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