This article is a continuation of a previous commentary on the Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Strategy.
On February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board considered the presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study, but little information was added in the debate. One question, from Chair Robert Prichard, went roughly “shouldn’t this have been started two years ago”, but it was left hanging in the air without a response. Two years, of course, has brought us a new Provincial Premier and a recognition that her predecessor’s timidity on the transit file wasted a great deal of time.
Moreover, there is a long overdue acknowledgement that Metrolinx cannot simply plan one line at a time without understanding network effects including those beyond its own services.
Originally, I planned to leave the next installment in this discussion until public consultation sessions began, but I have now decided to make some brief comments on the various options that will be on the table. (See Yonge Network Relief Study, page 11.)
The most important point about these proposals is that they address at least three separate types of demand and distinct network issues. They cannot, and should not, be evaluated only in the narrow context of “what does this do for Richmond Hill”, or “what does this do for Bloor-Yonge”.
Some proposals are only tangentially related to the Yonge corridor per se, but they have crept into the list because they are also part of the City of Toronto’s study of the Downtown Relief Line.
The three types of demand are:
- Regional travel from the 905 to the core area (classic GO transit commuters).
- Travel from the outer parts of the TTC network to central Toronto (a larger area than the core around Union Station).
- “Local” travel within the old City primarily in areas served by the streetcar network and the Bloor-Danforth subway.
The evaluation of each transit proposal must be appropriate to the type of demand it is intended to serve. For example, better streetcar service will serve the “shoulders” of downtown and connect them to the growing residential and commercial neighbourhoods in the old City. This has little to do with subway relief for the Yonge line, but does interact with any future stops a “relief” line might have between downtown and the Bloor-Danforth subway. If we only care about a hypothetical rider from Richmond Hill, improvements to unrelated parts of the network, though necessary in their own right, will be downplayed.
As I said in the previous article, a vital part of this study will be to understand the physical limitations of each proposed route and its technology, not to mention the compound effect of multiple proposals on common facilities such as Union Station.
Four possible changes are listed:
- Fare integration
- Lower off-peak fares
- Fare by distance
- Fare by transit mode
The behaviour of any network with TTC, GO and local 905 systems such as VIVA will depend in part on the fare structure. Pressure for subways to the 905 rests on a combination of presumed service level and fares. Offer someone a premium-fare GO train running a few trips a day versus a subway giving a single TTC fare ride every five minutes until after 1 am, and the decision is simple, especially when the cost differential is not borne by the transit rider.
Any demand simulation must take into account the fare structure especially with services running parallel to each other such as the Richmond Hill subway and more frequent and faster GO trains. This problem also exists with respect to the GO and TTC services in Scarborough where a cheap, frequent subway service is much more attractive than the expected frequency and fares for GO improvements in the same corridor.
Notable by its absence from this list is a time-based fare even though this is now under study by the TTC, and is a commonly used fare structure for local transit services. This is a serious omission.
I won’t get into a discussion of specific fare schemes as that has been the subject of other threads here beyond warning that “fare by transit mode” is a slippery slope in a region where we are trying to integrate travel and the use of available facilities, not drive people away from faster parts of the network with higher fares. Indeed, as GO evolves into a regional rapid transit network, not just a commuter railroad, higher fares on GO especially for short trips may waste GO capacity and drive riders to other routes. If premium fares extended to the subway, there would be a major dislocation of travel and demands for parallel surface routes that would completely defeat the purpose of an integrated subway-surface fare structure.
Getting to the Rapid Transit Network
The very GO-centric nature of this study appears in a set of proposals relating to GO station access.
Earth to Metrolinx: Rapid transit network access is an issue inside of Toronto for the subway (or whatever technology) lines, not just for GO. Indeed, when the subway pushes into the 905, then station access is not a TTC problem, but one for York Region. Riders in both the 905 and 416 grapple with the problem of surface route frequency and speed. Up in York Region, Metrolinx is building VIVA bus-only lanes in specific areas where they will fit, but in Toronto we will be lucky to see some white paint on roadways in a vain attempt to produce “transit only lanes” on roads with considerably more bus service than York Region is likely to operate.
Service levels and speed for access to the rail network are important throughout the region, not just for GO stations. Without better operating subsidies and without more aggressive transit priority (especially in locations where BRT-scale rights-of-way are not available), the ability to exploit new rapid transit capacity will be limited.
Absent from the list is “parking”, no doubt because even Metrolinx must recognize that the passenger volumes of the coming decades cannot be handled with a park-and-ride feeder model, and that the assumption a car is even available for all trips is not valid. All the more reason to discuss the kind of local transit service that will be needed to feed into whatever new or improved rapid transit might be provided.
Moving Around Downtown
The options in this list address different types of demand.
- Bloor-Yonge Station Capacity: Bloor-Yonge cannot handle growing demand, and this affects both the Yonge and the Bloor lines. Moreover, there are also problems at St. George that will only get worse if there is an inbalance in service between the YUS and BD routes. The fundamental questions here are how much additional capacity should we attempt to provide, at what cost, and with what implications for the station’s operation during construction. Moreover, capacity problems will grow at other locations if the Yonge line can deliver riders at a faster rate, notably stations with few exits. Putting in one additional stairway to meet fire code would come nowhere near the actual needs for passenger circulation at stations like College or Dundas.
- Extra GO trains : Depending on where these are provided, they could divert travel to parallel north-south corridors or away from the BD subway and the Yonge-Bloor interchange. GO riders, even with better service, will tend to come from the outer 416 and from the 905 where the greatest advantage in travel time (net of additional access and waiting time) can be achieved. However, GO can only serve trips headed to the core area and locations within a short walk or subway ride. Passengers bound for midtown or further north would stay on the subway as the shortest path to their destinations.
- Bus routes into downtown (i.e. the express routes in the 14x series): The fundamental problem with any bus to downtown is that of capacity both for the vehicle and for the distribution loop where many routes converge. Express downtown routes only work in limited places where the road system provides a fairly quick path, the number of buses required to significantly reduce subway demand would be very high, and the productivity of these routes would be quite low given their point-to-point, one-way services. Also, should we expect people to pay a premium fare for a service whose purpose is to offload demand from the subway, or make these routes part of the base fare network? Bus Rapid Transit on the DVP is a variation on this scheme (there already is a 144 Don Valley express bus operating seven trips in the AM peak).
- Improved streetcar service frequency, reliability and capacity. The streetcar routes serve areas that, for the most part, have nothing to do with Yonge corridor capacity. Populations are growing along these routes, a pattern that will continue and accelerate in coming years. It is a sad commentary on TTC planning and budgets that responses to this growth have focused on a the relief subway line and on GO Transit, to the degree that either of these can actually benefit local trips. The streetcar system once offered far more service on most routes than it does today and the long-standing problem has been the provision of adequate service. This is a combined problem of insensitive line management, inadquate fleet size and a general attitude to surface transit that offers just enough service to get by in the name of “efficiency”.
Rapid Transit Services
This list is a grab bag of every scheme put forward in recent years, if only so that each of them can be evaluated and the non-starters dropped from further consideration.
- Longer trains: This applies both to GO and to the TTC. On GO, service has evolved to regard 12-car units as the standard to which all lines aspire. There are limits on how long a train can be simply for station design and passenger handling, not to mention the length of train a locomotive can haul. Electrification brings its own issues for train length depending on whether multiple unit cars (EMUs, like a subway train, with each car having its own propulsion) or locomotive hauled trains are used. On the subway, there is an option to upgrade the YUS to 7-car trains.
- GO Electrification: Very frequent service on GO is premised on electrification, although the currently proposed rollout plan is rather leisurely. Other major problems exist where GO operates over trackage of the CNR and CPR, neither of which regard electrification with glee and could actually block its implementation. There is no point in talking about fast, frequent electric GO trains unless the host railways are clearly in agreement with this technology.
- Union Station Capacity: Essential to all GO proposals is the matter of capacity at Union Station for trains and for passengers, as well as the implications of a proposed satellite “Union West” at what is now Bathurst Yard.
- Don Mills rapid transit: This, presumably, is a northerly extension of the Relief Line, although exactly how far we will not know until the study provides more details. This route would intercept traffic now bound for Yonge from the east much as the Spadina line does from the west.
- Relief line: Downtown to Danforth, at least, with the routing options being part of a TTC/City study now underway.
- Waterfront East streetcar/LRT: This route would serve new developments on Queens Quay East, connect with the Cherry Street line serving the West Don Lands, extend south into future Port Lands development, and, possibly, hook up with a proposed Broadview streetcar extension to serve the Lever site and to provide a link north to the Danforth Subway (much as the Spadina car does to the Bloor Subway). This is an important part of development of the eastern waterfront, and its relationship to other proposals is as a local-level service to complement the DRL and/or GO which might have one or two stops in the general area. Riders need to get around this large neighbourhood, not merely arrive or leave from one or two major stations.
- Express Service on the Yonge Subway: This idea comes up from time to time inspired by the “if only we had built it like New York” mantra that forgets the four-track New York tunnels were built when the “city” of Toronto barely stretched to Eglinton. Any additional subway in the Yonge corridor will (a) have to interface with what is already there and (b) will be extremely difficult to build. If people think that bringing a DRL through downtown from the east will be a challenge, try building a new Yonge line and connecting it to what is already there. A major issue is the fact that the subway is not full just at Bloor (where a split to send trains down a Bay Street tunnel has been proposed by some), but much further north. Additional capacity is required well north of Bloor, and this problem will only get worse with new demand funelled in at the top end of the line.
- LRT on the Don Valley rail corridors: There really is only one rail corridor in the Don because the Don Branch of the CPR (now owned by Metrolinx) ends at Leaside. The Richmond Hill GO line has major issues related to flooding and its wandering route, but conversion to LRT will not of itself fix these problems. All that would happen is one technology would substitute for the other with no significant benefit. If the Richmond Hill corridor is going to play an important role, it should do so as a GO Rail operation and resources should be concentrated on improving the robustness and speed of the line with that mode.
- New GO Corridors: There are only two corridors that do not now have GO service on them, and both are owned by the CPR. One is the Bolton line (part of the Metrolinx 25 year plan) that branches off of the Georgetown line in Weston. This line is not relevant to the discussion because a more convenient route into the core will be available at Vaughan Centre by late 2016. The other route is the CPR line through Agincourt to North Pickering, Seaton and beyond. This would not compete directly with the Yonge line, but it could provide a route to downtown from the northeast for long-haul trips as an alternative to the Scarborough/Danforth Subway and a transfer at Bloor-Yonge. The line in question is the main CPR route through Toronto and through its yard in Scarborough. Adding GO service here is possible, but not easy, and would see considerble opposition (for which read “pay us lots of money and we’ll think about it”) from the CPR.
- Danforth Express on GO: This scheme includes a new link between Main Street Subway Station and Danfort GO Station. Leaving aside operational problems of a “short turn” GO train originating at Danforth, there is the much more basic question of why riders would choose to make this lengthy transfer. If the desire is to shift demand off of the Danforth Subway, this should be done further east and north with better GO service on both the Stouffville and Lake Shore East lines, coupled with good TTC feeder bus routes oriented to GO stations rather than to the subway. This is a case where fare integration is obviously essential.
Land Use Issues
Although the network issues arise from suburban demand, there is considerable development within the City that needs to be accommodated by the transit network. I have already mentioned the streetcar lines and the growing density along them. Unlike a lot of “land use” discussions that focus on nodes or “mobility hubs”, development along the streetcar routes is spread out in many locations.
The largest single district to date is Liberty Village nominally on King West that now reaches from the railway corridor north to Queen. Demand to and from this area will not be addressed with one GO station or one stop on a “DRL West”.
Another major area lies in the eastern waterfront with developments along Queens Quay, the West Don, the Distillery/Canary districts, and eventually the Port Lands. Much of this area is remote from the rail corridor, and demand here will not be served by a single GO or DRL station at the Don. Moreover, if such a stop were located to aid the Lever Bros. site east of the Don, it would be even more remote from current and planned residential areas to the west and south.
The basic point here is that unless one really has a self-contained point development, a node around a rapid transit hub, it is very difficuly to serve a large developing area with one rapid transit station. That station is not a replacement for local service to the wider area.
Conversely, “land use planning” involves more than the immediate vicinity of subway or GO stations, and planners must deal with developments that will depend on surface transit or will generate new car-oriented travel. Failure to address such neighbourhoods works counter to the goal of a better transit market share.
Metrolinx spends a lot of time “thinking big”, but their regional network depends on many decisions at the fine-grained, local level. Any regional study must consider both the “macro” and “micro” transportation demands and the evolution of both the new, middle-aged and old parts of the GTHA.