(Updated at 3:00 pm, February 1. I omitted a section on the proposed Sheppard subway extensions to Downsview and to Scarborough Town Centre. This has been added.)
In this, the final installment of my review of Transit City, I will look at the unfunded (or underfunded) TTC transit projects. Some of these spur passionate debates and the occasional pitched battle between advocates of various alternatives. There are two vital points to remember through all of this:
- Having alternatives on the table for discussion is better than having nothing at all. It’s very easy to spend nothing and pass the day on comparatively cheap debates. The current environment sees many competing visions, but most of them are transit visions. The greatest barrier lies in funding. Governments love endless debate because they don’t have to spend anything on actual construction or operations. Meanwhile, auto users point to the lack of transit progress and demand more and wider roads.
- Transit networks contain a range of options. They are not all subways or all buses or all LRT. Some are regional express routes while others address local trips. Most riders will have to transfer somewhere, even if it is from their car in a parking lot to a GO train. The challenge is not to eliminate transfers, but to make them as simple and speedy as possible.
I will start with the unfunded Transit City lines, and then turn to a range of other schemes and related capital projects.
Don Mills LRT
Original proposal: Steeles to Danforth, route south of Eglinton to be determined, surface operation except possibly at the BD subway connection, $675m (2007) including vehicles but excluding inflation.
Revisions to date:
- Queen’s Park, in announcing funding for the Finch LRT line, also included an easterly extension to Don Mills and south to Don Mills Station. This would both prebuild 2km of the Don Mills LRT and likely shift the Sheppard Station on that line underground for easy connection to the subway and the Sheppard LRT. The surface connection between the two LRT lines would no longer be part of the scheme.
- A Don Mills line would not have its own carhouse, but where it will be based will depend on what other parts of the Transit City network exist by the time Don Mills opens for business.
- York Region is considering a northerly extension of the route.
The Don Mills line’s design suffers from its origin in the Don Valley Transportation Corridor Study, a scheme to add bus lanes to the DVP. The proposed routes are bus-based and included possible subway connections at Pape, Broadview or Castle Frank. The latter required a new road to be built linking Millwood to Bayview south of the CPR corridor in Leaside, as well as a new access to the DVP’s Bayview offramp that would allow buses to reach Castle Frank from Bayview.
The LRT scheme is proposed to run through the middle of Thorncliffe Park via Overlea Blvd., and then turn south across the Leaside bridge. This bridge was originally only four lanes wide with extra structural support for a streetcar extension north from Pape and Danforth. That support was substantially consumed by the bridge widening to six lanes. The TTC is looking at a special lightweight trackbed as a means of staying within the bridge’s capabilities. However, this does not address the severe problems of surface operation through East York to reach the Danforth subway.
The TTC has quite pig-headedly clung to the concept of LRT on a narrow right-of-way (both Pape and Broadview are only four lanes wide with buildings at the sidewalk line), and has wasted a lot of time and effort on fitting in a surface design. This undermines the credibility of the whole proposal, and an alternative scheme should have been part of their studies long ago. (Similar problems afflict the Jane proposal discussed below.)
The Leaside bridge alignment is also affected, I understand, by curve radius problems at the south end where the line would swing southwest onto Pape. At some point, the more credible exercise would look at alternative alignments south of Eglinton and their implications for network design. Yes, any new crossing of the Don River will cost money, but a better network may be money well spent.
The Don Mills line crosses a proposed new GO service on the CPR north of Eglinton. It is unlikely that the GO service would stop to connect with both the Don Mills and Eglinton LRT lines (the latter at Leslie Street), and the real question is how useful either of these connections will be. GO has already bought the Don Branch which links the CPR’s main line to Union via the east side of the Don Valley below Leaside, and downtown-bound passengers are unlikely to transfer to the LRT routes. The transfer, instead, would primarily benefit those bound for non-core locations.
Wherever the Don Mills line intersects the BD subway, there will be a large volume of transfer traffic and with the extra capacity of an LRT route, this will be considerably more than the combined volumes on the bus routes passing through Thorncliffe Park. An underground interchange will be required, and given the depth of Pape Station, one might hope that it would fit between the existing subway structure and the surface.
A new off-road alignment south of Eglinton (or at least south of Overlea) brings us to the question of the Downtown Relief Line. A new tunnel and bridge could carry either the Don Mills LRT south, or the DRL north to a major transit hub at Don Mills and Eglinton.
I will return to the DRL later in this article.
Original proposal: York University to Jane Station via Steeles and Jane, all surface operation, $630m (2007) including vehicles but excluding inflation. This line would operate from Black Creek Carhouse and does not require its own maintenance yard.
Revisions to date: None.
Problems with right-of-way width on the southern portion have led to speculation about tunneling, but the larger issue is whether the route south of Eglinton needs to be built as LRT at all. Where are riders from the north end of the Jane route going? Do they want to go to Jane Station, or does that simply happen to be where the Jane bus takes them? Would they be better served if the Jane LRT were operated as a branch of the Eglinton line?
We know that demand on the western end of Eglinton will be lower than other parts of the route (indeed this was proposed as a BRT corridor in an earlier plan because of projected demand), and trains from Jane Street might do better heading east to Eglinton West Station. Such an operation would require that Eglinton West be configured for frequent turnback service to the west.
The south end of Jane Street is under 30m wide except for a short section immediately south of Eglinton, and fitting a surface operation here would be challenging, similar in places to problems getting a Don Mills line through East York. Underground construction is possible, but this begs the question of how much demand would actually go to Jane Station if some other connection to the rapid transit network were available.
Yet another connection option for the Jane LRT is the Weston rail corridor, GO Transit and a possible west branch of the DRL. These connections could occur in Weston, although the grade separation of the rail lines and Jane, plus the short distance from the proposed rail station at Eglinton, make this a difficult proposal. If the Jane route turns east on Eglinton, it could share any new connection at Weston/Eglinton.
Between Weston Road and Black Creek Drive, Jane Street is only 27m wide, 3m narrower than St. Clair. It includes both the overpass at the rail corridor and the interchange with Black Creek. Fitting in this part of the route will be a challenge, and the standard Transit City road treatment will not work.
Scarborough Malvern LRT
Original proposal: Kennedy Station to Malvern via Eglinton, Kingston Road and Morningside, all surface operation, $630m not including inflation. This route would not have its own carhouse, but would likely share facilities with the Sheppard East and/or Eglinton lines.
Revisions to date: The north end of this route into Malvern has been dropped in favour of the proposed S(L)RT extension. However, that extension is itself on hold and it is unclear which, if either, service to Malvern will survive.
This route has an unusual (for Transit City) side of the road operation south of Ellesmere where it serves the University of Toronto and runs alongside the Highland Creek valley.
Between Sheppard and UTSC, the line would cross Highway 401 and would only have one intermediate stop. As I discussed in the previous post, building this northern link would allow Sheppard East trains to reach UTSC directly from Don Mills Station even before the southern part of the Scarborough Malvern line is in operation.
Waterfront West LRT
Original Proposal: As an extension from the existing Harbourfront 509 streetcar route west from Exhibition Loop, this line would run through southern Parkdale, along the existing Queen 501 route to Long Branch Loop. $540m not including inflation. This would be a “city” streetcar route operated from existing facilities rather than part of the Transit City network and its fleet.
Revisions: This project has seen so many revisions since its original 1990 version that it is almost unrecognizable. The most recent changes include:
- A revised alignment east of Exhibition Loop via Fort York and Bremner Boulevards to Union Station Loop.
- Various proposals for alternative connections through the Sunnyside area and the Queen/Roncesvalles intersection.
- Right-of-way treatment issues on Lake Shore Blvd.
In the 2010-2019 TTC Capital Budget projections, this line is shown as opening in the late 2020s, over 35 years after its original Environmental Assessment. This would beat out the lead time for the Spadina streetcar (1973 proposal, 1997 opening) by a decade. This is hardly a project aimed at current road or transit congestion problems, and the ad hoc way in which it has been planned leaves it always controversial, always on the back burner.
Lake Shore Boulevard West is an Avenue in the Official Plan, and a small amount of redevelopment has already taken place. One might hope that transit improvements beyond the occasional Queen car would happen here long before 2029. Parts of Lake Shore are not wide enough to accept the standard Transit City right-of-way treatment, but it is unclear whether this is an absolute necessity given the traffic levels. The real problem is the absence of service, hardly a good advertisement for a future LRT line.
At Sunnyside, there are four major families of proposals to connect from The Queensway to a line west from Exhibition Loop. From west to east, these variants are:
- South via Colborne Lodge Road (the signalled intersection east of Grenadier Pond) to a reconfigured Lake Shore Boulevard, then east to serve the western beaches and connect into the new route south of Parkdale. A new connection into The Queensway opposite Roncesvalles Carhouse linking south and east via a ramp to the new south Parkdale route. This scheme has severe problems with traffic operations at the nearby Queen/Roncesvalles intersection and has, I understand, fallen out of favour.
- A new connection into King Street through Beatty Parkette linking south and east via a ramp. This scheme is not quite as messy as the second variant above, but adds all of the Lake Shore LRT traffic to existing movements at Queen and Roncesvalles.
- Using the existing tracks on Dufferin to King Street.
The first of these alignments is preferred by the Mayor’s office, but whether this will survive the change to a new regime in 2011, let alone the long wait to actual construction, remains to be seen.
East of Exhibition Loop, the original alignment for the WWLRT was to follow the 509 route to Union Station. Indeed, part of the rationale for rebuilding Fleet Street from Bathurst to Strachan was to provide one more small piece of the WWLRT right-of-way. However, traffic operations at the Fleet, Bathurst, Lake Shore, Queen’s Quay intersection pose challenges to frequent services turning south into Queen’s Quay. Operations on Queen’s Quay itself are not exactly speedy thanks to frequent stops and less-than-helpful “transit priority” signals.
An alternative alignment was proposed by the TTC via the abandoned rail spur which lies just north of Exhibition Loop and connects through to Fort York Boulevard. The route would run east via Fort York and Bremner into Union Station Loop.
This scheme ran headlong into the planned renovations of the Fort York site including a new visitor centre. Fort York Boulevard west from Bathurst was never intended for LRT and the right-of-way provision extends only east from Bathurst to Spadina. East of Spadina, there is some question about whether a frequent LRT service can co-exist with activities at the Rogers Centre (aka Skydome). There is provision for an underground path from Simcoe Street into the Bay Street LRT tunnel.
The entire WWLRT scheme needs complete review including the issue of how the redeveloping lands at Exhibition Place and Ontario Place will be served with a good transit link to downtown, one of the original purposes of this line lost in the many revisions.
Union Station Loop
Union Station Loop has been an embarrassment since it opened in 1990. It is too small, and its capacity was vastly overestimated by the TTC. The following changes are in the pipeline:
- When the new second platform of Union Subway Station is built, the existing passageway to Union Loop will connect directly onto that platform (roughly where the bottom of the escalator is today). This will eliminate the up-and-down transfer moves at least to/from the northbound-to-Yonge platform, but will do nothing for the loop itself. This work is funded, and construction gets underway this year.
- The TTC has proposed to expand the track structure in the space under the rail viaduct from two to four tracks. The existing tracks would be the inner pair, and new outer tracks would be built to serve new platforms roughly under the teamways used by GO Transit at street level. Part of this work will be funded within the Harbourfront East LRT project by Waterfront Toronto.
- The Bremner LRT connection (see WWLRT above) would connect into the tunnel just south of the rail viaduct and at the the point where the new four-track section begins. Bremner tracks would lead to the new outer pair of rails on Bay. The junction at the south end of the rail viaduct would not be grade separated.
- Union Railway Station will undergo substantial changes by the City and GO Transit creating a new concourse at a lower level than the existing GO ticket area in the east wing of the railway station. The TTC had not, as of summer 2009, produced any updated plans for Union Loop to connect with this revised GO layout.
- Any changes to Union Loop must be co-ordinated with construction within Union subway and railway stations.
At this point, it is unclear which portions of the expanded loop will be built when. The current proposal is for the new west track and platform to come first thereby providing additional capacity for Waterfront East. The east track and platform would follow when the WWLRT connection is added, or possibly in the more distant future for capacity when the Port Lands extension of Waterfront East comes into play.
One important design change the TTC does recognize is the need for more and better platform access. This may be simplified with the planned move to smart card fare collection over the next few years because the concept of a “paid area” may not require as strict access controls as today. Access to the new platforms will be provided at the south end and this will greatly simplify traffic between the Air Canada Centre and the streetcar loop.
St. Clair Extension to Jane
This extension was proposed as part of Transit City to connect in the Jane LRT route, to serve new development on St. Clair itself, and to provide the option of running the 512 St. Clair route from Black Creek Carhouse. (Note that this is not its official name, but in lieu of anything better, that’s what I am using.)
With the decision by Metrolinx to build Transit City as standard gauge, that connection is no longer possible, even assuming the south end of the Jane LRT is ever built.
I suspect that the dust will have to settle on the St. Clair right-of-way operation before there is any consideration of extending the route westward.
Kingston Road BRT
An original proposal for LRT on Kingston Road, not part of Transit City, has morphed into a BRT proposal with service running east along Danforth from the BD subway and out Kingston Road to an eventual connection to the Scarborough Malvern LRT.
This project is not funded.
Sheppard Subway Extensions
Many pro-subway folks want to see the Sheppard line “completed” with a western extension to Downsview and eastwards to Scarborough Town Centre.
On the eastern side, one of the major advantages claimed is the elimination of the transfer at Don Mills. However, the trade off is that people who don’t want to go to Scarborough Town Centre will be forced to travel there anyhow, and the bus services will be gerrymandered to serve that terminal. The intent of the Official Plan is to develop Sheppard Avenue, and this cannot happen if the major transit link is south of Highway 401.
On the western side, the demand level projected for the link from Yonge to Downsview is quite low due to the land use in the area. Even allowing for potential transfer traffic to/from the Spadina subway, this segment will never achieve subway-level ridership. However its projected cost is now on the order of $1bn.
In both cases, the issue is the same as for many subway proposals: does the potential demand justify the investment? My opinion is, no, it doesn’t and I have yet to see a compelling argument to the contrary.
Ideally, the Sheppard LRT would run through the subway tunnel to Yonge, although that would require an unheaval during conversion few are likely to accept.
Transit City Bus Plan
The Transit City Bus Plan proposes to establish a network of routes where servive would be provided at all times (except the Blue Night period) every 10 minutes or better. This is a laudable idea, but there are a few implementation issues needing serious rethinking.
- Routes that are destined to be LRT lines are not included. The premise is that the TTC cannot guarantee good service while construction is underway, and so should not advertise it. That avoids the obvious question of why the very routes on which we will spend billions in LRT improvements don’t deserve guaranteed service levels now.
- Many of the future LRT proposals are not yet funded. Should riders on the affected routes put up with lesser service levels while they wait?
- Lake Shore Boulevard West is a proposed LRT route, but as it is a streetcar line, it’s not part of the “Bus Plan”. This has to be one of the more bone-headed decisions by the TTC, and it shows the length to which the TTC will go to avoid providing good service in southern Etobicoke.
This plan needs some tweaking, but in an example of the Commission’s blindness to problems with TTC staff proposals, it has been left untouched. Whether it comes into play starting in fall 2010 depends on the outcome of the City’s operating budget debates starting in mid-February.
I gave a detailed review of this plan in an earlier post.
Yonge Subway Richmond Hill Extension
The Richmond Hill subway was included in MoveOntario2020’s list of projects, but no funding has been announced for the project. The scheme triggered a wave of objections from Toronto Council which, finally, woke up to the fact that we cannot keep expanding the subway without compromising the capacity of the existing system. Several related issues emerged:
- The TTC proposes a massive reconfiguration of Bloor-Yonge Station to handle more frequent service and to speed transfer flows. Whether this project is technically possible, operationally feasible during construction, or will only shift capacity problems elsewhere (including onto the Bloor line) have not been addressed.
- The existing block signal system on the Yonge line is being replaced in a multi-year project aimed at completion in time for opening of the Spadina extension into Vaughan. The new Toronto Rocket trains will be equipped with ATO controls so that they can interact with the signal system. However, the TTC does not have enough trains on order to operate the entire line, and a supplementary order is planned for this year. Additional cars would be needed to extend the route to Richmond Hill with an all-TR fleet.
- It is unclear what target capacity the TTC has in mind for the Yonge line and how this will interact with terminal configurations and major stations where more frequent service will strain existing stair/escalator capacity even when all of them are open and working.
- Capacity on the BD subway, which must accept transfer traffic from YUS, will be constrained by its signal system (among other factors) until that is replaced likely in the 2020s.
- If very frequent service is needed at a peak point, the fleet must grow to provide that headway over a considerable territory where it is not required. This contributes to capital costs for trains as well as maintenance and operating costs.
All of this leads to consideration of the Downtown Relief Line (DRL).
Downtown Relief Line
The DRL has two components, one with a longer history than the other. An east leg would run from downtown to somewhere on the Danforth subway, nominally Pape or Donlands station. The alignment of a west leg is less certain, but commonly it is proposed through the Weston rail corridor.
As I have described here many times before, the DRL in an earlier incarnation actually began at Don Mills and Eglinton. This arrangement was proposed by the TTC back in 1968, but opposition to additional downtown rapid transit construction and the cost of the line put the scheme out of action for decades. It enjoyed a brief appearance as a possible ICTS line running from Pape Station to Union via Eastern Avenue (complete with an elevated structure on Front Street in front of the railway station).
Among the benefits of a DRL East are:
- If we accept that the Don Mills LRT cannot reasonably use an on-street alignment from Thorncliffe Park south, then a separate structure could be used either by an LRT or a subway line. The only debate is the capacity required and the logical point where a change of mode, if any, would occur.
- If a Don Mills LRT ends at the Danforth Subway, it will impose a substantial transfer load of core-bound traffic at a point where the line cannot now accept many more riders, and this traffic will contribute to congestion at Bloor-Yonge Station.
- If a DRL East continues south into downtown, it will provide an alternate path for passengers who would otherwise travel west to the YUS via Eglinton or the BD subway.
The alignment of a route through downtown will be difficult regardless of which street is chosen. Some prefer an existing streetcar route, while others look to streets like Richmond, Adelaide or Front/Wellington. All of these need careful consideration as part of a DRL study to be done this year by the TTC.
A DRL West is quite another matter. First off, the Weston Corridor is already rather heavily spoken for by GO Transit and by the Airport link. A DRL could travel underneath the corridor, but station arrangements would be extremely difficult since they could not simply be excavated near the surface as one would do on a “normal” line.
The real issue here is the role of the Airport link. As long as this is treated as a separate, premium fare, private sector service, it will have limited value but will consume resources (space in the corridor) disproportionate to its benefit and ridership. If the Airport line is operated as a semi-local service stopping, say, at major concession roads (Queen, Bloor, St. Clair, Eglinton, etc) and priced as part of the local fare structure, it could provide a good alternative to GO for local service, intercept some of the downtown-bound traffic from the west, and give good, frequent service to the airport.
Alas, that is precisely what Queen’s Park vehemently opposes, and any attempt to open up or undo the private sector agreement for the airport service runs into a brick wall. This is a triumph of ideology over good planning.
In this discussion, you can probably see that I do not argue for a through DRL East-West service. I believe that attempting such a configuration would seriously compromise alignment options through downtown.
The TTC has a tender call closing on February 16, 2010 for a consultant to study “Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion”. Many firms have already picked up tender documents according to the TTC’s website.
And So To Conclude
At the end of these three long articles, I do not plan to give my own definitive proposal. Indeed, there are probably multiple credible schemes, and some of the options depend on decisions made at other levels (notably the role and pace of expansion of GO Transit rail services).
The fundamental issue is that there are issues to be discussed both in Transit City and The Big Move, but simply stopping is not a reasonable approach. Some in Toronto argue that LRT plans are a waste of time, and that we are underbuilding for the future. I strongly disagree especially when the alternative is vastly overbuilding a subway network.