An Electrifying Opportunity

Friday’s Globe and Mail included an advertisement (page B15, upper right) for the position of “Project Director — Electrification Study” at Metrolinx.  The text of the ad is currently available on the Metrolinx website.

The ad intrigues (no, I am not applying) for its clear acknowledgement that this will be a highly visible, politically charged role requiring active engagement of all parties and mediation between competing views of what should be recommended.

The acid test will be whether the Project Director will be free to question existing assumptions and public stances taken by Metrolinx, GO and their political masters.

I wrote at some length earlier with advice to the Community Advisory Committee, and I commend that post not just to the new Project Director, but to applicants who might incorporate questions for the interview team.

If there is any disappointment in the ad, it is that “while transportation expertise is an important asset, it is not a condition of the position”.  This can be a double-edged sword in that the old boys’ club of transportation project managers includes many who will avoid rocking the boat, but a new face (at least to transportation) needs to know the difference between solid technical and political advice and self-serving hogwash.

The position commences in September 2009, and I will be fascinated to see who is selected.  That choice will tell us much about how seriously Metrolinx and Queen’s Park take the electrification study.

What Shall We Do With Don Mills?

Recent planning and political activity focussed on the Weston rail corridor studies and the potential effect of substantially increased train service there.  Meanwhile, work is about to start on reviewing one aspect of an eastern corridor, a the so-called “Downtown Relief Line”.

The eastern leg of the DRL has a long history, but in the modern (post WW2) era this began as a Queen Subway proposal.  Before the Bloor-Danforth subway, Queen was regarded as the next logical part of a subway network after the Yonge line, but this status was quickly overtaken by the northward shift of population in the growing suburbs.

One early version of the Queen line would have gone north to Don Mills and Eglinton.  When the Network 2011 Plan was published in 1985, its priority list was

  • the Sheppard Subway from Yonge to Victoria Park (to be completed by 1994)
  • the Downtown Rapid Transit line (using ICTS) from Pape to Spadina (to be completed by 1999)
  • the Eglinton West line from Scarlett Road to Eglinton West Station (to be completed by 2004)

Although the Netwok 2011 background studies showed a DRL would have substantial effects on peak point demands on the existing subway network, this wasn’t enough to save the scheme from a strong political bias against building more subways into downtown.  We all know that the actual priorities became Sheppard and Eglinton West.

In December 2002, the Don Valley Corridor Transportation Master Plan was launched to consider ways of improving travel in the entire corridor from Steeles to the lake, and roughly from Leslie to Victoria Park (swinging further west in the southern section to follow the river’s alignment).  That study arose from a scheme to increase capacity on the Don Valley Parkway, but the study was to consider transit as well as road options.

The study reported in 2005 with a recommendation for BRT on the DVP and various ways to route such a service either to downtown or to the BD subway at Pape, Broadview or Castle Frank.  (The scheme for BRT to Castle Frank prompted an alternative proposal using Swan Boats early in the life of this blog.) 

By 2007, the Transit City scheme had shifted planning focus to Don Mills Road itself and to LRT away from BRT.  However, old studies die hard, and the LRT study persisted in reviewing that same trio of southern destinations for the LRT line.  Major problems include how to thread an “LRT” service through an established neighbourhood on a four-lane street.  We have seen one possible approach with the redesign of Roncesvalles Avenue, but the Don Mills route is quite another matter.

Projected peak demand on the Don Mills LRT is 3,000 per hour, about 35% higher than the current design capacity of the King Streetcar.  Moreover, the 504’s peak point is not on Roncesvalles, and future increases in capacity through Liberty Village will likely be achieved with service entering the line at Sunnyside and possibly by diversion of demand to a Waterfront West line (depending on the path it takes east of Dufferin Street).  There will never be a requirement to operate more frequent service than today on Roncesvalles Avenue.

The total of all bus services to Broadview and Pape Stations from the north is 62 vehicles/hour or a combined design capacity of 3,100 passengers.  Many, but not all, of these would use a Don Mills LRT especially if they had no choice to transfer because of new route structures.  (Broadview — 2, Flemingdon Park — 15, Mortimer — 4, Cosburn — 11, Don Mills — 17, Thorncliffe Park — 13).  However, any existing demand diverted to the LRT plus any new riding would now be placed on one rather than two subway interchanges.  Neither Broadview nor Pape has room for substantially increased traffic and a proper junction would almost certainly have to be underground.  (The 1985 DRL design included an underground interchange at Pape Station.)

All of this is a perfect example of a project with a narrow scope, one that considers only a single problem, not the larger context of the transit network. Continue reading