The City of Toronto will hold its first public consultations on the proposed Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) starting on the coming weekend:
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2015
Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: Jean Vanier Catholic
Secondary School, 959 Midland
Date: Monday, February 2, 2015
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Location: Scarborough Civic
Centre, 150 Borough Drive,
The primary function of initial meetings such as these is to make sure that what the staff proposes to do actually meets public expectations. In the old days of traditional Environmental Assessments, this was the most tedious part — establishing the Terms of Reference — in effect a study to define a study. That’s no longer part of the official scheme, but some prep work is required to validate the work plan. For the SSE, this is complicated by the desire to get everything done quickly and in parallel with other related studies.
When the SSE was approved by Council as an alternative to the LRT plan then on the table (and still, officially, the signed deal with Queen’s Park), the subway was the only game in town. Talk of significant improvements to GO Transit service in Markham, let alone frequent “SmartTrack” service at TTC fares in the Stouffville GO corridor, had not yet been added to the conversation.
In some ways, the study now getting underway reflects that isolated view of the project — so typical of much rapid transit planning — in that the focus is on one project. However, a parallel study by Metrolinx, the City and TTC will review a wider range of options including how the presence of GO corridor services might affect demand and travel patterns for the SSE. (See Planning for SmartTrack) Necessarily these studies will interact because the selection of a route and stations for the SSE will interact with plans for other rapid transit services.
This map shows the area covered by various studies including the GO network, SmartTrack, one of several possible versions of the Relief Line, even an extension of the Finch LRT southwest to the airport. Long-dormant Transit City LRT and BRT proposals are also shown, among other things from various wish lists.
A recent change in the scope of the SSE study has been to widen the study area eastward to Markham Road.
The purpose of this expansion is to allow the inclusion of potential subway corridors further east of the SmartTrack/GO corridor to discover how or if this might affect riding projections. When the subway was proposed, its projected demand stood much higher than the numbers previously cited for an LRT line. The reason for this, as it turned out, was that the demand model included many would-be riders from Markham who were funnelled into the north end of the new subway for want of any competing service. With GO/RER and SmartTrack, the network has changed a lot, and a subway line close to the GO corridor might not be such a good idea.
A flaw in this thinking is that if the “extra” riders come from the north, not from the east, then it does not really matter where the subway is located because it will only carry the “local” riders originating in Scarborough, not those from Markham.
In any event, there are now many, many possible “corridors” for the SSE on the table for preliminary comments by the public. All of them must address the need to link Kennedy Station, the Town Centre and Sheppard Avenue.
- The McCowan corridor — east from Kennedy Station via Eglinton, northeast on Danforth Road, north on McCowan to Sheppard — is the route approved by Council.
- The SRT1 corridor is the “Glen Murray” route touted by the former Transportation Minister as his preferred alternative. This would follow the existing SRT line to Scarborough Town Centre and terminate there.
- Several options turn north on Midland taking various routes to the north and east. The common purpose of this group is to avoid the need to re-orient Kennedy Station to point north rather than east.
- One option (SRT2) swings back west into the SRT corridor north of Eglinton.
- One option (M1) continues straight up Midland to the existing SRT corridor and thence eastward.
- One option (probably M2 although this may be a labelling error on the map) follows Midland to the Hydro corridor south of Lawrence, then turns northeast following this over to McCowan where it joins the McCowan alignment.
- All of the options that use the SRT east-west corridor through the Town Centre have an option for extension to the east and north with two possible routes to Sheppard Avenue, one via Markham Road, and the other via the alignment originally proposed for the LRT line.
- A Brimley option would run north from Eglinton, but would not use the existing SRT route through the Town Centre. Instead it would pass through STC diagonally to meet up with the McCowan route.
- Routes via Bellamy or Markham Road would approach the Town Centre area (actually McCowan and Progress) from the southeast. The exact route either of these would take is unclear and there is no obvious clear path back to McCowan from a more easterly route.
Some of these proposals will fall off the table fairly early for basic reasons such as constructability or availability of routes through already build-up areas. At this point, every conceivable scheme is included if only to establish why it should not be included in the short list.
Normally at this stage of a study, any attempt by the public to engage in discussions such as “where should the stations be” or “how much would this cost” would be rejected because these are normally design issues dealt with later in the process. The inability to engage on such details is a deeply frustrating part of the process. However, given the urgency of the project in the political realm, the hard line on what can or cannot be discussed at this stage will not be enforced. (This is an obvious and long-overdue change to transit project reviews generally, but that’s a story for another day.)
At a media briefing regarding the consultations, one question was pursued at some length: what happens if the alternatives such as a Markham Road alignment are substantially more expensive than the amount contemplated by Council when it approved the SSE? City staff were somewhat evasive on this topic as one might expect give the sensitivity of the question. The basic problem is that in launching the study, Council did not explicitly say “by the way, don’t propose anything that will go over budget”, and staff are now faced with some pressure to move the subway in order to gain more riders.
The process for eliminating potential options and dealing with high-cost alternatives appears to be that the project team would go to an executive steering committee from the City Manager’s Office and the TTC CEO. They would decide what to do and whether to involve Council in filtering the options. The problem here is that higher-cost options may stay in the mix longer, and there may be pressure to accommodate them within the dollar amount Council expects for the SSE project.
As I reported in an article about TTC fleet plans, the TTC is now showing the SSE’s fleet as coming from existing spare equipment (thanks to a surfeit of T1 trains on the BD line) rather than from new purchases. This would mean that the SSE budget lines for new cars and a carhouse to store them could be dropped, at least in the short term, only to reappear as a general requirement for greater system capacity in the mid 2020s. As an accounting measure this would allow a longer SSE to be built “within budget”. This is not a new trick in Scarborough — Queen’s Park did the same thing with the SRT to keep the base project “within budget”, and then pushed extra costs into a supplementary project.
That scenario may be a bit Machiavellian for the TTC, but I wouldn’t put it past any number of politicians to attempt a scheme like this.
The SSE study must report back later in 2015 given the need to nail down a specific subway proposal as part of a larger package of rapid transit schemes now under study. If the subway survives this process, detailed design would begin sometime in 2016 following provincial approval of the Transit Project Assessment (a mini EA), construction in 2018, and revenue service in 2023.
The LRT option is still on the table, technically, although unless the subway scheme goes completely off of the rails due to high cost or low potential demand, the LRT is unlikely to get a receptive hearing. Too much political capital, too much ego has been invested by “subway champions” for this project to be dropped unless it simply becomes unaffordable, even by Toronto standards.