This article deals with the report Eglinton East LRT Preliminary Options Analysis which is before Toronto’s Executive Committee on June 28. It is part of a large package of transit proposals that have been discussed in several previous article in this series.
The Crosstown East, as it is now known, was originally the Transit City Scarborough-Malvern LRT line. It had fallen off of the map as part of the Transit City cutbacks imposed by Queen’s Park, but was resurrected early in 2016 as part of the “optimized” Scarborough network of a one-stop subway to STC from Kennedy, SmartTrack service in the GO Stouffville corridor, and the LRT to University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC).
With the recent announcement that the subway proposal will soak up more of the funding already earmarked for Scarborough than originally thought, the LRT line could be in jeopardy again. This would be quite ironic given that it was used as a sweetener to bring some members of Council onside with the one-stop subway plan. Indeed the LRT provides the majority of the benefit in the “optimized” scheme through its many stops close to residents who otherwise would not be on a rapid transit corridor. The package would not look as good for many of Toronto’s planning goals if the LRT line were omitted, but by bundling the stats, subway advocates can make the subway appear better than it would be on its own.
Of the reports before Council, this is the simplest of the proposals in that the options to be reviewed are quite similar differing only in whether the line would end at UTSC or continue north to Sheppard. The latter option dates from a time when it would connect to the Sheppard East LRT and a proposed carhouse at Conlins Road. Such a connection remains possible if Queen’s Park ever overcomes its aversion to LRT on Sheppard (or more accurately, its aversion to telling the Scarborough Liberal Caucus it will never see a subway extension there).
In the discussion about the value of the subway to STC, the relative poverty of transit service in Scarborough is often cited, but there is a disconnect between where the subway goes and where the people most in need of better transit live.
Access to transit options, particularly rapid transit, in Scarborough is lower than in other parts of the City. The average Scarborough resident can access approximately half the number of jobs the average Toronto resident can access using transit. Yet, transit use is higher than average for residents living within NIAs; in areas of Eglinton Avenue East and Kingston road, 45% of residents use transit to commute to work, compared to a City of Toronto average of 37%.4 Transit facilitates access to key destinations such as community services, jobs and educational opportunities is particularly important for communities that already experience equity scores falling below Toronto’s benchmark defined by TSNS 2020. Introducing rapid transit to these NIAs will improve access and is an opportunity to improve outcomes for NIAs in Toronto. Additionally, preliminary findings from a planning study of NIA neighbourhoods suggest that poor pedestrian experience and weak character of the urban environment hinders marketability for higher density residential investment. [p 7]
This is reinforced by a map of the Neighbourhood Improvement Areas in Toronto.
The report notes that the transit mode share for internal trips, an important component of Scarborough travel, is only 14% compared with 33% for the Toronto & East York quadrant of the city. A further transit need is for improved service to UTSC which will develop into a major node on the east side of Toronto.
LRT is preferred for the Kennedy to UTSC corridor because the granularity of stops fits with the target development pattern.
Investment in better transit, particularly along the designated Avenues, contributes to the creation of complete communities that meet people’s needs for daily living, provides transportation choice and reduces auto dependency.
The type and scale of development planned for Avenues contributes to local neighbourhoods and adjacent stable residential communities creating more complete, walkable communities in contrast to the regional-scale development planned for Scarborough Centre. Rapid transit options encourage this type of community development along Avenues, as they are capable of carrying large numbers of people while providing convenient access to local amenities. Line 5 (Eglinton Crosstown LRT) with its relatively high capacity and frequency and short stop spacing is the rapid transit solution best suited to support the intensification and creation of complete communities along Eglinton Avenue as articulated in the Eglinton Connects study.
While development along the Avenues would benefit all adjacent Scarborough neighbourhoods, Eglinton and Kingston bisect the areas of central Scarborough that have also been identified as NIAs. These neighbourhoods would particularly benefit from the introduction of rapid transit. [p 9]
Particularly striking about this outlook (it surfaces in other reports in the series as well) is that the focus on building a strong city is not tied to a single node such as STC or downtown, but to a collection of neighbourhoods. This leads to fundamental differences in the evaluation of transit options.
Several routing options were considered for the original Scarborough-Malvern line that would have extended well north of Sheppard.
In time, the section north of Sheppard disappeared from the SMLRT, and service to Malvern would have been provided by the long-planned extension of the Scarborough LRT from Kennedy Station via STC. In effect, the “M” disappeared from the actual route even though it remained in the name.
The version now recommended ends at UTSC (with provision for future extension northward).
Until there is a Sheppard LRT for this line to connect with and a carhouse on that line to share, pushing north across the 401 at this time is seen as premature. By implication, UTSC could become a terminus for feeder bus routes reaching north and east rather than having the LRT make the northern link itself.
The choice between options comes down to asking whether the Sheppard connection should be built or not. On a comparative basis, the two options rank identically under the City’s strategic planning metrics indicating that nothing would be added by that connection at this time. On the financial side, ending at UTSC easily comes out as the preferred option because the extension adds little to the value of the line but raises the cost by $300-400 million (2016$).
Technical issues include the redesign of Kennedy Station, the relationship to UTSC, the difficulty of connecting with Guildwood GO Station, and the matter of vehicle storage and maintenance.
At Kennedy, the original Transit City configuration provided for three new services: the Scarborough LRT, the Eglinton (now Crosstown) LRT, and the Scarborough-Malvern LRT. When two of the three were sidelined, Metrolinx modified the Crosstown’s connection to use the space formerly proposed for the SLRT just north of the existing mezzanine level of the station, rather than the subway level directly below. This simplifies construction and reduces cost, but now the other two lines are back under discussion, the current plan for the Crosstown terminus is a potential barrier to restoring the missing connections. This is hogwash, of course, considering that a preliminary design already exists, and the cost of revising Kennedy Station for additional LRT terminals pales by comparison to the overall Crosstown project cost.
Operationally, through-routed service with the central part of the Crosstown could pose a challenge as it will run with three-car trains. Physically fitting stations for trains this large into the streetscape along the LRT corridor could be challenging, and there would be problems with uneven loading of trains given that most station platforms could only be accessed from one end.
If the lines do operate separately, the design issue at Kennedy will be to make the transfer movements between routes as simple as possible. Through riding may not be strong at present with the subway being the main attraction, but future developments at the Golden Mile and at Don Mills could change this.
At UTSC, the route would now make a U-shaped trip around the campus rather than a diagonal traverse on the current route of Military Trail. The University includes a realignment of that road to support its campus master plan, and this issue is one of design co-ordination, not a technical show-stopper.
Although Guildwood Station is near the LRT line, the two would be over 200m apart. If redevelopment occurs at Guildwood, then the path linking the two could be improved, but the physical separation will remain. This begs the question of the market such a connection would serve (such as GO to LRT as a means of UTSC access) and the implications of a new fare structure for the attractiveness of trips using both services.
Finally, vehicle storage was originally planned to be at the Conlins Road carhouse on Sheppard, but that project is on hold pending construction of the Sheppard East LRT. As an interim plan, some storage may be provided somewhere on the line so that cars did not have to travel to and from Black Creek carhouse at the beginning and end of service, but this needs to be tied in with an overall assessment of storage and capacity at Black Creek including requirements for both of the Crosstown extensions.