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.
The TTC report raises a long list of co-requisites to the RH subway project, and in some quarters this is interpreted as footdragging by the Commission, roadblocks to a project they don’t want to build. I will review these points first.
Capital funding must continue to be provided including replacement streetcars and timely implementation of the Transit City Lines.
The TTC’s worry is that so much capital is being sucked up by projects to extend rapid transit service, that the rest of the system, and in particular the LRT/streetcar portion of it, will simply fall off of the table. Personally, I am fed up with big-ticket subway projects soaking up every cent of available subsidy, giving politicians a chance to show their “support” for transit while building little that benefits the region as a whole. We can debate the merits of the Transit City lines (the network needs some fine-tuning, like any new proposal), but the momentum to build the first lines must not be lost. Otherwise, we will be repeating the “one subway per decade” style of “planning” that has stunted Toronto’s transit growth for many years.
Capital funding for rail yard expansion, an additional yard, a larger subway fleet and greater Yonge-Bloor station capacity must be in place.
This part is rather interesting because, depending on which part of the package you read, the need for additional cars and yard space varies quite a bit along with the reason for providing it.
Automatic train operation must be fully funded and operational.
The TTC managed to bamboozle various governments into accelerating funding for ATO on the grounds that it was an absolute requirement for expansion of the subway system. However, the TTC is now trying to downplay ridership growth and claims that today’s level of service will be quite adequate for opening day to Richmond Hill. This shell game has to stop, and I will look at various demand estimates in the next post of this series.
The cost of property for the extension, estimated at $125-million, must be eligible for Provincial funding.
A little-known part of recent machinations at Queen’s Park is that transit project costs fall into “eligible” and “ineligible” categories. The effect of this is to push part of a project that might otherwise be fully funded Provincially onto the local agencies and governments. The spin-masters try to give the impression that the locals will gold-plate their projects without Provincial oversight, but the real effect is that 100% funding really isn’t 100%.
A Brief Review of the Design
For the convenience of readers who don’t know the details (available in the documents linked above), here is a brief summary.
The existing terminal at Finch has a three-track section that extends some distance north from the platform. This will eventually be used as a turn-back point during the AM peak much as trains now turn back northbound at St. Clair West Station.
The line will be extended in box tunnel a short distance north to the first new station at Cummer/Drewry. From here it will continue mainly as a bored tunnel (like the line from Eglinton to Sheppard) with stations at Steeles, Clark, Royal Orchard, Langstaff/Longbridge and Richmond Hill. Station areas as well as adjacent crossovers and storage tracks (Steeles and Richmond Hill only) will be cut-and-cover.
There will be a large underground bus terminal at Steeles Station, and an equally large one at Richmond Hill where the subway, bus terminal and GO rail station will all sit side-by-side.
The line will be underground except for the crossing of the East Don River south of Royal Orchard Station where a new double-deck bridge will carry both Yonge Street and the subway over the river valley.
Cummer/Drewry will be a simple line station with minimal provision for connection to the two surface routes that now run down to Finch Station.
One intriguing part about the map of this station (page 14 in the presentation) is the proposed new road layout extending the North York Centre ring road further north. Why this is even shown as part of a subway extension plan, I don’t know, and it certainly should not be built as part of a transit scheme.
Steeles Station is an odd duck in the overall scheme. It is not the end of the line, far from it, and yet the station will have a 26-bay underground bus terminal (page 15 in the presentation). This terminal is huge, and the platform is over 1,000 feet long. Luckless souls whose buses use western reaches of the station will find they have an immense walk just to reach their bus from the subway.
This design comes about through two factors. First, the nature of adjacent property is that most of the platform must be west of Yonge because of property constraints to the east. Second, the TTC appears to be trying to avoid having to expropriate commercial property on any of the four corners.
Even with the offset placement, a problem lies east of Yonge Street where the ramp structure (one of three) into the station requires road widening and property taking.
The project advocates need to explain both why we need such a huge terminal here at Steeles, and how it can possibly function when travellers must undertake long treks to reach their bus bays. The word “accessibility’ comes to mind.
Finally, if so much bus service will focus on Steeles Station, this should be the logical point for a short-turn service, not Finch which will become a relatively minor station.
Clark and Royal Orchard Stations
Both Clark and Royal Orchard are minor line stations, and projected demand for the latter is so light that it may not be built.
Langstaff/Longbridge station lies just south of Highway 407. Its raison-d’être is the large block of Hydro land west of Yonge Street that could hold a 2,000-space parking lot.
Richmond Hill Centre Station
As the line leaves Langstaff, it swings east of Yonge Street to meet up with the GO Richmond Hill corridor. The intent is to have a major transit hub at Richmond Hill including local YRT and VIVA services, GO, the 407 Transitway and the subway. A 28-bay bus terminal will serve this station.
Additional details of the proposed stations can be found in the report and presentation.
In the next installment of this series, I will look at the various demand estimates for the Yonge line and the effect of new riding on the existing route.