The City of Toronto Planning Department has published a set of demand projections for various combinations of the (Downtown) Relief subway line, SmartTrack, and the proposed northern extension of the Yonge line to Richmond Hill.
This document makes interesting reading because it shows both the status of the evolving master transit plan that went into the modelling, and the vital point that additional capacity into the core area is essential to prevent complete gridlock on the subway system. Both SmartTrack and the Relief Line are essential to a future transit network.
That said, the report raises several issues in part by what it does not talk about, specifically some of the network configurations that have already been presented in various studies.
Alignment Options for the Relief Line, and Other Model Variations
This question of the Relief Line’s alignment is subdivided into two parts: what is the scope of the line, and which route will it take to link Danforth to the core area.
The big options include:
- A “little J” route from Yonge Street to Danforth
- A “big J” route from Yonge Street to at least Don Mills & Eglinton, possibly beyond
- A “little U” from Danforth to Bloor West via downtown
- A “big U” with northern extensions of one or both arms of the “little U”
Work has focussed on the “little J” because that is the scope for a Relief Line so long discussed, and approved for study by Council. Therefore the model numbers do not show any effect of taking the “little J” further north to intercept more traffic bound for the Yonge line. This has already been reported by Metrolinx as a very beneficial extension to the RL.
Within all of the options, there are permutations of a Danforth to Downtown route:
- The north-south segment could lie on either Pape of Broadview.
- The Don River crossing could be at Queen, or further south to allow the line to serve the Unilever site.
- The route into the core could be via Queen or King.
A northern route via Queen makes for a simpler river crossing, but the southern route picks up a major new employment district. The King Street route into downtown also attracts more riders than a Queen route.
City Planning staff have erroneously talked of a King route as if it could only exist as part of the southerly Unilever site alignment, when their own study clearly shows the option of a route crossing the Don at Queen, and then veering into King Street. The more northerly crossing is preferred because it will be easier to build under the river at a narrower point.
The following permutations were modelled to see how they would perform:
- Broadview to Queen
- Broadview to Queen to King
- Pape to Queen
- Pape to Queen via Unilever
- Pape to Queen to King
- Pape to King via Unilever
Of these, the two most promising were the Pape to Queen options with the only variation being whether the line ran to downtown via Queen or via King after crossing the Don at Queen Street. For this article, these are the only two whose demand projections I will discuss.
Further east, there is the question of the Scarborough Subway extension and SmartTrack. Model runs were performed with three variations:
- No SmartTrack
- SmartTrack on a 15 minute headway (4 trains/hour)
- SmartTrack on a 5 minute headway (12 trains/hour)
The SmartTrack cases used a modified land use plan that assumed SmartTrack itself would cause growth that would not otherwise occur. This causes increases for the Relief Line’s projected demand when it is matched with a the lower level of SmartTrack service (4 trains/hour) because the latter does not attract as much riding as the Relief Line.
All model runs used a Scarborough Subway (SSE) with its original three stops, not the “optimized” version serving only Scarborough Town Centre. The disconnect between what is modelled and what is proposed indicates that some of the plan’s elements have changed very recently. The model is supposed to catch up to the plan in future iterations.
None of the SSE or ST figures are included in this report, and so we cannot see how the model divided up demand between them, albeit with the “wrong” station configuration.
Finally, the Richmond Hill extension was added to the model networks to see how it would affect demand on the critical downtown segment and Bloor Yonge Station.
All of these numbers must be taken with awareness of the limitations on what has been modelled, notably:
- With the RL ending at Danforth, the potential benefit (and hence RL demand) of the “big J” is unknown.
- The five-minute service on SmartTrack, identified in a previous study as essential to attract riders, may not be physically possible given constraints on sharing the network with GO.
- It is unclear whether SmartTrack will actually operate at no fare premium above local TTC services, another essential component of making this service attractive to riders.
- The effect of SmartTrack in the downtown segment, including the degree to which it would duplicate an RL at the Unilever site, depends on the ability to operate frequent ST service.
- The relative roles of the Scarborough Subway and SmartTrack in attracting riders is unknown because the now-proposed station layout has not been modelled.
That is a long list of variables. Many of these will be addressed in updated model runs expected in coming weeks, but readers should be careful not to take the current model output as definitive.
Nonetheless, the report concludes that treating SmartTrack and the Relief Line as options is misguided because both will be required to accommodate future demand to 2031 and beyond. Addition of the Richmond Hill extension to the mix will exhaust the Yonge line’s capacity by 2041. This makes further study of the “big J” quite important.
The findings in this Summary Report make clear the importance of the Relief Line. It is apparent that both the Relief Line and SmartTrack will be required in the future to ensure the efficient operation of the existing and proposed future transit networks. Additional work is required to assess the potential benefits of extending the proposed Relief Line north of the Bloor-Danforth subway to Eglinton Avenue and potentially to Sheppard Avenue. [p 3]