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.
The past few years brought a number of new and resuscitated projects into view including:
- The Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan including substantially increased service on the Richmond Hill GO line, a Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge Subway, and a Downtown Relief Line from roughly Pape to Dundas West Station.
- Resignalling of the Yonge-University Subway to allow headways as short as 105 seconds (compared to the current 140) and automated train operation (ATO).
- Expansion of the subway fleet and carhouse capacity to accommodate more frequent service on YUS.
- Reconstruction of Bloor-Yonge Station to increase transfer capacity between the BD and YUS lines.
- Electrification of GO Transit routes including the Richmond Hill service.
No discussion of the Don Valley corridor can occur without credible demand projections for whatever routes might or might not be built there. Metrolinx produced a background study, but it considers only the end-state network with all lines built out rather than interim configurations. This shows what might be if we build everything, but gives little guidance for interim stages or for a “Plan B” with fewer components. Projected peak hour demands on various routes affecting the corridor were:
- Richmond Hill Express Rail: 18,100
- Don Mills LRT: 5,000
- Yonge Subway north of Finch: 8,000
- Spadina Subway north of Downsview: 7,200
- Yonge-University Subway: 25,400
- Bloor-Danforth Subway: 16,400
- Downtown Subway (DRL): 17,500
- VIVA Yonge north of Richmond Hill: 5,800
[See Appendix C at pages 26ff in the background study linked above. These projections are for the 25-year network in 2031.]
These numbers have to be taken with some skepticism. “Express Rail” is defined as a 5-minute headway, considerably better than anything GO plans to operate. The projected demand is more than double the combined riding on both of the subway extensions into York Region, and is roughly the full capacity of 9 10-car trains requiring a headway of 5-6 minutes. This would also consume a substantial proportion of the planned capacity of the reconfigured Union Station just for one line.
The Don Mills LRT is projected at a level much higher than the TTC’s expectations of 3,000 per hour. Although the TTC has not recently published estimates for a DRL east leg, I understand that they oppose its construction claiming it will attract little in new demand to the system. This ignores past studies, including Network 2011, that predicted a major diversion of trips to the DRL from the Bloor-Danforth Subway and a concurrent elimination of pressure on the YUS and the Bloor-Yonge interchange.
Metrolinx predicts that the core of the subway system, the YUS and BD lines, would actually see their peak demands fall from current levels as riders are diverted to the GO and DRL services. The design capacity of a subway train for scheduling purposes is 1,000 with trains on the Yonge line expected to move up to about 1,100 thanks to the extra interior space of the new “TR” trains. Current service on YUS and BD could easily handle the projected demands. The planned fleet expansion, much more frequent service and station reconstruction to handle increased traffic would all be unnecessary.
These numbers beg several questions:
- What happens to the network if the GO service to Richmond Hill runs every 10 rather than every 5 minutes?
- What happens to the network if the DRL is omitted?
- Why is the projected demand on the Don Mills LRT so much higher than in the TTC’s plans? What is the demand profile over the length of the route?
- What combination of system changes — ignoring the colour of the logo on the vehicles — is really needed to address growing demand?
Although Metrolinx may have proposed a network, their planning is still very much based on individual projects. Their “Business Case Analysis” (a process now shrouded in mystery thanks to the disappearance of much Metrolinx business into a board of “experts” rather than “politicians”) looks at each route in isolation rather than a basket of projects and alternative network configurations.
The Richmond Hill subway extension’s BCA is complete, but not yet public. What does it say? What alternatives does it examine?
The project has yet to receive funding from any government, but studies proceed and, given the momentum typical of such proposals, we can expect someone to pay for it. Elections do wonderful things to focus spending priorities. Given the projected demand for this line and for its sister service on GO, one can’t help asking why there has not been a “value for money” comparison of the two projects, even if GO is scaled back to less-frequent service (say 6 trains/hour)? Indeed, both services may be justified, but which should be built first?
When the Richmond Hill subway came before Toronto Council, there was great concern about the effect such a line would have on demand on the existing subway system. At this point, information from the TTC was less than helpful.
On one hand, the TTC had already obtained government support for the YUS resignalling project with the claim that the extra service needed to handle a Richmond Hill extension would be impossible without it. Meanwhile, the number of cars in the fleet plan was nowhere near sufficient to actually operate the service frequency proposed by the signalling project. A further problem, given the length of the YUS, is that even though very frequent service may only be required for a short section of the route, trains must be provided to operate this service between whatever turnback points are implemented. (At present, these are expected to be Finch and Downsview Stations.) That’s a lot of extra trains, crews, yard space and maintenance.
Next, the TTC resurrected a scheme for massive reconstruction of Bloor-Yonge Station to handle the much heavier flow of pedestrian traffic the new service would bring. I have written about this elsewhere and mention the scheme only as an example of scope creep caused by looking only at one item — signalling — without the related issues of capacity and passenger handling.
Even assuming that all of this were feasible, a major concern is for the inevitable delays and service problems that beset the subway system. Is it wise to place so much emphasis on one route out of downtown? Some at TTC have argued that we should get as much as possible out of existing infrastructure, but they miss the importance of the word “existing”. Equally they miss the simple fact that much growth in capacity into downtown for the past two decades came not from the TTC but from the GO network. Existing infrastructure can just as easily be a rail corridor as a subway line.
Now we come to the DRL itself. Without question, such a project will be expensive. The TTC’s position has always been that such a route can never be justified based on projected demand. However, both Network 2011 and Metrolinx show a high demand (Metrolinx foresees roughly double the peak demand of either York Region extensions) on a Downtown line. Some of this is traffic diverted directly from the Yonge corridor, and some from BD riders who would otherwise travel to Yonge Station to reach the core area. Whose figures are correct? How can we make informed choices about transit projects with such widely varying demand estimates?
I have written here before about the problem of any Don Mills line between Eglinton and the Danforth Subway. The TTC persists on studying surface alignments although these would be very difficult to implement. If such an alignment finally proves impractical, from an engineering or political viewpoint, if not both, then the question becomes what sort of structure will be needed to bridge these locations? If this infrastructure is grade separated (new tunnels and a bridge over the Don Valley), should it be the south end of an LRT line or the north end of the DRL?
Running the DRL through to Eglinton affords many opportunities including a direct service (no transfer at, say, Pape Station) from the Don Mills corridor to downtown, a connection with the Eglinton LRT, and a possible connection to GO service on the CPR north of Eglinton. Moreover, if the DRL serves not just as a bypass route to Pape Station from downtown, but as a link through Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks to a major transit node at Eglinton and Don Mills, it could be a meaningful all-day part of the network.
In all of this, you have probably noticed that I didn’t talk at all about the downtown end of the “Downtown Relief Line”. A major problem here is the demand projection. Until we know how many people would actually use the line and where they are going, a decision on a route through downtown, indeed even the technology, is a difficult one.
Network 2011 and its predecessor studies settled on a rail corridor alignment swinging north to Front Street, with a route via Front and Wellington as an alternative. Front Street is no longer an option either above grade given the importance of Union Station as an historic building or below given the expansion of the subway station now in progress. A route through the southern part of the business district was preferred over Queen Street because the jobs are concentrated to the south and this would minimize the distance between a new transit route and riders’ destinations.
Some have suggested placing the DRL under King or Queen Streets, but I believe that others such as Wellington, Adelaide or Richmond are more appropriate. Recycling Queen Street’s lower level has a siren call, but Queen may not be the best place for an EW line and the alignment should not be dictated by this one small chunk of pre-built infrastructure.
For those who feel LRT is the solution to all problems, there is always the option of creating a transit mall through the core area. This would only be practical if the demand south of the Danforth Subway is in a range that can be handled by LRT trains operating through streets with closely spaced intersections, many unavoidable traffic signals and well-known congestion on north-south streets that could block the LRT crossings. A downtown transit mall may have its place, but not as the inner part of a subway relief line.
The Don River crossing will require a bridge regardless of the route through downtown, but the DRL alignment has not been studied in the context of the West Don Lands plan that completely changes the land use west of the river. East of the Don, any route north to the Danforth Subway will almost certainly have to be underground following the street grid and possibly the rail corridor. (Earlier studies rejected an elevated option along the rail corridor because there is not sufficient room both for then-planned increases in rail trackage and for the el’s support structure.)
There are many network configurations and implementation sequences for all or some of these proposals. Alas, Metrolinx looked at almost none of them, and what information they did provide gives little guidance on alternatives. In all of this discussion, full GO fare integration is assumed. That’s a big challenge for Metrolinx both in the implications for provision of capacity and for operating subsidies.
All of these issues show major shortcomings in the Metrolinx Regional Plan which some treat as a finished, inviolable work of transit planning rather than merely as a guideline, an indication of what might be done.
Now the TTC will turn its attention to the Don Mills corridor, and I hope that their work will be comprehensive. They must establish credible demand projections and evaluate how various network configurations would behave. The time for studying one line at a time is long over, and we need to understand how growing demand in the Yonge and Don Mills corridors should be handled.
None of this will be as easy as dropping an LRT line into the middle of a wide suburban street, but it is essential that we understand the tradeoffs between various alternatives, and that we examine the network as a whole regardless of which agency’s vehicles provide the service.