Updated December 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm:
Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee considered the proposed consultation process from City staff regarding the Downtown Relief Line and approved it with only one minor amendment, that a contest be set up to name the new line.
Those of us who remember the last such contest will know that it produced, as a moniker for the line now serving Scarborough Town Centre, that heartwarming name, “RT”.
Two presentations were made by Metrolinx and by City staff.
The Metrolinx presentation gives an overview of the Yonge Relief Network Study which will consider capacity problems and approaches to relief from a network point of view including the possibility that some of the modeled demand can be shifted from the subway to GO Transit. Included in this is a map (page 4) showing the projected locations and degrees of capacity shortfall on the 2031 network.
What is quite striking about this map is that while there may be a severe problem south of Bloor Station, the situation north to Sheppard is not exactly rosy with demands ranging up to 100% of capacity. The need to divert demand north of Bloor is quite evident, although it is rarely mentioned in discussions of “downtown relief”.
The City presentation gives a précis of the report, but shows more clearly (page 10) that at this stage all that is happening is consultation on the Terms of Reference and the Public Consultation that would occur in a future study. This will come back to Council in the spring of 2014 for approval of the full study.
This is a hybrid version of the Environmental Assessment process. A Transit Project Assessment is intended to be fairly brief (120 days) based on a predetermined project. However, the DRL is so far-reaching and expensive a proposal that the City wants to ensure a valid review of all options has taken place before locking in to the formal TPAP review which offers little opportunity for amendment.
An important factor will be the co-ordination and integration of the network-wide study by Metrolinx and the local route and station planning by the City and TTC. Metrolinx will have a good sense of the network options by mid-2014 just at the point the City process enters its “alternatives” phase and the creation of a “long list” of options.
The greatest challenge in the short term will be to ensure that the Terms of Reference do not preclude options that should be considered. In this regard, limiting the study area to the initial phase of a DRL from downtown to Danforth may be valid for detailed planning of alignments and stations, but not from the larger view of how a second phase north to Eglinton or other extension options might affect the route selection on the first phase.
The City plans extensive consultation on the ToR including public input from community and advocacy groups.
Another challenge will be the credibility of demand and capacity figures used to model the future network. For reasons that I will discuss in a separate article, some of the modeling numbers cited by the TTC’s Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study are suspect on two counts:
- The projected service levels and demands on the northern GO lines (a) do not necessarily match with Metrolinx’ plans as stated in The Big Move, and in particular demand assigned to the Richmond Hill GO line is trivial.
- The projected increase in total demand flowing into the core from the north with the Richmond Hill subway is only 1,000 per peak hour. Much of the extra subway demand comes from trips reassigned from the GO rail lines.
If the numbers for the Yonge subway and the GO network are dubious, then what of the potential demand from a DRL, especially the component north of Danforth to which the TTC assigns a low demand and priority? Earlier at the same P&GM meeting, City staff presented information about the “Feeling Congested” consultations that have been underway. This included a preliminary evaluation of various additions to the transit network in which the Don Mills corridor, including the proposed LRT to Steeles, ranked highly (see map, page 19).
A future line cannot both be highly ranked and of little value, and this suggests at a minimum that the criteria by which it was evaluated are not the same in each case. The challenge for the DRL’s Terms of Reference process is to determine which evaluation is correct.
The original text of this article from December 2, 2013, follows the break.
At the November 2013 meeting of Toronto City Council, Councillor Josh Matlow proposed a motion seeking to accelerate the process of studying and approving a “Relief Line” (aka the “Downtown Relief Line” or DRL) by pressing forward with an Environmental Assessment for this project. Moreover, the motion asked that
City Council affirm the Relief Subway Line as Toronto’s next subway expansion priority.
Matlow withdrew his motion in anticipation of a more substantial report to appear in December. The new report will be considered by the Planning & Growth Management Committee on December 4, and by Council later in the month.
The only recommendation in the report is that Council authorize staff to conduct public consultations:
The Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division, be directed to undertake public consultation on the Relief Line proposed Terms of Reference and Public Consultation framework, with technical support provided by TTC staff, and report back to City Council seeking approval of these documents in early 2014.
This process follows the authorization given in February 2013 to report on a process for alignment selection and station locations for a first phase of the Relief Line.
In other words, it is a study to validate the approach to a larger study that might begin sometime in 2014, presuming that Council gives the go-ahead.
The report traces the history of recent Relief Line proposals, including a TTC study considered at the February P&GM meeting. (An accompanying presentation gives the major points of the study.) Even with planned capacity improvements, the growing demand for travel into the core area will overwhelm the network by 2031. Moreover, despite better GO Transit service, many trips from outside of Toronto will use TTC rapid transit lines to reach downtown. Additional capacity on the network is essential.
Depending on the extent of the Relief Line that was modelled, the 2031 peak demand lies anywhere from 11,700 to 14,900. The report’s focus is travel to downtown, and other benefits such as counterpeak traffic and alternate routes for travel that do not co-incide with the peak are not mentioned.
The TTC is already doing preliminary work on alignments and station locations, and this will be rolled into a Phase 2 Relief Line study. Meanwhile, City Planning is digesting public feedback from its “Feeling Congested” consultations that will form part of the Official Plan review now underway. The Relief Line scores well for its potential benefits, and Council would do well to include it in the updated OP.
Meanwhile, Metrolinx is leading a study of relief for the Yonge Corridor including upgraded service on the three northern lines: Barrie, Richmond Hill and Stouffville. The Chief Planner observes:
The findings of the Yonge Relief Network Study could have implications for the need and timing of the Relief Line.
This directly contradicts statements in the TTC’s study claiming that even with improvements, GO would be over capacity by 2031. One can certainly argue that fast work to improve GO would absorb growing demand from the 905 region, the demand model cited by the TTC shows that this only affects the timing, not the need, for a Relief Line. We can, literally, “buy time”, but we cannot avoid the need for this route.
Moreover, the demands addressed by GO are fundamentally different from those the TTC network would handle, and most of the benefits to central 416 riders of an additional subway route through downtown would not be provided by GO Transit.
“Central” is an important term here because too often the debate turns on a narrowly defined “downtown”, the rest of Toronto, and the 905 beyond. These are artificial distinctions. The outer parts of the 416 are as far from downtown as many areas now served by GO, but they are left with very long TTC rides on surface routes feeding distant rapid transit lines. The “old city” has the streetcar network which, for all its capacity and service problems, does provide an alternative to subway travel. Stuck in between is a swath of Toronto that needs the subway, but faces overcrowding that will only worsen as more riders pile into the outer parts of the network.
The Chief Planner continues:
As noted in the initial TTC study, GO Transit service improvements could potentially address the issue of forecast overcrowding on the Yonge line but a detailed analysis of these options was determined to be beyond the scope of the initial TTC study. This gap in the analysis is now being filled by Metrolinx, whose study results are expected to be known in mid/late 2014.
Phasing of regional transit improvements will be an important output from this work. The Metrolinx study will also consider regional solutions within the City boundaries (e.g. service improvements, potential introduction of new GO stations within the City, etc.). The Metrolinx Yonge Relief Network study may identify interim improvements that can be applied prior to implementation of the Relief Line.
Next we hear about capacity improvements that may provide relief to the Yonge line:
- Toronto Rocket trains will increase capacity by 10%. (At least half of this benefit has already taken place as the TRs replaced older equipment on “Line 1”.)
- Reduced dwell times at Bloor Station will allow more trains to pass through this congested point per hour (this work is substantially complete barring major reconstruction of the station).
- The Spadina extension opening in fall 2016 will divert five-to-ten percent of the Yonge demand who will shift to the western leg for their journeys downtown.
- Signalling changes will allow up to 25% more trains/hour to operate on the line bringing headways down from 140 seconds to about 115. (Whether some stations can actually handle the higher passenger volumes this will produce is a problem flagged elsewhere in the report.)
Local service for the streetcar network may improve in coming years with larger cars and better transit priority, but this will benefit mainly trips that do not now use the subway or contribute to its peak demand.
All of this leads to the point where a proper Environmental Assessment must be conducted and that brings us to the Terms of Reference. Unlike some studies where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, this one will require evaluation of many alternatives. Council has not drawn one line on a map and said “build here”, but instead we have a broad area of study for a potential new route. There are three such areas of which only the first will be under study in the proposed EA.
- East of downtown to Danforth
- Danforth to Eglinton
- West of downtown to Bloor
Before the EA can begin, there will be public consultation to discuss the project in general, and this will consume much of the next year taking us beyond the fall 2014 election. Although regular readers here may know every permutation for a Relief Line alignment and many will have authored their own fantasy maps, there are many residents in Toronto who know little of the project. Moreover, many have been convinced that spending anything on subways “downtown” is the worst possible example of misguided planning and civic finance. Turning attitudes around will require some work.
This process will have four phases:
- Review the Terms of Reference, introduce the project history and technical background, and come up with a new name for the Relief Line. To be completed early spring 2014. [Note to readers: don’t even think about turning the comment thread into another battleground over line naming.]
- Develop the “long list” of options for terminal locations, stations and alignments, as well as the evaluation framework for making selections. To be undertaken mid 2014.
- Short list the options by eliminating those that perform poorly against the criteria, and especially those that have “fatal flaws” such as conflicts with existing structures or difficult geotechnology. This process will also include consideration of how each option would contribute to the wider network and fit into future plans. Consultation in early 2015.
- Detailed evaluation of the short list leading to a recommended option and a draft Environmental Project Report. Consultation in late spring 2015.
Once this is out of the way, the formal Transit Project Assessment Process can begin. This is a time-limited 120-day undertaking, and from past experience these can be extremely frustrating without adequate preparation through the steps described above. A TPAP does not involve further analysis of alternatives, only the fine tuning of what has already been selected. Amendments galore may follow, but by then the basic project has been approved.
We will be lucky to reach the end of this process by late 2015. Meanwhile, Metrolinx will beaver away at its own studies including a major update to the Big Move plan. This review is mandated by provincial legislation, and the new plan must be ready for 2016. A related problem will be the financing of the network’s expansion (including new provincial revenue tools) and the competition between downtown-centric transit proposals and those addressing other demands in the GTHA.
Appendix B (starting on page 16 of the Chief Planner’s report) provides draft Terms of Reference. This recounts much of the same information in the main report, but additional details of note are in Section 3, the scope of work.
The Evaluation Framework and the Long List of options will determine what is, and what is not, considered in later stages. Getting this part right is very important lest the choices be skewed by political imperatives or inter-agency rivalry. The Framework will consider a variety of goals including:
- Capacity relief for the subway and the streetcar network
- Policy frameworks that could bear on choices and the future city they would support
- Future land use and the evolution of neighbourhoods through which the line would pass
- The City’s factors for evaluating transportation policies in the Official Plan
Although the Terms of Reference are fairly thorough, they do not make explicit mention of the need to consider expansion possibilities for the various options. This might be subsumed in the need to consider the wider role within the network, but we need a better sense of which “futures” a line might serve. This will be particularly important if future conditions accelerate demand for later phases of the Relief Line.
- To the north: If we are really serious about going to Eglinton and possibly beyond, then this will bear on both the choice of north-south alignment heading toward the Danforth and on the design (and longevity) of any “terminal” at which the Relief Line would end.
- To the west: Various proposals see the line heading southwest to serve a new station in the Spadina/Front area for GO Transit, west through Liberty Village, and then north by various possible routes to Bloor.
It will not be sufficient to draw a line linking University to Danforth, but to consider how this line relates to the next phases in the network’s evolution.
An intriguing side node to this exercise is the support by the Toronto Financial District BIA (Business Improvement Area) for prioritization of a Relief Line in the transit plans. Getting more people to work easily is an essential requirement for developers and owners of commercial office buildings. Without good transportation, people will choose to work elsewhere and further growth downtown may strangle on congestion. It is refreshing that the emphasis is on transit as a solution for this problem.
The City promises an open consultation process with wide access to information and genuine concern for issues and alternatives that will emerge along the way. Given some recent history with both the TTC and with Metrolinx, that will be a major challenge.
Tedious though this process appears, this will lead the City and the TTC through a formal evaluation of Relief Line options and the development of an actual plan. We have had plans before, but not with the possibility of widespread public and political support.