My apologies to regular readers for the delay in posting news and comment on the last round of Eglinton LRT designs. Over the next few days, I hope to catch up on this and other topics.
June 2009 brought a major round of public meetings for the Eglinton LRT complete with a detailed look at how the line would be implemented. The display panels for the current proposals are available on the project website.
The Eglinton line is a huge project, and if it’s done right, will show off the capabilities of LRT versus other modes. The line will be partly on the surface, partly grade separated (mainly underground), and will be a real test of fitting infrastructure appropriate to demand levels across much of the city.
The comments below follow the display panels in the order presented by the TTC to save readers from jumping back and forth to locate various topics.
Part 1 of the display begins with general introductory information.
Page 4 gives an overview of the timeline for the project study, and this shows an important feature of how the TTC is using the new Transit Project Assessment process. In the old Environmental Assessment process, a full year could be consumed just getting to the point of deciding, formally, what should be studied. This could be a tedious process, and public meetings to debate the obvious never required large meeting rooms.
People who attend such meetings want to be shown concrete proposals for comment, and the old process was filled with “we can’t tell you because that’s part of detailed design”. By the time a project actually reached that stage, the response to any criticism would be “we can’t evaluate alternatives because the EA has already been approved”. This catch-22 frustrated even the most dedicated of transit watchers and advocates.
The study schedule is still two years long, but three quarters of it is now consumed with “preliminary planning”, and we’re over half way through that stage. Far more details are available and both the City and TTC do appear to be seeking meaningful comment to fine-tune their proposal and to inform the development of alternative designs. Strictly speaking, this is not necessary under the legislation, but this less formal process creates expectations other agencies would do well to follow.
Based on feedback from the current round, the project team will finish the preliminary design, hold a public open house in the fall of 2009, and then proceed through the formal project assessment, a step that has almost become an afterthought.
Page 5 lists major issues raised at the first round of public meetings.
- Provision of parallel bus service. The underground section of the line will have far fewer stops than the existing bus services, but the TTC has resisted a commitment to provision of an Eglinton bus route for this section of the line. Residents of Yonge north of Eglinton and of Sheppard Avenue East know all too well what happens to their service when a subway draws most of a corridor’s demand off of the street. They are left with, at best, infrequent service. The TTC would do well to revisit this concern, especially as it relates to existing stop usage and demand patterns. The “we want to provide faster service” rational gives little comfort to those who lose close access to transit.
- Construction effects. For the surface parts of the route, there will be the usual upheaval of roadwork including utility relocation where needed. On the underground segments, the preferred scheme involves a bored tunnel (discussed later) that may also reduce construction impacts at station sites. However, the exact technique to be used for the line (possibly more than one depending on location) is not yet finalized, and station impacts will likely vary from site to site.
- Noise and vibration. All new lines (including subways) are built with mechanical isolation of the track structure to limit transmission of vibration into the ground. Track noise (mainly wheel squeal) should not be an issue on Eglinton because there are few curves, and these will be built to more generious standards than those on the existing streetcar system.
- Traffic effects. This page states that the traffic effects for the novel left turn designs proposed on Eglinton are shown in later panels. Yes, the designs are shown, but not the results of traffic studies. I will leave my comments on that for later in this article.
- LRT surface versus underground running. Some have proposed that the entire line be underground, in effect a full subway. The whole idea of an LRT network is both to recognize that the demand justifying a subway simply doesn’t exist for many parts of routes, and that surface real estate can be better used by a transit right-of-way. This topic continues on Pages 6 and 7 of the display.
Page 8 shows estimated travel times for existing bus and future LRT services. The biggest gains, of course, come in the central section where the route will be underground and stops will be spaced more like a subway line with operating speeds to match. This table and the general goals of Transit City on Page 9 underlie an important point about how people use transit — they are going from everywhere to everywhere, and the network, not any single line, is vital. By analogy, highway 401 is of little use to someone who can’t get to or from it, and few trips are self-contained on the expressway.
Pages 10 onward present various design issues. On page 12, we see that in general two traffic lanes will be provided across the entire route. However, there are two important caveats not mentioned on this panel.
- The removal of frequent bus service, including the effect of stops at many intersections, will release road capacity for general use in the busy central part of Eglinton where the line will be underground.
- The proposed left turn and surface stop designs (discussed later) have implications for intersection behaviour. This has not been fully explored by the study. Indeed, Page 13 shows a typical intersection layout completely different from what is proposed for Eglinton with left turn lanes and farside stops in the scheme now familiar on the streetcar rights-of-way.
Page 15 shows a typical station. This design presumes box tunnel (or at least station) construction, and the arrangement will be very different if the single bored tunnel is used. This sort of discrepancy is inevitable in a process that shows designs as they evolve rather than trying to provide a single, integrated proposal. Personally, I prefer that evolution to be visible so that people can understand the issues leading to a final design.
Page 16 talks about stop spacing and the goal of faster service. Existing stops on Eglinton are much closer together than in the LRT proposal. As I mentioned above, the project team should include stop usage information in their presentation so that the effect of the wider spacing and the need for a supplementary bus service in the central section can be discussed in context of real neighbourhoods and passenger demand.
Pages 17a and 17b (17 and 18 in the PDF) present the issue of left turns at major intersections. The TTC’s concern is that the inclusion of green time for these turns will affect the LRT’s ability to provide fast reliable service. (I will resist the urge here to talk about the way this has been done on streetcar routes.) They prefer to divert these turns elsewhere, and propose two alternative schemes.
- One version is an extended version of a “hook” turn where traffic first turns right, then makes a U-turn to achieve the desired direction. The U would be placed some distance from the intersection, likely at the next cross-street either side of Eglinton. However, this design not only adds travel time for motorists, it creates the need for left turns to enter the north-south cross street, weave over to the centre lane, and then U turn into the opposing traffic. If the number of left turns is high, there will be roadway capacity issues with these extra movements including questions of queueing space.
- Another version places the turns on Eglinton itself, but in a U removed from the station location. Aside from similar issues of traffic weaving and lane capacity for the turning demand, it is unclear how simply shifting the turns away from the stops eliminates the problem of green time for the LRT. The relatively slow U turn movement will be made across the tracks at a location that would not otherwise have an opening in the transit right-of-way.
Both of these schemes do not appear to be well thought-out, and the absence of traffic modelling for them seriously undermines their credibility.
The remainder of Part 1 deals with design from Pearson Airport to Weston.
Updated at 9:05 pm: Although the discussion below focuses on stations where there are major proposed road layout modifications for left turns, there are many more station locations that this may indicate. The line schematic on Panel 18 (PDF page 19) lists the following stations east from Martin Grove: Widdicombe Hill, Kipling, Wincott, Islington, Russell, Royal York, Mulham, Scarlett, Emmett and Jane. It should be noted that if the entire line to the airport went underground, many of these stops would be lost.
Between the airport and Martin Grove there are two broad alignments for which detailed study is still underway. One alignment generally follows Eglinton Avenue and Highway 427, while the other follows Highway 27 and Dixon Road. A related issue will be the potential integration of an extended Finch West LRT into this scheme, not to mention any future BRT or LRT service from Mississauga.
One important, but subtle, part of this section is the presence of stations in areas near the airport. Both alignments include stops outside of the airport, but they serve completely different neighbourhoods. Evaluation of the alternatives should not just be a technical exercise in fitting the LRT into a corridor, but also of the demand (present and potential) at stops near the airport. Too often, the airport itself is seen as a destination independent of what surrounds it.
Martin Grove Stop: This intersection has some vacant land that is proposed for rerouted left turns, some quite long. The stop itself uses a shared centre platform for the LRT on the east side of the intersection.
Kipling to Scarlett Road Stops : This entire strip features rerouted left turns and nearside platforms. What is noticeably absent here is any evaluation of an alignment along the north side of Eglinton where there is considerable vacant property left over from the Richview Expressway scheme.
By this I don’t mean a completely separate corridor north of the sidewalk, but something akin to the arrangement proposed for the waterfront where transit would occupy a pair of lanes on one side of the street. Crossings would still be a single intersection, but with the LRT and its associated pedestrians separated from much of the road traffic.
The TTC dismisses side-of-road alignments generally in the project’s FAQ saying that there are serious problems with access to adjacent properties. However, for this section of the line, the property in question is part of the road allowance and will likely remain as open space. This is a very different situation from, say, a side-of-road alignment through the section west of Kennedy Station.
Jane Stop: The design at Jane has two options, and both must take into account the future Jane LRT. They also both involve rerouted left turns, but I don’t think these have been clearly thought out especially for option 2.
The displays refer to a possible maintenance facility connection, but this is for carhouse moves from the Jane LRT to the proposed maintenance yard at Black Creek. A related issue here is the possibility of through routing service from the Jane line to the Eglinton line on its busy central section.
- In this option, all stops are nearside like a conventional streetcar intersection. If the Jane LRT only comes south to Eglinton (or if some service turns east here), then a nearside stop eastbound may not be appropriate because a shared stop for all eastbound services would be needed.
- In this option, both lines run side-of-road on the north and west sides (Eglinton and Jane) with a shared stopping area on the northwest corner. This would make transfer traffic simple, but again there would be a problem if Jane trains were turning east on Eglinton because they would miss the eastbound stop. This arrangement, however, would dovetail nicely with a north-side alignment for the Eglinton line west to Martin Grove as I proposed above.
Weston to Black Creek:
This is a challenging section with several options. First off, there is the question of topology. A wide river valley at Black Creek must be crossed somehow, and this could be done at grade, underground or elevated. To the west of the valley, there is a crossing with the Weston rail corridor followed closely by Weston Road itself. The land then falls away again to the crossing with Jane Street. Each of the five options has its advantages and disadvantes, not to mention associated costs and complexities.
To all this must be added a shop connection to the proposed maintenance yard on the Kodak lands between Black Creek and the rail corridor. The elevation of the LRT as it passes the yard affects the configuration of any access tracks.
- This is the all surface option. The line would emerge from a portal on the east side of the Black Creek valley in the middle of the road, stop at Black Creek Drive with a standard farside stop layout, continue west under the rail corridor (possibly with a station) on Eglinton itself, and then across Weston Road to a centre platform station west of the intersection. That station would fit, but with difficulty and existing turn lanes would certainly disappear. Weston Road does not lend itself to the relocated left turn scheme proposed for the western part of the line.
- In this version, the LRT would emerge from its tunnel on the south side of Eglinton and would cross the valley on its own bridge including an elevated station at Black Creek Drive. The bridge would end opposite the maintenance yard (which would have its own elevated entry and exit tracks), and the line would go back into tunnel to pass through Weston. Weston Station would be underground on the west side of Weston Road.
- This version places the LRT bridge north of Eglinton, again with an elevated Black Creek Station. Yard connections are somewhat simpler than in version 2 because the yard is on the same side as the LRT. West of the valley, the concept is similar to version 2.
- This version is completely underground and must be deep enough to get under the river bed. Black Creek Station would be underground, and the yard would be reached by ramps up from the tunnel to grade.
- This version is a variation on option 3 with Weston Station moved east of Weston Road so that it could also connect with a future rail corridor station. This scheme is the only one to omit a station at Black Creek Drive itself.
Option 5 certainly has the feel of a scheme that was added once the problems of the other four were visible, and I suspect that this will be the preferred grade-separated arrangement. The combination of a new bridge and the tunnel through Weston will add to the project’s cost, and the real issue is a detailed evaluation of operations through the valley and through Weston Road for the all-surface version.
I cannot help thinking that some of these schemes are leftovers from plans for a possible ICTS line in this corridor where surface operations would be impossible.
In the next installment of this series, I will follow the line from Keele east to Warden, Part 2 of the project display.