Where Will the Scarborough Subway Go?

The Toronto Star reports that Queen’s Park is contemplating an alternative route to Toronto’s proposed Scarborough subway extension via Eglinton and McCowan to Sheppard East.

The key paragraphs in the article are:

“In the next couple of weeks we should have an announcement on what the routing will be, what the design will be and what the cost will be,” he told reporters on the way into a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Queen’s Park wants to have the subway run on a similar route to the light rail transit plan to “maximize the impact of this line and get it connected to as many people (as possible),” said [Transportation Minister] Murray.

Murray seeks to find out how much could be built with the $1.4b already committed to a subway project.  Using an existing corridor could reduce the cost compared to the McCowan alignment.

This raises questions debated in other threads here of how the subway would be extended via the existing SRT alignment including the configuration of Kennedy Station and whether a route from Ellesmere Station eastward would be elevated or underground.

Recycling some or all of the existing corridor will require a period of shutdown for the RT with parallel bus service, an issue that weighed heavily against the LRT scheme in recent debates.  Will the promise of a subway quell objections to this shutdown?

Murray will meet with Lisa Raitt, the federal Minister of Transport, to discuss funding, but he is already throwing cold water on hopes for assistance from Ottawa for a  “416” project.  Even if the feds bring money to the table, the next questions will be whether the original McCowan scheme or an SRT alignment for the subway are the best use of available cash, and how either subway would fit into a larger network.

The debate comes back to Toronto Council in October preceded by Murray’s announcement likely in mid-September.  Backers of the subway like TTC Chair Karen Stintz and recently-elected MPP “Subway Champion” Mitzie Hunter have stressed that their support for a Sheppard LRT was for a different line in different circumstances.  A Scarborough subway, wherever it goes, will leave large parts of eastern Toronto far from rapid transit.

The LRT debate is not over.  Will Stintz and Hunter become “LRT champions” for other parts of the network?

Analysis of Route 54 Lawrence East (Part II)

In the previous article of this series, I examined headways on the Lawrence East 54 bus route for the months of November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013.  The data revealed a route where staying close to the scheduled headway is a matter of chance, and happens far less commonly than “reliable” service demands.

If running times are fairly consistent, then the time taken from point “A” to “B” is predictable and headway maintenance should simply be a matter of short holds for the faster operators and encouragement to speed up to the slow ones.  However, the headways are uneven right from the termini of the route and from an intermediate point (Lawrence East Station) where re-spacing service to a regular headway could easily be done.

A related issue with schedule adherence is the question of running times.  Is the underlying problem that operators cannot make the assigned times in the schedules and therefore have no choice but to run at whatever chance headway occurs?  I have looked at this previously on Queen and on Dufferin where schedules are a problem for some, but not all, specific time periods.

Finally, there is always the issue of traffic congestion, the bane of surface operations and a mantra to which the TTC often resorts when people complain about service.

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Analysis of Route 54 Lawrence East (Part I)

This is the first of a series of articles to review service on a number of routes both in the suburbs and downtown.  There are three sets of data for November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013.  The first two were selected to show the effect, if any, of service cuts implemented in February 2012.  All three months had fairly benign weather and this would not have much effect on service.  (The winter of 2011-12 was particularly balmy in Toronto.)

Our old friend the Queen car comes in for lots of abuse on this site and elsewhere that transit riders and critics (not necessarily the same group) congregate.  For a change, I thought it would be interesting to review a very long bus route, 54 Lawrence East, to see what its service looked like.

Lawrence East is actually longer than Queen (Long Branch), although it operates at a higher speed overall. The express service has a substantially higher scheduled speed, but does not run on the congested inner section of the route.

54 Lawrence East operates three services:

  • 54 Eglinton Station to Orton Park (between Markham Road and Morningside)
  • 54A Eglinton Station to Starspray
  • 54E Lawrence East Station to Starspray Express (peak only, express west of Markham Road)

Peak hour headways are shorter on Lawrence East than on Queen due in part to the size of the vehicles.  Although Lawrence East has a 3’00” combined AM peak service, this is only actually available at the few stops between Lawrence East Station and Orton Park served by all three branches.  Each of these operates on a 9’00” headway providing an average 4’30” headway over much of the route where only two of them are available.

During off-peak periods, half of the service operates to Orton Park and half to Starspray.

If we are to believe the common wisdom about transit routes, Lawrence East should have more reliable service because it operates in a relatively less constrained environment than the Queen car.  In fact, actual service on Lawrence East suffers many of the same problems of bunching and uneven headways differing substantially from the advertised schedule.

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King & Spadina Intersection Reconstruction (Update 6)

King & Spadina is the last of the TTC’s three Grand Unions to be replaced in as many years.  Work began on August 6, and is planned to reach the point by August 20 that streetcar service can resume on 504 King, 508 Lake Shore and 510 Spadina (to King only).

This post will track the progress of the reconstruction.

Updated August 16, 2013

Paving of the track lanes is substantially complete, and work has now moved to the curb lanes and sidewalks.

Concurrently with the reopening on Tuesday, August 20, the TTC will begin operation of the 521 King Exhibition streetcar service between Church Street and Exhibition Loop, although the cars will be signed “504” because the “521” exposures were removed from the roll signs years ago.

Many of the pedestrian bypass routes through the intersection are now via the roadway.

Updated August 14, 2013

The TTC has clarified the arrangements for service through King/Spadina starting Tuesday, August 20.

504 King and 508 Lake Shore will resume their normal King Street routes rather than diverting via Shaw, Queen and Church.

510 Spadina will remain a bus operation until the next schedule period (Sunday, September 1) when streetcars will return.  The bus diversion via Richmond/Adelaide, Peter, etc., will cease on August 20 and buses will operate straight north-south through King/Spadina.  Some buses will short turn via Charlotte Loop.

Updated August 12, 2013

Assembly of the intersection was substantially complete late today with most of the new rail in place.  Work remains on the approaches as well as levelling, connection of grounding cables and other finishing touches before the track can be set in concrete.

Updated August 11, 2013

The east quadrant has been installed and work is in progress on the north quadrant of the intersection.

Updated August 10, 2013

The diamond plus the west and south quadrants of the intersection have been installed, and the foundation is in place for the remaining two quadrants.  Placement of the grounding cables for the new track has begun.

Updated August 8, 2013

A substantial portion of the new foundation slab is now in place, and the track panels for the intersection are spotted nearby ready for installation.

Photos follow the break.

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Analysis of TTC Vehicle Monitoring Data: Looking Under the Covers

Over the years, I have published many articles containing analyses of vehicle operations on various routes.  The process by which the raw data turn into charts has been sketched in some of these posts, but now this information is available in one place.

Methodology for Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data

Any changes or expanded descriptions of the methodology will be maintained on that page to avoid sprinkling the information through route and date specific posts.

Comments should be left on that page.

Note that the article is intended for a reader with a detailed interest in the process.

Motorists vs Transit — 50 Years On

Mike Filey recently sent me a copy of an editorial written in the Toronto Star of February 12, 1963 by the late Ron Haggart.  For copyright reasons, I cannot reproduce the entire article here, only selectively quote from it, but it could have been written yesterday.

Haggart begins with a 1957 report from the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board that argued Toronto could improve its streetcar service, possibly avoiding the need for so much subway construction, simply by using tools already at the City’s disposal to manage the streets:

  • Enforce laws that prohibit obstruction of streetcar tracks.
  • Let streetcars control the traffic signals.
  • Enforce “no stopping” laws in curb lanes to keep them open for traffic flow.
  • Limit or ban left turns from streetcar lanes.

The context for these recommendations was a report on subway priorities (Bloor was recommended over Queen), but planners argued that even if subway would come to Bloor eventually, changes should be made to improve streetcar service.  Streetcars could get up to 12-13 miles/hour (19.2-20.8 km/hr)  compared to the expected 15.75 mph (25.2 km/h) for the subway.  (In those days, the line was projected to cost $200-million for the 12km stretch from Woodbine to Keele).

Streetcar priority would “necessarily involve some inconvenience to a number of ratepayers”, but would save the transit system (and those ratepayers) money.  As Haggart observed:

Every politician knows that it is far easier, politically, to build a $200 million subway than it is to keep cars off the streetcar tracks.

He continued:

Present-day leaders in Toronto have continued to play with the expensive but politically popular solutions (subways) or the airy-fairy solutions (monorail) and have shied away from the solutions that are simpler (in the engineering sense) but which are more difficult (in the political sense).

W.E.P. Duncan, then General Manager of the TTC, had observed that the political decision makers come to their jobs in cars.  Haggart goes on to cite the same sort of streetcar-vs-auto capacity numbers we hear today from the TTC.  But politicians of the day thought that replacing streetcars with buses would fix everything.  Not so, said Norman D. Wilson, a consultant to the TTC and father of the “wye” junction, who observed that three times the transit vehicles would be required, and the speed and convenience of transit would not be “one whit improved”.

Haggart concluded that the streetcars should be saved, but that:

Unfortunately, politicians prefer to be known as the father of the Gardiner Expressway … no one wants to be remembered as the Protector of the Streetcar.

Fifty years later, nothing has changed.  Even a fully grade-separated LRT, the most advanced form a “streetcar” can take without simply morphing into a subway line, fails to gain support and advocacy from the very politicians who should defend it.  It is simpler to plump for subways and ignore the expense.

TTC Service Changes Effective September 1, 2013

The TTC will revert to its fall schedules across the system on the Labour Day weekend.  The schedule period starts on Sunday, September 1, but the first weekday will be Tuesday, September 3.

The summer changes implemented on June 23, 2013, will be reversed and many improvements, primarily in off-peak periods, will start in September with more to follow later in the year.  Because many construction projects are stretching the bus fleet thin, some improvements cannot begin as soon as planned.

2013.09.01 Service Changes

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Metrolinx Puts Scarborough LRT on Hold

Metrolinx has advised Toronto’s City Manager that it is putting the Scarborough LRT project on hold pending resolution of various issues related to funding the proposed Scarborough subway.

In a letter from President & CEO Bruce McCuaig, Metrolinx states:

The Scarborough LRT remains an approved part of the Master Agreement among Metrolinx, City Council and the TTC, consistent with The Big Move and sound transit planning for the region. We will not expend any more funds on the project because it no longer enjoys the essential support of our partner, City Council. It would be imprudent for us to spend more on a project Council has by majority vote repudiated, as further expenditures would increase the sunk costs already incurred for which the City is responsible. As you know, Metrolinx estimates that sunk costs amount to $85 million at this time. Putting the Scarborough LRT on hold is not due to any shortcomings inherent in the project. The project would serve Toronto and its communities well. In the event the City suspends pursuit of the subway extension, Metrolinx is prepared to return to implementing the current project.

Metrolinx will remove the SLRT from the procurement process for the Eglinton Crosstown line so that this project can proceed on its own.  Planned improvements at Kennedy Station will be redesigned to avoid delay of the Eglinton project, but obviously the changes cannot preclude future inclusion of the SLRT should that project be revived or unless it is truly cancelled.

Provincial funding available for the subway project remains at $1.48b (2010$).  However, this does not include the offset for sunk costs which will be charged to the City reducing the amount available for the subway project to about $1.4b.

The 100-Year Lie

How about a bottle mister?
Only costs a penny, guaranteed.
Does Pirelli’s stimulate the growth, sir?
You can have my oath sir,
‘Tis unique.
Rub a minute,
Stimulatin’ i’n’ it?
Soon you’ll have to thin it once a week.

From Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim

A commonly repeated myth in the LRT vs subway debate is that subways “last 100 years” while LRTs last “barely 30”.

If we were standing in a less-than-reputable circus, in a town that had only a passing familiarity with modern technology, and we still had an innocent, childlike faith that everything we are told is true, then I might put down the frequency with which this line is repeated to a bunch of rubes who can’t be expected to know better.

Toronto is not such a town at such a time and place.  It has pretensions to greatness.  Soon there will even be a train to the airport, although the Ferris Wheel won’t be ready to meet it for the Pan Am Games.  We think we are a “world class city”, a phrase that any con artist will recognize as the sign of a mark ripe for the picking.  We even have a flock of daily newspapers and local media to shine the light of truth in dark places.

Alas, no.  We’re ready to plunk down our money for the miracle of subways that will cure all our ills.  If Rob Ford were were a rather large man with a tail coat, a top hat, tights and a short whip, we would expect a certain amount of hyperbole.  It’s part of the greatest show on earth, after all.  If we faced a sly man, twirling his moustache, with his shop wares displayed in a back alley well out of sight of the constabulary, we might reasonably expect that our money would vanish into thin air for goods of dubious value.  But at City Hall, we trust everyone.

Let me tell you something, gentle readers: subways do not last for 100 years.  There is more than ample evidence of this right under our noses.  Anyone who says otherwise is not merely misinformed, or “poorly advised” to use parliamentary language, they are outright liars.  They care only to convince you that spending an extra billion or so is obviously worthwhile because the alternative is simply not worth the money.

Before the subway foamers start scrolling down to the comment box, let me make one very important point:  if you want to pay for a subway rather than an LRT (or a BRT, or a horse-and-wagon, or a Swan Boat), and you accept the tradeoff of higher capital cost for the supposed benefit of that technology, then an argument can be made for a subway in some places.

But don’t try to con me with lies about how long it will last for that huge investment. Continue reading