In a previous article, I discussed the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT subway and the issues raised by demand projections for it. On July 26, I met with staff from Metrolinx to explore the subject in detail, and this post summarizes our discussion.
What Network and Land Use Drove the Demand Model?
Before we can understand the numbers generated from any model, it is important to know the assumptions behind it. Is the network a realistic view of services that will actually be in place? What residential and work locations and densities are used to generate the travel demand flowing through the model?
Notable by their absence from the map of passenger flows are any extension of the Sheppard subway, the proposed Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge subway and any reference to GO Transit routes or demand.
Metrolinx replied that their model includes only those routes and services for which funding is committed. This means that only the Spadina Extension, the Eglinton line, and the GO improvements in GO’s 2020 plan are part of the model. In effect, this takes the transportation network to roughly a 2020 state.
However, the underlying land use represents 2031 population and job projections with growth concentrated in major nodes such as Yonge-Eglinton and Scarborough Town Centre.
How Does the Demand Behave?
The projected travel time from STC to King & Yonge is the same whether a rider uses the Eglinton-Crosstown or the Bloor-Danforth line to reach the Yonge subway. Demand to downtown does not change much with the addition of the Crosstown line because it does not generate much new demand to downtown along its route, but only diverts trips that would otherwise use the BD path.
Another way of looking at this is that modelled land use and demand to downtown stay the same in any simulation, and with the high modal split already seen in traffic bound to that area, a new transit line outside of the core will mainly redistribute this demand, not add to it.
In the original Transit City network model, the projected peak hour demand westbound from Kennedy on Eglinton was 2,700. With the change to a through-routed Scarborough-Eglinton service and the higher speed of subway operation from Scarborough to Leaside, the peak hour demand goes up to 9,200. Of the 6,500 added riders, about 60% shift from the BD line while the remaining 40% come either from bus routes (people riding west to the Yonge line via, say, 54 Lawrence East or 95 York Mils) or from net new transit demand.
Although demand will grow on the Yonge line, this growth will not come from Eglinton. Transfer movements will shift from Bloor-Yonge to Eglinton-Yonge, but the growth due to the Eglinton line’s presence will be small.
Trips bound for midtown, by contrast, have a much faster route from Scarborough via the Crosstown, and these will shift to the new line. Indeed, some traffic bound for York University also moves north to Eglinton because of the more direct access to the Spadina subway.
Metrolinx has tested the effect of a Sheppard subway extension, and if this is added to the model, demand on Eglinton-Crosstown drops by about 10%. They have not examined the effect of a Downtown Relief Line because the core area demand and capacity issues are part of a separate TTC study in progress. Similarly, any issues with Bloor-Yonge capacity and demands on the Yonge line generally are part of the TTC’s work. Metrolinx does not regard their simulations of this part of the network as definitive.
Opening day demand on Eglinton is expected to be about 65% of the 2031 projection. Whether peak riding on the Crosstown will eventually plateau is difficult to say. This depends on what future network additions and/or changes in land use that are not part of the model actually occur.
Because the peak demand is projected to be to the east of Yonge, less attention has been paid to travel behaviour to the west. With the line ending at Jane Street and without a feeder of comparable capacity to the “SRT” portion of the Crosstown, the western Crosstown segment will not achieve anywhere near the demand on the eastern side.
Even an eventual connection through to the Mississauga busway would not provide the same feeder capacity as the Scarborough segment, and there are many alternative routes from Mississauga to downtown via GO. By contrast, the only change to GO east of Yonge that would be in the modelled network would be all-day service on the branch to Stouffville proposed in GO’s 2020 plan, and there is little in the network to compete with the Scarborough-Eglinton line for downtown-bound trips.
The Future of the Network
What is quite striking about the projected demand on the east side of Yonge is how this continues the pattern of “commuter subways” whose passengers mainly originate at the outer ends of the lines thanks to collector services and major interchange nodes. In the model, this is a direct result of the land use assumptions that include little growth along Eglinton. Indeed, it begs the question of how much stimulus to anything other than relatively small clusters of condos the line will generate on a local basis.
This chicken-and-egg situation and the relationship between land use and demand projections is an important part of the larger discussion of network planning.
- Is the land use model valid and appropriate? Will growth actually occur where it is planned?
- How much would growing population or jobs along the line affect demand, or would the very large downtown node and travel to it always dominate flows in the network?
- How far away from downtown must a rapid transit route be before travel locally on the route and to destinations outside of the core will dominate?
- What level of transit service, what density of well-served routes is needed to address the less concentrated demands for suburban travel?
- Can growth outside of the core actually be well-served by transit, or will this growth primarily contribute to increased auto travel?
Metrolinx is in the early stages of “The Big Move 2.0”, a fresh look at the regional transportation plan, and yet many questions about the heart of this network are still very much local issues.
Planning for the core area is in the TTC’s hands, although GO is also an important component. Many of the projects needed to achieve capacity growth on the subway are not funded (leaving aside the wisdom of each component or of alternatives such as the DRL). Projected GO rail volumes in “TBM 1” are considerably higher than the capacity of Union Station and of the rail corridor. How much of the anticipated growth in downtown can actually be handled by transit regardless of who operates it? What will be the role of near-downtown residential development and of the surface transit network?
Reverse-peak commuting is a fact of life on the road network, and will become much more important for transit operations where the modal share of trips is now quite low. What are the implications of this trend for regional plans and for local transit operations?
For all its size and eventual importance, the Eglinton-Crosstown line is only a small part of a much larger network. Its value as a construction project is impressive, and its billions will pad out claims of government spending on transit for years to come. Much more is needed, and an all subway all the time policy is not viable. This is the conundrum of the subway versus LRT (and BRT) debate. We need many transit routes, not just one showcase line, and demand pressures are far worse for the hard-to-serve travel to and between the suburbs.