Three Years / A Grand Design Revisited

Today, January 31, 2009, is the third anniversary of this site.  I started out posting a collection of Toronto Film Festival reviews just to get things rolling, but the primary focus here has always been transit.

For a moment, I will indulge my ego and say that the amount of exposure, the references, the cross-links to this site are gratifying.  However, you, the readers, contribute a lot with your comments, even those I don’t agree with, because there is a real sense of people caring about how the transportation system in Toronto and surrounding areas should grow and improve.

Indeed, having this ongoing conversation hones my own thoughts on many issues.  Would that some politicians and professional transit folk had to undergo the rigour of hourly challenges to their policies and assumptions.  Some days here it’s like a non-stop Question Period.

My thanks to all who have contributed and to those who merely drop by to see what’s new.

At the three-year mark, it’s worth looking back at one major post that declared my position on regional transit planning.  A Grand Design, published in March 2006, was an attempt to “draw a map” even though I hate doing that sort of thing.  The debate can quickly descend into miniscule details of how each line would be built rather than a discussion about the overall philosophy.  Some of you will remember excruciatingly long threads where writers battled over the exact alignment, construction techniques and service plans for routes that wouldn’t open for two decades.  If I had allowed people to upload images, I am sure we would have debates about the colour of tiles in Barrie subway station.

With the recent publication of Metrolinx’ A Big Move in December 2008, GO Transit’s GO2020 and the TTC’s Transit City plan, I decided to look back at A Grand Design to see how it fared.  Before I do, let’s remember the context of January 2006.

  • The TTC was still digging out of the Harris legacy, and broad support for transit from Queen’s Park was in the future.
  • The GTTA Act (Metrolinx’ enabling legislation) was introduced in the Ontario House in April 2006 and received Royal Assent in June.  (Some sections relating to the takeover of GO Transit and other transit operations in the GTAH have not yet been proclaimed.)
  • Transit City was unveiled in March 2007.
  • MoveOntario 2020 was unveiled in June 2007.
  • Metrolinx began serious work on a regional plan in fall 2007 culminating in publication of A Big Move in December 2008.

Also, before appearing to claim all of A Grand Design for myself, I must repeat the acknowledgement from page 1 of the document.

I must acknowledge the many people — professional planners, engineers, transit management and staff, urban thinkers, writers, politicians, transit fans, fellow advocates, friends and even a few political enemies — for the long education they gave me in how cities work and what transit can do.

My own contribution was to show what a consolidated plan might look like, and particularly what one that didn’t assume all the prejudices, political and technical, of how things were done for past decades.

For core oriented demand:

  • Leave core subway capacity available for trips within the 416.
  • Reduce or eliminate peak demands that might challenge LRT alternatives.
  • Provide rapid service to the core from outlying areas where subway extensions were unlikely.

GO Rail options:

  • Use all day service to make GO a real alternative to driving.
  • Grade separate the Richmond Hill, Barrie and Stouffville lines from the York Subdivision to permit frequent service.
  • Extend service to Barrie.
  • Implement new service on the line through Agincourt and North Pickering to Peterborough.

TTC Surface Operations:

  • Improve service significantly in peak and offpeak periods to determine what latent demand exists that is not attracted by current service.
  • Increase the bus fleet at a rate greater than needed solely for replacements and average ridership growth.
  • Acquire a new fleet of low-floor streetcars.
  • Refurbish part of the CLRV fleet to supplement the new fleet for riding growth.

A Toronto LRT Network:

  • Eglinton to Pearson with an underground section from roughly Leaside to Weston.
  • Don Mills / Eastern Waterfront line from Finch to downtown.
  • Convert the Scarborough RT to LRT and extend it north to Malvern.
  • Sheppard east from Don Mills Station.
  • Kingston Road (dependent on redevelopment plans)
  • Victoria Park (optional additional route)
  • Waterfront West hooking into the Queensway and Lake Shore Boulevard.
  • Weston corridor from Union Station to Eglinton, turning north via Jane.
  • Dundas west from Kipling Station into Mississauga.
  • North from Downsview Station through York University and into the 905.
  • Finch West
  • Yonge north from Steeles (with a subway extension from Finch to Steeles).

Airport Access:

  • Cancel Blue 22 and serve the airport with the LRT network described above.

A lot of this will sound familiar, in part because there are only so many places one can reasonably draw lines on maps.

As regular readers here know, I am now more-or-less convinced that the Downtown Relief line should be a subway both because of projected demand and because much of the line (including the Don Mills line north from Danforth to Eglinton) will require dedicated infrastructure even for LRT operation.

In the Weston corridor, Metrolinx now proposes to operate very frequent electrified (eventually, maybe) GO service at least to Brampton, and there are advantages in keeping the rail corridor purely as a “railway” operation.

The Spadina/VCC subway is a fait accompli and the North Yonge debate continues as I write this.  Sadly we continue to spend billions pushing subway routes well beyond reason.

This has been a challenging, but exciting three years and I plan to continue especially following my retirement at the end of March when more time will be available for my activism.

Some public officials (the names have been concealed to protect the guilty) believe that I am an opponent of public transit.  No, I am an opponent of transit agencies, staff and politicians who want an unfettered, business-as-usual environment in which to spend billions on their pet projects.  They will continue to receive the scorn they so richly deserve.

For everyone else, let’s get on with building a truly great transit system.

20 thoughts on “Three Years / A Grand Design Revisited

  1. I know this line is not as needed as the Downtown Relief Line but I think the Sheppard line should be completed to STC. That line would help both Scarborough Centre and North York as well. I think that Line should also be extended westward to Downsview so commuters have an alternative way to get to York U. since the strike is now over.

    About your coming retirement, is this website going to continue running?

    Steve: Definitely. The website has nothing to do with my “day job”.


  2. It’s only as of recent that I found this site — and check it daily. Thank you.

    I’m very much in favour of a DRL … but I do have a question …

    Can the Sheppard line be extended west? Sheppard is pretty jammed up in that small section between Yonge & Allen, no?

    Steve: There is a debate underway now as to the appropriate way to hook up the proposed routes on Finch and Sheppard, and there have even been proposals from reputable transit professionals (as opposed to drooling transit advocates like me) to convert the Sheppard Subway to LRT so that we could have one continuous route. It’s technically feasible, but doing it would require a few generations of politicians and professionals to admit that building the subway was a mistake in the first place. One scheme does involve swinging the Finch line south to Sheppard and then east to Yonge, but my money’s on Finch continuing straight east and beyond Yonge to Don Mills, at least.

    And … is the TTC able to have trains switch lines for commuters who may want to head in a direction without a transfer? like a northbound University train turning east or west?

    Steve: Yes, and no. This is both a question of track layout (or possible layouts) and operations. It is physically possible for University trains to turn east or west on Bloor (and vice-versa). The line operated like this for six months in 1966. However, for this sort of thing to work, you have to take into account the number of trains needed on any branch, the maximum number per hour that can be physically operated, and the need to preserve service on the Spadina leg of the system. If the “downtown” trains don’t come very often, the advantage of a direct ride is outweighed by the longer wait plus the uncertainty of just when a “downtown” train will show up. (There’s a lot more to it than this, but we have beaten this subject to death elsewhere in this blog, and I don’t want to repeat that debate.)

    Up at Sheppard and Yonge, there are only two curves linking the lines. A northbound train on Yonge can turn east on Sheppard, and an eastbound train from the tail track west of Yonge can turn south from Sheppard to Yonge. Both moves result in trains missing the Sheppard/Yonge station. It is physically impossible for trains to turn to or from the north, and there are buildings in the way of adding some of the curves needed to do that (not to mention the complexity of grade separating the turns from through traffic). It is also impossible for a northbound Yonge train to turn west on Sheppard, or an eastbound Sheppard train to turn south onto Yonge.

    The connections at this station were built only for non-revenue moves of trains to and from Davisville Carhouse.

    There’s a good reason for not taking Sheppard trains down Yonge, even it were possible. The demand originating at Sheppard Station and further north is more than will fit on a partial service. The TTC plans to take full service to Steeles and half of the service from there north as part of the Richmond Hill project. Also, of course, to interline trains between Sheppard and Yonge would require six car trainsets on Sheppard, but the stations are only four cars long.


  3. The easiest way to do that is to run LRT through the Sheppard tunnels. I know that Bombardier has been pushing a wireless LRT technology, and with no poles sticking up, height clearance is less of an issue, making it possible to through-route the lines planned for sheppard, and allow for easier, cheaper extensions of service.

    Steve: You don’t need any fancy Bombardier technology. As I understand it, the tunnels are already high enough because they are round. If the line had been built in box form (cut and cover), then there would be a problem. This does raise questions about locations near stations and at the Don River bridge. It would be interesting to get an official TTC comment on this scheme because the idea has been circulating for some time.


  4. Steve:

    Congratulations on the 3rd Anniversary of this web site. It continues to grow in content and scope—and is a wonderful source of information. Your text is concise and lucid. Thanks for your initiatives.


  5. Regarding running LRVs in the Sheppard tunnels and stations, my informed (although not guaranteed!) understanding is that this is technically feasible.

    Personally, I am convinced that converting the Sheppard subway to LRT is necessary from a network connectivity perspective. This line should have been underground/overground LRT from the start, and although I support the Sheppard East LRT project, I reject the idea of any sort of transfer mid-trip on that line, and I think LRT provides opportunity for a (somewhat) less expensive connection to Downsview, which is also a big deal.


  6. I would just like to say thank you for providing us with a wealth of content to read. Even if I don’t agree with everything that is said your site is consistently the best place to find transit related information for the GTA and more often than not a great place for debate.

    Thanks for all of our hard work and lets hope some of the grand plan gets built. At the end of the day I think we are all aiming for the same thing, improved transit options for everyone in the GTA. Even if we disagree about the colours of the subway tiles.


  7. Hi Steve, I’ve been visiting your blog for some time now and I enjoy reading your insight regarding GTA transit. My question, among others regarding THe Big Move, regards any details you may know of regarding the eventual regional-express transit service along the GO Richmond Hill/CN Bala sub corridor.

    I’m wondering about this long term project considering a number of issues. From what I know, this corridor is also used by CN Rail for long haul freight movements, especially north of Doncaster crossing. It also sees twelve ONR and four (?) inbound Via Canadian trains per week, again only from what I know.

    Considering combined regional-express rail headways of every 5 to 30 minutes, and assuming Metrolinx isn’t planning on a viable proposal to reroute CN Rail’s trains or any other non-GO services from the Bala sub, I’m guessing that a) two new tracks would have to be added south of Doncaster, and b) at least one new track north of Doncaster, essentially triple-tracking the line.

    Now, this is strictly from my interpretation of one of the long term maps drawn up by Metrolinx. Considering that commuter and regional-express rail services are proposed for the Richmond Hill line, I’m wondering if the commuter service will utilize the current track, while the regional-express services are going to use the new tracks.

    Assuming this, would some current GO stations on the line be shared by both commuter and regional-express service (e.g. Langstaff and Union), while some stations are commuter only (e.g. Old Cummer and Oriole), and some are just for regional-express (e.g. a station beside TTC Leslie)?

    Also, has there been any serious proposal to build an underground tunnel connection between the CN Bala and CP Belleville corridors for this regional-express rail service, in order to bypass the curvier parts of the line in the East Don valley?

    Sorry for any perceivedly premature assumptions or questions, but I have been paying attention to the GTA transit proposals by Metrolinx, hence my curiousity. Any insight is appreciated, thanks.

    Steve: Many of us have been wondering exactly how Metrolinx plans to achieve some of the services they claim for their regional plan on the rail network. Considerable new infrastructure will be needed in some locations, and we already know that the Weston corridor is going to get three more tracks(!). Union Station capacity is another major issue.

    Sorry to sound a bit vague, but Metrolinx tends to draw lines on maps without going into the details of how they would actually build and operate some of the services.


  8. “Implement new service on the line through Agincourt and North Pickering to Peterborough.”

    I live in Agincourt, getting new service on the stouffville line…part of the Weston Community concerns about noise…I see it happening on the stouffville line. I work long hours and I also do a lot in the community so somehow I manage a few hours of sleep. I want that sleep, not everyone sleeps 10pm-7am, some people sleep in the afternoon due to working at night. I don’t want a “new” service in Agincourt to keep me up all morning when I am sleeping after coming home at mindight.

    Keep the lines of communications between the people open, ttc and it’s riders, GO Transit and other agencies and their riders. Not everyone can go downtown, have ttc meetings (not the monthly things) across the civic centres.

    I have learned so much because of Steve. I honestly can’t remember how I learned about Steve Munro. He has been doing this for longer than I have been alive. Steve I have talked to you while riding the ttc and on the ttc commission meetings. I have learned a lot from you even on the site. I want to say THANK YOU. I am sure you don’t agree with everything you say and there has been a few things I don’t agree with 100%.

    I don’t know if you remember but you must of heard me say this: no matter what transportation advocacy group is out there. Most people come into the thing JUST for their line/neighbourhood and when it’s fixed/done…poof gone. You have been here for over 3 decades. I hope you can stay for a few more decades. You have great ideas, I hope the TTC and Metrolinx take into consideration your ideas and the comments of people that leave comments here.

    Thank you, Hvala, merci, gracias. I hope you are here for AT LEAST another three years.


  9. Even though we do not see eye to eye on many issues, I must thank you for providing a space for people to dicuss about transit.

    For most of the time, the federal government is not a friend of transit. When GM and Daimler Chrysler needs money, $4 billion (along with provincial money) is given in lightning speed. If the federal government gave $4 billion to Bombardier for research and development, maybe we will have trams made out of composite resins.

    The TTC needs its own individual funding source. Taxes within a certain region is not going to help. Gaming tax is the best since it can provide large sums of money in any economic situations. It is also the least harmful taxes since it is voluntary. Sales tax are regressive and hurt the poor.

    Going forward the TTC must use RFID systems for fare collections. It will much more flexible than even Presto. RFID system can detect a sequence of boardings. For example, they can charge all Yonge metro riders an extra $1 surcharge to relieve overcrowding. Likewise, they can offer a $0.25 discount for people taking the Downtown Relief Line.


  10. Happy Anniversary, Steve. Your site is a valuable source of info and often provides a much-needed historical perspective — I’ve been a regular visitor for about two years and am very glad I found your site!


  11. Hi Steve:-

    Wow, three years. I’ve only been with you for almost two of those and feel that this blog is now an essential part of being a Torontonian and a rail transit promoter. I don’t say just ‘light’ rail here for there is a need for subway type infrastructure in some limited instance(s) versus wholesale subway projection on the City’s maps, as well as improved GO services on existing rail lines. But the promotion, acceptance and education needed to open the little grey cells of those in control of purse and decision making thus allowing them to unblinker themselves from the subway only mentality so rampant for so many decades is the unfortunate uphill battle you and others like you have been up against for far too long.

    The dispicable way that the UTDC hoodwinked Scarborough’s Councillors into accepting the (gag) innovative (innapropriate) ‘RT’ technology for their Borough, by pointing out the bad press that UTDC’s own product was getting in the current news reports of the day, ‘ie’ that Scarberians didn’t want those noisy, antiquated streetcars on their patch like Queen Street had, did they? Then offering them the ultra modern, Disneysesque farce of a psuedo light rail line to replace that vision. That idea of antiquity has avalanched, so now that anti-streetcar commentary has perpetuated the ongoing belief that real LRT, ala San Diego, Calgary, Edmonton et-al are nothing more than a backwards move because they’re nothing more than streetcars, eh? Except, that vision, of what those cities have achieved, frequently underbudget and ahead of schedule when building them, has never been shown appropriately here, until you. What to us is second nature in the vision we see in our imagination when LRT is mentioned, unfortunately is nowhere near what the average Jane and Joe sees in their minds thanks to those perpetuated and inaccurate depictions which are now widely accepted.

    Uphill or not, it is a battle worth engaging in, for the ultimate rewards, even for the present naysayers, will be far reaching in a positive way. As you have been influenced by commentators in your blog, I too have been able to rethink and hone my positions on LRT too because of you and them. Don Quixote you’re not, but you must feel like that man from time to time. Thank you for this blog and continually expressing the prudent, affordable and efficient viewpoints that you’ve massaged for all those many months of advocacy.

    Dennis Rankin

    Steve: Ah, but Don Q misunderstood his “enemies” while pursuing a dream of true, chivalric love. It’s a shame we have to have “enemies” in the fights for public transit, that I myself am viewed by some as an enemy. Politics together with the carpetbagging of the “private sector” do a lot of damage.


  12. The problem with TTC for me is not so much the service but ‘THE PEOPLE’ who ride it. For example, people yelling on their cellphones or to the person beside them, no one giving up their seats for the elderly, disabled or pregnant, trash everywhere (i.e. those free newspapers), pushing and shoving, wearning knapsacks on crowded trains, buses or streetcars, not moving to the back of the bus or streetcar, people not using all of the doors available on the subway train, etc.

    I think if the nonsense I mentioned above were eliminated, I would not mind the 1hr and 30 min ride from Northeast Scarborough to Dundas Station one bit.


  13. I check this blog every day, and post my sometimes unpopular opinion more than I should. This is one of the things I enjoy reading more than anything else. I still maintain that you should apply to be the next general manager of the TTC, but regardless, I hope you continue doing your good work of being the TTC’s “Loyal Opposition” and holding their feet to the fire.

    Steve: I will leave Gary Webster to handle the CGM’s job, thanks. Compared to some of his predecessors, he’s a real breath of fresh air.

    Maybe I should take over Metrolinx.


  14. Only three years? I feel like I’ve always been reading your invaluable website most of my life… and everytime I do, I’m always learn something new.

    Congratulations and keep up the great work of letting us know what’s **really** going on!


  15. So Steve, What made you decide to start this blog?

    Steve: After many, many years of bashing my ahead against the limitations of the deputation format as well as the declining level of local media coverage for transit (among other issues), I decided that I could have far more reach for some of the detailed technical discussions I wanted to present in a forum like this.

    There are things that just won’t fit in a five minute presentation, and even then you always have to hope that the Commission has not spent the past three hours debating some aspect of the taxi industry and Wheel Trans, and are completely ignoring what you have to say.

    In a longer form, there is a chance to reach audiences who would never have a chance to hear the deps, much less have a personal conversation. It’s insidious, a “fifth column” in a way.

    I have been extremely pleased by the degree to which this site is read in various circles. On a good day I get around 2,500 page views. The search references tend to be on my name and on current topics such as Union Station and the Downtown Relief Line. People are looking for the site, or something like it, not just stumbling by.

    Of course readership only stays on a site when there is something worth looking at, and for all the debates we have here, clearly there is a strong interest in transit issues at this level of detail. Indeed, I hope that this has contributed to a far better understanding of the issues, options and complexity of transit debates than were available before.


  16. I greatly enjoy the site. I have only one one technical suggestion: could you add a recent comments sidebar? The conversation is the most interesting thing here, and it can be easy to miss new comments, especially on older threads. WordPress has a plug-in for this.

    Steve: I ran that plugin for a while, but took it out for performance reasons (unable to cache pages with constantly changing content). This is no longer an issue as the site is running on a much faster machine and content is refreshed for each hit.

    The one warning I would make is that comments are moderated and tend to go up in batches. When many are promoted in a short period, “recent” ones may scroll off the end.

    I will look at this when I have a chance to play with the site.


  17. Steve

    Congratulations on the 3 years and thank you and everyone one else very very very much for the postings, contributions and discussion.

    The online community of transit enthusiasts here is just amazing and through it, I have gained a lot of knowledge which I am trying my best to apply to my own experiences here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    I honestly don’t know what what I or the group (TRANSIT – Klang Valley) that we recently started would do without sites like this blog and other sites for information and inspiration.

    I only hope one that one day, public transport in Malaysia gets a fraction of the attention, interest and effort that is given to transit in Toronto.

    I also hope that one day our website, would be the anchor for an online community like this one.

    Best regards, and again, congratulations!~

    Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
    from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


  18. Are there LRT lines (outside of Transit City) that the City of Toronto should look into and consider building?

    Steve: It is possible that some other lines might come into play, but at this point, let’s just get a few of the first group (including a converted RT) actually built and operating to show what can be done. Also, pray that the same fools that mismanaged the St. Clair project are kept far away from this one. Maybe they can build the subway to Richmond Hill. That will guarantee it will never open.


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