Stintz Supports LRT, Maybe (Update 3)

Updated January 23 at 11:00pm:  Links to updated coverage including signs of movement toward a new transit plan have been added.

From the Star:

Tess Kalinowski writes about support building for a new plan.  In this version, a surface-subway LRT on Eglinton frees up money for, possibly, a short extension on Sheppard to Victoria Park and something on Finch West.

It’s too early to tell which combination will win out, and there’s no reference to eastern Scarborough.

Martin Cohn writes about the imminent collapse of the McGuinty-Ford transit deal.  We learn that Queen’s Park was prepared to pay the extra cost of expropriating property to widen Eglinton to compensate for space lost to surface LRT, but this option was rejected by Ford.

A Star Editorial congratulates Karen Stintz for telling us the obvious and urges her to begin a campaign for a subway-surface line on Eglinton.  At this rate, they’ll be casting a bronze of Stintz arm-in-arm with David Miller.

From the Globe:

Marcus Gee writes favourably about a move to bring Eglinton back to the surface.

From the National Post:

Natalie Alcoba writes about the proposed change including comments from supportive Councillors.

Updated January 23 at 5:50 pm:  I recently spoke with Bruce McCuaig, President and CEO of Metrolinx, about this issue.  Notes from our conversation are at the end of this article.

Adrian Morrow reports in today’s Globe that TTC Chair Karen Stintz feels an all-underground Eglinton line should just be what it is, a subway, but that it belongs on the surface as LRT for its outer suburban section.

Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

“If the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be at-grade,” she said. “If there’s a decision to put it underground, it should be a subway.”

That’s an interesting position for someone in the Ford camp because it continues the anti-streetcar rhetoric of the Mayor’s office.  If Eglinton is built as a subway line, the option of converting it to LRT and resurrecting Transit City falls because a major link (and the proposed main shops for the LRT network) would vanish.

As Morrow points out in his article, other systems use a combination of surface and underground alignments (including Boston where downtown streetcars went underground over a century ago) so that a network of surface routes can share a common tunnel in the congested central area while switching to a simpler surface alignment elsewhere.

If Eglinton were to become a subway, the problem of valley crossings won’t disappear and Metrolinx will still face the problem of either going under several valleys, or bridging them with parallel structures.

The real question a subway option begs is the future of the SRT.  If Eglinton becomes a subway, it will not easily through-route to Scarborough Town Centre along the existing alignment, and this will reopen the debate over a Bloor-Danforth extension.

Morrow’s article implies that Stintz may be shifting into the pro-LRT camp, but I am not convinced.  If she were really shifting positions, there would be more talk about revival of some parts of Transit City, notably the Finch West line which, unlike Sheppard East, is completely independent of the Ford subway proposals.

The pending release of Gordon Chong’s report on financing the Sheppard Subway will trigger, finally, a debate on the future of Toronto’s transit technologies at Council.  We will see whether Stintz is truly an LRT supporter, or simply pitching Ford’s “no streetcars” view of the world.


The Globe article in print is missing its final paragraphs that appear in the online version.  It’s a shame that truncation for space robbed the article of its original, stronger ending.

To set them up, I have included here the final paragraph in print.

Historically, the TTC has also confused people about light rail’s potential: Promotional material in the late 2000s mapped the slow-moving St. Clair and Spadina streetcars as LRTs, even though they stop frequently and have to wait at red lights. [Print article ends]  Suburban light rail is a different animal.

“It’s not like you have the stores and houses along Eglinton East to generate the demand for more frequent stops,” said transit blogger Steve Munro. “It’s not like the Spadina car.”

To Jarrett Walker, author of the blog Human Transit, burying the Eglinton line is an expensive exercise in road-improvement.

“Be clear: You’re not spending this money on a project to improve transit,” said Mr. Walker. “You’re spending it on a project to protect motorists from inconvenience.”

Jarrett Walker’s blog, Human Transit, is an excellent commentary on a wide variety of transit and planning topics.  He is now on tour promoting his book of the same name.

Updated on January 23, 2011 at noon:

The Star has an article by Tess Kalinowski covering the same story with exploration of related issues.  In this story we find:

Karen Stintz, who was named head of the TTC by Ford, says putting the suburban east and west stretches of the line in a tunnel is a waste of money because there is relatively little road traffic along those portions.

“It makes more sense not to bury it and use the money to build (the) Sheppard (subway),” said Stintz.

This begs two questions:  First off, why spend the money on the Sheppard subway which was supposed to be financed by the private sector.  Second, what’s the status of a Finch LRT and of LRT in general in Stintz’ world.

Updated on January 23, 2011 at 5:50pm:

A short time ago, I spoke with Bruce McCuaig of Metrolinx about their view of this discussion.  He began by recapping the statements he has been giving to the media all afternoon.  The following is a paraphrase.

Metrolinx has been getting mixed messages from the TTC and the City about Eglinton.  Metrolinx wants to build “smart and affordable” transit, but the City and Council need to settle on a position.  Metrolinx has been working with them already to provide a high quality system on time and on budget.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding with the City, and Metrolinx has proceeded on assumption of support for this.  It would be very difficult to build anything without certainty on the City’s part.  Metrolinx will build the project, whatever it is, but they need a partnership to achieve this.

Metrolinx wants to give the City a chance to clarify its position.  There are no ideas on the table from the City itself, only “musings of one Councillor”.

I noted that early comments attributed to Metrolinx implied that they had a preferred option (the all-underground one) and that they were unwilling to go back to the original subway-surface scheme.  This position appeared to evolve through the day to a more neutral one of waiting for the City to make up its mind.  I asked whether Metrolinx had any thoughts on where plans might go if money is freed up by returning to the subway-surface option.

Metrolinx feels that the new [all underground plan] can move more people faster, and we support what works for the region.  However, it is too early to discuss potential changes to the plan and the follow-on effects.  The only plan we have is what’s in the MOU.  If the City wants changes, it should say what these are, but it is premature to talk about outcomes after that.

I pointed out that the MOU has never been endorsed by Council and is not really a “City” position.

Metrolinx moved ahead based on the MOU, and we have not changed from this path.

I asked about the status of work leading to public meetings and amendments to the Environmental Assessment that has already been approved.  Moreover, will this information be available as background to any Council debate so that the real differences between the subway-surface and all-subway versions will be understood.

Preliminary engineering is underway for the amendments to the EA, and Metrolinx planned to go to the public in spring 2012 with details on the extended tunnel section, the maintenance facility, stations and the alignment for the western terminus.  Whether this information is available to Council will depend on the timing of debate there, and Metrolinx has no control over that.

McCuaig concluded by saying that Metrolinx wants to get on with the task of building transit.  I can only temper this by saying that we need to build the right plan.  What that will be remains to be seen.

57 thoughts on “Stintz Supports LRT, Maybe (Update 3)

  1. Steve: However, I would bet that ICTS Mark II trains would fit just fine, and would not be surprised in the least to hear such a proposal from Metrolinx if push came to shove.

    I suppose a 6-carriage ICTS Mark II trainset would look enough like a “subway” to convince more than a few people. What are the comparative dimensions, passenger capacity and of the 3-car LRT train compared to a 6-carriage (3 pairs) ICTS?

    And, would a 6-carriage ICTS Mark II trainset at higher frequencies than subway have the capacity to meet the passenger demands that you are projecting for the Downtown Relief Line east? If I recall correctly, 120s is the maximum realistic frequency for ICTS while subway is 150s or lower.

    Who knows, if we can build the DRL and an Eglinton Line using ICTS, perhaps there might be a silver lining in all this nonsense – even if Eglinton ends up being delayed again because of a change in design to accomodate ICTS.

    Cheers, moaz

    Steve: The subway is actually running today at 140s, and ICTS is capable of closer headways. The constraints lie in the signal system and in station dwell times, and particularly in terminal operations. ICTS is automated and can shave times at terminals because there is no washroom break or crew change. However, as the trains get longer, the crossover occupancy will take more time and the minimum turnaround time for a train will rise.

    TTC blows hot and cold on step-back crewing where, in theory, there’s always a crew ready to take over a train the moment in comes into the platform. This practice comes and goes because of constraints on the number of operators available. The bean counters see a head count that’s not “doing anything” as if speeding up service has no value. It’s a severe problem on the RT where an operator has to walk the length of the train and fight through a crowded platform to do so at Kennedy.


  2. @Michael

    “Do you really think people are going to board a surface LRT on Eglinton, and take a leisurely 60 minute ride along Eglinton, to get to the airport? “

    Smart people would take the Agincourt-crosstown line to the airport (assuming some connection is made available). People with lots of time (and silly people in a rush) would take the streetcar over such a long distance in light of better alternatives.


  3. Jarrett Walker’s blog, Human Transit, is an excellent commentary on a wide variety of transit and planning topics. He is now on tour promoting his book of the same name.

    I looked up the link, which is basically a discussion of the privatization of transit operation. I was shocked at the unrelenting tone of all the comments, which was to keep unions out of transit and pay operators minimal wages. This ideology of reducing everyone but a small elite to Third World levels is so foreign to the values we grew up with, yet now it seems to be accepted without question. It’s the essence of Fordism and Harperism. We are seeing the results of this in York Region, and more dramatically, in London with the Caterpillar lockout. Above all, I think we need to defend the rights of all workers, and to maintain living standards. A well-paid public sector pushes up wages for all, which is perhaps the main reason why right-wing ideologues are so hard on it.

    Not so many years ago the maximization of jobs was seen as a Good Thing. Now we have not just generalized union-busting, but talk of automating trains and eliminating as many jobs as possible. Capital over Labour. Now that the capital costs of new developments are so high, perhaps we need to re-visit the idea of investing in people, in labour, instead of monumental construction, which often has a rather short lifespan anyway. Just a thought …

    Steve: Could leave a link to the specific article where you found this thread. This is not the general tone of the site.


  4. “I am amused by the idea that an Eglinton subway with an interchange point at Don Mills (for example) duplicates the very problem so many complain of at Don Mills and Sheppard, not to mention Kennedy — the imposition of an otherwise unneeded transfer by passengers.”

    As long as some transfers make sense. Sheppard’s Don Mills doesn’t because the Sheppard Subway is too short. Kennedy never made sense because there is only one transfer to the SRT and that is about it. The idea of the termini at Don Mills and Jane is to provide good nodes for multiple LRT at those stations, and Eglinton West and East if required. This was the same idea for Don Mills station under the old plan (although the only reason why I didn’t agree with it was that it would forever reduce Sheppard to Stubway status).


  5. Steve said: However, I would bet that ICTS Mark II trains would fit just fine, and would not be surprised in the least to hear such a proposal from Metrolinx if push came to shove.

    Karl: I agree that ICTS would probably fit, but it’s of no value since it has a much smaller capacity compared to conventional subway for comparable investment and higher operating costs.

    Steve: That has never stopped advocates of ICTS before. They will tell us that it can handle whatever capacity demands Eglinton will throw at it.

    What do you mean it won’t handle the capacity? You double the number of tracks and then only stop at alternate stations except for major interchanges. We can call it the A train and the B train. If you need more capacity we can build a third track in each directions and include express service. Why the possibilities are endless. Yes, ICTS can handle anything, except maybe a little snow, but Global warming should take care of that.


  6. IF the Eglinton Line goes back to its’ original TC plan, Metrolinx should ensure that the savings from it go toward the 1st phase of the DRL. Transit improvements in Toronto can’t be made unless the Yonge Line and the overcrowded streetcars have some of the load taken off their shoulders with the DRL. And as much as those along Finch cry about their overcrowded bus, the thing is, they knew what Lame Duck Ford had planned for transit and the proposed Finch West LRT, and yet they still voted for him anyway, so they themselves helped choose their fate. So the ideal thing to do is build the Eglinton and DRL lines now, and worry later about Finch and Rob Ford’s fetish by the name of the Sheppard Subway.

    Steve: The DRL is a non-starter in this context for several reasons. The total cost will considerably exceed any possible “leftover” on Eglinton, and the alignment is, putting it mildly, uncertain. Also, this would be seen as diverting money from suburban transit to downtown. The money should go first to Finch, and we can sort out Sheppard once Ford is out of office. Finch will also garner political support from Councillors who live west of Yonge Street in a debate that is relentlessly focused on the area roughly from Don Mills to Kennedy.


  7. I find it funny that we are going on and on that our corridors can’t support subway service.

    Yet Vancouver is building Skytrain lines out to the suburbs that carry a fraction of the ridership our rapid transit routes would carry.

    So if Vancouver can do it and understands they need to provide a rapid transit service. Why all of a sudden can Toronto not support fully grade separated transit (be it underground or elevated).

    Steve: There is a long-standing debate in Vancouver about Skytrain vs LRT and it goes back to the days when Bill Vander Zalm (then the Minister responsible for Transit) didn’t like streetcars and spiked an LRT scheme for the city. There are also some route-specific benefits of Skytrain in the Vancouver context such as the double-deck use of an old railway tunnel through downtown. However, a big issue was that the growth of the network was supported by both the provincial and federal governments, and the local agency has a dedicated tax (which it recently raised). Whether spending at this rate would have occurred in a constrained economy and without the special events of Expo and the Olympics to attract federal support is another matter.


  8. I am happy either options as long as the train doesn’t have to wait for traffic lights or block cars at any intersections.


  9. It’s just amazing how politicians can pull strings and push proposals seemingly whenever the mood strikes them.

    Now there’s another proposal.

    When will the proposals stop and the planning and construction begin?

    Maybe we need to be like the Americans and vote on transit-related propositions – so at least a decision is made by the public rather than based on what the political flavour of the month is.

    Cheers, Moaz


  10. This is quite interesting since Ford appointed her as TTC chair but she’s about to support LRT. Still dreaming about the same plan though, Sheppard. I bet she’s been reading some ‘most liked’ comments on the news, regarding burying the whole Eglinton. I would have agreed with her completely if she was even considering bringing DRL to life. More room to compromise.

    Transit planning in GTA is all about the politicians and votes, not about its daily riders.

    Kazakhstan’s most populated city, Almaty, just got its subway opened which is longer than current Sheppard in length, yet expected to carry 26,000 people in a weekday (vs about 48,000) by 7 sets of 4 car subway. The whole country suffered financial difficulties but such a commitment of the government got the line done and keep working on the next phase along with 2 more lines.

    One of the main reasons why 905’ers & Torontonians choose to drive is the delay in transit planning and expanding the network. This is their, and/or our common thought; Enough talking, start digging!

    Our provincial government keep cries for ‘greener’ Ontario yet does not like to invest in public transportation, very hypocritical. The government also could have saved the budget by purchasing diesel buses instead of forcing TTC to buy hybrids that do not last as long as the conventional diesel buses.

    What we should really bring back is Network 2011 with redesigned DRL plus Finch West, Waterfront West LRT. The plan is very long over due but it deserves more attention.


  11. But Network 2011 proposes subways which all of sudden in Toronto is a nasty word to most transit supporters here.

    As for Skytrain in Vancouver. Studies have also shown that LRT lines would have carried a fraction of the riders that the Skytrain carries, because LRT is too slow to attract many car drivers. Where Skytrain offers the speedy service people want.

    I think there really has to be a proper discussion on rating different LRT technology. For example, Calgary style LRT is not the same as Transit City LRT. And people have to be made to understand that.


  12. For those who think LRT to the airport will take too long, consider the number of people who already line up for the TTC bus from Pearson to Lawrence West. I’ve done it once, the LRT can’t be slower than that was, and it won’t force a transfer for those going to the Yonge line or beyond as the 58 does.


  13. It’s hard to say if this represents a major shift from the views on which Mayor Ford campaigned, but Stintz is not only “Ford loyalist” who has been questioning both the logic and expense of a fully underground LRT, though I’m not holding my breath that this means a revival of the original plan for Eglinton, or of “Transit City”. Indeed my worry is we could wind up with a replay of the original Eglinton line were in the end nothing is built. I would at least like to see a proper vote from City Council as to which option they support. My sense is that the majority of Council and perhaps even TTC management favour subways.

    Indeed “Transit City” always seemed to be a “fall-back” from subways as a quicker and more affordable way to get higher order transit throughout Toronto rather than being presented as what was most appropriate for the areas it was to serve. Again and again I see confirmation that the main reason subways are favoured is are perceived not to take road space from cars. Indeed Jarrett Walker’s comments reflect my view.

    As for “hybrid” subway-surface LRT lines, San Francisco is another interesting example. The portion running under Market Street run as subway trains with platform-level loading, but emerge in the west side of the city running on the surface in the middle of the street as they do here. The one bit of overhead is that the centre doors on each car raise to become flat for the high platforms on the subway section and lower as normal stairs for street operation, since these are not low-floor LRVs.



  14. Michael said:

    In fact I remember at the Sheppard open house for TC, they had a stat that something like 65% of Sheppard bus riders are destined to downtown Toronto.

    From your comments it sounds like you should be more at home advocating for fare integration and better service on the Richmond Hill, Stouffville, Barrie and Lakeshore East lines instead of asking for subways to Vaughan and STC.


  15. Michael, there was a study showed that subway and ICTS attract more passengers rather than LRV. We could have the new lines – Sheppard and Eglinton – based on ICTS to reduce the cost just a bit. SRT was a fail example due to the reliability issue and all other ‘experiments’ but succeeded in making STC a proper transit hub.

    There’s still a room in the city hall to debate on if TTC should have 4-car subway or ICTS or LRV on Eglinton, we’ll probably see it again. Other options would attract more riders but widen the gap between the stations.


  16. @Mark. Just because people take the bus to the airport now, does not mean we should be happy with a sub par service to the airport(surface LRT), just because captive people will ride it.

    Transit to survive must be more than just a service for poor captive riders. And to attract people with a choice, we gotta offer better service to the airport, than a median LRT that takes over an hour to get someone to the airport.

    Steve: For what it’s worth, the subway service to O’Hare in Chicago runs in the median of an expressway and takes 45 minutes from downtown. Airports are hard to get to because they tend to be out in the middle of nowhere. Also, service to the airport is not and never was the primary goal of Transit City. We should not gerrymander the network to serve this demand.

    As for the whole issue with subways. I don’t think most people support subways with the idea of getting transit off the surface. People support subways, because subways are reliable, fast, and frequent, most of the time. They provide a rapid transit option. And that is why people like them.

    If you told people we were building Calgary style LRT on Eglinton, I bet people would support it in a minute, because the Calgary LRT also provides that subway level of service that people crave.

    The subway thing is the same issue we have with express buses in this city. The TTC and transit advocates in this city have a hatred for limited stop express buses. Yet almost all the express buses the TTC had put out there have become popular beyond projections. So for all this talk on wide stop spacing, etc. It is the fast service, be it a subway, or an express bus, etc, that is attracting people onto transit.

    Steve: The issue with limited stop services is that they are not subject to the same financial and reporting standards that other routes face, and we see cutbacks on regular routes with no comparison of the resources spent per rider on the limited stop services. The double fare does not cover all of the cost when a bus has barely half a seated load and carries nobody on a return trip. If it were running as a regular service, there would be calls for service cuts.

    @JLee. I fully support ICTS on Eglinton. In fact I have always maintained that the SRT should be extended from Kennedy to the west end via Eglinton Ave. It would be a great option.

    At the end of the day people want to get home, to work, or wherever life takes them. they want to do this as fast as possible in most cases. They don’t want to sit for an extra 40 minutes on transit, because people have an ideology that we have to have surface transit to somehow turn streets into pedestrian success stories, or whatever reason.


  17. I like this plan. I think it’s a decent compromise. It expands on Sheppard, builds Eglinton and provides BRT across all of Finch, not just a stub on Finch West.

    In all this debate, what’s often missing is any sort of view to the future. Yes, subways are expensive to build. But they aren’t getting cheaper. And that’s why, where we can, we should build them now.

    Expanding on Sheppard will let us build that northern crosstown that will truly be an alternative to the car. It might take several decades. But incremental expansion will make it happen. And when it finally runs from (at least) Agincourt to Downsview, travel in the entire northern half of the city will be markedly different.

    I’m glad there’s some recognition that the city can’t afford to build 2 East-West subways at the same time. If Sheppard isn’t being converted to LRT, then there’s no need for Eglinton to be as fast. The old plan was fine.

    As for Finch. A BRT along all of Finch will benefit way more people than the FWLRT stub ever would have. And it’ll be completed a whole lot sooner too. Moreover, once you combine the Finch BRT and a Sheppard extension to Vic Park, it will allow for some speedy new bus routes to North-Eastern Scarborough.

    This is finally a plan that makes sense to me. Permanently forcing a transfer at Don Mills onto an LRT that wouldn’t even reach Meadowvale never made much sense to me. This plan has the right mix of BRT, LRT and HRT expansion. And something for the vast majority of wards in the city.

    Steve: The LRT would have gone at least to Morningside and Sheppard and then turned south to UofT Scarborough Campus, a major destination in eastern Scarborough.


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