A Response to “Save Our Subways”

For some time, I have stayed away from the “Save Our Subways” dialogue over on UrbanToronto in part because Transit City and related issues are presented as being “Steve Munro’s” plan (there’s even a poll that just went up on that subject), and because there are many comments in the SOS thread that are personal insults, not fair comment, well-informed or otherwise.

Such are the joys of an unmoderated forum.

Some have proposed a public debate, possibly televised, which I flatly reject.  First off, the issues are more complex than can be properly handled in that forum, and it certainly should not turn into a mayoral candidates’ debate on transit.  I do not know any candidate who could debate the details of either commentary.

Second, the lynch mob mentality of some writers on UrbanToronto is utterly inappropriate to “debate”, and this poisons many of the discussions on that site.

Recently I was asked by the authors of the Move Toronto proposal to respond, and this article is an attempt to start that dialogue in a forum where civility occasionally breaks through the diatribes.

To begin with, there are areas where SOS and I agree strongly, notably on the need for the Downtown Relief Line (at least the eastern side of it).  I’ve been advocating this for years at the very least as a high-end LRT line, more recently as a full subway as that technology fits its location in the network better and is well suited to the likely demand.

Where we part company is the premise that we have to give up big chunks of Transit City to pay for the DRL.  This sets up a false dialogue where TC lines are portrayed as overpriced and underperforming, denigrated at least in part to justify redirecting funding to the DRL.  That is an extremely short-sighted tactic and harms the cause of overall transit improvements.  It takes us back to the days of debating which kilometre of subway we will build this year.

I don’t intend to repeat my three long posts about Transit City here, but anyone who has read them knows that I do not slavishly support everything in that plan.  If anything, the lack of movement on some valid criticisms people have raised regarding TC sets up a confrontational dynamic.  Instead, the City/TTC could have been seen as responding to concerns.

Now, with the mayoralty campaign, attacking TC has become a surrogate for attacking the Miller program and the candidacy of Adam Giambrone.  These need to be disentangled if we are to have any sort of sensible debate.

My greatest concern is that whoever is the new mayor, the issues will be so clouded by electoral excess, by positions taken as debating points, as sound bites to attack an opponent, that we won’t be able to sort fact from fiction afterwards.  If, for example, George Smitherman winds up as Mayor, he will need a reasoned program, likely a mixture of some old, some new, not a “throw it all out and start over” policy.  People will have different ideas about what that new program might be, and that’s a valid debate.

Whether Steve Munro is an arch villain (SFX: maniacal laughter) plotting the end of civilized transportation is quite another matter.  To some, I have a vast reach through the political machinery of the GTA, while to others I am irrelevant.  I am not the issue.  Transit is.

These comments are organized roughly in the sequence of the Move Toronto paper (6mb download).  Although variations and alternatives have appeared in other locations, notably threads on the UrbanToronto website, I have not attempted to address these as they are (a) a moving target and (b) not necessarily the formal position of the Save Our Subways group.

I believe that Move Toronto contains many flaws arising from an underlying desire to justify a subway network just as critics of Transit City argue against its focus on LRT.  Among my major concerns are:

  • Subway lines are consistently underpriced.
  • LRT is dismissed as an inferior quality of service with statements more akin to streetcar lines than a true LRT implementation.
  • Having used every penny to build the subway network, Move Toronto proposes a network of BRT lines for the leftover routes. However, this “network” is in fact little more than the addition of traffic signal priority and queue jump lanes (“BRT Light”) on almost all of the BRT “network”.
  • Parts of the BRT network suggest that the authors lack familiarity with the affected neighbourhoods and travel patterns.
  • There is no financial analysis of the life-cycle cost of building and operating routes with subway technology even though demand is unlikely to reach subway levels within the lifetime of some of the infrastructure.

That’s the introductory section.  The full commentary is available as a pdf.

42 thoughts on “A Response to “Save Our Subways”

  1. I stopped commenting on the Save Our Subways forum because the majority on that thread kind of shout you down if you express any different ideas. I know Transit City isn’t perfect, but it is the best transit plan that has come come to this city in a long time. After being put down on that forum I think they would only be happy if there was a subway station at their front door to where ever they happen to work or go to school. For me transferring is part of taking transit and how well these transfer points, like a lot of Toronto’s subway stations are designed, really make a transit system work well.

    I am originally from Montreal, but, I lived most of my life in Vancouver and this is one thing that really impressed me about Toronto’s transit system is the design and money pumped into a lot of these transfer stations. I am really impressed at how the bus enters into the station at a lot of the subway stations I use. Its obvious to me from every city I have lived in and even some I visited that Toronto spends a lot on its subway station and continue to do so.

    Victoria Park Station is presently getting a makeover and the TTC is getting rid of those seperated bus platforms and all the buses will be using a shared platform on one level. Hopefully they will make it convenient to tranfer at these future LRT stations where they hook up with the subway at the different points across the TTC’s system. This design is really appreciated by this commuter.


  2. The Save Our Subways folks need to get over their narcissism and get with the times. At least moving their attitude about transit up to the 1980’s would be a good start.

    Steve: I am prepared to believe that there are some well-meaning, civil folks over there who, unfortunately, attract a following of trolls.


  3. Can’t we have the best of both worlds? Subway’s for downtown, and LRT (Transit City) for the less dense areas, like Sheppard or Finch.

    Sure, the LRT is cheap and affordable – But I don’t like the massive construction woes that have to do with the project.

    The subway has its share of construction problems and expenses, they are more expensive, but subways run much faster and don’t have to deal with red light, green light. Also – cars won’t try to make illegal left turns as there is no ROW and therefore the street is untouched.

    If we actually expanded the Sheppard subway to Markham Road, the businesses along Sheppard and Midland would not be shut down and there would be a possibility of a subway connection with Scarborough Town Center.

    Steve: This is the “just one more subway” position, and I don’t agree with it. One can construct an argument for incremental subway building forever on the grounds that it will avoid the inevitable conversion of road space to transit space.

    As for your comment about shutting down businesses, there is no LRT construction on Midland, and the only effect that street will endure would be related to reconstruction at the SRT Midland Station and the reconfiguration of road space for the Sheppard LRT line.

    Businesses on Sheppard are not dependent on street parking, and cannot use that as a justification for their economic problems. At Agincourt Station, the grade separation is required for GO Transit service improvements, and would happen whether the LRT line is built or not.


  4. Back in 1995, I was asked to attend a meeting at North York City Hall arranged by MPP (then Metro Councillor) Mike Colle and Toronto Councillor Howard Moscoe with Mel Lastman. They were going to talk the czar of North York into supporting LRT rather than a heavy rail subway on Sheppard. Lastman stood us up, but he did send a message via his executive assistant: “Tell those guys that subways are first class and streetcars are second class. I won’t support anything that’s second class for North York. It’s a subway or nothing.”

    Unfortunately, that attitude has been taken by the bulk of our municipal and local provincial politicians since the Yonge subway opened in 1954. Much of the public has been seduced by the siren song of the subway, too. The result is that we’re only now starting to move on Transit City, a plan that spreads higher order transit service out to the widest range of Torontonians at the most reasonable cost.

    Sadly, the armchair critics — both in and out of government — who take a “subways at all cost” approach won’t go away. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get every element of Transit City completed.

    But Toronto is a world class city that knows more about transit than any other on the face of the planet, right?


  5. Interesting comment about Mel Lastman from Greg. Mel was an earlier proponent of LRT and even proposed his own scheme of using the railway corridors for light rail as a “cheaper” alternative to expensive subway schemes going under built up areas. I guess once his North York Downtown started growing, and his civic ego along with it, only a subway would do. Somewhere along the way the “subway or nothing” Pod people got to him.


  6. Steve said: “Parts of the BRT network suggest that the authors lack familiarity with the affected neighbourhoods and travel patterns.”

    The fact that they think that they would be able to place a BRT route on Danforth between Main and Victoria Park certainly reinforces that point.

    And I certainly question their judgment when looking at their plan on phasing in the various subway lines they propose. I mean, they think that STC needs two subway lines before the DRL is built based only on current funding commitments and the need to replace the Scarborough RT?

    Steve: Actually, the proposal for BRT on Danforth comes from the TTC. It’s one of the two “BRT” proposals in the SOS plan (the other is the Highway 27 bus). The BRT part of their presentation is dishonest because they offer one technology (BRT) but actually plan another (queue jump lanes plus signal priority).


  7. Here’s the thing — even light rail is too expensive. TC is pegged at what … $15B? By the time we could afford to build their subway network out fully, the SOSers would be a bunch of old transit geeks in wheelchairs.

    The only thing I could see happening is just a DRL to BD and a Yonge extension in place of Transit City. That’s far more realistic, and I could make a very strong argument that a DRL is needed much more than streetcars on Finch, Sheppard, and Eglinton.

    I read your response, and you’re proposing two non-connected DRL branches from the east and west under different alignments, and also go on to say that the DRL western branch might not be needed? Come on — that line, if it ever gets built, needs to be continuous, and with the Spadina extension and the Eglinton LRT pushing more riders into Eglinton W. Stn, how can the University line possibly handle all the BD passengers from the west wanting to go dowtown? It’s not the University subway of the 70s that was empty at St. George.

    Steve: Continuity between DRL east and west may compromise the route through downtown. That’s my point. Also, I feel that if the Air Rail Link’s infrastructure were dedicated to frequent service, it would provide the DRL west functionality. Unless we can find a technology that would be common to both GO’s rail corridor and the DRL east, the two lines would be separate anyhow. When I say DRL west might not be needed, it is in the context of a rail service in the Weston corridor.

    As for the cost comparisons of TC and other networks, I think it is imperative that we take the very expensive Eglinton line off the table as it is common to just about every plan with the only question being one of technology. The question then becomes which of the remaining TC lines should be built (not to mention the many other non-TC projects) and when. I happen to agree that not all of TC needs to be built in the short term, but at least we are having a discussion about a network rather than individual vanity projects for whatever mayor happens to have the ear of the Premier.


  8. Steve said: Actually, the proposal for BRT on Danforth comes from the TTC.

    And the TTC ultimately rejected running it between Main and Victoria Park; although, I’m not sure if that happened before or after they switched the proposal from a LRT to a BRT route. But since they make no mention of why they think it would work and/or why the TTC was wrong with ending their proposed BRT at Victoria Park, we’re back to my original comment. And if they think that a BRT light plan will work on Danforth without seeing how it is during the morning and evening rush hour, they are really in for a surprise.

    Steve: My main point here was that the Kingston Road BRT is not a creation of SOS, it was already on the books from the TTC who, as you pointed out, changed the original LRT proposal to BRT because of low ridership projections.


  9. I’m in agreement with Steve on the western DRL service being picked up by the Weston S/D, but I don’t agree with terminating the DRL at Yonge; I think it should flow into, but terminate in, western downtown, ideally at a connecting point with the Weston S/D, and agree that the DRL should not go to Union. What I don’t quite follow though, is how a through-route would compromise the alignment… I would expect the street grid to be the key dictating force on alignment options, not whether it crosses both branches of YUS. Ridership patterns would reasonably be presumed to be somewhat spread out across downtown, with some people from the east bound for Spadina, or further west, while people coming in from the Weston S/D are bound for anywhere in downtown between King and Dundas that isn’t close enough to Union (by PATH or otherwise).

    As past comments I’ve left on this blog have likely made clear, I don’t agree with any of the subways SOS floats. BD should not go to Sherway. I don’t see much system benefit for BD to STC either. That said, I do see other BD extensions at both ends that would be worth further study, particularly schemes that address the ever increasingly important question of yards assuming the DRL would be calling Greenwood home. The selling of the Westwood Theatre lands has become one of those hindsight is 20/20 things.

    Steve: To be clear, I never said the DRL would stop at Yonge and I agree with Karl that it should go far enough west to serve the main part of the core business area.


  10. Karl said …

    “As past comments I’ve left on this blog have likely made clear, I don’t agree with any of the subways SOS floats. BD should not go to Sherway. I don’t see much system benefit for BD to STC either. That said, I do see other BD extensions at both ends that would be worth further study …”

    So let’s see … you’re against extending BD to STC and MCC, but you’re willing to look at other BD extensions? Well, at least you didn’t contradict yourself in the same sentence. Just exactly what other logical BD extensions exist? … down into Lake Ontario at both ends?

    The SOS plan makes sense from a network perspective … MULA is the only problem. There’s no way all of that could be built for 15 bill in our lifetimes — although if I were them, I’d get nice and fancy and integrate their Eglinton and DRL lines to provide a direct Airport-Downtown service. Those colored lines on a map may as well look nice, because that’s all they’ll ever be.

    So, if the SOSers are paying attention …

    It’s yellow for Eglinton crosstown, orange for Eglinton/DRL downtown, and pink for Eglinton/DRL central loop. Hey Elvie, ain’t them subway colors on that dern map perty?

    Steve: A great deal of money is being spent to create extra room in the Weston corridor for the Air Rail Link. If Queen’s Park had any balls, they would get rid of “Blue 22” and let GO run frequent service on this infrastructure. That’s a real airport connection, not that joke with which Toronto will welcome the world in 2015.


  11. I’d still go with the combo routine. Put in subways downtown where surface space is already spoken for and where the demand is likely to exist, but used LRT routes as feeders to get people to the subways. I can see the SOS position in a way – look at a map of the London (UK) or New York City subway systems, and compare them to Toronto. Yes, we started later (i.e. Yonge Street in 1954) and have a smaller population, but other cities have effectively used subways.

    The combo system also will please at least some people in both the TC and SOS campas – one gets their subway while the other gets the feeder system we need.

    Steve: Your proposal is very downtown centric. The whole idea of TC was to build a network for people who don’t want to go downtown. Also, giving half a loaf to both sides isn’t good planning, just politics.


  12. @M.Briganti: I never said I disagreed with BD going to MCC, I disagree with BD going to Sherway. Big difference. I am struck by how people never seem to realize that going to Sherway is out of the way for a MCC route (MCC is between Rathburn and Burnhamthorpe, not south of Dundas), runs through an industrial area, and duplicates part of the Milton GO service. I find this extremely wasteful.


  13. Further to M. Briganti’s discussion about the Bloor-Danforth subway, it should be noted that Sherway Gardens is further south than you’d think from the railway right-of-way that the TTC is currently operating alongside at Kipling. This would require a fair amount of tunnelling to get the subway to Sherway, and then more tunnelling to get the subway back to Dixie GO, on its way to the Mississauga City Centre.

    However, if you stay to the surface north of the CP line, you stick fairly close to Dundas Street. If you look at Google Maps, you could do a bit of expropriation of industrial property and get ourselves a station at East Mall near Cloverdale Mall. This has been proposed as a means of revitalizing and intensifying the intersection, and as most of the extension can proceed at grade, it wouldn’t be that expensive an extension. It would also, being very close to Dundas and Highway 427, be an excellent place to take in buses from Mississauga Transit. I know that Steve has talked about this before as something that should be looked into.

    Back on topic, it is indeed discouraging hearing all of the vitriol on this subject, but that’s politics for you. Some people just take things too seriously. And I would say that all of this attention is a back-handed compliment for all the work you’ve done, Steve, in trying to make things better. It’s a shame these people who seem to blame you for our network ills don’t seem to fully understand the issues, but what can you do, other than stand tall on your own blog.

    Steve: Some of the SOS supporters were incredulous that I took the time to write a long commentary, but (a) the principal author asked for my feedback and (b) far too many folks with limited attention spans (politicians, media) only hear the message about “have all the subways you want” and don’t know the tradeoffs hidden under the covers. Having a detailed, contrasting point of view has benefits beyond these blogs.


  14. Steve:

    That’s a lot of actual facts and reasoned argument. Don’t you know that discussions about the TTC are best conducted from the perspective of resentment, supposition, generalisations and loud unsupportable opinions. Or so it would appear…..


  15. I just looked at the map for the subway system proposed by Save Our Subways. It’s amazing! they manage to leave the vast underserved north west quadrant of the city as underserved as ever.

    As for subways downtown it seems tio me that apart from certain nodes, the city streets under which subways run have suffered since the line opened.

    Steve: SOS’ grasp of the transit network seems to wane the further west one goes. I suspect many of them live, shall we say, well east of Yonge Street.


  16. I am surprised that subway envy has never struck Mississauga in quite the same way as it has engulfed almost every other part of our city. Seeing as Square One is relatively close to the border, and connected to the subway by more than one frequent bus route, I am surprised they have never lobbied for such an extension- look at the busway proposal. It purports to connect to Kipling station in the most roundabout possible way, likely slower than the current local routings.


  17. Just wondering, what exactly is so sexy about subways anyways? The current rolling stock looks very bland. With some exception, the majority of stations are very utilitarian and some outright ugly. Looking out the windows to black tunnels is unstimulating. On the longest stretches, the trains max out at about 70km/h, given the opportunity buses can beat that easily.

    Yes, the first time we all stepped on to the subway is was an exhilarating experience riding a train through underground tunnels, but once that wears off riding the subway is a very utilitarian and ungalmourous experience. At least in Toronto.

    I believe the people who only want subways fall into one of two categories: 1) People who want public transit and its riders out of sight and out of mind and 2) People who cannot separate mode from method.

    I won’t waste my time on the first group, but there needs to be some education for the second group. This second group sees subways as fast, efficient point-to-point service and LRT as a bus on rails making frequent stops. What they are doing is assuming the mode and method are one in the same. They don’t realize is that for example, you could replace the trains in the Sheppard tunnel with streetcars and still deliver the same fast service along this stretch. Hell, you could replace them with buses as well. It doesn’t matter what vehicle is used, it is HOW it is used.

    Now, while I agree that Transit City is better than nothing, after discovering some of the details I too am critical of it. I don’t feel it should be canceled, or that heavy metro rail should be used though. Ideally, I believe that stop spacing should be at least 1-2 km on average, or that they should keep stop spacing at 500m but use buses in the middle of the road instead of trams. If the first option was used, it would provide “subway” quality service for an affordable cost. If the second option was selected, it would provide higher order local service at a good value.


  18. From first paragraph of ch. 1.2, SOS’s Move Toronto document:

    “Transit City is a bold vision for transit in Toronto that has brought discussion about transit back to the forefront. However, the plan, which relies mainly on Light Rail Transit (LRT) to move people around Toronto, we believe is not the best use of limited financial resources.”

    Considering SOS’s mandate in favour of heavy rail and BRT expansion, can someone please explain to me how the above claim can possibly be NOT counterintuitive??? Maybe I’m missing something, I dunno.

    Steve: And don’t forget that they really don’t want to build a BRT network, just a lot of queue jump lanes with signal priority. It says BRT on the map, but it ain’t. Good bait-and-switch in the best tradition of professional planners everywhere.


  19. Steve, you must admit though that the DRL (as subway or LRT) was conspicuously absent from the TC planning. The ridership of the Queen and King streetcars plus the congestion at Yonge and Bloor clearly indicate that a new (or more specifically increasd capacity) East – West line through the downtown core is sorely needed.

    Steve: It is “conspicuously absent” for two reasons. First, TC concentrates on the suburbs. Second, at the point TC was announced, the Richmond Hill subway had not become part of the Premier’s shopping list of high priority projects. Once that happened, and especially once TTC staff started talking about expansion of capacity at Bloor-Yonge, the need for the DRL jumped substatially.

    As for my own position, I have been on record advocating a “DRL” of some flavour since well before TC was announced. “Admitting” its absence from transit plans implies that I was supporting this omission.


  20. Ben said:

    “… but there needs to be some education for the second group. This second group sees subways as fast, efficient point-to-point service and LRT as a bus on rails making frequent stops. What they are doing is assuming the mode and method are one in the same. They don’t realize is that for example, you could replace the trains in the Sheppard tunnel with streetcars and still deliver the same fast service along this stretch. Hell, you could replace them with buses as well.”

    Before educating others, please check your facts.

    Every transit observer in Toronto knows that Sheppard tunnel can be converted to run LRT, and then LRT vehicles would run just as fast as subway on that stretch. However, the formal Finch-Sheppard Corridor study rejected such conversion on the ground of cost: $670 million (this can buy 2-2.5 km of new subway, or 10-12 km of new surface LRT).

    Your statement about running buses in Sheppard tunnel is unwarranted. Of course, in principle buses can run in a tunnel. However, a) they need wider clearance than fixed-wheel vehicles, hence the tunnel might have to be wider; b) extra ventilation is required for buses since they produce exhaust gases; c) usually, the capacity limit of bus transit is lower than for rail-based transit, since the latter can be easily configured as multi-car trains. The high cost of building tunnels is rarely justified for bus transit.


  21. Let’s not get lost in the details of what Ben said – I don’t think he was advocating an LRT conversion of Sheppard so much as he was suggesting that it wouldn’t have mattered what had been built in the first place, the traffic priority / grade separation is where the speed of travel originates, not the heavy rail implementation. Choice of technology only impacts capacity, not speed.

    Separation / segregation / priority is a must for transit, and that’s where LRT fails in the imagination of the public. They see St Clair and how it works (or, rather, how it doesn’t) and they imagine that this is what we’re in for. A better explanation of how it will work (from those who control it – not just the TTC planners but maybe City traffic engineers as well?) is what is required…

    Yes, the first time we all stepped on to the subway is was an exhilarating experience riding a train through underground tunnels, but once that wears off riding the subway is a very utilitarian and ungalmourous experience. At least in Toronto.

    At what age does it wear off? 🙂


  22. Let me add to the chorus of Karl and James Bow on a westerly subway extension to Sherway Gardens.

    An extension would be convenient for me. Not as convenient as having the Bloor-Danforth run to Long Branch loop (yay!) but nicer than having to navigate the loop-the-loop Shorncliffe 123 to Kipling or the lethargic Islington South 110A/B to Islington station.


    First of all, it’s logical to have a set of exits at Trillium Health Centre, and another at Sherway Gardens. The rail ROW runs parallel to The Queensway, about 350 or 400m to the north. Sherway Gardens and Trillium are 200m+ south of The Queensway. These two facts together dictate either a basically NE-SW alignment of the station, or an E-W alignment of the station, reached by an S-shaped departure from the rail ROW south down North Queen and then west under Sherway Gardens. In either case, the subway absolutely must depart the railway ROW; it is nonsense to situate a station along the rail ROW.

    Then there’s the lower-level loading facilities at Sherway, which coincidentally are right in the way of either alignment, and will likely be very difficult to remove given the mall design.

    Carrying on to the west into Mississauga will be basically impossible for the NE-SW station alignment, because it can’t possibly tunnel under Etobicoke Creek, while a bridge puts it smack into a relatively upscale low-density neighbourhood. An E-W station alignment allows a bridge across Etobicoke Creek. Queensway west of Etobicoke Creek is hardly a corridor warranting transit, so probably you’d need to tunnel NNW to Dundas and Dixie.

    Oddly, there’s a big official city map at Metro Hall which shows the rail ROW crossing over The Queensway, providing better access to Sherway. Maybe someone was looking at that instead of the more reliable Google Satellite!


  23. Oops, a couple of typos/errors in my previous post:

    1) E-W station alignment allows a bridge across Etobicoke Creek *just south of the Queensway bridge*
    2) Dundas and Dixie are just about due west of Sherway/Trillium, not NNW as I wrote

    (And this is all I will spend on refuting the logic of a subway to Sherway. It’s just that I live at Long Branch, and regularly visit the Sherway/big box area. I have walked and bicycled the area, as well as taking countless 123 Shorncliffe buses. It’s easy to see bad plans made up by people staring at an inadequate map with no local knowledge.)


  24. PBS ran a program on Monday, “Blueprint America: Beyond The Motor City”, on Detroit. Try to see a rerun or get the video.

    It is now looking to have light rail go up its Woodward Avenue. They dismantled their streetcar network and replaced it with buses and expressways. They ended up with a barren city. Now they are hoping to use their LRT to get people back.


  25. I have visited one of the LRT open houses on Milner aveue (it was in a hall attached to a church). The overall mood of the public seemed to be, that it was not satisfied with the service being given to STC and beyond and that it was not satisfied with the proposed LRT either.

    TTC presentation was full of BCA numbers, but almost no “meat” about a design of the vehicles.

    My perception of the Sheppard LRT project went downhill, when I have recieved my irregular Scarborough Mirror last week and I have learned from it, that TTC has decided to hire a person titled “construction obstruction mitigation communication specialist”. He also proposed, that “new” Sheppard will install bike lanes. I would really like to know, how many people are able to bike from Morningside/Sheppard to Fairview Mall and back.

    Therefore – (1) LRT can never be changed to subway even if some members of the public believe that it can be done – TTC will never duplicate a huge expense (2) layout of a street cannot be changed after it has been approved even if the addition is “friendly to the environment” .
    My observation (a) LRT is a progress but only for smaller city or with fully separated ROWs – it does not matter if on surface or partially underground (b) subways are a dream, that must (or should) be built within a time frame of some 20 to 30 years.


  26. W. K. Lis says:
    February 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

    “PBS ran a program on Monday, “Blueprint America: Beyond The Motor City”, on Detroit. Try to see a rerun or get the video.

    “It is now looking to have light rail go up its Woodward Avenue. They dismantled their streetcar network and replaced it with buses and expressways. They ended up with a barren city. Now they are hoping to use their LRT to get people back.”

    You have to see this video. Click on the program word to get to the first website, watch the short video, then go to the next or click directly here.

    It is worth seeing.


  27. PSC said:

    Separation / segregation / priority is a must for transit, and that’s where LRT fails in the imagination of the public. They see St Clair and how it works (or, rather, how it doesn’t) and they imagine that this is what we’re in for. A better explanation of how it will work (from those who control it – not just the TTC planners but maybe City traffic engineers as well?) is what is required…

    From what I’ve been able to discern, apart from the tunnel section of the proposed Eglinton line and any other tunnel sections, Transit City will work pretty much exactly like St. Clair because the only difference between TC and St. Clair in terms of how the transit route interacts with intersections is that for TC, transit will be given “priority.” However, “priority” is easily chipped away at/erased, whereas if you built TC with a dedicated right-of-way, traffic engineers at the behest of politicians facing pro-private vehicle constituents could not mess with the built priority such a right-of-way would grant.

    Given the disaster of St. Clair, I wouldn’t want to trust that the priority of TC LRT won’t be screwed over in a similar fashion if it’s sharing intersections with private vehicle traffic.

    Steve: I understand your thesis, but it is a sad commentary on the transportation professionals and politicians that we must bail out their unwillingness to give better transit priority by spending billions extra on infrastructure.


  28. Steve: You indicated that the Spadina subway extension would cost the TTC an extra $10 million/year in cost. Wouldn’t Vaughan be paying a portion of that extra cost for the portion of the line north of Steeles?

    Steve: No. The “deal” is that Vaughan pays to maintain the surface facilities (park and ride, etc) for their stations and the TTC keeps all of the revenue. However, the TTC also eats the net cost which is currently estimated to be over $10m/yr in excess of new revenue.


  29. Re PSC:

    Thanks for clarifying my post for me. I am aware that it would be a bit more technical to run LRVs or buses through the Sheppard subway than simply swapping them with the metro rail trains currently servicing the route. But the point is that if you want point-to-point service that is grade separated or in its own priority ROW, then that can be accomplished with virtually any vehicle, not just metro rail.

    Besides, last time I checked parts of Transit City would be sub(terrain)ways anyways… 😉


  30. Joey Connick said:

    From what I’ve been able to discern, apart from the tunnel section of the proposed Eglinton line and any other tunnel sections, Transit City will work pretty much exactly like St. Clair because the only difference between TC and St. Clair in terms of how the transit route interacts with intersections is that for TC, transit will be given “priority.”

    Stories like this don’t help, either.

    See, it’s all those pesky pedestrians’ fault.


  31. It should be mentioned that Transit City lines are going on streets much wider than St. Clair (so the layout won’t be as cramped) and where the distance between intersections is greater (so the slowdowns are not as frequent).

    At its widest, St. Clair is still 4 meters narrower than Spadina.


  32. I went to pbs.org last night to watch that program on Detroit and would advise every reader of this blog to watch it as well. The abandonment of the streetcar network there was far from being the sole factor in Detroit going down the tubes the way it did.

    A lot of it was caused by the freeway network which made it way too easy for people to move out plus the massive decline of industrial jobs in that city.

    One thing I’ve always wondered about both Detroit and Los Angeles ever time i’ve looked at any map of either city is whether or not there has ever been such a thing as an unfulfilled freeway proposal in either city. I can definitely tell you that in Cleveland the present freeway network there is considerably less extensive than originally proposed.


  33. Hi Steve:-

    By reading and sometimes participating on your site for over the last many months, I’ve grown to respect your tolerance and civility when dealing with the diverse opinions expressed by your readers (even including me thank you!). Never having heard of the SOS before your Feb 8th entry, I called it up and my-oh-my, what a bunch of closed minded, blinkered thinkers in that lot. Only the most rabid subwayite would want to be any part of that lot.

    Sorry that they made you respond but I know you had to. Wow, it takes all kinds.

    I consider myself an electric railway proponent, of all forms, LRT, subway and heavy rail. Throw in trolley coach for a feeder mix in that lot too. There are areas where all have a role to play, none should ever be promoted to the exclusion of the others, but with capital dollars as scarce as they are, pound wise needs to be the credo doesn’t it?

    Dennis Rankin


  34. Steve said: “And don’t forget that they really don’t want to build a BRT network, just a lot of queue jump lanes with signal priority. It says BRT on the map, but it ain’t. Good bait-and-switch in the best tradition of professional planners everywhere.”

    However, several of the corridors presented in SOS’s report call for true BRT ROWs (Kingston Rd corridor, Highway 27 corridor, Finch/Finch Hydro Corridor, Highway 401-Neilson corridor).

    I take this to mean proper stations with prepaid boarding schema and the absence of mitigating traffic nor traffic signals in most cases i.e. exclusive right-of-way. This would cover the entire periphery of the 416 and easily funnel customers in from the 905 and far-flung reaches of the 416 to the nearest subway line in a manner the Transit City proposal simply fails to achieve. BRT “Light” to my understanding, is only applicable to roadways which lack the necessary space to accomodate true ROW down the median e.g. Jane from the CNR to Hwy 400.

    Steve: I have to jump in here. The Kingston Road corridor is a TTC proposal. Highway 27 already has an express bus on it, but SOS has not explained how stations would work beyond saying that they would use the ramps to handle this. These are the only “BRT” routes proposed in Move Toronto. The Finch line is (a) on Finch, not the hydro corridor and (b) is BRT Light. The Neilson line is also BRT light. I am not making this up. See page 14 in Move Toronto.

    People tend to overestimate the space needed for bus lanes in contrast to light-rail. A true dedicated passing lane(s) is not needed for most on-street operation of busways, as any vacancy in the opposite directional lane can be used as a bypass lane for buses stuck in a queue. It’s only at major cross-intersections does a passing lane cut-out appear necessary (particularly for the entrance/exiting of the ROW). So for a typical 36m wide suburban arterial, granting 4m per lane and 4m per platform area/road divider, this leaves available 20m outside of the ROW for all multi-purpose traffic.

    Steve: Forcing buses to use the opposing lane to pass limits the capacity at stations and reduces the operating speed of the road because of contention between the directions. This is workable at wider headways (where one might question the need for BRT), but as headways get shorter, then dedicated space for passing is required.


  35. Looks like “Save Our Subways” might have a local splinter group, “Save Our Sheppard”. There was an article pubished in the Star this Monday about the group’s opposition to the Sheppard LRT, arguing it should be a subway, citing the St Clair experience. Interestingly one quote caught my attention:

    “You get in the car and you go 60 kilometres per hour and you get on the streetcar and you go 12 kilometres per hour,” said Sinclair. “If you’re trying to pull people on (transit) and you’re trying to get less traffic you’ve got to give them transit they will use. Where is the analysis of not just the costs, but the benefits”

    I can only guess this is a deliberate “apples and oranges” comparison to colour the argument, comparing average speed of the current streetcars with the instantaeous speed of a private auto (assuming the driver is repecting the posted speed limit”. Unless someone was traveling on the DVP, Gardiner or 401 during, I’d be hard pressed to believe anyone could drive an average speed of 60 k/h. As it is, on my bike I can usually average about 20 k/h (including stops for lights, stop signs, waiting to make left or right turns, stopping behind door of streetcar, etc). While the legacy streetcars do have a bad reputation for slow speed, I’ve found they can zip along a good speed, as my experience biking along Gerrard has shown (close to 40 k/h by my crude estimate).

    I’m sure somewhere someone has measured the average speed of the various mode in TO. Have no idea where 12 k/h comes from (the Queen or King car running midtown?)


    Steve: The scheduled speed of all lines is available in the service summary which is on the TTC’s website (scroll down to the bottom of the page). The streetcar lines have a few cases and times of day where the speed is 12km/h or lower, but many cases run higher.


  36. I think most people seem to not understand that people are not against LRT.

    People like the SOS people are fighting for “rapid transit” to the very areas of Toronto that need it.

    All the Transit City folks never have brought up the fact that Transit City is not rapid transit, and that people in Malvern, and other areas of outer Toronto will continue to have to sit on the TTC for hours to get places, that only take 20-30 minutes by car.

    If Transit City was totally grade seperated LRT service, with crossing arms, trains going 80 km/h, subway style station spacing. Basically high grade LRT like is built in American cities. Than I don’t think you would see a SOS group, etc.

    But the very issue that is one of the most important to riders is being ignored by the pro Transit City folk, and that is “travel time”.

    I have been doing research for a school project on public transit service standards. And every report I read stresses how transit must offer a trip that is competative with car travel. Almost all reports point that car drivers will only put up with a transit trip that is 15 minutes at most longer than driving.

    Transit City is slow, and that is why SOS has grown as a movement.

    Weather [sic] transit people like it or not, people don’t want to sit on a LRT for two hours to get across town or go downtown. And these same transit planners are going to have to understand that there is nothing wrong with people in Scarborough, Etobicoke, and North York wanting to go and work or enjoy a day in our great downtown Toronto, or to go across the city to work or to see family, etc. And building slow Transit City lines will not make people all of a sudden only venture 5 blocks from their homes(which I might add is boring and stops people from enjoying all this city has to offer). Instead people will do as they do now, and just drive.

    When Transit City addresses the lack of “rapid transit” in outer Toronto, than I think you will see groups like SOS fade.

    I live in Scarborough and as a big transit supporter as I am, I am not happy about Transit City. It does nothing to improve transit over my current bus routes. In fact I have not met anyone where TC improves their commute. They will still be facing a one hour transit trip downtown vs a 20 minute car trip. But they probably won’t actually be facing that commute, as they will continue to drive.

    There is a reason TTC has been losing market share of trips to downtown. And that is because TTC is not keeping up with the times, and the main reason, it is slow. And TC must address that slowness.

    Steve: You speak of trips to downtown, but Transit City is intended to serve trips that do not go downtown as much as if not more than those destined for the core. When you talk of travel time comparisons, you omit the fact that someone going downtown must deal with expensive parking (if they can find it) and the higher speed travel available on the subway. Most people do not travel from one side of the 416 to the other, but between many intermediate points, and these points are not necessarily on the major corridors where TC lines are located.

    The access time to rapid transit (walk, local bus) will still remain, possibly at both ends of trips, because of the dispersed nature of residential and work locations. The travel time advantage for autos is as much because they eliminate those access links in the journey. For example, if someone wants to cross Toronto today via the BD subway, it will take 50 minutes for the trip from Kennedy to Kipling. To this must be added the home to transit walk, the local bus at each end of the trip, and the final walk to the destination. If that destination is outside the 416, then the trip is even more challenging by transit. I’m not pretending that an LRT design as a more local service than a subway line might be will give as fast a journey. It won’t. However, whether we can afford to build that size of subway network is at the heart of this entire debate.

    Subways exist where there is demand, and that simply does not hold up in the outer suburbs. Indeed, were it not for York University, there would be not be enough demand in the northwest corridor to justify the subway extension. The demand projections north of Steeles are pitiful, and the TTC will have an ongoing burden of over $10m annually in extra operating cost. That’s what building subways beyond the point where there is enough density and demand does.

    The downtown market shares that are going up are GO Transit (bringing riders from beyond the TTC’s service territory), walking and cycling (from housing close to the core where this is now a practical travel option). Your comment implies that there is a return to auto commuting, but the number of cars coming into downtown has been static for decades.

    If you are waiting for Malvern to see a subway, you will wait a very long time. However, the Scarborough RT (converted to LRT), as and when it reaches Malvern, is currently designed to be a completely private right-of-way high-speed connection to Kennedy Station. This fits your definition of an “acceptable” LRT. There will also be GO service through Agincourt whenever they fire up service on the Peterborough corridor. That is a far more appropriate way of getting people from northeast Scarborough to downtown than with one or more new subway lines.

    If the TTC is “not keeping up with the times”, it is by failing to expand, and by spending decades looking only at high-cost subway solutions for which funding was rarely available, and then only with political influence.


  37. In response to your comments Steve.
    Transit City is always touted as offering a local travel option. However TC is only going to be at most 10 minutes end to end faster than the current bus routes(current planners at TC meetings have told me that).

    Which brings me to the point that local travel is already addressed with the current bus network. If I want to get someplace local, I can go stand on the corner and hop on a bus that comes every 2-5 minutes. It is not a big deal.

    What TC ignors is that outer Toronto as I stated needs rapid transit to get us to other points in the city, including downtown.
    The fact that the TTC still can not get people into downtown from all corners of this city in a proper amount of time, shows that work needs to be done, before we go build LRT everywhere, that just replaces current bus service.

    TTC’s own Transit City studies, show that most people in the TC corridors are going downtown. I think in the Sheppard corridor if I remember right, something like 60-65% of TTC riders are destined downtown. Therefore we need better service to get into the core. The local service is already there, and can be improved with the introduction of more Rocket limited stop bus routes.

    And parking is not that big of a deal in downtown, and should not be used as an excuse to not improve transit and just force people onto slow, crownded LRT and bus routes. I know a large amount of middle class people who drive downtown and park. Actually while I take transit all the time, the odd time I carpool downtown with a co-worker, I am surprised with just how easy it is to drive downtown and park(at a reasonable price I might add). It actually is not hard at all, even in peak commute times(if you live in the 416).

    It is totally unacceptable that it takes Malvern residents over one and a half hours to get downtown by transit, or to get across town. If TC does not address these issues, which it is not, than of course there are going to be groups like SOS.

    Sometimes we have to build for the future. I am working on a consulting project on what kind of development should go along the Spadina subway extension, and it is amazing the potential we have to build TOD suburbs all the way out to Vaughan, and build up capacity for the subway.
    Toronto does not build enough for the future, and that is why we are stuck now with not enough rapid transit. The Yonge subway should have been four tracked from the start, and the subway extended to all corners of the former METRO, instead of trying to go with the RT, and Transit City ideas.
    When we have a proper high speed rapid transit network built, than I think there would be more support for TC lines that feed into rapid transit.
    You do not always wait for capacity to expand rapid transit. You build it and they will come.

    And I think the lackluster ridership growth rates for the T.C. lines show how people will not be coming to flock to the TC lines, because they do not offer rapid transit.
    The short 6.5 km Sheppard subway carries more people than most of these Transit City lines are going to carry with routes double to four timse the length of the Sheppard subway. That tells you something there.
    Same for Vancouver. It was shown that Skytrain extensions attract double the ridership than Transit City style LRT, which just does not offer fast, rapid travel.


  38. Further to my comments, when I and many people hear the word LRT, they think of a service like this.

    I think if Toronto was building LRT like this, we would see huge support. I would love to ride a line like the one in that video.

    Steve: Notice how this line spends all its time beside an expressway around which there is almost no development except at the widely spaced stations. This is a very different implementation of LRT (and city planning) than intended for the TC network. The converted and extended SRT will be closest in style to what you show here.

    In the department of lost causes, the northern end of the Spadina extension could just as well have been LRT in a mode somewhat like this, and could have been the start of a larger network within York Region feeding the top end of both subway lines and GO Transit. Instead, we are spending a fortune to take the subway up to Vaughan.


  39. Steve,

    I think that your rebuttal of the S.O.S plan to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Centre was solid, but I have another scenario to present to you. Admittedly, it might be easy to disprove as I am not positive how the tunnel location relates to the surface structures in the area.

    I’m trying to find a way for the subway to make that technically impossible east-to-north turn onto the SRT surface track that you mentioned. If Kennedy’s platform is located directly underneath the bus terminal and if the crossover tracks are located on the adjacent Canada Post lands, it seems feasible that relocating the platform to the crossover tracks could provide the necessary space to be able to make that east-to-north turn.

    The Canada Post lands would have to be acquired and the crossover tracks could not be taken out of service because the existing Kennedy Station would have to remain in service during construction. As a result, the ‘new Kennedy’ would have side platforms so that the station could be built around the crossover tracks. At the same time, work would proceed on the former SRT to replace the surface track north of Eglinton, as temporary closure of the SRT seems necessary under any scenario developed to date. A new tunneled curve, possibly by cut and cover, would then be completed to connect the two sections.

    It might be more cost effective, although I am not claiming to have done an NPV analysis, to accommodate the ECLRT and the SMLRT in an entirely new structure than by retrofitting the existing station. Purchasing and demolishing the Canada Post lands, and demolishing and selling the existing Kennedy Station lands would both factor into this analysis.

    Further work would be required on the SRT stations, the elevated sections, and the tunneled portion just beyond Ellesmere Station, but I am only focusing on the connection point at Kennedy at the moment.

    And, of course, I am disregarding the provincial budget as I am writing this because it is still a useful exercise.

    Steve: Expropriation of the Canada Post lands is not possible because this is a Federal agency. Ottawa would have to buy into the whole exercise. One big problem with your scheme is that there is a period during which you have to build the eastbound curve turning north into the existing SRT right-of-way. That curve would pass through the existing Kennedy Station structure and require that the line be cut back to Warden during a fairly extensive demolition and construction period. This in turn would require a major reorientation of the southern Scarborough bus network to Warden at the same time as the SRT itself was operating as a bus line.

    Another structural problem is that there is a curve just west of the crossover where the alignment shifts from the old railway corridor to a more east-west orientation. The straight section of the crossover itself is not long enough to accommodate a 500-foot long platform. If you look at Google Maps, you will see the rail corridor approach Kennedy from the southwest. The curve begins at Kennedy itself as the line turns to point straight at the bus terminal. Transway Crescent is directly on top of the subway structure at Kennedy, and you can see the subway alignment from there easterly in the layout of the parking lot. The west end of the platform is roughly under the middle of the old LRT loop.


  40. Thanks for the explanation Steve. Canada Post aside, because I think that an agreement there is challenging but not impossible, it is unfortunate that the TTC has so much land at Kennedy and yet can’t really do a lot with it easily, save and except the SLRT plan that was released earlier this month.

    I’m almost afraid to ask but, using HRT technology, could a four-car train curve into the existing Kennedy complex from the north under any scenario? In other words, relative to the Bloor-Danforth, a terminal on the same level, one level above, or one level below? Or are all scenarios pretty much impossible due to land availability and the wider turns required by heavy rail? I am assuming a four-car train as a precursor to expanding to six-cars decades from now without the need for significant infrastructure changes at that time.

    I’m not pushing a subway for the sake of having a subway, just revisiting the options now that the addition of Transit City to the network is in doubt.

    Steve: The curve radius is independent of the train length.


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