The Gardiner, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway

Three major projects face approvals at Toronto Council and Queen’s Park in coming months.

  • Should we replace the Gardiner Expressway with an at-grade boulevard between Jarvis and the Don River?
  • Should “SmartTrack”, John Tory’s signature campaign plank, form a U-shaped line from Markham to Pearson Airport providing both regional and local service in parallel with GO Transit?
  • Should the Bloor-Danforth subway be extended through Scarborough in place of the once-proposed LRT network, via which route and at what cost?

None of these is a simple problem, and they are linked by a combination of forces: polarized political views of what Toronto’s future transportation network should look like, very substantial present and future capital and operating costs, and competing claims of transportation planning models regarding the behaviour of a new network.

On the political front, Mayor Tory is playing for a trifecta against considerable odds. Winning on all three would cement his influence at Council, but it is far from clear that he will win on any of them. Council is split on the expressway options, SmartTrack has already sprouted an alternative western alignment, and the Scarborough Subway fights for its life with alternative route proposals and the threat of demand canibalized by the Mayor’s own SmartTrack plans.


The financial front is particularly troublesome, and it has yet to come up for serious debate at Council. For years, Toronto grappled with the combination of falling transfer payments from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, a rising backlog of infrastructure spending, the revenue constraint of tax freezes or barely inflationary increases, and a cap on debt costs as a percentage of tax revenues. These three projects threaten to blow Toronto’s financial model apart.

Council’s financing plans include $232-million (in inflated, as-spent dollars) for remedial work on the eastern portion of the Gardiner. This was established as part of an overall plan to renovate the expressway in place, work that is now underway on the expressway west from Jarvis to the Humber River. However, even to maintain the existing structure is now projected to cost $396m (±10%) while the Remove or Boulevard option comes in at $417m (±20%) and the so-called Hybrid option at $524m (±20%). These are only capital costs for repair and/or construction, not for long-term maintenance. The City faces an initial shortfall of roughly $200m at least, and there is no headroom in the long-term capital borrowing plans to handle this.


The Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) as approved by Council requires Toronto to contribute $910m to the project’s estimated $3.56b total cost (including inflation). Of this, $745m would be financed through an additional property tax which has ramped up to 1.0% in 2015 and will increase to 1.6% in 2016. The remaining $165m would come from development charges.


Two problems face Council here.

First, there are proposals to shift the location of the SSE and to add one or more stops to the route to improve its attractiveness. Any increase in cost – typically $300m/km plus $150m for a modest station – must be funded 100% with City money as both Queen’s Park and Ottawa have capped their contributions based on the original LRT network plans. The proportional increase to that $745m base would be substantial, and it would require a significant increase above the current tax level.

Second, although the SSE tax finances the capital cost, the city’s debt model looks at borrowing costs as they occur relative to current-day revenues. Yes, there is a tax in place to pay down the SSE debt eventually, but this does little to offset the short-term bulge in total borrowing as the City’s contribution to the project is paid out, mainly in the early 2020s.

As proposed by Mayor Tory, the SmartTrack scheme would cost $8-billion of which the City would pay 1/3, or $2.7b. This would paid through “Tax Increment Financing” as described in Tory’s campaign literature:

To fund the SmartTrack line, Tax Increment Financing revenue will be leveraged over 30 years as development activity and assessed values increase along a new transit route. It is estimated that $2.5 billion in present value dollars can be raised over that time. All revenue estimates are based only on projected new office development in three precincts within the following districts along the SmartTrack line: the Central Core; the East Don Lands site; and Liberty Village. Tax Increment Financing revenue will likely prove higher than $2.5 billion once development near other stations and residential development are added. This requires provincial approval, including a change to the 1 per cent legislative cap.

This paragraph is breathtaking in its assumptions. TIF is intended for “brownfields” developments where only the presence of major public investment allows an area to rejuvenate and a true tax increment (relative to what would otherwise occur) to be available for capture. This is far from the situation in the core or in Liberty Village, and a good deal of the East Don Lands is proposed for or under development even before SmartTrack comes into existence. Tory’s campaign provided no supporting material to justify its claim, nor is there any discussion of the net new taxes actually available after paying for improvements needed to serve any new developments beyond paying for SmartTrack.

A further oddity is that there is no mention of TIF benefits in the areas in York Region and in Mississauga that were first mooted as the real targets of what is now called SmartTrack.

If Toronto is unable to finance its share of SmartTrack through TIF, or if senior governments do not come to the table at the projected level, then either Toronto must find more money for its share, or recognize that SmartTrack, as proposed, is unworkable.

The combined value of Toronto’s capital needs for the three projects could push the city well beyond its target debt limit. Even if we shrug and say “so what”, we would be left with a city with no remaining borrowing room, constrained in launching any other projects without offsetting revenues. There is a point at which simply spending more money will not solve every problem.

Picking a Route: Maps and Crayons at the Ready

The Gardiner options have been described at length elsewhere and I am not going to rehash them here. The core issue is whether an elevated section will remain between Jarvis and the west side of the Don River, and how its alignment would affect neighbourhood development along the Keating Channel.

On SmartTrack, the original plan was for the western leg to run along Eglinton to the business centre south of Pearson Airport. However, the surface alignment originally thought to be available by SmartTrack’s planners does not actually exist. Moreover, a difficult tunnel under Mount Dennis to link the Weston rail corridor to Eglinton Avenue would make connection with the Crosstown LRT station difficult. Recently, another alignment has cropped up in an illustration posted by Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat. (The soft resolution on this image is from the original on Twitter.)


An alternative alignment for SmartTrack would avoid the significant problems of the Eglinton West leg and would add stops in Weston northern Etobicoke. It is unclear how this would relate to the recently opened UPX service that shares much of the same corridor.

In Scarborough, there were many competing alternative routes in response to a concern that the approved McCowan alignment is too close to SmartTrack and that ridership would suffer. This has been whittled down to three options: Bellamy, McCowan and a Midland. Whether any of these is actually viable will depend on key issues such as the frequency and fare level of SmartTrack as compared to the TTC subway. Other options have been proposed but are not in the City/TTC evaluation including a branch off of SmartTrack along the SRT corridor east to McCowan and possibly beyond to Malvern. An important issue that has not been discussed is the question of where, exactly, the “Scarborough Town Centre” station on any of the subway proposals would actually be – within STC itself, or at McCowan – and how these options will serve existing and planned developments, not to mention bus feeder services.

If additional costs become a problem for Council, it would not be surprising to see the leg north of STC lopped off (or made into a “Phase 2”) to stay within the $3.6b overall budget.

An issue for the entire network is that Metrolinx now speaks of the electrification of GO, a prerequisite for very frequent service, as starting in 2023. It is unclear what service levels, not to mention fare integration schemes, will exist on GO by the time various other projects plan to begin operations.

Competing Projections of Ridership and Travel Time

Projections of future conditions – ridership, travel times, road congestion – are central to all three projects. In the case of the Gardiner, there are competing views of how the boulevard option might affect travel times for various trips and types of road users. “Fighting congestion”, a major goal for Mayor Tory, underpins his support for the so-called “Hybrid” option that would leave much of the elevated expressway intact.

SmartTrack was sold to Toronto voters on the basis that it would speed trips into downtown from outer parts of Toronto. What is not yet known is how SmartTrack would relate to GO services in the same corridors, or what sort of fare integration there would be between various transit systems. “Fare integration” is too often used synonymously with “fare media integration” which is far from the same thing. If the UPX cannot break even with fares in the $20 range, what will be needed to support SmartTrack? What size of trains and frequency of service will be required to make SmartTrack a truly attractive option?

The Scarborough Subway evolved from an earlier LRT plan buttressed by claims that demand would be in the range for which subway technology is suitable. However, that demand projection brought in riders from the north (much as regional trips come to Finch Station). These riders quite reasonably should be assigned to improved GO and/or SmartTrack services, not to the subway.

A fundamental problem with all projections is that the set of assumptions built into them is usually far too complex to be articulated in public summaries. Motorists see charts showing a five minute extra trip time, but this has no context including the underlying assumptions, and the behaviour of the wider network. We know that the model presumed many transit improvements, but we are not told how the transit network’s demand will look in 2031, only the expressway. If money is scarce, we should know where the greatest need will be rather than deciding on a Gardiner option separate from the future of SmartTrack and the SSE, not to mention the Downtown Relief Line. This information is supposed to be available later in 2015, and it could significantly change the debate about options and relative priorities.

A further technical issue with demand models is that they generally don’t do well at distinguishing flows between multiple nearby options. Moreover, some modelling has been done without capacity constraints so that projected demands greatly exceed the actual available capacity. This in turn might be used as an excuse for massive expansion rather than evaluation of network alternatives (the Yonge Subway capacity expansion vs the DRL is a classic case).

The Politics of Decision Making

Although Mayor Tory speaks of the need for consensus in Toronto, the Gardiner vote is surely one he wants to win both to show his leadership as Mayor and set the stage for other debates to come. The Star reported that Tory’s office is lobbying for votes:

… his senior staff are lobbying councillors to back the mayor.

“It wasn’t an intense as the (former mayor) Rob Ford strangleholds, but it was a heated discussion,” Councillor Paul Ainslie — a member of Tory’s executive who has decided to vote for the boulevard — said of a visit by Tory’s principal secretary.

“He said, ‘You’re part of the team, it’s got to be a team effort.’ I’m happy to be part of a team, but I’m not going to support bad city planning when we could spend $500 million on transit, housing and other projects.”

Tory might win on the Gardiner at Council only to face the problem of getting provincial approval for the Environment Assessment as John Lorinc details in a article today. Would Queen’s Park block the Gardiner East project just as the Davis government did so many years ago? Do Kathleen Wynne and her Environment Minister Glen Murray (whose riding includes the Gardiner East) want to engage in this question? Evading the issue isn’t an option because either approval or rejection of the Environmental Assessment sends a strong message about the government’s real priorities.

John Tory has shown that he can change his mind with his position on funding TTC operating subsidies (not enough, by far, and threatened with cuts next year), and on the extremely divisive issue of “carding” by Toronto Police. What other changes might be in store? Does Tory want to govern protecting his right flank from a 2018 election attack by the Ford brothers, or should he aim for a centre-left coalition?

Toronto cannot debate major transportation and financial issues as if each exists as a discrete, isolated decision. What we choose to do affects the transportation network and the city as a whole. That’s a much more complex debate, not an easy path, and pleasing everyone simply is not possible. Telling people what they want to hear might work in an election campaign, but actually running a city and making choices for its future are the challenges facing our city.

61 thoughts on “The Gardiner, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway

  1. “Please explain how streetcars cause gridlock.”

    Ok, I’ve been wanting to put this idea out there for a while, and I can’t resist any longer:

    The idea that streetcars block traffic is essentially a form of bigotry, which says that a car driver can be held up by other car drivers, and that’s OK, but for a car driver to be held up by a much larger number of people riding a streetcar is not OK. In other words, only car drivers are entitled to occupy road space.

    Streetcars don’t block traffic, they are traffic, and they take up less space than buses and much less space than the equivalent private vehicles would.

    And I, too, anxiously await the answer to your question, but I don’t expect to get it.


  2. @ Isaac Morland

    Further to your statement it is like people saying they are being forced to sit in traffic when they are the cause of the traffic. People want better transit and more expressways but are unwilling to pay the taxes required to build and maintain them. Drivers complain about the idea of paying tolls but are o.k. with raising fees for every other service provide by governments and with raising transit fares.


  3. Steve said:

    “Yup. Meanwhile we talk a great line about accessibility.”

    The really sad part about that is now that Doris and Beecroft are finished between Sheppard and Finch, there is no excuse beyond bus fleet restrictions for not improving bus service in the area.


  4. Zach6668, it takes a heck of a lot of buses to replace a subway train, just look at the panic when the subway is down and they need dozens of buses to replace it. The majority of service is with buses, and that is part of the problem. When we look at service capacity, the traffic on a route should be the determining factor. There are more passengers on the Jane bus then there are on the Queen car, heck there are probably more passengers using the Jane bus, then there are taking the Sheppard subway. The Finch West bus is also pretty heavily used.

    The single mothers living in the apartment blocks at Jane and Finch, don’t drive, they take the bus.


  5. Really? Only one comment about the Gardiner? I suspect it will get it’s own article shortly…

    I suspect my thoughts on the matter will go over exceptionally poorly, but I’ll save that for the main article when it comes out…I’m not entirely a fan, but not entirely opposed either.

    Steve: Actually the Gardiner won’t get an article in the immediate future. I don’t like the decision of Council, and the split vote could have gone the other way with only a few changes. Until there is more info by way of studies on the options Council requested, or moves by other parties such as aggrieved landowners, the issue is going to sit.


  6. Steve writes

    Picking a Route: Maps and Crayons at the Ready

    I’ve seen you use this expression quite a bit. This is one of my favorite things to do. Makes me feel like city planner for a day. Is there any more genuine display of civic pride than to try and shape it’s future? Unfortunately, with the province and the fed seriously broke our crayons tend to draw the cheap and seemingly “easy” and our vision is very much hampered. Worse, the private sector now has gotten hold of some of our crayons.


  7. I hate to bring this up, but is there a deal to be done on the SSE? I HATE the idea of going back to Rob Ford’s “Hybrid” plan, but at this point that is the pig with less make-up. Could Scarborough’s aggrieved representatives and downtrodden be persuaded to set aside the idea of extending the Bloor-Danforth line, if the eastern portion of the Crosstown is tunnelled (Not under the Don, side of road past Leslie and Wynford) and continues on the current SRT right of way.

    In this scenario we keep the SSE tax and use the additional funds to finance this change to the Crosstown. Given the distance on the SSE extension is slightly longer, perhaps this would also have the benefit of extending the line into Malvern as originally planned with any remaining funds.

    I still think it’s crazy but it has a number of benefits over the current situation. It retains the line as LRT, allowing us to continue to build a reasonable LRT network – Sheppard, Scarborough-Malvern, instead of a series of disjointed orphan lines. Perhaps this compromise would also open the door to Scarborough councillors supporting the DRL from Eglinton to Liberty Village, as the Crosstown and DRL would provide a better transfer and trip into the core for their constituents, as well as moving significant transfer traffic north and freeing up capacity on the Bloor-Danforth line east of Pape/Donlands (which ever one it is).

    Steve: Considering that Ontario just announced the award of the contract to build the remainder of the Crosstown including the stations and the surface portion east of Leaside, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a major scope change. Don’t forget that you’re talking about a completely new tunnelling contract from Don Mills to Kennedy, a distance 2/3 the length of the tunnel from west of Keele to Brentcliffe. This is not a trivial addition.

    Also, I really don’t think that this is much of a tradeoff — underground Eglinton vs continuous subway route — that would please the majority of Scarborough constituents. Far more would perceive a benefit from the subway extension than from undergrounding Eglinton.


  8. Joe M wrote:

    Not saying the Cons are better whatsoever. But I will say oddly enough it was under the lone wolf Ford’s politics that we raised taxes to pay for a much needed subway extension. Just think if we did the same for the DRL, & burying of the Eastern Gardiner how much better we would be as a City down the road. It’s worth the pain that could have been avoided by proper planning.

    With regard to “burying the Eastern Gardiner” — Seattle is in the process of building an underground replacement for an elevated expressway. “Big Bertha”, their Tunnel Boring Machines is reported to have been the largest in the world. It is 57 feet in diameter. Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel Big Bertha

    We need two TBMs to bore a pair of tunnels for our rapid transit, and, if I have been paying attention, that currently costs us $180 CAD per kilometer. Well, their TBM is going to be generating an order of magnitude as much muck to be disposed of.

    The “Alaska Way Viaduct” that is being replaced is 3.2 km, and is right on the waterfront — very similar to the portion of the Eastern Gardiner we are discussing replacing.

    I’d like to know how much Seattle budgeted for their tunnel. I know Big Bertha has experienced unexpected technical delays, I’d like to know how much it put it overbudget.

    The Alaska Way Viaduct has on and off ramps only at its terminii.

    There have been proposals to replace the Gardiner in the past that I thought were weak because they overlooked the issue of on and off ramps.

    A couple of decades ago wasn’t there an earlier proposal to bury the entire Gardiner, and an alternate proposal to move it south offshore. Toronto Life invited “blue sky” geniuses to re-imagine Toronto, and one of those geniuses proposed replacing the existing Gardiner with an elevated expressway suspended fifteen stories above the ground.

    The genius behind the fifteen story elevated expressway proposal thought it would make Toronto look like the city in “The Jetsons”, with the expressway too high in the sky to cause inconvenient shadows, or for residents to feel it cut them off from the waterfront. They apparently forgot that an expressway needs access ramps, and if vehicles are going to go up or down them at a reasonable incline those ramps would each be something like a kilometer long. Access ramps to an offshore expressway would have a similar problem — they would impose a long detour on drivers.

    If we only buried a couple of kilometers of the Gardiner, it could be built without trying to build underground interchanges.


  9. Dennon said:

    “I suspect my thoughts on the matter will go over exceptionally poorly, but I’ll save that for the main article when it comes out…I’m not entirely a fan, but not entirely opposed either.”

    I doubt they would go over poorly since a lot of people are frustrated over the fact that council isn’t also focusing on the issue of the rest of the elevated portion of the Gardiner, which will be a serious problem in the next thirty years, and how will the work on the east Gardiner tie into it.


  10. Steve said:

    “Actually the Gardiner won’t get an article in the immediate future. I don’t like the decision of Council, and the split vote could have gone the other way with only a few changes. Until there is more info by way of studies on the options Council requested, or moves by other parties such as aggrieved landowners, the issue is going to sit.”

    It is interesting that we can spend more to maintain a roadway – and destroy land value and tax base, than we are willing to spend to build a small piece of transit infrastructure, that would do the opposite. It seems a bizarre decision until you remember that driving is a god given right, and any other form of transportation unless underground, merely interferes with this right. Robert – I believe this is also the answer to your response to Isaac.


  11. robertwightman | June 11, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    @ Isaac Morland

    Further to your statement it is like people saying they are being forced to sit in traffic when they are the cause of the traffic. People want better transit and more expressways but are unwilling to pay the taxes required to build and maintain them. Drivers complain about the idea of paying tolls but are o.k. with raising fees for every other service provide by governments and with raising transit fares.

    Our Political leaders just need to put their foot down here, otherwise we’re doomed. We’re past the point of pretending taxes for transit can be ignored. And the burden to this & the next generation is only growing.

    LOL at blaming drivers as if the TTC transit users pay their full share to the system are happy to raise their fares.


  12. Malcolm N wrote

    DavidC said:

    “Of course, amateur planners like Councillors/Mayors know best and have a track-record to prove it. Sigh!”

    What are you suggesting – and we should follow expert advice, and not polls? Next you will be saying that planners should plan! Or that transit should not be planned at the council table or the ballot box! If we were to follow this course we might (against all our best intentions) end up with that city that actually worked – lord forbid.

    With complicated issues, like transit, I think the role of the politician should be to understand what planners suggest, and interpret it to the public.

    If Karen Stintz had stayed in the mayoral race, I would have liked to see her asked some tough questions, as I felt sure that she understood that the replacing the aging SRT with an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT was superior both fiscally AND for serving the genuine needs of riders in its ridershed. I felt sure she abandoned support of extending the LRT because she, selfishly, didn’t want to squander her political capital on the heavy-lifting of debunking the then still popular RoFo.

    Of course planners plans have to start with a mandate, a planning request from the people, through their elected representatives. And if, after our elected representatives have done a proper job of explaining the proposed options to us, the public still has objections, it is appropriate to send the planners back to the drawing-board.

    Where was it we discussed a rapid-transit plan, that contained elevated portions, and the neighbours objected transit riders would be invading their privacy because they would be able to look through their 2nd floor windows. Well, that is a valid kind of concern.

    Next election we should all write to all the candidates, warning them on the foolhardiness of designing a new transit plan on the back of an envelope.


  13. Malcolm N wrote:

    If Toronto had developed like NYC – I suspect we would have a subway under Queen, however, we do not – and while I do not believe the world would end without streetcars in the downtown, I do think we would either need a real LRT (closed ROW) or a subway if we did get rid of them.

    Someone made an excellent point here, a couple of months ago — that comparisons with the subways of NYC, London and Paris aren’t fair, because significant portions of those systems were built long before automobiles became popular.

    Steve: That was me. Those subways date from the late 19th and early 20th century when the cities in question had populations in the millions, and Toronto was a small town stretching barely to Bloor Street.

    Some people have speculated about what Toronto would look like if its first subway had been built in the 1910s or 1920s. Cincinnati began building a subway in the 1910s. I looked at some of the documents, it looked like it would have been a beautiful start. Tunnels and seven stations were built, still exist. From the documents it looks like it would have been a beautiful system.

    If Toronto had started early our system too might have been abandoned during the depression.


  14. I, for one, am very happy about the Toronto council vote in favour of keeping the Gardiner-DVP link. I use this section of the Gardiner Expressway quite regularly, and I seriously doubt the low usage numbers that were presented.

    Therefore, I thought that the arguments presented by the “Boulevard” advocates were weak because their data as presented was hopelessly idealistic. I think the $ impact one scenario vs the other is really not that great. The way the costs were presented were skewed towards the Boulevard option. One analysis calculated the cost of increased congestion, but that was based on the very underrated delay estimates.

    Nevertheless, one idea reared its head in the debate, and that is of tolls. Though it would personally cost me, I think that it is fair. I used the 407 toll highway twice this past week, so why not downtown?

    Though I am a personal vehicle user, I would use public transit more if more public transit were available. “Build it and they will come!”

    Furthermore, nobody is getting younger. As we age, we more & more prefer some one else to do the driving. And the roadways have no shortage of idiot drivers.

    So, let the tolls fund public transit. Why are we so tax or toll adverse? Congestion costs everybody, whether you drive or not. The cost is built into your food and shelter.

    Steve: It was amazing to see proposals in various forms for tolls, either directly, or through sale/lease of the Gardiner to a third party who would obviously have to charge tolls (and make a profit) just as with Highway 407. In the last term, Council voted overwhelmingly against tolls or any other new “tax” as a revenue generation mechanism. I will be amused to see what Council does with the various reports that come back in a few months on the subject. My guess is that they will get cold feet again. One issue is that there is a substantial upfront cost to implement the tolling machinery.


  15. One more thought about the “Hybrid” option to link the Gardiner-DVP.

    They’re talking about new off-on ramps.

    How about no ramps?

    Eastbound, get off at Jarvis Street. West/Southbound, get off at Richmond Street. These ramps are already there, keep them, don’t need any more.

    That way the footprint of the eastern Gardiner is reduced. Less cost to rebuild, less maintenance, more land freed up.

    Steve: This is among the options that will be studied to make the “Hybrid” more palatable. It affects some of the land claims too.

    A few notes. I don’t know if you know that the Jarvis EB ramp is already planned to be modified so that it lands further west than its present location. This is part of the rehab project. As for Richmond Street, there is only so much traffic that can take that route, and a lot does already.

    Also pending (fall 2015) is the removal of the circular York Street eastbound ramp which will be replaced with a straight ramp “landing” in Harbour Street. Also the “S” curved intersection at Yonge will be straightened out and, eventually (subject to the development plans going ahead) Harbour Street will be extended straight east to Jarvis.


  16. hamish wilson wrote:

    I’m remaining firm in thinking that even in Scarborough terms, using the wide Gatineau hydro for some busways would be smart and an inducement of fast transit to potentially several key destinations (or environs) to help us reverse away from the SSE, and squeeze the billions.

    How many roads does the Gatineau hydro right of way cross?

    There is a hydro field near where I grew up, that runs past Kipling TTC station, that goes right past the airport. It goes directly north from Kipling, takes a slight turn just north of Rathburn. It crosses the Mimico Creek Ravine just north of the intersection of Eglinton and Martingrove — quite close to the airport.

    I thought it would have provided a great right of way if rather than a rail link from downtown MetroLinx had provided a rail link from Kipling. But somebody, maybe Steve, pointed out hydro fields are crossed not only by arterial roads every kilometer or so, but they are also crossed local road, bicycle paths and pedestrian trails.

    What do you have to do to accommodate those roads, bike paths and pedestrian trails. Elevate the whole route to go over all of them? Aren’t elevated routes almost as expensive as tunneling?

    Alternately you could build the route at grade level, and either provide a bridge or underpass at for every road, path and trail. Or you cut all those neighbourhoods in two, and only provide bridges at the four arterial roads, and dead-end the dozen or so local roads and pedestrian trails.

    So, how many roads does the Gatineau right of way cross?

    Steve: You can look at the right-of-way easily on Google Maps. The right-of-way crosses Eglinton just west of Victoria Park, and proceeding north-east crosses all of the major arterials (NS and EW) and a few minor streets. The crossing of Lawrence is at Brimley, and it does not reach Ellesmere until Scarborough Golf Club Road. At Morningside it crosses the 401, and hits Sheppard a bit west of Meadowvale. From there, you’re into the Rouge Valley.

    By the way, as a historical note, that hydro corridor north from Kipling was, once upon a time, going to be an LRT line to the airport. The south side of Kipling Station, bus level, has a provision for a track that was never installed.


  17. Regarding a variety of topics discussed here:

    *I couldn’t find it in your other posts so I thought I would ask: what would be your dream transit map for Toronto? I was also curious what you thought of all the different forms of transit possibly being used in Toronto including subways, LRTs, BRTs, streetcars, water ferries, monorails, gondolas, etc. For Scarborough, shouldn’t there be an overall study to find out what is best for the whole area instead of Smart Track vs LRT vs SSE?

    Steve: Over the years, I get asked this question a lot. Early in the life of this blog, I created what I called “A Grand Plan” back in 2006. It holds up fairly well, although I have reviewed it a few times along the way and changed my ideas about a few things, notably the DRL as an LRT line (the demand projected for it is above LRT capacity and there is little opportunity for surface running which is LRT’s strength), and the idea of LRT and GO sharing the Weston corridor (a moot point now in any case because of the extra tracks for UPX and other services).

    *I thought the backgrounder document for the Big Move is a good “Transit 101” document although if you can recommend others, please let us know.

    Steve: Probably the best is Jarrett Walker’s “Human Transit”.

    *The Toronto Star had a recent story called, “Could the Finch LRT reshape the Sheppard transit debate?” on the Sheppard Subway extension and quoted a transit expert who refused to give him name as saying all the areas that can support a subway, already have one. I assume it wasn’t you however are there areas you think could support a subway?

    Steve: There are two:

    1. The (Downtown) Relief Line, but with the proviso that it run from (at least) Front & Spadina (serving a new “Union West” terminal planned by GO) to Don Mills & Eglinton. This has options for westward extension into Liberty Village (providing a better connection than a SmartTrack station on the Weston subdivision) and north on Don Mills either as more subway or as an LRT or upgraded bus service.

    2. The Yonge subway to Steeles. A future Richmond Hill extension may come, but pushing the subway to Steeles as a first step would spread out the bus feeders to a second terminal, allow the TTC to build much-needed storage at the north end of the line, and provide for improved headways by splitting terminal functions.

    *I know it’s easy for us to be armchair transit planners without looking at fact however that is also what a lot of elected officials do: basically impulse shopping with taxpayers’ money. I’ll admit I even though the Sheppard subway could be extended as a relief line by having it go to Ellesmere/Victoria Park, down Victoria Park, through Flemington Park and Thorncliff Park and then through downtown and out west. I then looked at the ridership of the Victoria Park bus and saw it doesn’t really have high ridership so scratch my suggestion. I also noticed Bathurst/Steeles area seems to have high population density yet no one mentions better transit there.

    Steve: There is still a long way to go with better bus service and transit priority before we start talking about subways. I am constantly amazed that Toronto Council will play armchair planner with subway lines all over the map, but won’t give the TTC what amounts to pocket change for better bus service.

    *I think we should be beware of arguments from demagogues or truthiness zealots that use logical fallacies or distorted reasoning. Examples include using anecdotal evidence to support all their arguments instead of formal surveys or public consultations. Usually they say statements like “Everyone I know says…” or “Everyone I talk to…” or “I was talking to {fill in random first name here} who said …” Another tactic is distorting a common issue for their own aims: they will say how everyone has had enough with gridlock (statement A) and the obvious solution is a subways(statement B). If you critique their solution (statement B), they accuse you of going against the people because you are critiquing statement A and they will say, “How dare you ….!!!!”. One would think as well if a party or candidate was going to spend several million on a campaign for election in Toronto, they would spend $50,000 or so to have a researcher develop a sensible plan for transit in the city instead of scribbling something on an envelope.

    *For the Scarborough Subway, the project also is contingent on federal funding however I don’t think there was a formal agreement signed, just a verbal agreement from the late Jim Flaherty. The Auditor General or a new government may say the money would be better spent on other transit projects in Scarborough.

    *About using Hydro corridors for transit, I wrote to Metrolinx about that and they said Hydro One doesn’t allow it, although I noticed one was used for a bus route to York University and also Old Cummer Go Station sits one one.

    Steve: The issue with Hydro is the type of facility that sits on their land. The busway to York U is supposed to be “temporary” and vanish after the subway opens. In fact even York U wants the busway gone. Also, a busway is fairly benign infrastructure, and if Hydro needs to perform major maintenance, they can easily occupy the land. Same for a parking lot. As for Old Cummer GO Station, the railway was already there. Given the Metrolinx/Hydro wrangling at Kipling Station, I’m not sure Hydro would accept a new station at Old Cummer if it were proposed today. The subway crosses Hydro corridors in a few places, and runs along one east of Victoria Park Station although it is not strictly “under” the Hydro lines. There are major issues with use of Hydro corridors including the spacing of towers and underground structures supporting them, not to mention constraints on future changes.


  18. And it looks like the SSE plans are in trouble because the feds are apparently putting 2 billion towards SmartTrack if the rumours about the announcement today are correct.


  19. Well I guess everyone knows now that Stephen Harper announced yesterday that the Feds will pay a third of the cost of John Tory’s SmartTrack.

    On the CBC’s Power and Politics one of the commentators pointed out that Harper waited until after the last Question Period of this Parliament. He pointed out that the fund SmartTrack promise can only be delivered upon if the Conservatives are re-elected.

    I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a Federal government that did not agree to fund transit plans, when the route is not finalized, when the costs are not finalized, when the rolling stock is not finalized, when environmental assessments have not been performed.


  20. Steve, I’ve been thinking about something you wrote a few days ago — that the SmartTrack trainsets probably wouldn’t be the made up of big bi-level GO Train vehicles. We have also discussed SmartTrack being infrequent — maybe have headways of fifteen minutes.

    John Tory promised a surface subway. Can SmartTrack really match the capacity of a subway when it runs at fifteen minute intervals, and uses smaller trainset than the big GO Trains?

    I left some comments to an article about transit to a newspaper article. Another reader there contradicted me when I asserted a weakness of SmartTrack is that it would share its tracks with other rail services. He insisted brand new tracks had been built for SmartTrack. I am pretty sure he was mistaken though.

    Are rail right of ways all the same width? The rail corridor at Mount Dennis did seem wide enough for additional tracks. How many sets of rails can fit in the Georgetown/Kitchener right-of-way?

    I noticed something when I reviewed my photos from my photo excursion the day the UPX opened. My photos of Bloor GO station showed me that the UPX platform was raised, while GO train platforms aren’t. Perhaps that is unavoidable but unfortunate. If the UPX route is electrified, do you think MetroLinx would consider using low-floor vehicles, like the Flexity Freedom vehicles? Would it make sense to shop around for faster electic vehicles, given the distance between stations?

    Steve: There are several things to discuss here. First, there has been no new infrastructure built for SmartTrack — the Georgetown corridor works that are now completing were planned and underway well before SmartTrack was even a campaign promise, let alone a plan with official standing. There may be places along the corridor with room for more tracks, but this must be available continuously over the line to avoid choke points. On the east side, GO is planning to double track the Stouffville corridor, but has not reached the point of detailed planning for additional facilities in the Lake Shore East corridor, notably for a rail grade separation at Scarborough Junction. The Stouffville corridor will not be four-tracked, and so ST must share these rails with GO/RER.

    SmartTrack is described as a service of “15 minutes or better” in the joint presentation that is part of the current round of public meetings, but how much better is unclear. Given the need to share space with GO/RER which itself will run at 15 minute headways, there is a limit to how many trains can be added. The presentation says that ST will use the same type of equipment as GO either as diesel-hauled or electric multiple unit (the same technology as a subway train, but in commuter rail format). Some of the proposed alignments of the airport segment of ST are rather “wiggly” on the maps, and I cannot help wondering what type of equipment they are planning for. The curves and grades on the UPX spur at the airport cannot be operated by conventional GO equipment, and the “ST” spur could face limitations depending on the type of equipment to be used.

    Flexity vehicles are out of the question because they are not built to mainline railway standards (crash strength).

    There is the problem of mixed platform heights as you note. This raises two issues depending on the location. Where services must share the same track, a separate high platform can increase the length of the station unless there is room for platforms on both sides (low on one, high on the other). The EA for the Stouffville corridor double-track project has already flagged locations where the new line will conflict with existing TTC SRT facilities, and the addition of stations at Lawrence East and Ellesmere on the rail corridor could add to these problems. I am not sure a two tracks plus three platforms (two side, one island) will physically fit there. There is also a question of clearances for high platforms if fast trains are to operate past them without stopping.

    As to capacity, the math is straightforward. On a 15 minute headway with service 19 hours per day, this gives 76 trains per direction past any point on the line. If we consider the “line” to have four different segments for the purpose of demand calculations (inbound and outbound to Union from east and west), then this gives 304 trains’ worth of capacity. There have been claims of the line handling 200k riders per day, but this would require an average load of about 650 riders on every trip all day long, inbound and outbound from each direction. This implies a higher peak demand and the need for more or larger trains.

    Although the line may not operate at that level initially, the infrastructure would need growth potential. (Some routes like the Toronto subway have a lot of “churn” that allows capacity to be reused for trips covering only part of the route. This could increase the count of riders without requiring more capacity. However, I would prefer to see detailed ridership projections to get a sense of how much of this will actually occur.) A related question would be as a “surface subway” will we pack in riders like the Yonge line at Bloor, or will we attempt to give them better conditions?

    These details are all part of the study now underway that is to report out in Fall 2015.


  21. arcticredriver said:

    Malcolm N wrote:

    If Toronto had developed like NYC – I suspect we would have a subway under Queen, however, we do not – and while I do not believe the world would end without streetcars in the downtown, I do think we would either need a real LRT (closed ROW) or a subway if we did get rid of them.

    Someone made an excellent point here, a couple of months ago — that comparisons with the subways of NYC, London and Paris aren’t fair, because significant portions of those systems were built long before automobiles became popular.

    That really is the point, and the issue with complaining that LRT should be good for downtown is really equally misplaced for the same reason. Toronto was not a massive city, nor even close to the largest one in Canada in the early 1900s let alone the late 1800s. The road allowances in the older areas do not support wide boulevards for LRT, and for the same reasons the idea of subway, when it was a great one for NYC, would have seemed ludicrous for Toronto. Toronto simply did not develop like NYC. Toronto was a late bloomer. This means we need to deal with infrastructure issues, today. If Toronto is to develop in a manner consistent with being walkable. That is with local neighborhoods, shops, and nightlife, it will need a DRL, and Streetcars to permit mid rise, dense, human scale, development across a large area.


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