In Toronto’s never-ending fascination with new transit maps, the City Planning department has released a vision for our rapid transit network as it will be in 15 years.
Despite much talk of “evidence-based” planning, this is a very political map, and I cannot help remembering then-Premier David Peterson’s announcement of 1990 (not long before he lost an election and Bob Rae wound up as his much-surprised replacement) that amounted to a chicken-in-every-pot map.
There is nothing wrong with network-based planning, and indeed I have been beating a well-worn drum on that subject for years. But let us also remember that the Scarborough Subway exists because of the political clout of Brad Duguid, a former City Councillor, now Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development. Mayor John Tory, in Toronto Life, cites Duguid as saying that “if anyone tries to cancel the [Scarborough] subway, they’ll do it over his dead body”. “Evidence” apparently includes having a large cudgel to keep wandering pols in line.
The map also includes the Mayor’s pet project, SmartTrack, and it’s no wonder that he steers clear of the Minister’s position given the need for a provincial agency, Metrolinx, to accommodate SmartTrack on their network.
All of this is part of the “Motherlode” of public consultation sessions now running in various places around the City, and through Metrolinx in the wider GTHA. Background information and links to related material are available at Toronto’s TransitTO web site.
The Yellow Line (aka Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina)
The Vaughan extension of Line 1 will open very late in 2017. Whether we will have Andy Byford as Santa Claus bringing a shiny train full of toys to York Region remains to be seen.
Concurrently with the opening, the first phase of Automatic Train Control (ATC) will begin on this line from St. Clair West station north to Vaughan Centre. Additional phases will come online working “around the U” and north to Finch with project completion in 2019. Once the new system is fully operational, service can be improved from the currently scheduled level of 2’20” (a bound imposed by existing signals) down, possibly, to 1’50” for a capacity improvement of about 25%.
A future extension to Richmond Hill is shown in gray. How quickly it will be built depends on a combination of factors: the ability to offload Yonge line demand to other routes and to increase this line’s capacity, and the political will to spend on this extension in the face of many competing proposals. Ridership and network considerations are discussed in a recently released report detailing the interaction of the Relief Line, SmartTrack and the Richmond Hill extension. I will discuss that report in a separate article.
In brief, the Richmond Hill subway is not expected to generate a large peak demand, but coupled with expected growth on the network overall, Bloor-Yonge station will be overwhelmed in the absence of relief rapid transit capacity into the core.
The Green Line (aka Line 2 Bloor-Danforth)
The Scarborough Town Centre extension of Line 2 is planned to open in 2023 although some distance remains to be travelled on design and final approval. As noted above, political support for this is strong, and the planning has been warped to suit the circumstances.
As one member of the audience at a recent public consultation in Scarborough pointed out, the stop arrangement on the Stouffville GO corridor and the Scarborough Subway are backwards with the local stops (in the guise of SmartTrack) on the nominally regional rail line while the express service is on the subway. Such are the compromises needed to make two political pet projects fit on the same map.
Demand projections for this configuration have not yet been published.
The Purple (or “Plum”) Line (aka Line 4 Sheppard)
No changes to the Sheppard subway are planned at this time beyond the implementation of ATC and the replacement of the existing “T1” subway car fleet with four-car sets of “TR” (Toronto Rocket) trains similar to those now operating on Line 1.
The Brown Line (Sheppard East)
No technology is specified for what was once the Transit City Sheppard East LRT and its dogleg extension south via Morningside to University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Given the antipathy of Scarborough politicians to anything-but-a-subway, Sheppard is unlikely to see more than express buses until there is a working LRT to demonstrate what could be accomplished with that mode. The big debate regardless of mode will be whether a new express bus would run in its own corridor (akin to the RapidWays in Mississauga and York Region), or if it would be little more than “BRT Lite” with a nominally-reserved curb lane for part of the day.
The Orange Line (aka Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown)
The central part of this line is now under construction with the major work being the boring of tunnels east from Black Creek and west from Brentcliffe toward Eglinton Station at Yonge Street.
The Crosstown West and East extensions are included on this map providing a route from UTSC to Pearson Airport (although whether a one-seat ride will be available is another question). At the public presentation, an audience member asked “how long” for the extensions, and was told that according to the TTC it would be eight years. This is simply intolerable for routes that would be largely built as surface LRTs, and in comparison to the timespans for both the tunelled Eglinton-Crosstown and the planned Finch West route.
That sort of extended timetable also begs the question of how any “economic stimulus” will ever flow from new spending when the lead time to actually build something is so long.
The Somewhat Darker Orange Line (Finch LRT)
This line will begin construction in 2017 and will open within the 6-year window of short-term projects. It will run from Finch West Station to Humber College.
The Turquoise Line (SmartTrack)
On this map, SmartTrack has inherited the colour now used by the Scarborough RT. The service is shown as running from Mt. Dennis in the west through the core and back north to Unionville. The big questions about SmartTrack, as discussed elsewhere, turn on its co-existence with GO service, on fares and the frequency of SmartTrack trains. Demand projections for SmartTrack clearly show that this service will not achieve its claimed ridership and benefits unless regular TTC fares apply (no premium for a transfer from “local” feeders), and service operates frequently.
The design of a feeder network in Scarborough will be complicated by the need to serve both the subway terminal at STC and the SmartTrack stations further west. Given the impetus to make STC a major centre, should bus routes primarily feed into that location (possibly placing more demand on the subway than it would otherwise get) or into the SmartTrack stations?
Elsewhere, SmartTrack faces challenges for line and station capacity (notably at Union) and the feasibility/complexity of local stations serving neighbourhoods like Liberty Village. Some indication of issues at various would-be station sites is revealed in the preliminary evaluation of new stations now underway. The display boards from public sessions with these details are not yet online.
Metrolinx has four proposed configurations of SmartTrack service levels and stations, some of which do not include the local Scarborough stations necessary to make the one-stop subway plan work, and some of which do not have enough service to make SmartTrack attractive to riders. It is quite clear that “SmartTrack” means different things to City and to Metrolinx planners.
Of particular note is the absence of SmartTrack from the “six year” map of new lines to be built and opened by 2021. This suggests that the original target for SmartTrack completion has run headlong into conflict with feasibility issues and the timing of related work on the GO corridors both for ST and for GO/RER.
The Mint Green Line (GO Transit)
This line comes in two flavours: thick (electrified GO/RER) and thin (GO limited service). The routes destined to get RER (frequent, all-day, two-way service) treatment are Lake Shore East and West, Kitchener (likely to Bramalea at least for a first phase), Stouffville and Barrie. The Milton and Richmond Hill lines will remain as diesel operations, although some improvement in service remains possible.
GO’s biggest challenge today is the capacity of Union Station (passenger handling) and the Rail Corridor (train handling) for much increased service. Metrolinx has studied satellite stations at Don Yard and Bathurst North Yard, as well as a tunnel under Union Station for the Lake Shore route, but there is as yet no decision on which option might be pursued.
The Olive Drab Line (UPX)
The UPX line will be electrified as an offshoot of the Kitchener corridor. As for the fares and service to be operated, it is anyone’s guess what we will see. The Metrolinx Board meets on February 23, 2016 to discuss an updated “business strategy” for this service.
The Pink Line (Relief Line)
On the map, this route is shown in two shades of pink with the darker, and presumably more definite, section running from City Hall to Pape Station via Queen Street. Information about the alignment selection appears in the public presentation linked above.
The preferred corridor runs along Queen Street from Pape, although looking at the scoring of options, one might argue that the King Street alignment stands very close to Queen, and it does obtain the same overall rank (3 out of 4). The decision to pick Queen was likely taken before the recent ridership projections were available. These show clearly a much higher demand for a Relief Line on the King Street route than the “preferred” Queen Street one. (I will explore details of the riding projections in a separate article.) Based on comments at the Scarborough public meeting, the deciding factor appears to have been cost and the relatively simpler Don River crossing of a Queen route.
However, the detailed background study of various options pegs the cost of a DRL via Pape and Queen with a common route to the Don River splitting there via Queen or King at the same level. Public remarks comparing the two alignments do not reflect some of the background analysis.
For more details about the Relief Line options visit the Corridor Results page.
The Blue Line (Waterfront LRT)
This route has been around in various forms since an EA was completed in 1990, and it suffers from the inevitable problem of plans left for too long for the political meddling that besets transit projects which are only vaguely defined. A detailed review of the waterfront line will be part of the “reset” study now underway. Many factors bear on what, exactly, is even meant by a “Waterfront LRT”.
- To the east, the line is now shown as extending to Leslie Street with a potential to go further, although Swan Boats may be required. The route from Bay Street is likely to be east on Queens Quay to a realigned Cherry Street, then south into the planned “Villiers Island” (a new island created by the rerouted Don River), and east via Commissioners Street. How much of this would be built and how quickly is a matter for the study, and it relates to two other big projects, the Gardiner Expressway realignment at the Don River, and the realignment of the river itself as part of the Port Lands plan.
- To the west, it is unclear whether the route would use the existing track on Queens Quay or new alignment further north on Bremner Boulevard. The section around the Rogers Centre (aka “The Dome”) would be particularly challenging as a surface route. Although some provision for a transit right-of-way exists on parts of this alignment, it is narrow and does not extend east of Spadina.
- The alignment from Bathurst westward into the Exhibition grounds might be on the existing Fleet Street trackage (which was rebuild as a transit corridor in anticipation of the Waterfront LRT), or via Fort York Boulevard (as the continuation of Bremner). There are alignment issues along the way for the Bremner/Fort York route.
- The future development of Exhibition Place and Ontario Place will require transit service further south, but there has been no consideration of the LRT line taking this route since an early version of the 1990 plan.
- From Dufferin Street to Sunnyside, there are multiple possible alignments each with its benefits and challenges. The cheapest and simplest (via Dufferin and King Streets) is also the worst because the “LRT” line would be forced to run through one of the most congested sections of King West.
- West of Humber Loop, the favoured terminal now appears to be a new Park Lawn GO station at an extended Legion Road rather than a loop at Park Lawn and Lake Shore Boulevard. This would connect the new LRT service to the ever-growing condo neighbourhood at Humber Bay.
- Finally, there is some debate about whether the Waterfront LRT should even serve Union Station or simply run straight through. A moving sidewalk, or some form of shuttle, has been proposed for the existing Bay Street tunnel, although how this could possibly handle the demand for access to the core business district is a mystery. Meanwhile, the new bus terminal to be built at Bay and Lake Shore (opposite the Air Canada Centre) will have a direct link to the LRT station at Union. This is one of those ideas where the left hand, right hand problem is clearly evident.
Needless to say, a study to nail down the issues, challenges, and workable/preferable solutions is long overdue.
The Teal Line (Steeles BRT)
A BRT service from York University to Milliken GO/SmartTrack station is proposed on Steeles Avenue. As with the Sheppard East line, it is unclear just what is meant by “BRT” and how intrusive any new infrastructure might be. The road is a particular challenge because as a municipal boundary is under the shared jurisdiction of both Toronto and York Region councils.
The Mauve Line (Jane LRT)
Another Transit City route has emerged from hibernation with the proposed Jane LRT. Whether this will be built all the way south to Bloor as shown on the map, or become a branch off of the Eglinton line (feeding into services at Mt. Dennis or other points further east) remains to be seen. The section from Eglinton south to Bloor would be challenging to build and almost certainly would have to be underground due to constrained road space for a surface route.
A Jane route would improve the utilization of the carhouse planned for the Finch West LRT, and would connect that line to the main Metrolinx LRT shop at Black Creek.
The Thinner Orange Lines (Streetcars on their own right-of-way)
Most of the items on the map exist already (Spadina, Waterfront, St. Clair) but a new proposal has surfaced for transit priority on King Street. The extent shown on the map roughly corresponds to the never-enforced “transit priority” lane introduced years ago on King from Dufferin to Parliament.
This will be a challenging project because of competing demands for the road space on King including residential and commercial intensification that continues at a substantial rate. A related question will be the status of service on Queen Street given that development is spreading northward. Queen will need more transit service, and it will also be affected by any displacement of traffic from King, particularly in the west where parallel routes (Richmond/Adelaide) do not exist.
Will we ever see all of this? Some of it, maybe, but there is enough on this map that exists to soothe political demands that changing fortunes could derail substantial chunks as we have seen before.
The big unanswered question is money. How will Toronto pay its share of this very aggressive plan, and to what extent will Queen’s Park and Ottawa embrace these proposals?
We have just been through a City budget round where the watchword “taxpayer dollars” might as well have been a flashing neon sign replacing “Toronto” in Nathan Phillips Square. The utter lack of will to actually spend money simply did not square with the grand schemes announced for our transit future. Even if Ottawa comes in with new money, and project schedules are advanced as a job stimulus package, Toronto and Ontario will have to come to the table with their share sooner than might have happened otherwise.
With both the Provincial and Federal budgets coming down in the next month, the actual status of new funding should be better understood.
Meanwhile, we have a very pretty map.