Many Questions for a Pro-LRT Campaign

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous for professional reasons sent me a long series of questions that are the typical thing one might expect in a FAQ, or in the arsenal of someone who was attempting to convince voters that LRT is a good thing.

Although I don’t have time to address the entire list, I wanted it to be “out there” as food for thought among all those who wonder just why those folks in Scarborough (and elsewhere) think so badly of LRT.

To put this into context, I quote the author:

My most important points address Scarborough’s mistrust and resentment.  Why are we saying “yes subways are better but we can only afford to give you light rail” when we could say “light rail is better overall than a subway”?  Why aren’t we proving our promises that LRT is going to be better than SRT?

As I have written at length elsewhere, this is all about advocacy, about making transit truly attractive and desirable, not merely good enough to get by.

In the following text, my responses if any are shown as indented quotes.


Toronto’s LRT proponents are struggling to get their message across, especially to people who distrust the TTC (purveyor of late & crowded buses, a dinky, unreliable train in Scarborough, and ridership forecasts that did not come to fruition).

Torontonians are used to thinking of the “subway” as the only reasonably-fast transit option.  We don’t have any good examples of light rail here.  (The TTC damages their own arguments by using the term “light rail” for streetcar vehicles and the Spadina & St. Clair rights-of-way. )

The debate would be easier if people talked about the following choices separately:

  • bus, light rail, or heavy rail
  • separate right-of-way, or mixed with car traffic
  • waiting at intersections, signal priority, or uninterrupted right-of-way
  • underground, at-grade or elevated

But these are technical factors.  We should instead be talking about the user experience:

  • fast
  • frequent
  • few transfers
  • not crowded
  • reliable
  • smooth, stable & quiet ride (even when turning corners)
  • see the neighbourhood we’re travelling through
  • walk reasonable distances to the stop
  • get from street to vehicle quickly (even with strollers, shopping carts and wheelchairs)
  • built quickly
  • minimal disruption to business and traffic during building
  • lower traffic after building transit

Personally I think the LRT could be a better user experience than the subway, not just better than buses!

However, I suspect people are wondering if the new LRT will really be better than the buses, streetcars and Scarborough RT. These are some unanswered questions underlying the current debate.


Could LRT be as fast as a subway? (Does speed depend on the vehicle technology, the exclusive right of way, distance between stops, or what?)

Steve: Yes, LRT could be as fast as a subway if it were operating in a comparable environment — stops a similar distance apart, no grade crossings or pedestrians wandering across the tracks, etc. Subway cars, streetcars and “LRVs” are all the same technology, just presented in a different package. Some flavours of these cars may be engineered for higher speed or faster acceleration depending on the way that they will be used, but under the covers they are all essentially the same.

How many transit users need closely-spaced stops, compared with how many need faster travel?

Steve: I understand from a contact at the UofT’s Cities Centre that about 2/3 of the travel in Scarborough north of the 401 is internal to Scarborough and only 1/3 goes somewhere else. However, I don’t know the breakdown on time of day or directional effects. Other areas of the city behave this way with much more local demand, especially in the off-peak, than regional demand.

Will the LRT be as crowded as the buses? the SRT?

Steve: This all depends on how much service the TTC operates and what arrangements exist by the time a line opens in 2020 for operating subsidies and, if needed, a bigger fleet. Don’t forget that crowding is mainly a function of the political will to operate more or less service except in cases where one hits the physical limits of a route. TTC has always tended to provide better service relative to demand on its “rapid transit” network than on the bus routes. As for the SRT, it is stuck with a too-small fleet thanks to very high cost for the original vehicles.

How frequently would the LRT run? (As often as a subway?)

Steve: As often as the TTC or Metrolinx feels like paying for. People love subways because they have 5-minute headways at 1:00 am even though the trains may be half-empty. That’s a policy decision, and a recognition that the cost of a subway line is only partly due to the crews on the trains.

Would the LRT trains get bunched up like buses, or stay separated like subway trains?

Steve: This all depends on how the lines are managed. The TTC loves to claim that bunching is caused by traffic congestion, but the primary cause, especially during off-peak periods, is that vehicles leave terminals in twos and threes and stay that way across their route without intervention by Transit Control. This is clearly visible in just about every set of vehicle monitoring data I have ever seen from TTC going back about five years.

Having said that, an LRT line should have more reliable service. It’s worth noting that even the subway has bunching effects caused by minor delays along the way including crew changes. The signal system will space out trains that are early, but trains that are late, even in a bunch, will run through without being held unless Transit Control intervenes.

How many minutes would a transit user save (daily/annually) by alighting LRT at street level, instead of going down to subway level?

Steve: This gets tricky because we need to know whether both ends of the trip are at a surface station or only one, how deep the stations are and how circuitous the path is to the platform. Don Mills is a good example of a place where the transfer is roundabout, while Kipling is just about as simple as it can be.

Compare the time required for a subway or LRT trip, door-to-door. (Depends on distance to stop + depth to descend + speed of train + delays).

Steve: Again this depends on the details of the trip and the design of the segment of a route that the trip will cover.

How much more vitamin D and mental health benefits do transit users get by travelling above-ground?

How much will local businesses benefit by transit riders seeing their storefronts and alighting to visit the store?

Steve: For the new lines on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch (assuming they are all built), this really does not apply because none of them has sidewalks lined with shops where the routes run at grade.

How is LRT different from ICTS (the Scarborough RT technology)?

Steve: The ICTS technology must run on a grade-separated right-of-way because it uses 3rd (and 4th) rails for power pickup, and the propulsion depends on a reaction rail (the plate you see between the running rails) which is actually part of the linear induction motors on the cars. This plate must be closely and accurately spaced to the train, and have no debris or snow/ice buildup. LRT uses rotary motors that drive the train’s wheels just like on a streetcar or subway car. Note that a linear motor is not a prerequisite for an “ICTS” type car, and indeed the new Canada line in Vancouver uses rotary motors. It is really a mini-subway.

ICTS is an automated train, although the command to start from a station is given by the operator. LRT is driven by the operator (although the TTC plans to use automated operation within the Eglinton tunnel and on the converted SRT). This allows LRT to run in areas where there may be conflicting pedestrian or vehicle movements that an automated system cannot detect.

The original ICTS cars were small because in the early days of linear induction motors, there was a limit on the weight of the vehicle. That’s also why they are so noisy inside — not much sound insulation.

How long has LRT technology been in use world-wide?

Steve: This is tricky because it depends on how we define “LRT”. The only real difference between a streetcar and an LRV is how the vehicle is used. For example, Boston has had streetcars running on private rights-of-way and underground since the 1890s and built its last major line (D Riverside) in the 1950s on an old rail corridor that was linked into the existing streetcar tunnels. That was LRT even though it ran with PCCs (the style of car we had in Toronto in great numbers in the 1960s and 70s).

Toronto had a line to Lake Simcoe until the early 1930s. Although I am not sure we would call it “LRT” today, it had its own right-of-way, ran cross-country in places and made roughly the same schedule as the GO bus to Sutton does today. The speed was as much a function of stop spacing and track condition. I have ridden cars (in Philadelphia) that were built in the early 1900s that were capable of 85mph operation.

This technology has been around for a very, very long time. The term “LRT” is more recent and evolved from the need for a sexier name than “tram” or “streetcar” during an era when those modes were considered outdated. In brief, LRT is streetcar technology used in a rapid transit context, but with a minimum of the trappings of a subway line.

Which is more reliable (fewer delays): light or heavy rail? Aboveground or below?

Steve: This depends on the nature of the line and the maintenance of the equipment. Many subway delays come from fires, from ill passengers, equipment breakdowns and suicides. Surface routes tend to have more problems with conflicting traffic and some weather. Equipment reliability of streetcars is a function of age and maintenance — our current fleet is over 30 years old, and some aspects of it were problematic when the vehicles first arrived, let alone now that they are aging. Without question, streetcars in mixed traffic will have more delays from sharing their rights-of-way, but they are easier to divert around delays (although not as easy as a bus).

How does an LRT deal with snow & ice on the road?

Steve: Generally by driving through it. For heavy snowfalls, and assuming that the LRT right-of-way is paved, then the snow must be ploughed just as would be the case for a bus. If the track is open (as on the subway and on The Queensway where streetcars run on their own right-of-way), then more snow can accumulate without blocking service. We have had cases where the subway is blocked by snow, usually from ice forming on the third rail. This is also a problem for the SRT. Ice can form on streetcar overhead, and this is usually broken off by passing transit vehicles. Modern LRVs use pantographs which are better for power pickup and stronger at cutting through ice.

Streetcar/LRT systems have run in hostile climates for over a century in northern Europe and Asia. Think Russia.

How long can an LRT line be maintained before replacement? How long do the LRT vehicles last? Compare to subway cars, streetcars and buses.

Steve: The answer depends on which component one is talking about. The track structure tends to have two components — a base and the layer that holds the rails. The base lasts for a long time, at least two, if not three cycles of the replacement of the tracks sitting on top. Toronto’s streetcar track is nearing the end of a decades-long reconstruction to a modern standard that allows for this type of incremental replacement. The track layer should last 20-25 years depending on the level of service operated on it. Signal systems (if any) are good for about 50 years, and the problem is usually technical obsolescence and the availability of spare parts. Power systems are equally long-lived. In preparation for new streetcars, the TTC is replacing overhead systems some of which date back over 60 years. Substations also tend to last a very long time.

The same holds true for subway infrastructure. Things that wear out get replaced every 25 years or so like track, although places where there is greater wear (curves, stations) see more frequent maintenance. Escalators don’t last forever, nor do many other components of the stations and tunnels. The TTC’s capital budget now has a long list of replacement projects for equipment going back to the building of the Yonge and Bloor subway lines.

Claims that subways last 100 years are flat out lies. The tunnel and station structures may survive that long, but not without maintenance, and everything else will have been replaced a two, three, maybe four times over the century.

Rail vehicles last about 30 years regardless of whether they are subway cars, streetcars or LRVs. With enough TLC, a vehicle can be kept running for much longer, although these tend to be heritage cars for special occasions. The biggest problem is the lack of spare parts, and this is a very serious issue for vehicles from the mid-70s onward when control systems switched from mechanical to solid state, computerized gear.

Buses used to last about 18 years, although this tends to happen now only when an operator like the TTC invests money in major rebuilds at the half-life. Many systems throw away buses at around their 10th birthday, or cannibalize them for spare parts.

If demand on a route increases beyond LRT’s planned capacity, how can the transit be upgraded? (e.g. higher frequency, longer trains, convert to heavy rail, dig a tunnel…)

Steve: It depends. Longer trains, more trains are an option up to the point where the amount of LRT traffic and the pedestrian activity it generates at stops reaches a point where other road users are severely affected. If the demand is not entirely in the corridor where the LRT runs, a second route nearby may be a better alternative than increasing capacity. This presumes that some demand would migrate to the other route. If push really comes to shove, put some or all of the line underground either as an LRT subway for the busy part, or as a conventional subway.

Could we convert the Sheppard subway to light rail, to save money or reduce transfers?

Steve: It has been claimed by some that this is possible, although I have concerns about the stations and the fact that the subway platforms (and stairs, escalators and elevator landings) are not at the correct height for typical surface-running LRVs. I am not sure that we would “save money” given that the big expense is simply having the tunnels and stations, not the trains running through them. Reducing transfers is a question of good station design of which Kennedy and Don Mills are singularly bad examples.

(The Eglinton LRT could loop through Scarborough, back to Yonge & Sheppard, and potentially northwest to the Finch West LRT).

Steve: It would not make sense to have one big route operating as a single service. Operationally this is a nightmare because the demand is unequal on various parts of the route, and everything would have to be engineered to handle the largest train operated on any segment. For example, Eglinton and the SRT might run with 3-car trains, while Finch might only need 2-car trains. Then there’s the question of service frequency and overlapped services to boost capacity on busy sections.

Could the Bloor-Danforth subway be extended to replace the Scarborough RT? (I read that there are technical barriers to using the existing track, but maybe the alignment could be changed.)

Steve: In brief, no. Parts of the existing right-of-way are too narrow, and the curve at Ellesmere is too tight for subway cars. All of the stations will have to be rebuilt for the LRT, but the changes needed to handle 6-car subway trains (450 feet long) are much more extensive. An alternate alignment would affect the residential communities through which it passed. There is a hydro corridor running northeast but (a) I’m not sure it is available as a subway corridor and (b) getting to it would require the complete realignment of the subway at Kennedy to point north rather than east (i.e. a new Kennedy Station). I also understand that threading a north-south route through the Scarborough Town Centre area is tricky given existing building locations.

Why doesn’t the LRT plan do anything about crowding on the Yonge subway? Could an LRT meet the demand from Pape to downtown, or are we waiting for subway funding to build a Downtown Relief Line?

Steve: The Transit City plan was not intended to address problems with the subway. That’s what the Downtown Relief Line is for. The projected demand for the DRL is at the upper end of LRT capacity. Most of this route would have to be grade separated as there are no streets or corridors where it could run at grade. If we’re going to build a tunnel, it might as well have subway trains in it from the outset given the projected demand. The DRL should most definitely not start at Danforth, but should continue north to Eglinton as was planned in the 1980s. This would intercept traffic on the Eglinton line and provide much better service to Flemingdon/Thorncliffe. Where the line might travel downtown is a conundrum as there are many competing visions for that part of the route.

Which is more disruptive to build: light or heavy rail? Elevated, at-grade or underground?

Steve: Heavy rail must, by definition, be completely grade separated, and it tends to have a large footprint at stations. This leads to high disruption from construction. Light rail can be on the surface where space permits, and this is the least intrusive method notwithstanding the cock-ups on St. Clair which had little to do with the streetcar project itself. Had that been a subway, the effects would have been vastly more severe.

Elevated construction brings a need for support piers and for the vertical access elements at stations. The days of a simple narrow stairway up to “the el” are long gone with accessibility requirements. A station structure would cover the equivalent of four traffic lanes for running track and platforms, and the support columns would consume about 1.5 lanes’ worth of space at ground level.

In areas where a lane of road will be replaced by LRT right of way will the better transit take at least one lane of cars off the road, in rush hour? Or will the traffic get worse?

Steve: There is far more demand for road space everywhere in Toronto than there is road capacity. As soon as we get some traffic off of a street, it will backfill with whatever latent demand was there (possibly using other routes). The rate of growth in the GTA is such that Metrolinx estimates that, at best, a full buildout of “The Big Move” will only stop congestion from getting worse. This effect will not be uniformly distributed as the benefits of the new network are uneven from a motorist’s point of view. Traffic tends to fill up road space to the point where using a street isn’t advantageous to a driver.

How accurate have the TTC’s ridership predictions been, during previous planning exercises? Have the prediction methods improved over time? How many years out can we rely on a prediction?

Steve: This is a chicken-and-egg problem. All projections depend on assumptions about future land use — residential populations and job locations. There can also be political interference to produce “demands” justifying a particular project.

We know that the mid-80’s demand projections for Sheppard were wildly inaccurate because the model assumed growth at North York and Scarborough Centres much larger than what actually was built. In turn, that disparity came from optimistic views of the destinies of shining suburbs which would rival downtown as new metropolitan centres. Sound familiar?

More recently, Metrolinx demand model tended to make an all-underground Eglinton line look very good because it assigned a high value to fast trips across the city. There are questions, however, about just how wide the catchment area might be for a rapid transit line (as opposed to a highway), and there is reason to believe that a totally grade-separated Eglinton was eyed as possible change for a P3 implementation with proprietary technology. People have been “juicing” demand models forever, and they are complex enough that shortcomings in their methodology are difficult to find as a member of the general public.

In transit planning world-wide, is it considered best to wait until current demand merits a rail transit line? Or does future demand merit building rail? How far in the future can that demand be, to merit building rail?

Steve: This depends. If you are in a city or country that believes in directing growth and investing in infrastructure to support that growth, then build now develop later can work because there is a long-term commitment. Locations for development have to make sense in the larger scale of a city and its region. Building expensive infrastructure to a field that happens to be owned by a developer is no guarantee of success. The developer may get cold feet, or his project may languish in isolation for decades while the rest of your new line starves for customers.

Coming back to the LRT option, this allows cities to reduce their up-front costs while providing service at a capacity and speed better than what they might achieve with buses.

It is worth noting that our subways to Yorkdale and to Scarborough Centre do serve malls and, to some extent, offices, where once there were fields, but that the lion’s share of demand on these lines come from bus feeders that extend the reach of the rapid transit line well beyond any development adjacent to the stations.

22 thoughts on “Many Questions for a Pro-LRT Campaign

  1. In the Q&A section the author begins to refer to LRT’s as streetcars. This isn’t going to win over the anti-LRT crowd.

    “This technology has been around for a very, very long time. The term “LRT” is more recent and evolved from the need for a sexier name than “tram” or “streetcar” during an era when those modes were considered outdated. In brief, LRT is streetcar technology used in a rapid transit context, but with a minimum of the trappings of a subway line.”

    Steve: In case you didn’t read the intro carefully, all of the indented parts are me speaking. I am going to edit the piece to add my name in the standard form of my comments.

    The question was “how long has LRT been in use”, and the background is that streetcars have operated in “LRT” modes for over a century. “Modern” LRT is a question of the size and styling of the vehicle, as well as its operation in longer trains. But if someone wants to know where “LRT” came from, it was from streetcars seeking better PR. A rose by any other name …

    A lot of the complaints I’ve heard about LRT are in regards to speed. People are concerned that LRT’s are not as fast as subways and they’ll still have to deal with lengthy travel times. I would say refrain from referring to LRT as streetcars and focus on two improvements LRT’s provide. (1) They’re faster than buses and will reduce travel times. (2) They will reduce overcrowding on congested routes and you’ll be more likely to find a seat.

    Steve: The intent is not to call them streetcars, but people have to know where “LRT” came from. I made the point that I personally rode a “streetcar” designed for high speed operation at 85mph. That it was built in 1912 only shows how long the technology has been around. Of course, the vehicle was not running down the middle of a street, but was on a rail corridor where it blew through stations without slowing down — rather like GO trains on express runs, or VIA trains at GO stops. Finding a seat depends on how much service the TTC runs. With LRT, there is a higher potential capacity, but if the bean counters are in charge, the rule that “there’s still space on the roof” will prevail. Even GO cannot guarantee a seat for all of its passengers because demand climbs faster than they can add service.

    The downside with referring to LRT’s as streetcars is that Ford and his allies have been pointing to St. Clair as what residents can expect with LRT construction. It will be hard to convince an anti-LRT individual to become pro-LRT in that case.

    Steve: The intent is not to call them streetcars, but someone trying to understand the subtle differences between technologies needs to know that this is as much a question of implementation than of vehicle technology. A bicycle might climb a mountain path, or speed around a velodrome, or putter down a sidestreet, but it’s still a bicycle with the form adapted to the demands of its use.


  2. Great article!

    As someone who studies transit operations casually, I would also like to suggest other possible answers to the questions as well (and feel free to critique as well):

    1. Could LRT be as fast as a subway? (Does speed depend on the vehicle technology, the exclusive right of way, distance between stops, or what?)

    I’m assuming this question is whether a surface LRT can be as fast as a grade-separated subway. Technically, grade-separated modes are always faster than at-grade modes, but just how much faster depends on other factors such as station spacing, degree of signal priority, demand, frequency, etc.

    The projected speed of the surface segment of Eglinton through Scarborough is 22-25 km/hr, with 400-600 metre station spacing. The YUS south of Bloor travels at roughly the same speed (22-27 km/hr). At that station spacing, subways are barely faster than surface LRT. Take into account access times from street to platform level, the time savings of subways may actually be negligible.

    2. How many transit users need closely-spaced stops, compared with how many need faster travel?

    I would say ALL transit riders begin as local travellers, for the simple fact that our population is dispersed and distributed not only at major intersections. A subset then becomes long-distance regional travellers, but must rely on local service to reach these express corridors in the first place.

    Transit City maintains good local service through close-station spacing, while improving speed over the existing bus service. Through this increase in speed, access to regional networks improves as well.

    Steve: I am quite amused by the supposed desire of everyone in Scarborough to go to York University. Presumably there are many from Etobicoke who might go to UTSC, if only the Sheppard subway went there.

    3. Compare the time required for a subway or LRT trip, door-to-door. (Depends on distance to stop + depth to descend + speed of train + delays).

    Like what Steve said, it depends what scenario we’re examining. I’m assuming this question concerns with potential station locations for surface LRT versus subways.

    An interesting case involves people living at Pharmacy/Ashtonbee heading to Kennedy Station. If surface LRT is built and includes a Pharmacy station, it would take these residents 10 minutes to reach Kennedy Station. By subway (without a Pharmacy Station) would take 14 minutes. This assumes people walk at 1.6 m/s, LRT speed is 22 km/hr, and subway speed is 34 km/hr.

    This is not a definitive case that can generalise all LRT versus subway scenarios. It also depends how far along the route people are travelling, and whether the in-vehicle time dominates or not.

    4. Could we convert the Sheppard subway to light rail, to save money or reduce transfers?

    I don’t agree with this conversion, because it does nothing to solve existing problems with the Sheppard Subway (like providing better local service to Sheppard riders between Yonge and Don Mills, or reducing subway operating costs). Given that an LRT conversion would only reduce the line’s capacity, while still requiring a parallel surface bus, I’m not convinced that the benefits of transfer elimination is worth the costs.

    5. Which is more reliable (fewer delays): light or heavy rail? Aboveground or below?

    Assuming platform-edge-doors for both surface and underground rail, I would say that street-running is prone to more potential delays from traffic, even if these delays are rare. However, we don’t spend billions more dollars and sacrifice accessibility and service quality based on events that happen only occasionally.

    Steve: And I won’t say anything about the probability that the platform edge doors will have the same high reliability as escalators and elevators in stations. Until the TTC can prove that they will actually budget the staff to perform routine maintenance at a level sufficient to keep these things working, I regard the whole exercise as a make-work project for the engineering and construction folks.


  3. I would also like to add to this question:

    2. How many transit users need closely-spaced stops, compared with how many need faster travel?

    People who happen to live and work near major intersections would definitely benefit from a widely-spaced subway over a surface LRT with frequent stations; however, those without that privilege could possibly experience overall longer travel times. Conversely, the surface LRT, as proposed, would deliver the greatest benefits to these people who don’t live near major intersections, but those who live and work near major intersections would also see a reduction in travel times as well (just not as great as great as what they’d experience from a subway).

    So it’s a matter of whether we want to benefit both groups simultaneously, or greatly benefit one group and inconveniencing the other.

    Steve: I can give a good worked example from my own experience. I live about a 5 minute walk from Broadview Station. It’s a shallow station and access time to the platform is short. The major source of variability in any trip taken from this point is whether a vehicle is actually there and leaves just at the correct moment for me to board (either on the platform or on the street) rather than just missing it, or watching while a languid layover consumes the “early” time I thought I had. These effects can produce a variability of 10 minutes or more in my departure time. I won’t mention situations where the route I want is nowhere in sight. Nextbus is handy then for planning alternates.

    My family house near Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton is about the same distance from the closest bus stop as my home is from Broadview Station. That stop is served by no less than five routes headed to the subway, although they tend to come in packs followed by very wide gaps. Once we have an Eglinton LRT, we will be lucky to see a bus every 15 minutes, and I bet that will vary by plus or minus 5 either way. We might not even have a bus given the parsimonious nature of TTC Service Planning who refused to commit to one’s existence at several public meetings.

    The alternative is to walk to Mt. Pleasant Station, a somewhat longer journey with a short hill. I would then descend into the LRT station, wait for a train and ride one stop over to Yonge. I suspect that combining all these effects won’t give the LRT any advantage over waiting for the bus for this particular circumstance.

    This is not to say that faster isn’t better than slower, but only to note that many other factors affect travel times.


  4. From this PCC model-selling site is this bit of information:

    “Chicago Surface Lines ordered 600-car PCC fleet in 1945-46 and Pullman-Standard built 310 of them between 1946 and 1948 (orders W6749 and W6786) equipped by General Electric and numbered 4062-4371. First Pullman PCC #4062 was previewed for the public in September 1946. In 1953 one of the Pullman cars (#4240) was sent to St.-Louis Car for conversion into a PCC-type rapid transit car for “L”-subway system. By the end of 1955, all 310 Pullman PCCs were sent to St.-Louis. The bodies were scrapped but the trucks, seats, controls and other parts were incorporated in the 6201-6510 series rapid transit cars.”

    Shows that “streetcars” and “subway cars” can be interchangeable.


  5. So when is Bombardier going to bring one of these fancy new cars and try to sell us on them? They really need to get their act together … there should be one sitting outside every one of these community meetings in Scarborough … shouldn’t Metrolinx have a few of these cars and be taking them all over to these places they are trying to convince to use them? Mississauga/Hamilton/Waterloo … they should park one in the middle of Eglinton by the Golden Mile, another on Finch and a few scattered about on future routes … inside there should be a video playing … “why LRT doesn’t suck” … or something … the left is quickly getting itself into a position where it’s going to lose the next election because they just assume that everyone will like their ideas … you need to convince them … and not just with numbers and statistics … but with touchy feely things … maybe set a few up as poutine stations … complete with gravy …


  6. Steve what do you think about surface LRT which dips underground at major intersections?

    The Eglinton LRT proposal had this happening at the Don Mills intersection, why not do the same for Victoria Park & Warden?

    Perhaps this is the compromise we need?

    Steve: The problem is that “major intersections” are close enough that the line spends all of its time on ramps going down and up again. Don Mills is a special case because of the intersection geometry and the probability that there will eventually be a north-south line on Don Mills itself. Ramp structures tend to poison the surrounding streets from an urban design point of view.


  7. On the subject of waiting for demand before building, I keep running into people who are utterly convinced that, as soon as you build a subway, developers will start literally throwing buildings into the surrounding neighbourhood until the desired density is reached virtually overnight.

    What do these people make of Chester, Castle Frank, Bessarion, Summerhill, Old Mill, Glencairn, Leslie, etc.? There are bus and streetcar stops which regularly carry more passengers than these stations! Some of them have been operational for almost 50 years, so where’s this great burst of demand which supposedly follows subway construction?

    And even if this myth were true, I wonder if people realize what they’re saying.

    Okay, fine: yes, you want a subway stop in your nice little neighborhood of nice little fully-detached single-family homes with nice little cars in the nice little driveways. But when you suggest that density will just magically appear… where exactly do you envision it appearing? Where are those five-story condos and twenty-story office buildings going to plop down? Do you really think your nice little neighborhood is long for this world?


  8. Can Eglinton LRT be built at grade but uninterrupted right-of-way? So trains don’t have to wait at intersections. It can achieve the same speed as subways but at a lower cost.

    Steve: In theory yes, but in practice no. If most of the cross-streets were blocked off for the LRT right-of-way, the acceptance of a surface line would drop substantially. That’s the whole point about street running — you get the lower cost, but there’s a tradeoff with traffic interference.


  9. Steve,

    Thanks for publishing fair comments. While I am not sold on LRT in all cases, you do raise some good points without the over-the-top emotion that some “enthusiasts” seen to feel necessary. It can and should be used for some scenarios in Toronto.

    However I think one of the main reasons many people, including myself, opposed the original Transit City was the “one size fits all, in the middle of the road” model. So many problems with this one-style only approach. This was made worse by the zealousness of the staffers in the meetings in local neighbourhoods.

    Removal of so many mid-block intersections wasn’t just an inconvenience to drivers. It would make life very isolating for pedestrians and cyclists as well as creating net new traffic issues. The Transit City routes in Scarborough would create giant swaths of north sides of the streets that would have barriers to the south sides of the street and visa versa. Is it right to make cyclists and pedestrians walk hundreds of metres just to cross the street?

    And the elimination of not just left but also right hand lanes would create new tension between people in motorized vehicles (including buses which would still be deployed on many routes that run partially along the proposed LRT routes) wanting to turn, and pedestrians.

    While I could support some (but not all) reasonable deployments of LRT on city streets, I will continue to protest the specific Transit City plans as defined in the Miller years.


  10. For local trips such as local trips within Scarborough, I think that improved local bus service is much more cost effective than LRT. Articulated buses and bus lanes can be installed on every main bus route for relatively low cost. LRT, which is only slightly faster than buses but much more expensive, is too expensive to put on every major bus route. At a cost of a billion dollars for Sheppard LRT and Finch LRT, building a large LRT network across the city with the capacity to handle millions of people a day would cost tens of billions of dollars and it would be too slow for longer trips.

    For long trips grade separated transit like subway and GO is the only way to go in my opinion. In areas like North York Centre where there are no GO train lines subways are needed. People do live and work all over the GTA and even if a lot of travel demand within Scarborough is between points in Scarborough there needs to be a way to get to places like North York Centre, Consumers Rd, Yonge/Eglinton and Pearson Airport within a reasonable amount of time. Even if only a relatively small percentage people have long commutes taking these people off the congested highway system is essential because they disproportionately contribute to traffic congestion. People will not take LRTs which are slow and require excessive numbers of transfers for long trips and will drive instead, resulting in traffic jams on highways like 401.


  11. Sean McManus says:

    March 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    “Removal of so many mid-block intersections wasn’t just an inconvenience to drivers. It would make life very isolating for pedestrians and cyclists as well as creating net new traffic issues. The Transit City routes in Scarborough would create giant swaths of north sides of the streets that would have barriers to the south sides of the street and visa versa. Is it right to make cyclists and pedestrians walk hundreds of metres just to cross the street?

    “And the elimination of not just left but also right hand lanes would create new tension between people in motorized vehicles (including buses which would still be deployed on many routes that run partially along the proposed LRT routes) wanting to turn, and pedestrians.”

    Have you been on Spadina or St. Clair? Pedestrians, especially on Spadina, seem to have no problem crossing in mid block as the right of was provides a safe are in the middle of the road from cars. I assume bikes could do this also; granted they would have to dismount to cross the median but they have to do this elsewhere. The barrier to left hand turns seems to make the rest of the traffic flow more smoothly as you do not have to worry about cars darting out and blocking one or two lanes while they wait for a break in the other lanes to make a turn. The cars seem ti have adapted quiet readily to making U-turns at intersection. Drivers actually have more brains than many people give them credit for.


  12. See the reception that Stintz got in Scarbrough (Steve why didn’t you cover that?). It’s what I predicted. The reality is that most of us feel like we’re getting the shaft because we have to transfer so many times in a day. That’s the core of the issue. And I don’t really know if there’s any real way to address it with LRT. Since the core issue remains. You’ll have to transfer.

    Steve: I didn’t cover that event, as I have ignored various others, because it was a setup designed to ambush Stintz, not to provide informed debate. When did Sue-Anne Levy become a transit expert? Her sole talent, if we can call it that, is to throw mud (or worse) at everything the Miller administration ever did. What is now interesting is that as people are learning more about the details of an LRT network implementation, the mood is shifting. Yes, it will take time, but I believ we will get there eventually. I have written about transferring at length here, and the Ford network leaves a lot of transfers in place, just shifts them to different locales. The “Scarborough is shafted” slogan is just that, a phrase made up like “War on the car” and “Gravy Train” to seduce voters with very little to back up the claims fronted by the slogans.

    Also, as you may not know, I have been pre-occupied with a serious personal health matter for the past week, and frankly what Sue-Anne might have to say about transit is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

    Take a York U student living in Malvern. The individual either goes up to Finch (transfer #1) and rides a long bus to Finch Station (transfer #2) and another to York U. Or he/she takes a bus to Sheppard (transfer #1), then rides the LRT to Don Mills (transfer #2), then changes over to the Yonge line (transfer #3) and then takes the bus to York U. 3 transfers. Now if the Sheppard subway were completed (at least from say VP to Downsview), the student would still face three transfers (onto Sheppard, VP, Downsview). But their commute would be substantially shorter. That essentially makes one feel that the transfers were worthwhile. I’m sorry to say, but for a lot of average folk, the LRT is going to feel exactly like some kind of express streetcar. It costs you transfers and it doesn’t really shave enough time off your commute to really make you love the idea.

    Steve: Anyone who thinks that there will ever be a subway on Sheppard to Downsview probably believes in the Tooth Fairy, and Leprechauns and their pots of gold, and that other mythical creator of wealth, the private sector. Your argument is entirely specious because it is based on a trip that you will never be able to take. Just look at comments coming out of the Mayor and his supporters that don’t hold much hope for new transit taxes just to pay for an eastern leg, never mind a western one.

    I’ve always stood by the fact that a more balanced approach is needed for Sheppard, because the subway already exists (wouldn’t say the same for Eglinton). I personally think it should be extended (over time) till Agincourt to intercept the GO line and West till Downsview. That fulfills the majority of the original builder’s intentions without incurring the unnecessary costs to go till STC. Diamond bus lanes are good enough for the rest of Sheppard. That idea provides speed in the north and would reduce transfers for a ton of residents.

    In any event, I really don’t think LRT is sellable. People will learn to live with it. And they’ll hate it. It’ll be just like the Scarborough RT. After all, isn’t hating the RT and ‘stupid’ transfer at Kennedy just part of the Scarborough identity? I have yet to meet a single Scarborough resident (transit fans like Steve aside) who think the SRT is a great idea. Mention the SRT, and the usual comment is, “Why didn’t they just extend the subway to STC?” So don’t try selling LRT. It can’t be done. Scarborough residents will accept second class status. We’ve been doing it since time immemorial. If transit fans are really lucky, the good folks of Scarborough hopefully won’t take it out on the rest of the city by helping Mr. Ford or his ilk back into power (as diminished as he is, I really wouldn’t underestimate his populist appeal in the burbs).

    Steve: I happen to think that the SRT is the worst thing ever to hit Scarborough. At a time when we could have been building an extensive LRT network through what were then fields, we committed to an expensive technology and a fleet too small to serve the demand. Network extension was snuffed out just when suburban Toronto was growing, all to placate the gods of “Ontario economic development” who cared more about show-off technology projects than useful transit expansion. Scarborough was screwed a long time ago, and it was the Tories who did the screwing.


  13. Just an addendum to my last. It’s hard not to feel like you are getting the shaft when the powers that be are willing to shell out billions for a subway to the great cornfields of Vaughan but aren’t willing to extend an existing subway line in the 416. Why should Scarborough residents, who are 416 ratepayers, not feel slighted, when the province is willing to build real rapid transit to Vaughan and tells them medium-speed LRTs are all they can afford for Scarborough?

    Steve: I agree. The Vaughan subway exists only because of political interference, and it is an embarrassment. York Region could have instead built the beginnings of its own LRT system.


  14. Steve, forgive me if this is the wrong place to write this, but I’ve had it with the lies, deceit and misinformation being spread by Ford and his surrogates in the media. There’s probably ten major flaws in their argument, but the one I want to address the most is the insinuation that downtown leftist elites already have their subways and don’t want the suburbs to have them. If that were the case, I’d expect Layton, Vaughan, Fletcher and Wong-Tam to be pressing for the DRL to be built with the money, rather than LRT to anywhere north of Bloor.

    I’m not sure how the people making this argument define downtown, but if we take a narrow description of Bloor to Lake Shore, Bathurst to the Don, there’s not a whole lot of people living downtown who would use the subway to move around within that area. They seems to be confused by the fact that there are many stations downtown. Here’s a hint: they are there because that’s where people want to go, not because people live there. The population explosion downtown only just happened, whereas the jobs, shopping, entertainment, etc. has been there for decades.

    In my 12 years living in the city, I’ve only lived south of the Bloor-Danforth axis for 2.5 of them, near Broadview and Gerrard. When I lived there, most of my TTC experience were on the nightmare devices called “streetcars”: the 506 to get to work, or the 504/505 to get to shopping, restaurants and such. I’m pretty sure most people south of Bloor do the same thing. The subway is mostly out of their way and would involve too many dreaded transfers.

    The easiest experience I’ve had with the subway was when I lived the farthest from downtown: near North York Centre. I had a short walk to NYC or a short bus ride to Sheppard/Yonge, and I was almost always guaranteed a seat. Even though it was the longest trip by distance to work, it was probably the shortest by time.

    When I lived at Yonge and Eglinton, where one might more liberally think downtown begins, I had easy access to the subway, but I’d often have to wait a couple of trains before I could get on one. That’s because they were full of North Yorkers, Scarberians, and 905ers. I don’t begrudge them that, but let’s not for a minute let people think that the present subway system isn’t set up for the benefit of suburban commuters. The pro-Sheppard/Eglinton subway crowd keeps saying that world-class cities like New York, London and Paris build them. Yes, but they are used to connect the outer areas to downtown, not from one suburb to another. I wonder how many of them have actually looked at a subway map from those cities.


  15. Hi Steve:-

    “In transit planning world-wide, is it considered best to wait until current demand merits a rail transit line? Or does future demand merit building rail? How far in the future can that demand be, to merit building rail?”

    This is an extremely complex question to answer as there are dozens of examples of light rail and rapid transit companies that went bust within weeks of construction having overextended themselves on optimistic dreams. They never recovered and were generally abandoned. Many factors contributed to these failures but the foremost in every case was the snake oil salesmen. ‘Build it and they will come’, was a cry heard far and wide! Many street railways had routes extended to unbuilt suburbs which never materialized. The promoters went broke, they scammed and moved on never intending to build or they really did try but just couldn’t market their properties out in the grasslands ‘east o town’.

    Many routes were able to linger until the systems in total were replaced by rubber tyred free wheeled vehicles, never achieving the loads dreamed of in the original Developer’s or Transit Provider’s prospectuses. Some transit companies built amusement parks on the undeveloped dreamscapes to offset their investments.

    The major exception to this was the Shaker Rapid in Cleveland. Clearly a winner. It not only assisted in the development of the envisaged upscale neighbourhoods that its promoters promised, but it has survived into the present day as part of the City’s RTA. This is a shining example of LRT, now able to date its successes from its opening 92 years ago next month.

    The paraphrased question was, ‘when should potential overcapacity be built by prudent and fiscally responsible governments?’ Well, my take is that fiscal responsibility should support the tenet that when capacity on the supplied services of the existing technology have reached at or near capacity, then an upgrade should be considered. Not 50 years before. Let the demand present drive the need for investment, not versa vicey!

    Unfortunately our City is not growing in the manner it once was. Businesses are abandoning Toronto by dribs and drabs and that reality is continuing to his day. Call centres going to the other side of the world, factories that used to line roads like Dupont, gone! Suburban centres of employment so actively sought after by the likes of Scarborough Township in the Eglinton, Pharmacy, Comstock, Birchmount catchment area dwindling to next to nothingness. 905 there they go! How can an over capacity transit line be justified in today’s economic climate unless there is a fundamental shifting of gears to attract employers of ALL stripes back into the Olde Metro?

    Build LRT and let the new City of Toronto feel good about itself once again and then look at subways if and when they’re needed out in the hinterlands of the Burg. And Steve you are truly dead on accurate when you state, “If the demand is not entirely in the corridor where the LRT runs, a second route (LRT) nearby may be a better alternative than increasing capacity. ” In other words, subways may never be the justifiable alternative. Think first before one acts with OUR money and our future!

    Dennis Rankin


  16. @Keith

    I agree with Steve that some heavily-biased pro-subway camps are not worth responding to, and already do a great job discreting themselves.

    Not that I’m saying that the problem will take care of itself in the next three years, but reasoning with unreasonables is a real waste of time and effort. What I would like to see LRT-advocates focus on is spreading their own message, regardless of what the other camp is spewing.


  17. Hi Steve:-

    Our mayor stated (March 15th) with a sound bite at a news op out in Scarborough at Sheppard and VP, that we have 1b$ and we can afford to spend it on subways just like we did on the University and B-D lines, one station at a time. Rewriting history or WHAT? Since when did Toronto build those two lines one station at a time? Well I guess we opened Yonge Station first, it being the most important, then Bay, then St. George. Possibly Woodbine to Coxwell was next was it Yer Dizzhonour? Wow, Bobby’s handler’s minds must be spinning in astonishment that he can make such statements that make him appear a complete and utter blithering ditz! Great fellow your Rob, to have as a spokesman for your cause, eh guys?

    Too, ‘we could put the shovel in the ground tomorrow with that billion and get to VP’, he said. What he didn’t say was that that 1b$ spent frivolously like that, only as far as Vic Park, will ensure continued sardining and hamstringing the poor sods in Scarborough with buses for a few more decades with naught left over for any other of Toronto’s community’s transit needs either. Will his inanity never cease.

    And according to B F’s fawning and gushing personal support system, the Sun, (the ‘our Little Robby can do no wrong’ daily) yesterday’s 1010 radio show (March 18th) had the can’t afFords stating that if Council votes to not approve the subway all the way to the edge of Scarborough, they will toss sand and balls and scoops and buckets and molds and stomp their not so tiny feeties while they throw a hissy fit aimed at stopping any LRT construction in retaliation. Shades of the irrelevancy of the democratically elected Council! What supreme childishness by refusing to acknowledge that there may indeed be other opinions and alternatives that have validity and are counter to spending money unwisely on a two station extension in lieu of fiscal responsibility in serving the wider needs of the taxpayers.

    According to them Fords, we should all know that it’s obvious that’s not what the voters want, not trolley cars, they want subways. Mr. Ford said and I paraphrase here but this is indeed what he said, that ‘clearly 75, ummm he meant ummmm 80%, yeah that’s it 80% want subways and by golly that’s what they’ll have’! He left out that a further survey said categorically and overwhelmingly that they wanted Beemers and Yachts and penthouse condos and maids and valets and caviar for tea and their own private Ferris-wheels too so they wouldn’t have to ride the d…ed subway. They don’t want a network of sleek, comfortable and modern LRTs. They want crammed, jammed, bouncy and swervy buses until their subway Titanic docks. They’re prepared to wait! They’ve told Bob and boy oh boy he listens. It’s the taxpayers, the taxpayers want subways and that’s what he’s promised them. One station at a time. It’ll take decades but after VP then the plans will be drawn to go one more, then watch that property and development tax revenue flood in to support the Fords’ fevered dream. Ah the Midas touch of the Bob and Doug Duo of sanity fighters, eh! 2058 here we come! Is that Kennedy I see before me? Hold me back before I become dizzy from the pace!

    Can these bozos get any worse? Two stations adding onto an underutilized white elephant of a subway instead of two modern, community building and neighbourhood serving state-of-the-art LRT lines. Two appealing, higher order transit lines adding up to many miles of progressive, comfortable and inviting rapid rail accommodation versus what, 1 klick only of shortsighted, wasteful spending that will continue to strangle the life out of Scarborians and Etobicokians by missing the target of needed improvement for many many more years to come, sheesh!!??

    Toronto Council, please stand up for us and counter these selfish and imprudent bullies. They’ve damaged Toronto enough already!

    Dennis Rankin


  18. See the roundup on BlogTO of how the TTC helped confuse the streetcar/LRT matter to no end:

    Part I

    Part II

    Steve: Sadly, the TTC must take the blame for shoring up a lot of anti-streetcar feeling over the years along with technological confusion. They have been so subway-centric that anything, including an LRT network, that might threaten the entrenched plans by diverting funding from, say, a Richmond Hill line have received nowhere near the official support they should have. Now that the TTC has “discovered” LRT, it will be interesting to see if this is a permanent change of outlook.


  19. Dennis Rankin said

    “He left out that a further survey said categorically and overwhelmingly that they wanted Beemers and Yachts and penthouse condos and maids and valets and caviar for tea and their own private Ferris-wheels too so they wouldn’t have to ride the d…ed subway. “

    My sister still wants a pony.


  20. RE: messaging, and what is/isn’t LRT

    I hadn’t felt so strongly about this until now, but I disagree that Spadina, Harbourfront, and St Clair aren’t examples of LRT, just because of their close stop spacing, lack of signal priority, poor levels of service, etc. The definition of Light Rail shouldn’t be so restrictive on design details like stop spacing.

    It’s like saying that the Yonge Subway ceases being a subway south of Bloor, just because the stations are so close together resulting a lower average speed.

    Or that the Sheppard Subway is not rapid transit, just because it’s inconvenient to access for many. The reality is that regardless of how poor the service is, it’s still a subway, just a poorly designed and implemented one.

    Spadina, St. Clair, and Harbourfront ARE LRT lines by definition, if not by design.

    Steve: This has been a problem for as long as the term “LRT” has existed. It’s fairly easy to mark the transition between “LRT” and “HRT” by asking “can you walk across the tracks”. Fences don’t count. If there is a danger of electrocution, or of being run down by a train (possibly due to its speed, or automation of the control system), then we have left the realm of “LRT”. Note that it is possible to have “HRT-like” sections of an LRT, and so even this line can be blurred. For example, if the SRT operated with LRVs but on the RT right-of-way as designed, it would achieve the same performance characteristics and would be totally isolated from auto and pedestrian interference. It would be “light” in the sense that it could switch to surface, median operation, something a subway cannot do except on an expressway (e.g. Allen).


  21. It’s really wonderful to see this comprehensive list of questions and the responses and comments.

    I think that the questions really give an opportunity to generate open discussion about public transport technology – but more importantly, it will help us redirect the focus back on to what is best for the public transit users.

    For the longest time, we have let the debate focus on the technology … the “Light Rail” in LRT, the “subways” (or “heavy rail” in HRT), the Bus (whether alone or in “BRT”).

    It’s time to redirect the discussion back to service. BRT should be an acronym for “Basic Rapid Transit” rather than just “bus” rapid transit. That way, the focus would be on going from basic transit (anything in mixed traffic) to basic “rapid” transit (anything in a category B ROW at least some of the time).

    LRT” should be “Light, Rapid Transit” or “Local Rapid Transit” … denoting the service levels that are provided. That way we don’t have to worry about the technology and can let the numbers determine what technology we need to build and where we need to put it.

    I know that proposing new adjustments to acronyms is not exactly going to solve the problems, but it would be nice if we could end the silo-mentality about building public transport and just build something that works.

    The technology debate has reached its limits … it has become polarized and all we are getting are polemics, frustration and anger – rather than focusing on solutions.

    Cheers, Moaz


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