The Sheppard LRT Report (Part I)

On Wednesday, March 21, Toronto Council will consider a report recommending that the Sheppard rapid transit line be built as an LRT from Don Mills Station east, initially, to Morningside.  This is the same scheme that was on the table in the Metrolinx 5-in-10 plan, and approval of this recommendation will more or less put Transit City back on track where it was before the election of Mayor Ford.

There is a main report and many background documents, including an alternative subway proposal, what might be called the “Chong Dissent” from the otherwise pro-LRT conclusions of the panel.  This article provides a summary of material from many sources.  For the definitive word, please refer to the originals as I am not going to attempt to cover every detail here.

As a general observation, the materials present a review of the situation in considerably more detail than we see for many transit planning decisions, notably those surrounding recent budget debates.  With luck, and with a less transit-hostile TTC board, we might see the same level of interest turned to basic questions like “where’s my bus and why can’t I get on when it shows up”.

The pro-subway folks claim that the report is biased, that it is hogwash, and advance their own dissent purporting to show the superiority of a subway option.  The misinformation and factual errors in this dissent are disconcerting, putting it mildly, considering that billions in provincial spending and the future development of our transit network might have depended on such twaddle.  I will turn to this in detail later in a future article.

The Expert Advisory Panel’s Report

The panel’s report evaluated three options for the Sheppard corridor:

  • Option A:  LRT from Don Mills to Morningside
  • Option B:  Subway from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre
  • Option C:  Subway from Don Mills to Victoria Park, and LRT from there to Morningside

This evaluation used input from the TTC, Metrolinx, City Planning, Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd. (Dr. Chong’s home pro tem), and material from other sources.  Each of the options was rated against various criteria to develop a score showing its relative benefit on each point, and the scores were summed to produce an overall ranking.  This sort of scheme is always open to misuse both by biased scoring and by inappropriate weighting of components.  I will discuss each of the component scores as I come to them in the report.

The panel recommends Option A, but also urges the City Manager to develop a communication plan about the significance of transit, and of the Sheppard corridor in particular, in Toronto.  The panel also urges Queen’s Park to accelerate work on the Metrolinx Investment Strategy which will be critical for funding projects beyond the 5-in-10 plan.

The panel also wants to see the City Manager bring forward a comprehensive transit plan that would be integrated with the Official Plan.  The lack of such a plan goes back to a period when the TTC jealously guarded its role in transit, and the current OP does not contain a full transit component.  Oddly enough, this situation prevented a subway-oriented plan, then the TTC’s pride and joy, from acquiring the imprint of Official Plan status.  Indeed, the OP contains a few well-hidden references to LRT (including an illustration of an LRT right-of-way at a redeveloped Eglinton East and Kingston Road).  This is a chance to finally bring Toronto’s plans in line with each other after many decades of drift.

The financial context of the deliberations was quite simple:  Queen’s Park is prepared to pay up to $8.4-billion (2010) for a set of rapid transit lines in Toronto, and Ottawa has a further $333-million on the table.  To date, there is no municipal commitment to supplement this spending.  Queen’s Park wants whatever is built to make sense in a regional context and, by implication, not simply be a vanity project to suit political or personal aims.  If the City wants a plan different from the one Metrolinx was working on, then it must absorb the cost of any work that cannot be used as part of the revised project.  Still unclear is the question of who will pay for the work on the Eglinton all-underground option given that Council never approved this scheme, and Queen’s Park foolishly went ahead on the strength of a deal Mayor Ford could not deliver.  Queen’s Park is also not prepared to tolerate any further delays.

Much of the $8.4b is already spoken for on projects that have Council’s blessing:  the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT (including the SRT conversion and extension) and the Finch LRT.  All that remains is to decide what should be done on Sheppard.

Option A is a 13km LRT line starting at Don Mills Station and running east to Morningside with a GO connection at Agincourt.  The underpass for this is already under construction and would have been required for GO whether or not the LRT was built.  Possible add-ons include an extension east on Sheppard to Meadowvale and/or south via Morningside to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).  Presuming that the SRT is extended up to or beyond Sheppard, there would be a link between the two routes.  This option has 25 stations and a capital cost of $1b.

Option B is an 8km subway extension from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre.  The line leaves Sheppard Avenue east of Kennedy to swerve south and into STC.  To maintain a connection with the GO service, Agincourt Station would be shifted south.  There would be a station at Progress between Kennedy North and STC, but all riders from eastern and northern Scarborough would access rapid transit via bus feeders.  This option has 7 stations and a capital cost of $2.7-3.7b depending on some underlying assumptions in the design.

Option C is also 13km long, but runs as a subway extension to Victoria Park where there would be a link with an LRT line east to Morningside.  The link with GO at Agincourt would be the same as with Option A.  This option does not include a major bus terminal at Victoria Park, only basic facilities for an LRT interchange, nor does it assume the need for additional subway train storage.  Most of the routes now serving Don Mills Station would remain there to avoid the extra cost of duplicating that terminal a few km to the east.  This option has 26 stations (Victoria Park counts as 2) and a capital cost of $1.5-1.8b.  About $900m of this is attributable to the subway extension.

City Planning and the Official Plan

[This section originated with the City Planning department and statements in it do not necessarily reflect the views of the panel.]

The planning department argues that several criteria should apply to evaluation of the options:

  • Sustainability
  • Access and mobility
  • Connectivity
  • Community impact
  • Ridership
  • Cost

Several of these have multiple dimensions.  For example, “community impact” can be seen from the viewpoint of disruption of what is there now, as well as from the outlook that a new transit line will stimulate positive changes.  “Cost” involves not only the actual cost of a line in the Sheppard corridor, but the alternate spending elsewhere that might be precluded for a more expensive option.

Potential growth in the Sheppard corridor would be higher with a subway line, although there are two important caveats.  First, much of the growth would be concentrated at the west side of Scarborough where the subway actually provides service, and there is no guarantee that the level of growth would actually occur given competing sites elsewhere in the GTA.  Second, the subway projections run out to 2061 while the LRT-scenario projections go only to 2031.

Although the 2061 numbers are higher, they are not generally proportionately higher given the longer period involved.  For example (see Table 2 on Page 16), population growth to 2061 is projected as 24k on a base of 43.9k (55%), but employment growth is only 10k on a base of 28.9k (33%) in the area between the 404 and Agincourt.  Population and employment growth is much more robust in the Progress-STC corridor for the subway option, and this implies that the modellers foresee very substantial redevelopment of these lands.  Oddly enough, the larger effect of a “Sheppard subway” is to stimulate growth around STC, not along Sheppard itself.

(Table 2 contains long footnotes qualifying the values shown there, and I urge readers to digest this information before using the numbers in their raw form.)

Because the major source of projected growth is in the STC corridor, this causes major differences in effect of various options.  A line staying entirely on Sheppard will benefit riders north of the 401, but it will do nothing to stimulate the redevelopment of vacant and light-industrial lands around STC.  Is the function of a Sheppard subway to serve Sheppard, or to facilitate the long-held dream of a dense Town Centre and the development aims of current landowners?

Ridership forecasts for the 2061 model are not available because this would be the complex product of actual development patterns over half a century and the evolution of the transit and road network in the area.  For example, if a frequent and financially attractive service were provided on both GO’s Uxbridge line and on the CPR corridor through Agincourt to North Pickering, a great deal of traffic that might otherwise be modelled onto a local transit system of any flavour might shift to the regional commuter rail system.  The absence of such foresight was a major flaw in the transit plans of the 1980s which loaded all population and riding growth onto the TTC system at a time when it was clear GO would evolve into a much more important part of the overall network.

In the 2008 EA for the Sheppard LRT (Table 3, Page 17), the TTC projected that an LRT from Don Mills to Morningside would yield a peak hour/direction demand of 3k in 2031 westbound approaching the Consumers Road area, while a subway to STC would yield 4.2k.  Demands at Yonge on the existing subway would rise from 4.5k to 6k (LRT) and 7.8k (subway).  These forecasts were based on the much smaller actual growth achieved in the Sheppard corridor as compared with the very optimistic values used in the 1992 subway EA.

The projected ridership, as we shall see in more detail later, is also related to the actual travel pattern of people living in Scarborough.  Contrary to opinion that sees most of Scarborough desperate for a subway to take residents anywhere else, there is a very large amount of local traffic within Scarborough in both the east-west and north-south directions.  Neither of these is particularly well-served by a subway line whose primary benefit is to enhance the development potential of lands around STC.

On page 18, planning staff state:

In the end, City Planning staff concluded that in the absence of reliable long-term ridership forecasts, support for a subway at this juncture would be based on a long-term city-building vision.

They go on to cite a considerable number of preconditions, and conclude:

Unless these conditions can be met, a subway is not warranted, and the LRT would be a viable option to meet transit needs in the corridor over the next 20 – 30 years, and may be sufficient beyond that. City staff is concerned, however, that the LRT would under-perform as a City-building option if it doesn’t link to the Scarborough Centre.

Again we see that the goal of “city building” focuses on STC, not on Sheppard itself.  Moreover, it is unclear how attempts to force STC to become a major development node would fare in a regional context over the long haul given the singular failure of such efforts here and at North York Centre for past decades.  Indeed, the very incentives needed to seduce developers away from their preferred sites may work contrary to other financial tools which seek to capture added value from the new development.

When we look at the actual travel patterns in Scarborough (for example on page 47 of the report), we see that one third of all trips in the planning district north of the 401 are local to that area, and a further 25% flow north into Markham and south across the 401. The remainder goes to downtown, midtown and various parts of North York.  The subway option does not address this distribution of trips well in part because the line ends at STC and in part because it does little to serve local demand.  (This topic is explored in background papers to which I will return in a future post.)

Financial Considerations

[This section originated with the City Finance department and statements in it do not necessarily reflect the views of the panel.]

This is a long section of the report examining various options for financing transit expansion and, specifically, the cost of the subway options beyond the funding already committed by Queen’s Park and Ottawa.  Three main sets of funding streams are examined for their potential and for the complexity of their implementation, if any.

  • Conventional funding which requires no legislative changes (grants from senior governments, municipal debt)
  • Private sector funding through an investment tied to future revenue growth triggered by transit construction (provincial approvals required)
  • New funding sources (e.g. taxes, most of which require provincial approval)

Table 4 on Page 20 summarizes the cost of the options and the sources of funding currently available.  Note that this table includes projects already approved by Council (Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, Scarborough RT conversion and possible extension, Finch LRT).

  • For the all-LRT plan, there is no requirement for a City capital contribution.
  • For the Sheppard subway option, there is a shortfall of $1.7-2.7b that would fall to the City, possibly offset by $0.5b saved in terminating the SRT at McCowan rather than Sheppard.
  • For the subway-LRT option, there is a shortfall of $0.5-0.8b that would fall to the City.

In all cases, the estimated cost of the Eglinton line may rise depending on options selected west of Black Creek and the cost of widening Eglinton in Scarborough to retain the HOV lane that would have been traded off to the LRT right-of-way.  Known “sunk costs” for work on options that would not be pursued in a subway or hybrid option amount to $45.9m and these have not been included in the City’s share.

In a conventional funding scenario, the City would debenture any costs not covered by subsidies already committed to the project.  Allowing for a likely staging of construction and timing of the borrowing, this leads to a total tax increase over a seven-year construction period of 4.2-6.5% for the subway option.  Translated to annual increases, this would require an additional 0.6-0.9% property tax hike for seven years to fund the debt for the subway option.  The hybrid option requires much less City financing with annual tax increases of 0.2-0.3%.

For the subway option, the difference lies in the two estimates for the subway’s construction.  As I have already written, there is good reason to doubt that the (lower) Chong estimate for the subway (mistakenly called the “Metrolinx” estimate) was prepared on a consistent basis with the TTC’s estimate.  Much of the difference is a question of underlying assumptions.

Council imposes on itself a debt ceiling so that the percentage of tax revenue devoted to debt service does not exceed 15%.  Obviously, if taxes go up, the total borrowing can go up too, but there is a limit to how much additional property tax is politically tolerable, and whether all of the headroom available should be devoted to a Sheppard project.

In the private sector funding scenario, the City would commit future revenues from subway-related developments to pay down private sector investment in the line.  This is little different from borrowing the money on the open market and hoping that revenue growth will offset the extra cost, but there is the precept that a private investor might have the incentive to build cheaper (presuming they were actually the builder, not just a bondholder) than might otherwise occur.  There are three sources of funding that could be used:

  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
  • Development Charges (DCs)
  • Sale of municipal properties in the corridor

TIF depends on the assumption that new development will actually occur along a subway line, and as we already know, most of this is projected for the lands around STC, not on Sheppard.  With all those new buildings will come incremental tax revenue that would pay down the debt for the subway construction.  However, there is no guarantee that the development will occur up front, if at all, and the City could be left responsible for debts whose TIF-based revenue might not show up for decades.

DCs assess a premium onto a new development (typically a per-suite surcharge for condos).  Developers don’t like them because the cost is passed on to the buyer who may choose to look elsewhere rather than buying a condo on Progress Avenue.

Municipal property sales are one-time revenue sources, and the City may or may not have land available in the corridor and marketable for sale.

KPMG looked at the TIF option for the Sheppard subway, but the scope of their TIF Zone (the area subject to dedication of incremental taxes) stretched along the entire Sheppard and Eglinton-Crosstown-SRT corridors for the next 50 years.  This would yield $5.3b in new taxes, but much of this money would go to pay down the Sheppard debt, not to build or maintain other infrastructure or to provide municipal services to the growing population and employment centres in these corridors.  It is hard to credit the taking of substantial funds for one comparatively small project (Sheppard) from such a wide swath of the City over such a long time.

DCs could raise $2.2b over 50 years based on roughly $2k extra per 2-bedroom condo, but it is unclear what the scope of this charge would be — how far afield would the affected properties lie, and how much future revenue would this sequester for the Sheppard financing.  Getting $2b at $2k a crack is going to take a lot of condos.

In practice, the amount of money that could be actually raised in the short term (5 years) would be about $651m.  This number is much lower than figures cited above because it takes into account what would likely happen, the risks to investors and the fact that current investors would be betting on a future, uncertain return.

Available municipal property in the Sheppard and Eglinton-Crosstown-SRT corridors is valued at $227m.  Again, this figure is inflated by the inclusion of areas that have nothing to do with Sheppard in fundraising for that project, and the value of the properties — that might be needed to fund other civic projects — would be lost to pay for one subway.

Even with all of these revenue streams included, there remains a 26% shortfall in the City’s ability to finance its share of the Sheppard subway.  This number is based on the lower “Metrolinx” estimate for the subway’s cost, and any increase beyond that figure would add to the shortfall in available City funding.

A further problem lies in the diversion of tax revenue that would otherwise flow to the general coffers, and the distortion of development patterns through incentives to build along the subway corridor.  If development along Sheppard and Eglinton replaces development elsewhere, this means that tax revenue that would otherwise come to the City is bundled into the TIF/DC net.  For example, a condo might not be built in the waterfront, but on Sheppard, and its taxes would be earmarked for the subway debt.  This reduces the actual net revenue from TIF/DC sources to 59% of projected  levels.

None of the additional servicing costs (roads, utilities, etc) caused by the new development would be offset by new taxes as these would be dedicated to paying for the subway.

There is a potential effect on the City’s credit rating, and hence on its cost of borrowing, because any subway-related debt is, eventually, backstopped by the City.  If the expected revenues do not materialize, the City will be on the hook to pay the costs through other revenue streams.

The potential revenue from land sales is considerably smaller than might be thought because the most valuable parcels have already been earmarked for sale through Build Toronto, the City’s real estate development agency.  This revenue has already been “counted” in future budgets as anticipated dividends from Build Toronto.  It cannot be counted again as subway-specific financing.

Finally, Alternative Funding Streams (e.g. new taxes) could provide revenue to fund the City’s share of the subway project.  Table 8 on Page 29 details these, and by far the single largest in the list is a toll on vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT).  It is unclear whether it would be practical to implement all of the options cited here (for example, a toll scheme might run headlong into problems co-existing with a general tax on kilometres travelled).  Large amounts of money are available over a 50-year timeframe if only Toronto (and Queen’s Park) has the will to levy the new taxes.  Once again, however, one must ask whether the political effort to implement any of them could be saleable for only one project — the Sheppard subway — which is not high on most travellers’ priority lists.

A final consideration for any new revenue tools is that, to date, this entire discussion has focussed on one comparatively small expansion of the subway network, and proposed taxes would take money from a large part, in some cases all, of Toronto to finance that one project.  There are many others, and these too need to be financed including:

  • Pearson extension of Eglinton line ($1b)
  • Finch West extension to Yonge ($.5b)
  • Downtown Relief Line East ($3b) and West ($2.9b)
  • Yonge subway to Richmond Hill ($3.1b)
  • Don Mills LRT ($1.8b)
  • Jane LRT ($1.5b)
  • Scarborough-Malvern LRT (1.4b)
  • Waterfront LRT (west) ($.5b)

This list does not include the Waterfront east projects, nor a number of GO Transit improvements.  Although these may have funding in part or whole from Queen’s Park or Ottawa, the same set of revenue tools now eyed for Sheppard are in the list for the Metrolinx “Investment Strategy”.  There is only so much money to go around, and we have to spend whatever we raise wisely.

Evaluation of the Options

At this point, I am going to close off part I of this article.  Due to website interruptions today and other business, I have not had time to complete as much as I would prefer, but will return to the main report and its conclusions soon.

21 thoughts on “The Sheppard LRT Report (Part I)

  1. It’s an old saying but I liked Eric Miller’s quote in the Globe & Mail:

    “The mayor has taken a position that he genuinely believes in, but it’s not fact-based. Anybody is entitled to their own beliefs. They’re not entitled to their own facts.”


  2. The way I look at it Steve is this. No matter what happens Rob Ford will not be happy until he gets a subway. I however am on the fence between LRT and Subway.. I am a Scarborough resident and I fully support LRT, I like it and I like the fact that its very much less expensive than a Subway. On the other hand.. I would a hassle free commute from Warden (where I get on) to STC (Where I shop). As a resident of Scarborough since it was known as the City of Scarborough I have always felt an extension of the BD line is greatly needed because there are many people in Scarborough who would use it because it is a destination for many and a regional hub for others.

    I am more than willing to pay more taxes if it means the BD line is extended and and I would also be willing to pay more taxes if we get LRT. I say a happy compromise is needed, that being an extension of the BD line to STC (to keep people out here happy and make things easier) and build LRT’s everywhere else.

    I like LRT’s but I also like making my life easier 🙂

    Steve: And you probably want a pony too! We cannot all have a one-seat ride for every conceivable trip we want to make. The challenge for the transit network is to make those cases where a transfer is required as simple and painless as possible. Kennedy Station is a disaster from the viewpoint of the most important interchange it offers.


  3. A few miscellaneous points:

    1) It isn’t clear to me that the increased growth projections for the subway option are necessarily an indication that a subway will naturally generate more redevelopment interest. It’s an indication instead that the higher level of growth will be necessary to pay for the subway, not necessarily that it would occur (or that it wouldn’t occur with LRT). Section 5 (“How much growth can we expect?”) states:

    “the forecast […] is based on the forecasts developed by N Barry Lyon Consultants Limited (NBLC) for KPMG’s study of Capital Funding Options for the Sheppard Subway Extension. The NBLC forecasts were developed to support estimates of CVA growth around the subway stations that could be the basis for Tax Increment Financing.”

    Meanwhile, it states that the LRT scenario development forecasts are from City Planning and were generated in 2002 as part of the Official Plan development. In other words, apples and oranges.

    Note that this then influences the ridership projections, because the subway alternative ridership is based on these higher development forecasts.

    Steve: Yes, so much of the “anticipated” subway demand turns on development that may not occur. In my comments, I focused more on the fact that the majority of this growth is proposed for the Progress corridor through STC, not for Sheppard itself. The sleeper issue here is that the “Sheppard subway” is not designed to serve Sheppard Avenue.

    2) The report notes the decreased accuracy of 50-year projections. In fact, even 20-year projections are subject to a lot of variables that can make the projections meaningless. Sheppard is the perfect example: the subway EA projections, with employment forecasts for NYCC and STC that were wildly greater than what actually occurred, were from 20 years ago (1992).

    3) The subway option is based on the section from Don Mills to STC only. Note that there is still confusion (intentional?) in the media — the National Post published a pro-subway opinion piece today accompanied by a map showing the subway not only extending west of Yonge, but extending west of Downsview! (It faded away as if to say, “Imagine how much farther we could go!”)

    4) Would TIFs really work as described, given the way we collect property taxes in Toronto? Taxes aren’t set on properties individually; rather, the total required property tax revenue is set overall, and then divided up amongst hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of properties based on each individual property’s value. Increased property value from redevelopment along the Sheppard corridor wouldn’t increase the total tax intake to the City; it would only increase the proportion of total tax paid by those properties. I thought the only way to raise property tax revenue was to increase the mill rate, which would apply to all properties, and then you run into the “some are winners and some are losers” problem depending on what your latest property assessment says.

    Steve: There are two big problems with TIFs as proposed for funding the Sheppard line. First off, we need to know the baseline — how much development would have taken place whether the subway goes in or not — over which any “marginal” TIF revenues get counted. Second, the “TIF Zone” proposed is all of the Sheppard line, the Eglinton line and the SRT. Obviously no new development on Eglinton will arise because of the Sheppard Subway, and it is unclear what claim should be made on incremental revenue flowing from the provincial investment in the Eglinton LRT/subway.

    Most of the revenue tools cited by the subway advocates conceal a scale in time and in breadth of application in order to generate very large apparent returns. This is dishonest.


  4. @Neil: For an excellent explanation of why a network with transfers is better than one with all one-seat rides, see this article on Human Transit.

    Short version: transfers allow a more efficient route structure, which allows higher frequency on all routes, which means average journey times are actually less.


  5. Question about LRT stations (apologies if this belongs in another thread): Why do they have to be so complex? The Queens Quay streetcar stop is little more than a simple platform with stairs/escalator. Couldn’t the underground stations on Eglinton be similarly simple to cut down on construction and maintenance costs?

    Steve: Queen’s Quay station is almost primitive in its layout, and does not include several features that would be essential for a new LRT station. These include: escalators (none at QQ), elevators (only 1 at QQ, and often not working), prepaid fare collection (not essential, but can simplify boarding if passengers don’t have to tap on/off the vehicles. Probably the biggest factor on Eglinton is that the tunnel must be very deep to get under all of the utilities, deal with the change in surface grades, and keep the maximum grade for the LRT line within technically acceptable limits. Deep stations imply at a minimum a mezzanine level which will interconnect various accesses to the surface. Also, the Eglinton stations will be longer than Queen’s Quay and must have a secondary ventillation/emergency exit shaft to meet current fire code.


  6. I was following today’s debate, at first through the twitter feed on the Globe and Mail and then went to the live feed via Rogers (oh how I could get addicted to all that over-the-top theatrics). First was McConnell clumsily trying to demonstrate the subways would take much longer to build (too long?). My own councillor questions to boots subways were around impact of transfers and on level of development (subways allow for more development that surface LRT).

    Before the break Councillor Ford “asking” (more like prompting) Gordon Chong on various points but the one that I found curious – where cited a study from (if I remember correctly) the American Public Transportation Association that surface light rail is more expensive to operate than subways. Given that much of the debate has been around cost (mostly implementation) is that the case? And what is it based on.

    Steve: I will be reviewing the Chong document in a future post. The distinction is the per passenger (or per passenger mile) cost of LRT versus subways. In the USA, subways are in mature systems with very dense demands and high productivity. The LRT lines have lower “productivity”, but they would not magically improve if they had been built as subway lines because they would not have the ridership comparable to a New York or Chicago system. It is dishonest to make a blanket statement about costs for any mode without the context of the underlying characteristics.

    The TTC’s new CEO Andy Byford was asked his preference (assuming costs could be covered) for Sheppard and he stated subway was his preference. He did mention the DRL as an important part of the subway expansion.

    Steve: Byford was not asked whether, if there were only X dollars available overall, whether the Sheppard line would be at the top of his list. I suspect that he might look more favourably on the DRL as he is not wedded to decades of mythology about the growth of suburban office nodes such as STC.

    One interesting bit in the tweets on the G&M feed of an LRT video from Los Angeles. Wow!

    That’s sure is not the same place my parents and I moved to from Toronto in 1960 (me all of 16 month). Strange that LA can build this and we spend time arguing over which to build…..


  7. Toronto needs subways along suburb to suburb routes like Sheppard because many people need to travel between the suburbs and have no reasonable choice but to drive on Eglinton, 401, Sheppard, Highway 7 or other heavily congested roads. A downtown centric transit network will force people to go through downtown to get between suburbs which will encourage people to drive (e.g. Paris, which suffers heavy traffic jams on Peripherique/A86 because almost all lines go downtown and most jobs are in suburbs, is building a very costly suburb to suburb subway line to fix this problem).

    Also good luck getting CP to allow passenger service on the main line through Summerhill.

    I do not agree with you about suburban employment nodes because downtown office rent is very expensive and we have two choices: build suburban employment nodes near subway lines or build car oriented office parks in traffic congested areas like Leslie & 7. Transit oriented suburban office nodes are common in other big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul etc. I strongly suspect that excessively high commercial taxes since the 1990s have caused employment growth in NYCC, Consumers Rd & STC to suffer and encouraged growth in Leslie/7 which is poorly served by transit and where Highway 7 suffers traffic jams all day 7 days a week. If we rebalance taxes to raise residential rates and cut commercial rates then the Sheppard subway will be successful and allow people to bypass traffic jams on 401.

    With light rail it will take 2 hours and many transfers to get across the north side of the city and most people will drive.

    Steve: Absolutely no plan on the table provides for a continuous subway (or subway like) trip across the top of Toronto. The Mayor’s plan gets you from STC to Downsview under the best case. You will still have a bus from eastern Scarborough to STC, and from Downsview west (unless you can stomach a short subway transfer up to Finch West Station).

    I am fed up with people talking about subways and their speed as if we were going to build one from the Zoo to the Airport when nothing of the kind is on the table for discussion, much less for funding.

    Also, as you apparently don’t know, a multi-year rebalancing of residential and commercial tax rates is already in progress.


  8. Re: the length of the various lines and the fact that the subway ideas are very short compared to the LRT plans. One big feature of Transit City that I appreciate is the fact that the lines really span the city in a way none of the subway proposals ever did.

    I did not appreciate until relatively recently that the Eglinton subway would have also been a stubway—just from Eglinton West to more or less where the current phase of the Eglinton LRT subway is planned to terminate. In other words, if Harris hadn’t cancelled it, Toronto would now have two stubways. So in the end maybe Harris wasn’t as bad for the city as everybody, including me, thought at the time.

    By contrast, the Eglinton line running from Kennedy to Jane really spans the city—longer, in the original to-the-airport version, than the B-D subway, if I am not mistaken. Similarly, the Sheppard LRT really spans Scarborough—look at the map: Morningside is almost to the Rouge valley, only a couple of kilometres from the Rouge valley and the Zoo.


  9. Oh, and if Eglinton LRT is ever over capacity, just build LRT on Lawrence/Dixon/Airport from Port Union to Brampton.

    There, I’ve just thought about transit capacity about as much as the mayor has.


  10. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you get off the Yonge line to go on to the Bloor-Danforth line, you are making a transfer. However this is always conveniently ignored by people who bemoan transfers. There is nothing wrong with transfer points if

    1. the walking distance from one line to the other is reasonable
    2. there is some certainty for the user that when they transfer there will be a LRT/train/streetcar waiting for them or on its way.

    The argument for a Sheppard subway extension seems more based in cartographic aesthetics than in reality.

    Steve: And on the fact that Scarborough riders must put up today with two notably long transfers from SRT to subway at Kennedy and from bus to subway at Don Mills. If you’re destined northeast of STC station, you face a transfer to a bus there too. This might be eliminated or simplified if both the Sheppard East LRT and SRT/LRT extension are built.


  11. Tired of hearing about how Scarborough’s population is exploding. I went to the Census 2010 page at the Statistics Canada site. It allows you to look at population and growth on a federal electoral district level. As it turns out, 8 of the top 9 fastest growing districts in Toronto are….not in Scarborough. In fact, the 5 ridings in Scarborough grew by less than 20,000 in total.

    That is half the growth found in the three ridings making up the core of the city (Toronto Centre, Trinity-Spadina, and St. Paul’s). Between that and the failed job creation projections for North York and Scarborough Town Centre, it is clear to me that this subway farce has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with political promises and the desire for Ford to have a legacy like Gardiner or Lastman.


  12. @Tom West

    The link you posted to Human Transit that explains why transfers can be a good thing is very insightful. However, that article isn’t relevant to the Sheppard debate, since both options being considered wouldn’t affect the perceived frequency and level of service for riders on either leg of Sheppard.

    We’re not putting a transfer at Don Mills just because we think we can improve the frequency of service along Sheppard. We’re putting the transfer there because that’s where it makes sense to stop the subway and start the LRT, given the current infrastructure.


  13. That LA Gold Line video has been passed around a few times over the past few weeks. It’s a neat video, but not the one advocates should be watching.

    The actual video (also on YouTube) is a 25-minute video shot from the cab of an LRV. The video that has been circulating lately is a highly sped-up version (not a true time-lapse) generated by somebody else.

    The sped-up footage is interesting and is neat to look at, and gives a good overview of the different operating environments and design contexts, but it doesn’t allow you to see much in the way of operational detail, and that’s where the devil is, or so they say.

    In fact, the original version appears to be sped up as well — it appears to be twice as fast. You can tell by things like pedestrians crossing the street, or turn signals on cars. (Total scheduled end-to-end time is 53 minutes; the original video is 25 minutes; the sped-up video is around 3 minutes.)

    More importantly, the footage has also been shortened by cutting out sections where the LRV is stopped waiting for a green light, or waiting at stops (you can tell by watching other vehicles or pedestrians). There are a number of fairly substantial waits at red signals, especially around Little Tokyo station. Enough to make you wonder if we are maybe not the only city struggling with signal priority. (Most of the median operations are in the first 9 or 10 minutes — this is the stuff most relevant to the Toronto surface plans.)


  14. As much as I agree LRT is the most appropriate technology, the fact that STC and North York Centre aren’t connected keeps nagging me. There is some merit to it as per the Planning dept.

    There is the 190 (?) Rocket express bus, which i suppose could continue.

    Is it feasible for that bus to actually use LRT Right of way, up to say McCowan or Brimley? It could then head south towards STC.

    Steve: Depends on the ROW design. However, my own experience on the 190 is that it is much more a route serving local traffic between the express stops on Sheppard and STC, not feeding thousands into a subway bound for North York. The problem is that STC is hard to get to from the northwest because this is only a transit node for feeders in from the northeast.


  15. Isaac Morland said:

    I did not appreciate until relatively recently that the Eglinton subway would have also been a stubway—just from Eglinton West to more or less where the current phase of the Eglinton LRT subway is planned to terminate. In other words, if Harris hadn’t cancelled it, Toronto would now have two stubways. So in the end maybe Harris wasn’t as bad for the city as everybody, including me, thought at the time.

    Moaz: I have often wondered why the plan was to extend the subways east on Sheppard (from Yonge) and west on Eglinton (from Allen), ignoring the idea of service west of Yonge (Sheppard) and east of Allen (Eglinton). Why were these areas, which were somewhat developed and located between subway lines, deemed less worthy of having subway service? Was the “potential development” at the new city centre sites (York City Centre at Eglinton & Black Creek, and Scarborough City Centre at Scarborough Town Centre) deemed to be more valuable based on some kind of development-fed model?

    I also wonder why we couldn’t have two decent subways instead of stubways as Isaac points out?

    Steve: The Network 2011 plan was very much a “chicken in every pot” piece of politics — spread a bunch of relatively short around to most of what were then independent cities, and hope that they would all buy in. It was not based on a coherent view of a network, and was also quite clearly a radial expansion of capacity to the core even though it purported to support growth in suburban centres.

    Well, the designs also had Eglinton West supported by the Wilson Yard and Sheppard East supported by the Davisville Yard … necessitating a longer construction process at Sheppard & Yonge because of the need for a link between the Yonge & Sheppard lines.

    I wonder … once Eglinton West was cancelled, did the TTC compare the cost of extending the Sheppard line west to Downsview so it could be served by the Wilson Yard? The tail track of the Sheppard line extends well west of Yonge St, the extension does not seem that much longer, but I also recall that extending west to Downsview has never been important to the TTC.

    Steve: Yes, the TTC looked at this option among various ways to deal with capacity problems on Yonge, and found that a 3+km service connection simply could not be justified. Their current preference is to pre-build the north Yonge extension to Cummer and store trains in a yard north of Finch Station. This also eliminates the problem that it is physically impossible to get more than “n” trains out of Downsview before the rush hour is already, effectively, over.

    So how did the cost of extending to Downsview and crossing over the West Don River (allowing a 3-station extention + connection to Wilson Yard) compare to the cost of building the ramp from Yonge to Sheppard (which gave us the subway as it is today)? Which one would have given us the best value for money and better public transit service?

    Cheers, moaz

    Steve: The comparative cost is hard to say, but I suspect all of the extra ramps at Sheppard-Yonge set us back a lot less than 3km worth of subway tunnel and a few stations.


  16. @Jacob Louy: Transfers were a concern with the hybrid option, which the report considered but wasn’t considered at council.

    If you had the 2 stop extension to the subway, and say wanted to go from 68 Warden Park to 25 Don Mills, then you would need to transfer from 68 to the LRT, then to the Subway then to the 25. That’s a lot of transfers for such a short distance.


  17. It beggars belief that the Sheppard LRT received higher marks for network connectivity than the subway plan. Leaving aside funding and ridership issues, how can you seriously argue that a subway that provides a one seat ride from Scarborough Town Centre to Downsview has less network connectivity than an LRT that only connects to a subway via a football-field size walk to the west and in the east requires a bus ride just to get to Scarborough Town Centre.

    Steve: Your bias shows in the description of the proposed connection at Don Mills where the walk will be (a) on the same level and (b) considerably shorter than the walk riders now make from the bus loop. More to the point, the LRT line ranked high on “connectivity” because it actually serves a large part of Scarborough that the subway totally ignores. If we had been comparing a subway on Sheppard Avenue to Morningside versus an LRT, this ranking would have been much different. As things are, the subway extension exists primarily to stimulate redevelopment west of STC, not to serve the riders on Sheppard.

    If I’m at Scarborough Town Centre and I need to get to Sheppard station I’ll just take the existing 7-stop express bus to Don Mills and take the subway from there. Why would I bother with the 25 stop LRT milk run? Also, the community development that a lot of LRT advocates hope for won’t happen on Sheppard. What you’ll see on Sheppard is asymmetric development. Anybody with any money will want to be on the subway part of the Sheppard corridor. Condo development and associated business development will be concentrated there. The LRT area will be the poorer cousin of the subway area. Had it been all-LRT on Sheppard, or all-subway, you wouldn’t have these issues. But with this hybrid monstrosity we’re going to have a two-tiered transit system on Shepppard, with the associated sociological implications.

    Steve: The remaining “subway” section of Sheppard runs west from Don Mills to Yonge. There is already a lot of development, although the degree to which all of this actually feeds passengers to the subway is another matter. The whole point about “being at STC” is that comparatively few people start out there — they come from somewhere else, and measure “connectivity” from that starting point.


  18. I think access to subway will be a material factor in the attractiveness of any condo development on Sheppard. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true. Transfers matter. Why the hell would I want to waste my time on the LRT when all it does is connect me to a subway that goes in the same direction. I want to go downtown. Or, I want to go to North York. How does a 25-stop LRT help me with this objective? How is it better than the 7-stop express bus that I already have? The reality is that the Sheppard LRT is a regional transit solution, not a commuter solution. It will be great for shopping trips within Scarborough. It will be great for connecting to northbound bus trips to Markham. It will do nothing for commuters who want to get to North York or the downtown core. Surely you recognize this?

    Steve: Yes, I recognize this. However, the number of people who want to get to North York Centre is comparatively small relative to other travel demands in Scarborough which are served by an LRT all the way to Morningside (not to mention a future extension to UTSC). As for those who are going downtown, depending on where your trip originates, you are more likely to travel via the SRT and BD subway (or maybe across Eglinton), or you could even be on a GO train if Metrolinx ever gets around to running decent service out to northern Scarborough.


  19. Just wanted to add to my previous comment – I’m not against LRT per se. I think the Eglinton LRT will be a success. The issue of it being partially above ground is overblown. But Sheppard is another matter. The Miller report was biased when it came to rating Network Connectivity and Level of Service. One only has to ask, would they have come to a different conclusion if the alternative was an all-LRT line from STC to Downsview? Direct connections to Yonge and University subway stops, direct connection to STC, a one-seat ride. Whether it’s all-subway or all-LRT, how could anyone seriously argue that this would provide less network connectivity and a poorer level of service than what we’re going to end up with? Cost, ridership, you can make arguments there. But not network connectivity and service, the subway should have won hands down on those items. And not just because it’s a subway, an all-LRT line with the same connections would have done the same. Maybe that’s what we’ll end up with.

    Steve: I agree that a through LRT line from STC to Downsview would have ranked well on “connectivity”, but that scheme is not on the table. The Expert Panel was not asked to dream up alternative network configurations, only to decide between three options. The Sheppard LRT ranks highly because it serves the substantial demand that lies within Scarborough itself, while the subway only serves western Scarborough, and does some of that from south of the 401.


  20. I have an issue with looking at trips to downtown and North York as a % of total trips. It seems to me that the only relevant trips are the ones that involved some use of the Sheppard corridor as a part the journey, or at least had an east-west leg that could be addressed with a transit connection on Sheppard. The question they should have asked is what % of trips that involved the use of the Sheppard corridor originated from or ended up in downtown or North York. It would have been a much higher percentage. I would have liked to have seen that number.

    Also, I would have liked to have seen some numbers on the amount of bus transfer eastern portion of the LRT not covered by the subway plan. And compare that to the amount of subway transfer trips at Sheppard station.

    I still think that there is a qualitative difference between a direct subway connection and a bus connection, but if you could show that there would be more people transferring to the buses on those eastern stops on the LRT than there would be transferring to the Yonge subway at Sheppard station under the subway plan, you could make the case that you’re providing more connectivity. But I think the additional bus connections have been given entirely too much weight in this analysis. Same with the walk times in the Level of Service analysis – subway beat LRT in every other component of Level of Service but the shorter walk time to LRT stops. This can only make sense if you’re assuming the average trip to be fairly short – in a commuter trip to downtown the door-to-door trip would not be shorter for LRT than subway.

    I’d like to know what they assumed the average door-to-door trip time of LRT vs. subway to be and how they arrived at those numbers.

    Steve: So would I, if only to establish a more detailed basis from which to make the pro-LRT argument.


  21. Glad the Sheppard Line has been approved. My problem with the line though is that there are too many stops. Can’t they just treat it like an ‘express’ bus and only service the major intersections?

    Steve: By definition an express bus also has a local component. The idea of the LRT line is to balance between a limited stop spacing of an express and the every other lamppost spacing of a local. Note that some of those in between stops are intended to make the line reasonably accessible allowing for walking distance out of sidestreets.


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