at Queen and Jones.  This gives an indication of the swath that any subway curve will cut through a neighbourhood, and I commend this to those readers who propose lines with hairpin turns.
  • A curve from Pape onto the rail corridor would be less severe, although not without impacts, because it would not be a full 90 degree turn.  (Pape is the north-south street just to the right of the obscured part of the street grid at the top of the page.)

As I said at the outset, I am publishing this to provide context for the discussion on this site.  The planned construction of the Richmond Hill subway extension and the demand it will add to the Yonge line has side-effects that must be addressed.  None of the options is simple, but we need to understand what they all are and how elements of them might be chosen or omitted from the solution.

Where Would a Don Mills Subway Go?

There has been a lot of discussion here about potential alignments for the eastern leg of a downtown relief line.  On occasion I have mentioned a route rather different from the commonly discussed one via Pape, the Leaside Bridge and Overlea, and I am sure this has caused some confusion.

One advantage of having been at this transit advocacy business for a long time is that I have a long memory and archives to match.  For your delectation, here is a proposed route from Don Mills and Eglinton to downtown.  It is a TTC Subway Construction Department drawing dated December 12, 1973.


A few things worth noting about this drawing:

The route north from Danforth is via Donlands, not Pape.  This provides access to Greenwood yard via the connection shown.  It also aligns the route further east to simplify the valley crossing north of O’Connor.

The route passes through the middle of Thorncliffe Park and proceeds north to Eglinton.  This is more or less the sort of alignment I have been talking about for the east leg of a DRL (or, for that matter, for the Don Mills LRT if it came south of Eglinton).

Two alternative alignments from the CNR line to Queen are shown.  One goes straight south while the other runs along the rail corridor.  Going west along Queen brings its own problems, and these were discussed in an earlier, 1968 report that I will present in a separate post.  (Please don’t clutter up the comments thread here with questions about that part of the alignment.  You will get your chance.)

I present this information mainly so that people can see that the idea of a subway to Eglinton and Don Mills is hardly new, and it’s not even mine — I simply resurrected an old TTC concept.  When we discuss transit plans, it is useful to know some of the history.

Buses on Streetcar Routes?

The CBC this morning carried an item reporting that the TTC would begin running buses on streetcar routes to relieve crowding.  Chair Adam Giambrone was quoted as saying that cars don’t get out of the yard due to “safety” problems such as dashboard heaters failing and causing windows to fog up.

Sigh.  That’s this week’s excuse.  Things are getting bad when the best that Giambrone can trot out is that chestnut “safety” that is a catch-all excuse in the same league as “congestion” and “TTC culture”.  The real problem is that the TTC has been hiding reliability problems with the streetcar fleet for years, and needed service improvements don’t show up because they don’t have enough working cars.  The problem has been masked because at least one carline has been under construction for most of the last five years.

Next week, a new schedule comes into play on Queen with less, yes less service than today.  The reason?  The operators need even more layover time (strangely only on weekday schedules but not in the evening), and the TTC comes up with this by stretching the headways.

Management’s refusal to undertake a restructuring of the line, to break it into separate components that don’t have an immense round trip and a corresponding need for layovers, is getting quite trying.  The use of relief crews at Russell Division works in the east end because the carhouse is near the end of the line, but a completely different scheme is needed in the west for Long Branch bound cars.

If we are going to start busing streetcar lines, then let’s stop running inadequate service to handle the demand on the routes.  Stop telling us about average loads that are within standards when news reports include clips of people complaining about huge gaps and crowded cars.

Thanks to inaction on streetcar reliability, riders will have to put up with ongoing problems for three years until the new fleet begins to arrive.  Even that is dependent on funding, and I am not convinced that the streetcar fleet will survive the many demands for new money in Ottawa and Queen’s Park.  Is this the beginning of the end?  A fate like the trolleybus network that was allowed to deteriorate beyond the point of no return?

Service Changes for January 2009 (Updated)

Updated December 29:  The January 2009 Service Summary is now available online.

January 2009 brings a small number of service changes notably on the streetcar system.  Many of these address overcrowding problems during the off-peak (there are no spare cars for peak period requirements).

Of particular interest are the changes on 501 Queen.

The weekday schedules will be adjusted by adding running time and stretching the headways during both peak periods and midday.  The alleged purpose of this change is to improve trip reliability.  Whether this will simply mean that even longer layovers will be available at both ends of the line remains to be seen.

Given the length of the Queen route, the TTC needs to move away from laying over cars to laying over operators by way of scheduled breaks at Russell and Roncesvalles carhouses.  Ad hoc changes to line management are in place at Russell, but still not at Roncesvalles.

I have requested the CIS data for December 2008 and January 2009 for Queen (and related routes) in order to investigate whether there has been any improvement due to recent and pending schedule changes. 

Meanwhile, the service improvements on Saturday and Sunday address crowding that shows up even on the averages, never mind when the service is erratic.  It wasn’t your imagination, there just were not enough cars on the line for the demand.

Where Is The Wellesley Bus?

Over the past week, two people have commented to me about trying to use the 94 Wellesley bus and just giving up.  Among the complaints I have heard are:

  • The printed timetables are completely meaningless.
  • Gaps of over half an hour in the peak period occur.

This is quite different from the rosy view the TTC system had in the wake of November’s service improvements.  Looking at the Scheduled Service Summary I see that the headways are supposed to be:

  • AM Peak:  12′ between Ossington  and Wellesley Stations, 6′ east to Castle Frank
  • Midday:  10′
  • PM Peak:  16′ between Ossington and Wellesley Stations, 8′ east to Castle Frank
  • Early evening:  13′
  • Late evening every day:  15′
  • Saturday early morning:  17′
  • Saturday afternoon:  12′
  • Weekend early evening:  16’40”
  • Sunday daytime:  18′

What is ironic here is that the PM peak service west of Yonge is worse than it is during most other operating periods.  On top of this, if a bus is missing or short turned, a gap of over half an hour results.

I know it’s a lot to expect that there are hundreds (tens?) of Wellesley bus riders reading this blog, but if you have some service horror stories of this or other routes, please let me know.  We need to ensure that the TTC is actually operating its services properly, and not just the ones that had recent improvements.

A Question of Station Capacity (Update 1)

Update 1:  December 28, 5:15 pm:

I have received a note pointing out that a second entrance program is in progress for various stations regardless of the building code requirement for a “trigger” condition (the addition of substantial load to the demand in the station).

The reports in question are from 2004 and 2005.  The 2005 report deals with College, Wellesley, Museum and Castle Frank.  The work at Castle Frank is underway now.  Museum was to get a second exit through the vent shaft at the south end of the station, but this work was put on hold because it was to be funded as part of the condo project on the Planetarium site that was cancalled.

Original post follows with amendments:

“James” sent in a comment in the Richmond Hill subway thread that deserves to start a discussion of its own.


Perhaps this comment belongs back in your thread on Bloor-Yonge renovations….

But since that seems to be the dominant line of discussion here….

Your arguments are persuasive on the need to build a DRL (something I already supported); but further, to build it prior to either a major Yonge line extension, or a massive Bloor-Yonge overhaul.

However, I think everyone can accept that Bloor-Yonge, as it is today, requires more space, and improved passenger flows just to cope with existing traffic; and it will likely need that even if a DRL is built. Though, one hopes a less drastic solution might be feasible.

Which brings me to the Steve question of the day. Given the need for capacity/flow improvements and for the renovation for aesthetic and state-of-good-repair reasons of the Yonge portion of Bloor-Yonge…. What if any improvements could the TTC make to this station that would be of moderate expense, and less disruption, in the immediate future?

This post deals primarily with the south end of the Yonge line, but the topic is a generic one for both existing and future stations:  providing the ability for passengers to move around within the stations.  Stations exist to move people, not just trains. Continue reading

Richmond Hill or Bust? The Yonge Subway Extension (Part 3)

Posts in this thread have examined the general design proposed for the Richmond Hill subway and the many demand estimates for this line.  Now I will turn to the impact of this line on the larger network.

As many have pointed out in comments to the previous items, the Spadina/VCC extension was supposed to offload the Yonge subway.  We now know, according to the TTC’s estimates, that the effect will be a reduction of less than 10% of the existing demand southbound at the peak point, Wellesley Station.  Meanwhile, the availability of a competing subway line in the established Yonge Street corridor will attract many more riders.

The TTC manages a rabbit-in-the-hat trick by claiming that demand relative to capacity on the subway in 2017 will be the same as it is today thanks to Spadina diversion and more commodious trains.  That’s a very big, very fat rabbit, and I suspect it’s more of a canard.

Development will continue in York Region, and if anything the availability of frequent transit service, both on GO and on the TTC, will offset any effect that long-term increases in energy costs and commuting might have on travel demand and the decision to live far out of the core area.  Demand will grow on the subway both from the 905 and from within the 416. Continue reading

Richmond Hill or Bust? The Yonge Subway Extension (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the general layout of the Richmond Hill subway extension.  Now I will turn to the question of demand on the new and existing portions of the Yonge line.

Information on current and projected demands is very hard to nail down.  Transit agencies have a bad habit of fiddling the demand models to produce the results they want depending on available funding, political imperatives and the phases of the moon.  Small changes in the assumptions in any model can produce huge swings in the outcome.

Probably the single most flagrant problem with Metrolinx is that the demand model is proprietary to a consultant, IBI, and is not available for general “what if” use.  At the very time we are making decisions about network structures and spending priorities, we are told (by Metrolinx) that budget constraints limit the number of model runs.  Detailed parameters such as the capacity and speed of modelled lines are hard to come by.

In this vacuum, any plausible scheme for transit gains political traction even though it may rest on dubious planning foundations.  I say this not to knock the Richmond Hill proposal itself, but to urge caution in looking at the numbers particularly where the interaction between several alternative lines is concerned.

Projections for riding on both the Richmond Hill extension and the rest of the rapid transit network appear in various documents.  One of them even changed between the point where it was presented at a public TTC meeting and its publication on the TTC’s website. Continue reading

Richmond Hill or Bust? The Yonge Subway Extension (Part 1)

The proposed subway to Richmond Hill has an odd history as transit projects in the GTA go.  Normally, we are lucky to see anyone pay attention to any scheme for a decade or more, but this subway has gone from a gleam in local organizers’ eyes (and a website) to a top priority transit project with amazing speed.

Along the way, the whole idea of “alternatives analysis”, that pesky part of an “Environment Assessment” that is only a memory, is completely absent.  It’s a subway or nothing.  That’s unfortunate, to say the least, because the whole idea of Metrolinx was to plan on a regional basis, to see how everything fits together and where money would be best spent to improve a transportation network.

The Richmond Hill subway snuck through into the new, fast-track transit project assessment process before Metrolinx had even approved the final version of the Regional Plan.  Somebody wants a subway really, really badly.

As I have said in a comment thread elsewhere, I am not convinced that this line is a good idea especially when there are alternative ways to get people into central Toronto from the same catchment area as the subway extension.  York Region itself has (had?) plans for an LRT network as an end state for VIVA, although I have never taken them particularly seriously.  This may change once there is some real LRT running within Toronto, but as long as it’s an unknown quantity (or worse, something whose “best” example is on St. Clair West), nobody is going to take the mode seriously.

An argument can be made for an extension to Steeles as a way to relieve the bus congestion feeding into Finch Station, but there is some point where a subway has to end.  We cannot keep building a subway north on Yonge Street until we find ourselves in Lake Simcoe.  The demand simply isn’t there, and at some point the idea of a one-seat ride becomes laughable.  Indeed, even going to Richmond Hill, many travellers will depend on bus feeders or commuter parking to access the subway, and the quality of their trip will depend a lot on the amount of local transit or the scarcity of parking.  This problem is already familiar to GO Transit riders.

GO Transit, for their part, plans to upgrade service on their Richmond Hill line to 15 minutes peak, 30 minutes off peak.  This is not the same as frequent subway service, and it will only take people to Union Station, but this is an important part of the mix of services in the corridor.

All the same, any review of the proposal needs to assume that it will be built and that whatever impact this has on the network will have to be addressed.  If we are going down this path, we need to understand the consequences.

In the sections to follow, I will review the TTC report and presentation from December 17.  Parts of York Region’s original EA for this area make interesting reading, especially the ridership forecasts. Continue reading

Privatization If Necessary?

David Cavlovic passed on to me an article by Ben Dachis in the Ottawa Citizen dated December 18.  The thrust of the article is that we can improve transit by avoiding strikes, and we can do that by encouraging competition among service providers.

One of the major stumbling blocks in the current negotiations has been the issue of outsourcing. However, outsourcing of transit operations and maintenance can be done in a way to improve public transit, preserve the jobs of workers and ensure that the city isn’t crippled by a strike.

Ottawa should consider modest relaxations over the transit monopoly that OC Transpo has in the region. Private companies could be permitted to operate a transit route on contract to the city.

If one transit operator went on strike, another could fill the service void. Ottawa can look to a suburb of Toronto, York Region, to see that in the case of a strike by one transit provider — Viva, operated by Veolia Transportation — the rest of the operations continued normally and most riders were not left waiting at the curb.

Competition between transit companies can ensure service delivery, reduce costs and improve service. The key to all of this is transit competition — not a transit monopoly.

This is utter nonsense.  The ability of one provider to take over for another assumes that there is sufficient capacity — buses and drivers — available to operate the fill-in service.  As was well-reported in York Region, the YRT buses could not cope with the riding displaced from VIVA.  Moreover, neither system carries riders on the scale of major urban systems like Toronto’s where the sheer size of operations would make any shift between providers a daunting one.

The classic example is the U.K. In London, controlled competition has led to cost savings and an increase in passenger trips.

In Ontario, privately operated transit systems had operating costs per hour of vehicle operation 20 per cent below publicly operated transit systems. The realized gains in efficiency come a number of ways, such as lower management costs.

London (and anywhere else in the U.K.) is probably the worst possible example regarding labour costs and service provision.  England is notorious for overly generous work arrangements for unionized staff, and the savings (such as they may be) achieved there do not transport across the pond to North America.

A related issue is that many schemes to privatize segments of systems eventually led to monopolies as the larger, better-financed operators systematically bought up the smaller ones.  The problem of a single operator’s shutdown taking the whole system becomes just as real in this situation with the added problem that the negotiating team is removed from public review.

Ontario cost comparisons need to be taken with several grains of salt.  First off, the most likely services to be privatized are those that are small enough for a private firm to take them on.  They are also likely to have much less demanding operating conditions (hours, riding levels, vehicle costs) and be candidates for part-time staff with lower total wages and benefits.  Major urban systems are different, and will automatically have “higher” costs due to their complexity, level of service and the need for a much larger organization to manage and operate their systems.

The unions can bid alongside private maintenance companies for the right to maintain OC Transpo vehicles, in what is known as managed competition. When this was done with U.S. government contracts, public unions won around 90 per cent of all work that was bid out, suggesting that they will not lose much work. In fact, in the U.K., local government employees have been successful at winning contracts for private-sector work in certain services.

If public workers are going to win about 90 percent of all work offered on tender, this implies that they are already competitive or close to it.  A more important question, however, is what proportion of work was actually offered on tender?  How many private companies now exist who repair large bus fleets or subway cars? It’s not as if there is an underutilized transit maintenance industry just sitting there waiting to do work on large transit systems.  The real agenda is likely the selloff of existing public assets to a private “operator” at fire-sale prices.  Think Highway 407.

Large systems already contract out some speciality work where it makes sense to do so, and large-scale capital projects are substantially built by private companies.  The last year has been a bonanza for private transit consulting firms, and there is a queue of construction firms ready to build new lines the moment the designs are finished and the funding is available.

The labour situation in Ottawa will not be helped by sabre-rattling on privatization.  This only fuels distrust at the bargaining table and suggests that the politicians are more interested in scoring debating points than in addressing contract issues.