The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.
The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme. Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling. A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.
On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built. Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled. Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance. Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.
Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic). Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion. If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto. Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.
On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project. Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.
Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power. Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight. A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.
Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy. Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not. Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.
In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3. If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.
The briefing package for OneCity is available online.
My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.
To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.
Scarborough Subway (Kennedy Station to Sheppard and McCowan)
This line is top priority in the scheme, understandable because Scarborough and TTC Vice-Chair De Baeremaeker are essential to the success or failure of OneCity’s adoption.
It’s no secret that I have always been lukewarm on a Bloor-Danforth extension, but this version is somewhat more attractive for a few reasons. First, it does not end at Scarborough Town Centre, but continues north to Sheppard thereby eliminating the need for northern Scarborough residents to get across the 401 on a bus service just to reach a rapid transit line. Second, with the subway-vs-LRT battle out of the way, the subway does not preclude the Transit City LRT lines on Sheppard and on Eglinton/Morningside.
This is a network view of transit in Scarborough, not just an “I want a subway because North York has two already” pout from Scarborough Council. Riders from northeastern Scarborough will have the option of transferring to the subway at McCowan or of continuing west on the Sheppard LRT to Don Mills depending on their destinations.
Ridership projections for this line are strong, at the higher end of LRT, but better than what is expected for the Vaughan extension of the Spadina line now under construction.
One advantage cited for the subway option is the avoidance of a four-year SRT shutdown. This is a sour note in the proposal because the length of shutdown seems to vary inversely with the speaker’s love for a subway alternative. Not long ago, the shutdown was barely two and a half years. This is a valid tradeoff, but it shouldn’t be oversold.
The funding scheme proposed for this project assumes that the $1.8b Metrolinx has earmarked for the RT’s conversion is all available for the subway and only $484m additional is needed from the City to build a subway instead.
In fact, part of the SRT project budget includes a chunk of the Conlins Road carhouse and other shared costs for the east end of the Eglinton-Crosstown project. These would have to be carried entirely on the Sheppard project budget and don’t just disappear with the subway alternative.
The map is vague on the route and what is shown (like so much else on that map) is only a diagramatic view, not an explicit one. Whether the subway runs north via Brimley or McCowan from Eglinton, Scarborough Town Centre Station is not on a straight line. From a construction point of view, it may be preferable to offset the line from the buildings, but whether to the east or west is an open question. Obvious casualties will be De Baeremaeker’s long hoped-for SRT station at Brimley, as will the planned SLRT station serving Centennial College. The debate on a route through Scarborough Town Centre will be vigourous, but at least it will pit Scarborough against its own rather than downtowners who are so often accused of meddling in Scarborough’s transit plans.
Yonge Subway (Finch to Steeles)
The TTC already has a project on its books to extend the line north to a roughed-in station at Cummer with a three-track underground yard north from Finch. The purpose is to expand overnight storage capacity and allow more trains to feed into the Yonge line at the start of service. (As the number of trains increases both for the extension to Vaughan and for more frequent service, they cannot all get into service from Wilson Yard before the rush hour has ended.)
If we are going to build north from Finch (this would be a first step, the “Toronto” section of an eventual line to Richmond Hill), then let us go to Steeles and relieve the congestion of buses feeding into Finch terminal.
This project may get approval both because it is comparatively small, and because York Region will see it as the beginnings of their long-desired north Yonge subway.
The estimated cost is $1.346b for 1.9km of route. At over $700m/km, there’s a lot more to this extension than just a few stations and a bus terminal. Compare to the Sheppard West extension at about $400m/km.
Don Mills Express aka “Downtown Relief Line” (Eglinton & Don Mills to Yonge at Queen or King)
This line is vital to unlocking capacity problems on the rapid transit system downtown, and it would have been built decades ago but for a deal made by then Councillor Jack Layton and North York Mayor Mel Lastman to focus rapid transit construction in the suburbs. The TTC hasn’t helped matters by conceiving ever more ambitious schemes to pour more riding onto the Yonge line with more trains, better signalling, platform doors and station modifications. Finally, possibly because we have a transit Chair and a CEO who both actually live on the Yonge line and see it first hand, the TTC recognizes the need for a new subway line into downtown that will attract significant ridership. Metrolinx too has an interest because they see its downtown leg as a possible service to a proposed new station south of Front between Spadina and Bathurst.
[All readers — please do not rehash the alignment debate we have already has on the downtown section of this route here.]
My own preference for the downtown route is well known. Enter downtown from the east via Front and Wellington, connect to the King and St. Andrew Stations (which structurally are not far north of Wellington Street) not to Union, and swing southwest to Front Street via the still available corridor running diagonally from Wellington and Peter to Spadina and Front (this was the old freight lead to the large yard that occupied the space where Metro Hall now stands).
What is needed is a thorough study of routing alternatives, not a knee-jerk plan to come through downtown on Queen just because a few hundred feet of station exist at Yonge (with a rather low-capacity connection to Queen Station). Any study must include possible alignments to serve the planned GO “Bathurst North” station including a possible extension to Exhibition Place, a site that will probably see major redevelopment in coming decades.
Taking the Don Mills line north to Eglinton provides rapid transit service to Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park and makes the terminal intersection a potential apple of Metrolinx’ eye, a mobility hub that has much developable land in the immediate vicinity.
The name “Don Mills Express” should be rethought as the “Express” moniker is also used for a different type of service on two other proposals (described later in this article). It’s a subway line, and should simply be called that, but finally we are rid of “Downtown Relief”.
The cost estimate is $5.4b for 10.2km of line. There is no discussion of storage facilities for the new fleet that such a line would require.
Sheppard Subway (Yonge to Downsview)
This line is a pet project of Councillor James Pasternak, yes the same Councillor who thought a litmus test for would-be citizen Commissioners should include support for subways in general and for his subway in particular. Demand projections for this line are abysmally low and, while it looks nice on a map, I cannot see this getting priority or funding in the near future.
The estimated cost for the 3.8km extension is $1.541b.
There is a $1b provision for expansion of capacity at Bloor-Yonge although the whole idea of a “relief” line is to eliminate the need for this work. Why is it even in the list, and what is entailed in this project?
Bloor West Subway (Kipling to Sherway)
Notable by its absence is the Bloor extension to Sherway Gardens. This shows that routes got onto the map because they had a sponsoring Councillor, and the ward’s representative, Peter Milczyn, is a Ford loyalist and the only TTC Commissioner who opposes OneCity. No biscuit for naughty Peter.
Before I talk about the lines added in OneCity, let’s not forget those that will be built by Metrolinx:
- Eglinton Phase 1 (Kennedy to Jane)
- Sheppard East Phase 1 (Don Mills to Morningside)
- Finch West Phase 1 (Keele to Humber College)
- Scarborough RT (extended east and north to Sheppard, possibly replaced by Scarborough Subway)
For all of the OneCity LRT proposals, it is unclear what drives the variation in per km costs and whether vehicles and yards are included in the cost estimates. Some but not all of these routes can piggyback on planned maintenance facilities, but the cars for all routes will be a net addition to the fleet.
Eglinton Phase 2 (Jane to Airport)
This is a no-brainer. The right-of-way for the line exists, and a regular fare connection to the airport that would take riders clear across Toronto to both north-south subway lines and beyond is just the sort of route “ordinary” airport users would love to see. Most of them don’t originate at Union Station as would-be Air Rail Link (ARL) clients notwithstanding the misplaced love for that service at Queen’s Park. If it were not for the Pan Am Games, we would not even be having a debate about which service should reach the airport first.
This 11km extension would cost $1.874b or $170m/km.
Finch West Extension (Humber College to Airport)
This link to the airport is not as critical to the network as Eglinton, but it would give yet another way to distribute would-be flyers across the top of the city. Add in planned bus connections from the west and the airport could be a major transit hub even if the ARL was only a minor player in the grand scheme.
This 6.6km extension would cost $851m or $129m/km.
Finch West Phase 2 (Keele to Yonge)
A connection across to Yonge may be useful eventually, but we really need to see how demands shuffle around once the Spadina extension plus Finch West Phase 1 are up and running. How strong an east-west demand will there be between the two subway lines, which route (Sheppard or Finch) will see the lion’s share of the riding, and what is their ultimate destination?
This 6km line would cost $762m or $127m/km.
Jane (Bloor to Steeles)
The Jane LRT plan has always had problems with right-of-way constraints especially at the south end. Even getting down to Eglinton is tight. This route needs a careful review to see how much should actually be built, and whether it would operate as a branch of Eglinton or interlined as far east, say, as Eglinton West Station.
This 15.2km line would cost $1.488b or $98m/km.
Don Mills (Eglinton to Steeles)
The Don Mills line is a logical extension north from the Don Mills Subway. How soon we should actually need to build it depends on demand projections for this corridor.
This 10.7km line would cost $1.42b or $133m/km.
Scarborough-Malvern (Kennedy Station to Sheppard via Morningside)
At the very least, the northern segment of this route to University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) should be built as an integral part of the Sheppard East LRT Phase 1. This proposal already had support at Metrolinx before Rob Ford’s election, but didn’t make it into the plan as an amendment. It should come back onto the table as soon as possible.
For the remainder of the line south and west to Kennedy Station we need an updated demand estimate and a sense of the evolving redevelopment of Scarborough to see when this should be built. Kennedy Station (which will have to be redesigned again if the proposed SRT/SLRT conversion morphs into a subway) must have provision included for the Scarborough-Malvern line from the outset.
This 12.5km line would cost $1.845b or $148m/km.
Sheppard East Malvern Centre Branch (1.6km, $123m, $77m/km)
Sheppard East Extension to Meadowvale (2.0km, $160m, $80m/km)
Sheppard East Extension to Zoo (1.8km, $170m, $94m/km)
With the conversion of the SRT/SLRT to a subway line, the proposed SLRT extension north into Malvern Centre falls off of the table. A branch line from Sheppard East will require a redesign of the planned LRT junction east of Progress and Sheppard, and a branching operation of the Sheppard line would probably result with trains east from Don Mills to both Morningside (or UTSC) and to Malvern.
The direct link south via the SLRT through STC to Kennedy no longer exists, and this begs the question of whether the access to Malvern should operate as part of the Scarborough-Malvern line (restoring the northern terminus that gave it this route its name). Operational plans are years in the future but worth thinking about lest there be too many permutations of LRT routes on wide, subdivided headways serving northeastern Scarborough.
The Sheppard East line has grown many tentacles in the OneCity plan and operationally these may not all be practical.
Waterfront West (Union to Long Branch)
This line shows up in LRT Purple on the map, but it is really an expansion of the streetcar system and should be shown as such. The WWLRT has been around for over two decades, and its route has been modified more times than I can count. There are problems all along the line including:
- access to Union Station,
- threading a surface right-of-way past the Rogers Centre and the condo forest around Spadina,
- getting past Fort York,
- an appropriate route through Exhibition Place,
- a route through Sunnyside and the Western Beaches, and finally
- the right-of-way width on parts of Lake Shore Boulevard.
An important first step in examining this line is to decide whether and when the west leg of a new east-west subway downtown will serve Front Street west of Spadina and continue west into Exhibition Place. This ties into questions of serving some of the new condo developments as well as whatever might evolve in the Exhibition grounds. The existing streetcar line looping under the Gardiner is in the worst possible location to serve new developments either around Princes Boulevard (the main east-west street through the grounds) or along Lake Shore. That location is a sad relic of transit history that viewed the streetcar as something to be pushed out of the way rather than integrated into the grounds as a whole.
If there is to be an “Exhibition Subway”, then a good chunk of the rationale for the WWLRT close to downtown disappears.
Further out, we must consider how much demand there would be from southern Etobicoke especially if GO Transit changes the service level and fare structure on the Lake Shore corridor. It is ironic that we have an “LRT” proposal on the books for decades, but the TTC always short-changes the 501 Long Branch car for service. This illustrates a classic split between the allure of new construction and the boredom of simply providing good service on what we already have.
The WWLRT is listed as a 6.1km line (presumably the extent of net new construction) at a cost of $767m (126m/km). It is unclear whether there is any provision for upgrades to existing facilities such as Union Loop or the Lake Shore Blvd. right-of-way.
Waterfront East (Union to Parliament and beyond)
This is the second priority within the OneCity package, and it is described as a $290m project of which $90m is already available in Waterfront Toronto’s budget. However, that money only gets us to Parliament and Queen’s Quay and it does not provide the connection through to Cherry Street north of the rail corridor and a potential for service either to Broadview Station or to downtown via King.
Oddly enough, text in the OneCity announcement talks about going to Parliament, but the map shows the line continuing up Cherry to King.
Waterfront Toronto divied up the sub-projects within the overall waterfront scheme. The planned redesign of the Cherry, Lake Shore, Queen’s Quay and Parliament intersections is part of the much larger scheme to reconfigure the mouth of the Don River, and there is no funding in place for this part of the project. More recently this became entangled in debates over the future of the Port Lands as a branch from the Waterfront East route would go south via a relocated Cherry Street to serve new development in the port.
The TTC and Waterfront Toronto should figure out what is involved in providing the section of the work from Queen’s Quay north including the link to Cherry so that we have both a complete transit plan and a dollar figure to go with it.
St. Clair (Gunn’s Loop to Jane)
This extension has been in the hopper for years as a logical next step after the creation of the St. Clair right-of-way. How much chance it has sitting in the middle of a Ford loyalist’s ward is another question. At a minimum, we need to see both a functional design — will a streetcar extension with reserved lanes actually fit here — and an analysis of demand from this area both eastward via St. Clair and southward to the Bloor subway via existing bus routes.
For reasons that defy understanding, the cost estimate for this 1.7km extension is $102m, and I suspect a lot of non-transit improvements have been bundled into the project.
Wilson and Ellesmere BRTs
These are two elements of the BRT section within the Transit City Bus Plan (see pdf page 33, report page 26). Two others are for Yonge north from Finch Station (replaced by an extended subway) and Dundas west from Kipling Station (mysteriously absent again possibly thanks to the opposition of the local Councillor to OneCity).
There is far more in the TCBP which should be part of OneCity, but isn’t. A transit plan is not just about long term capital projects but about overall improvement in service quality and attractiveness. Plucking two relatively minor elements from a much larger plan is the worst kind of cherry-picking.
Kingston Road BRT
This line would run from Main Station east via Danforth and Kingston Road to Eglinton where it would meet the Scarborough-Malvern line. This proposal has been around for several years and evolved from a Kingston Road LRT scheme which proved not to be very practical because the primary destination of riders in the corridor is the Danforth subway.
One important issue about “BRT”. The term is used rather freely to represent two very different implementations. One includes reserved lanes and stations in the manner of the VIVA system in York Region. This is what people usually mean by “Bus Rapid Transit” and it includes moving stops further apart than on a regular bus route for increased speed.
Another form, sometimes called “BRT Lite” is little more than a supposedly reserved curb lane.
It is unclear which flavour of BRT is intended by OneCity, but at a cost/km of over $30m, I would hope for a bit more than paint stripes on the pavement.
“Express” Lines in Etobicoke and Scarborough
This is the wooliest part of the whole announcement. A technology, as yet unknown (maybe subway, LRT or mainline rail) would operate on the GO rail corridors from Steeles east of Kennedy (the Uxbridge Subdivision that now serves the Stouffville GO service) south to Scarborough Junction, west and south via the Lake Shore rail corridor through Union, then northwest via the Weston Subdivision to the airport replacing the Air Rail Link.
There are immense logistical and regulatory problems with a shared right-of-way for transit and mainline rail vehicles. In the I-METRO-E proposal (from which this is adapted), the author talks of simply “kicking GO off” of the Uxbridge Sub. That might, in a parallel universe, be possible, but not so on either the Lake Shore or Weston corridors.
As for the ARL, Queen’s Park clings to the idea that it should be a premium class service and continues to design and provision infrastructure on that basis so as to show a good face to the world for the Pan Am Games. The infrastructure could be better used for a local service, but it would have to include good connections to TTC routes to make it part of a
true network, not a line that wandered by just far enough for transfers to be not worth the effort.
My gut feeling is that the western leg of this has a better chance of conversion because it can be operated on a free-standing basis (like the ARL) while the eastern leg runs into serious problems on the Lake Shore corridor.
The cost estimate is $6.9b for a 26km line from northern Scarborough to Union, and $1.5b for the 22km western branch to the airport. It is unclear why these two numbers are so different, but somebody obviously knows that the east side route is no picnic to design and implement. For my money, just running better GO service would be a huge improvement (a view that applies to the entire GO network).