The Next Big Move (II): Where Is The Plan?

Two months ago, I wrote about the Regional Transportation Plan that Metrolinx had put out for public comment, and that period for online feedback has now closed. In the interim, I had hoped to see more details in the new plan, more analysis that could inform debate and feedback, but very little has appeared on the website where one might expect to see a wealth of background. Instead, there are three studies:

The last of these drew my attention first both because of its size and because this would be the place one would expect to learn how the draft network came to be, and what the benefits are expected from its components. Alas, that information is not just missing, it is not even hinted at as if it might exist in some deeper background study. Metrolinx provides a very general overview of the anticipated effect of their network, but little sense of the relative value of its components.

The purpose of the regional network study is quite clear:

This will serve as one of several technical background reports that will provide a foundation for the RTP Update.

The purpose of this Phase 1 report is to describe the preliminary recommendations for a 2041 strategic transit network for the RTP Update. This includes the identification, analysis and evaluation of potential transit projects and the development of a regional transit network to effectively meet existing and future transit needs across the region. Together, these activities comprise Phase 1 of the Regional Transit Network Planning Study.

Phase 2 of the study will support the RTP implementation plan, and will include the preparation of refined alternatives, specific recommendations, potential roles for various service providers, and a preliminary phasing strategy for the proposed strategic transit network. [p. 1]

In other words, don’t look for specifics here because they’re still working on the details.

Only one paragraph later comes a vital comment under the heading of “Regionally Significant Transit”:

While the provision of effective transit is dependent upon a fully integrated system with local transit supporting regional routes, this study focuses on transit projects
that are considered regionally significant. The resulting regional network is intended to link seamlessly with municipal transit services that are planned and operated
by GTHA municipalities. [p. 2]

Local municipally-provided services are an integral part of any network, but they are assumed to “be there” and are not the focus of this study. However, the funding and expansion of local transit is essential to the “last mile” problem where most regional network users access it via park-and-ride lots, a mode that is not sustainable for an expanded system. This is particularly important for trips that are not anchored at one end by a major destination node, or very good local transit. There is no point in making a trip through a “regional” station if there is no “local” service to complete the journey.

The plan was developed first from a “long list” of transit proposals, effectively any scheme that anyone might have thought of in recent years with much coming from various municipal plans. That list was filtered down to a shorter version that led to the proposed network which actually contains two components as described in the report. (The process is reminiscent of the first Big Move plan that was almost entirely a compendium of then-existing work by the regional municipalities and GO.)

The Frequent Rapid Transit Network – a high-frequency network of rapid transit services providing effective coverage throughout the region, serving the highest density areas and major centres, and enhancing overall regional mobility.

The Regional Express Transit Network – a high-speed network of services to serve long distance travel between GTHA municipalities utilizing regional rail corridors and the GTHA highway system. It provides coverage to and connects areas of the region not well served by the Frequent Rapid Transit Network, including less-populated areas. Regional Express Buses play a significant role in this network, enabling longer-distance travel across the GTHA for trips not destined to downtown Toronto, and connecting municipalities that are not served by the Regional Rail Network. [pp. 3-4]

This sounds nice in theory, but the proposals are undermined by three basic issues:

  • “Frequent” in this context usually means a bus or train every 15 minutes. That is not a lot of capacity in a bus corridor. Although large scale park-and-ride may work for a train service with capacity measured in thousands/hour, significant park-and-ride throughout the bus network is impractical except at major nodes.
  • Riders of rail corridors to downtown Toronto will tolerate a 15 minute wait because it is so much better than they have been used to, and the travel time saving is substantial. A regional bus network must serve many-to-many trip patterns and will depend on last-mile local services and connections enroute.
  • Park-and-ride simply does not work as a “last mile” solution, and more generally, planners cannot assume that all transit riders are drivers.

A Hierarchy of Services

The study brings out a standard part of any transportation plan, the hierarchy of services. One size simply will not fit all problems, and a range of options is needed. These are summarized in a table:

I cannot help noting that this table still omits “Light Rapid Transit” from the Grade Separated category even though it could be built this way. Instead, we have “Automated Guideway Transit” (AGT), a stand-in for whatever piece of SRT-like technology Queen’s Park is pushing today. An important distinction for LRT and BRT is that there is a range of implementations to suit the circumstances, and a line need not be a uniform style from end to end. That is the constraint faced by technologies that demand complete segregation from traffic such as AGT, subways and frequent commuter rail services, and it is the tradeoff needed to provide frequent, high-capacity service. It is not a requirement across the entire region for every potential corridor, but conversely, segments of “lighter” technologies can operate with complete separation from traffic.

The table is recast in visual form:

A problem with these sort of distinctions is that some corridors do not fit easily into one category. On Eglinton Crosstown, for example, there will be a mixture of subway operation (with LRT trains) and at grade operation in reserved lanes with grade crossings at most intersections. A local bus can turn into BRT simply by moving to a purpose-built road such as the former link to York University in the Hydro corridor, or the new bus roadways in the 905. Conversely, GO train services, which have been designed with widely-spaced stations, are moving into rapid transit territory where GO will do double-duty as an inside-416 rapid transit service. The ability to shift from one category to another varies by technology with those requiring the most segregation being the least amenable to change.

[W]ithin the transit network hierarchy, routes have a primary purpose but may also serve other secondary roles and one route may serve two or more travel markets or operate with characteristics of different tiers. For instance, a bus route could begin in and circulate through a lower-density, residential neighborhood as a base transit service but then turn into a dedicated transit lane in a higher-density corridor as a BRT service. Similarly, a subway primarily serves medium-to-long distance trips, but also serves shorter-distance local trips for downtown residents. [p. 9]

A long-standing problem with Metrolinx’ world view is that they are a regional agency, and regional travel is their mandate. They do not operate local services and appear to have no interest in doing so. This showed up some years ago in an attempt to pervert the Eglinton Crosstown line, a route with a local purpose much like the Bloor-Danforth subway, into a “regional” service with infrequent stops. The result would have required the TTC to maintain considerable local bus service while the Crosstown served only medium-to-long distance travel that could conveniently link with the remaining stations.

The idea that the subway only provides local trips for downtowners is misleading, and implies that once one leaves downtown, “local” trips are less important. “Downtown” means different things depending on one’s point of view, and as Toronto’s density builds out, “downtown” will easily embrace much of the old City of Toronto and some points beyond. There are also local demands within the suburbs that are not well-served by a commuter-oriented network.

As of 2011, nearly all of the existing rapid transit services in the GTHA were within the City of Toronto, and the focus of the regional and rapid transit networks focussed on Downtown Toronto with its high density and limited parking. The more suburban, auto-oriented development in areas outside of the central parts of Toronto have not yet developed the densities or the major centres to support higher levels of transit service. The result is a lack of quality transit service for medium-distance trips, particularly in the municipalities outside of the City of Toronto, leading to low transit mode split and high traffic congestion in these fast-growing areas.

A stronger middle tier of transit services would allow transit to compete with the auto in this market, with a grid of frequent and travel-time-competitive transit services developed over time able to provide coverage in these municipalities. The middle-tier services would also connect with the regional and rapid transit and local bus tiers to form an integrated transit network, able to effectively serve downtown and non-downtown oriented travel throughout the region.

At present, the only option for transit for medium-distance trip lengths is usually local bus, and often with one or more transfers. The result is transit that is uncompetitive with car travel and leads to low transit mode share for trips within and between the municipalities in the GTHA outside of Toronto. [pp. 9-10]

The Distribution of Transit Trips by Mode

Trip length distributions show up in Metrolinx reports from time to time, although they can be misleading. It is self-evident that many trips involve more than one mode such as bus+subway or drive+GO+subway, but the chart below is based on the primary part of the trip. A few things are evident in this chart:

  • Faster modes have longer trips. This is not surprising considering that time is a major factor in the decision to use transit. The faster one can travel, the more likely one will take a longer trip.
  • There is a noticeable break between trips of 15km and less and those above this line where local modes (including rapid transit) fall off and regional modes kick in.

What is missing as a comparison is information on auto-based trips, and equally importantly, a subdivision of trip types by place of origin. Toronto accounts for the lion’s share of transit demand, and it is no surprise that modes used by the TTC have lots of riders and many short trips. This begs the question of how much the network structure affects the distribution of trip lengths by transit.

Future Growth in Travel Demand

There may have been growth in jobs and population outside of Toronto, but transit has not expanded to serve these potential riders at anywhere near the service levels found on the TTC. GO moves people to downtown on its growing network, but far fewer people between cities in the 905. Municipalities have many plans for new and improved services, primarily BRT, but these are aimed at years (or decades) to come. The long history of car-oriented development and travel will be difficult to overcome, and the region may already be beyond the point where transit can be much more than a niche in the transportation market.

The growth in demand predicted out to 2041 gives a sense of the scope of the problems facing planners. The table below has a lot of data, but the boxes worth noting lie along the diagonal from top left to bottom right. These boxes show the number of trips that are local to each area within the region in 2041 and the proportion by which they will rise from 2011.

Although Toronto will have 686k “internal trips” within its boundaries, the regional municipalities will have internal travel demand in six figures with, in some cases, more than double the current demand for such trips. Looked at another way, without even considering “regional” travel, there will be more trips internal to the various 905 municipalities than within the City of Toronto by 2041. To this must be added the very large number of inter-regional trips. Because the 905 covers far more territory than the 416, the trip density will be lower, but that is still a lot of travel to leave to the mercy of infrequent local transit which now has only a 5% share of the market.

What Does Success Look Like?

At this point, the analysis makes assumptions that are not entirely credible, but which will affect some of the measures of “success” by which any proposed network would be evaluated. The report looks at populations and jobs that are within 400m of a priority bus, BRT or LRT station, or within 800m of a subway or frequent regional rail service. (“Frequent” is defined as every 10 minutes or better.) With the current network, the numbers are 9% of the population and 21% of jobs, rising to 17% and 29% respectively if all projects now in progress are completed.

In other words, both today and in the future, a minority of both population and jobs will be close to a frequent rapid transit service (as defined here), and even worse, access for people will be considerably worse than for jobs. This underlines the “last mile” problem by showing how poorly the future transit network will serve people at the “home” end of their journey.

A further consideration is that “accessible” jobs are considered to lie up to 90 minutes away from “home”. When politicians talk about giving people more time away from commuting, I do not think they have a 90 minute one-way commute in mind. The reach of the transit network shown in the report exaggerates what most would-be riders would consider to be acceptable as a target, let alone an inducement to change from driving.

The analysis would be more meaningful if the relative size of “accessible” destinations were shown for various cutofff levels such as 30 or 60 minute trips, and if the benefit of interim network configurations were included to show the degree of change with subsets of the full plan, not a complete build-out that nobody believes we will ever see.

The “Regional Opportunities”

Of the twelve core strategies Metrolinx developed in their Needs & Opportunities report, six are examined in more detail by this study.

  1. Expand the frequent transit network.
  2. Improve first-mile and last-mile connections.
  3. Demand-responsive transit.
  4. Improving and extending regional transit services.
  5. Expanding express services.
  6. Transportation systems management. [pp. 21-22]

[In the study they are numbered 1 to 7, but 5 is missing.]

The need for a frequent network, as opposed to a few major corridors handling peak period, peak direction commuters, is an obvious need. However, the network proposed by Metrolinx is quite coarse and the “last mile” to access it will be, for some trips, quite considerable. Moreover, a “frequent” service of rail modes even at 10′ headways yields a much higher capacity route than with buses. Maps in the report do not distinguish between corridor capacities, but simply show “rapid” services of all flavours.

On the last mile problem, the report speaks of :

… emerging technologies including ridesharing, demand-responsive transit and, in the foreseeable future, autonomous vehicles … [p. 21]

but makes no mention of the role of local transit. There is no analysis of the upper bound at which the attempt to handle “last miles” with small vehicles (regardless of the technology) will prove impractical if only for congestion problems at stations and the difficulty riders would have in finding “their” vehicle.

What is troubling for a “transit” plan is the degree to which a reliance on some form of “automobile” be it personal or part of a fleet remains in the mix. Recent technology advances (some more fanciful than others) imply that this small form factor for a “transit” vehicle can actually work. The mechanics of ownership, operation, fares and the logistics of converting what are now private trips to quasi-public ones have yet to be worked out. In effect, we make the problem of the suburban built form and the difficulty of serving it with conventional transit vanish by assuming a complete change in how people move around. I may sound like a Luddite, but basing a plan on such a change is wishful thinking and avoids the need to plan for technology we have today rather than what we might have tomorrow.

Where Will Demand Be?

There is a large set of maps on pages 27-33 showing the evolution of travel demand from 2011 to 2041. These are somewhat misleading in that they are the product of a road model that assigns trips to the shortest path in the road network. This may not be the appropriate path for the transit network, but it does show where roads would be overtaxed absent a transit service. This is not the most meaningful way to look at travel, but that is what the Metrolinx consultants, IBI, have given us.

The trips are subdivided into those under 15km (short-to-medium) and over (long) echoing the pattern in the trip distribution chart above. I will not reproduce all of the charts here, but a few are worth highlighting.

The growth in trips under 15km is quite naturally concentrated in existing and developing centres. This is not all of the trips these centres will attract, but the map shows the degree to which the local residential populations will support the growth in jobs.

Conversely, the growth in long trips is considerably higher (more thick lines) and covers much of the developed area in the region. The problem is particularly acute in suburban nodes to the west and north of Toronto, and the map implies that the problem of people living far away from their jobs is not about to disappear. This leads to a focus on longer-haul transit journeys as a target to fight growth of demand on roads. It is worth noting that the routes to which trips are assigned are a function of the road network and the expressways as the shortest path trip between points.

It is ironic that there is no map of the transit demand, nor of the net demand on the road network after transit trips on a future GTHA network are removed.

The situation is particularly grim if one assumes all travel is by road given the capacity constraints of the network. Virtually every road in the region of any consequence would operate close to or above its capacity, something that is clearly not possible. As with previous maps, a “net demand” map showing the results of subtracting the transit demand would show the degree to which planned transit improvements would reduce, if at all, the capacity issues on the road network.

Density, Need and Worst-Case Transit Times

Much has been written about the need to integrate land use planning with transit networks, but the basic fact is that the GTHA has developed over the past century with little consideration for transit. The built form as we know it is a problem, and future attempts to direct higher density to transit corridors will take decades to substantially shift the pattern inherent in the base conditions. To put it another way, a few condos or an office tower at a suburban centre do little to offset the diffuse origin-destination matrix of existing development.

Density and transit go hand-in-hand even when the planning is more ad hoc than carefully directed:

However, density is not the only determinant of transit ridership. Toronto neighbourhoods, on average, tend to have higher transit mode shares than neighbourhoods in the GTHA municipalities outside of Toronto with similar densities. Toronto has elements of all the tiers of the transit hierarchy, which in some areas form an integrated network of services that make the overall transit system more attractive and competitive with the car. This combination of density, different transit service types, and interconnectedness is missing from many parts of the GTHA. [p. 34]

However, a larger problem today is that areas within Toronto are generally much more dense than in the 905, and their transit mode shares are correspondingly higher.

There are few data points above the “50” line above belonging to the 905 municipalities, and these have much lower shares than corresponding points within the 416. An important distinction is that one must look at the density and transit service levels at both the origin and destination of trips. Even with higher population density, if the jobs these people go to are scattered across the region, transit cannot compete. Within Toronto, there is a greater likelihood that both ends of a trip will be served, although this dwindles the further one gets from the core.

A very difficult question faces planners and politicians: is it even possible to “pull” the 905 (all of those blue triangles) into the territory of 416 (green circles), and how much change would be required to achieve this? Have we already passed the point of no return for parts of the 905, and what are the implications for its future?

The relationship between density and “deserved” transit service levels is set out in the following table:

Yes, you read that correctly – until one gets above 80, this table claims that you deserve only a bus every 30 minutes. This is simply not a service that will attract any rider who has an alternative, especially if transfers that could be missed enroute are factored into the mix. The problem with this cutoff shows up when one looks at anticipated densities.

Much of Toronto achieves 50+ with some notable gaps, but large parts of the 905 do not reach this level even after a quarter-century of growth.

The map of areas cresting the 80+ cutoff (where better transit service is warranted, according to the table) is even more telling. One might wonder how the TTC survives when so much of its service territory is lower than this target density.

Two maps offer a particularly chilling view of the problem. If one considers the upper bound where transit has a hope of competing with autos as being a 2:1 ratio of transit to auto travel time, the map of areas beyond this cutoff looks like this:

There is an even worse set of areas where the ration is greater than 3:

Several points should be noted here

  • These maps show the effect of a “do little” approach in which only the transit improvements now in the works have been implemented.
  • As previously noted, there are no maps showing how the situation will evolve with the addition or improvement of transit service (both local and regional, and of varying speeds and stopping patterns).
  • If commuting times really were to grow to the point that transit could not compete, one must also ask what happens to auto-based trips and decisions about where one can reasonably have jobs and residences with the limitations of the transportation network.

A related issue is the question of whether transit should even try to compete for very long trips, or should spend more effort on attaining a greater share of the short-to-medium market. Even within Toronto, the most transit-supportive environment, there is a huge volume of trips that transit does not carry. To what extent does transit even try to tap this market?

Finally, there is the social issue of “areas of need”. These are low-income areas which are more transit dependent because they cannot afford to travel by auto. These areas, as they existed in the 2011 census, are shown in the map below. They are concentrated in, but not limited to, the City of Toronto, and we can reasonably expect that they will grow in the 905 over coming decades if only because they are forced out of the 416 by the high cost of housing.

This is a group for which the last mile problem is particularly acute, as is the question of fare levels and integration. If rapid transit services, including GO, are priced up as “premium” services, they cannot reasonably be counted as part of the network that is economically available to the poor any more than they might be able to sustain a three-car family. This is a fundamental hole in the network analysis in general – the fact that all services are considered to be equal from the point of view of network access without regard to the cost they might place on would-be travellers.


Evaluating the Options

The maps for this section are extremely messy and contribute little to an evaluation [see pp. 47-50]. If anything, they show that there are areas of demand and corridors of travel all over the GTHA, although the latter are somewhat constrained by existing infrastructure and rights-of-way.

A long list of potential projects [pp. 51-61] is evaluated against several criteria:

  • Regional significance
  • Corridor needs
    • Serves areas with high demand
    • Improves reliability
    • Provides network connectivity
  • Area needs
    • Serves major and secondary centres
    • Serves areas with high density
    • Serves areas of social need
    • Reduces transit:auto travel time ratio

Notable by its absence is “political sensitivity and support”, a hidden but hard-to-ignore factor in any evaluation.

The “scores” are shown as check marks, not as values within each bullet, and the “in or out” decision results four possible outcomes:

  • In development: Projects that are “in development” have entered some level of design work but are not yet necessarily funded for construction. Examples include the Richmond Hill Subway, the Relief Line east to Sheppard and the Eglinton East LRT.
  • Include: Recommended for inclusion in the plan.
  • Consider beyond 2041: These projects are a mixed bag of rail, bus and LRT/streetcar, but it is notable that the absence of a “tick mark” for “Regional significance” dooms a proposal to this category. If they are built sooner, it will be thanks to local funding and pressure, not Metrolinx.
  • Further study: These projects are borderline cases that might be shifted to a higher or lower status depending on future review. They include the BD subway western extension to Sherway, the Relief Line West, and a few of the highway-based express bus proposals.

I leave it to readers to peruse the full set of projects and the rationale for their inclusion or exclusion.

The Network Proposals

The analysis leading to this point is notable for the absence of demand projections, cost estimates or any sense of intermediate stages the network might take during a build-out reaching over two decades in the future. There is no sense of “bang for the buck” or of situations where some projects are essential to avoiding collapse of the existing network, or to enable expansion of other components.

Now that Metrolinx is committed to producing a paper addressing these points and the general problem of how we get “from here to there” by February 2018, some of the missing details might begin to appear. Meanwhile, we have a set of maps of the end state assuming all recommended lines are built or upgraded.

The first of these shows the “Frequent Rapid Transit Network” where service would be every 15 minutes or better. What is quite striking about this map (and the detailed maps to follow) is how far apart the lines on the grid are, and the fact that this is mainly a grid, not a radial system. That implies both the need for transfers between services, and good last mile access from home/work to these routes.

The subset map for Toronto and immediate area below includes a few anomalies such as the priority buses (yellow) on St. Clair and King streets. The Sheppard West subway from Downsview to Yonge (aka the “Pasternak Relief Line” after its long-time council promoter) is included although how it would interoperate with the existing subway, or why it is included when the Sheppard East LRT remains on the books is a mystery. It is claimed that this would “… better distribute ridership on the subway network with connections to the University-Spadina Line … [p. 72]” even though the Relief Line East might do a better job in that regard for riders who now come to the Yonge line at Sheppard-Yonge Station.

New lines to the east of Toronto are shown below:

And to the north:

And to the west including Hamilton:

Finally, a map of the Regional Rail and Express Bus network which overlays all of this:

A Few Concluding Words

All of this has the feeling of those all-too-common fantasy maps that regularly appear with everyone’s favourite routes. The absence of detailed evaluation and prioritization of individual routes, or of bundles that would make sense delivered together, is a major failing in this study. It is easy to draw an end state map, but much harder to determine how we would get “from here to there”.

Demand projections obviously depend on what is built and when, but such projections are also vital for the existing network to show how it will be stressed or relieved as components are added.

Sticker shock is certain to greet cost estimates for all of this, and of course there will be not just construction but also future operating and maintenance bills to deal with. If Ontario runs true to form, they will attempt to download as much of the operating cost onto local municipalities as they can, and that will definitely affect the plan’s reception throughout the region.

The delicate matter of fare integration and structure is not addressed in this analysis, and yet from other studies we know that demand projections are very sensitive to cost. There is a separate Metrolinx Business Case dealing with Fare Integration, and I will review it in a coming article.

The hardest part of transit planning at the political level is saying “no”. Even with all of this analysis, it is doubtful that all of the network will be built, and the detailed review of priorities will show which of the “included” projects really will fall off of the map.

The biggest missing link in the entire process is the question of local service improvements not just for “last mile” trips to the regional network, but for the huge increase in travel within what we now think of as car-oriented suburbs. The road system cannot handle the projected growth and is badly crowded today, but there is little sign that transit will see major improvements for suburb-to-suburb travel.

Little wonder that transit’s share of the travel market is projected to decline, not grow, outside of Toronto in the decades to come.

See Also:

Toronto Star: Why a $45 billion transportation plan fails to increase transit ridership, By Pamela Blais & Marcy Burchfield

The Pembina Foundation: Draft Regional Transportation Plan Comments: Pembina Institute’s submission to Metrolinx

28 thoughts on “The Next Big Move (II): Where Is The Plan?

  1. There is one control on the projected increase of 3,000,000 new drivers by 2041, that are projected by Marcy and Pamela [who may be including toddlers and adolescents]; there will be very few new or widened roads to convey them, as Steve has hinted. There is no place for more rush hour autos in Toronto. The photo in The Star article features one moving train and a few hundred non moving cars. That’s the reality of Toronto today.

    Northwest of the city, the roads are about as filled up, although some still move, bumper to bumper at 100KPH. Northeast, the 404 extension has taken the pressure off for maybe 5 years. Huge subdivisions are being thrown up with no plan to actually allow people to drive to work. [Take a bow, York and Simcoe planners!]

    The cities that rely heavily on public transit [eg NYC] were all quite large before the advent of the automobile. The GTA is retrofitting, with poor planning, its route to transit dependency.


  2. “If commuting times were to grow… One must ask what happens”.

    Maybe we have already seen it in the US cities where, in the past the core has rotted and the recovery technique has been LRT.


  3. Suburb to suburb travel is very difficult for rail operators. There are not enough people to move to build the hardware for that type of service. When the RER is fully built out, it might be faster and more predictable to push all the traffic through Union. From Scarborugh Center to Square One, the logical route would be GO bus 92 and 19 with a switch at Yorkdale. Since the route is so congested on the 401, this might take 2 hours. Using a combination of the Stoufville Line, Lakeshore West and Hurontario trams, it might be faster.

    This is the hub and spoke model. There are three rail operators in the Osaka/Kansai area. Their tracks practically parallel each other. All three of them feed traffic through their Osaka/Umeda hubs. If one drives from Itami (suburb of Osaka) to Kyoto, it is not that far. However, for people using the train, they will always pass through Osaka/Umeda even though it is not a direct route. Keep in mind that people there pay by the kilometer travelled on the train. They are actually paying for going in a non direct route. It works for them because the trains are fast and frequent. The Shin Kaisoku operated by JR West travels at 110 to 120 km/h on 15 minutes headway between Kyoto to Kobe through Osaka.

    The GTA is blessed with huge highway corridors like 401 and the 407. If a bus rapidway can be built on those highway, it will allow for very fast suburb to suburb travel. The stations would have to be on the highway itself with local transit feeding it. Every time a GO bus gets off the highway, it incur a significant time penalty. From the Kennedy exit on Highway 407, it takes about three minutes to exit the ramp and turn into Unionville GO station. The GO bus 16 is fast because it does not stop until it reaches Hamilton. As long as the GO bus can avoid traffic on the highways, it can contribute a lot to fast suburb to suburb travel.


  4. The comments on the projects are sometimes comical. The Crosstown GO line would ‘compete with Eglinton-Crosstown’, which might surprise riders from Cooksville and Seaton. Crosstown GO is so obviously helpful to the network mesh and supporting currently infeasible trips, yet that doesn’t fit anywhere in the evaluation matrix.

    Overall surprising to me was how most GO projects were categorized as ‘beyond 2041’. After RER arrives in 2025-ish, there’s not much rail improvement going on.

    If much of the GTA is left to be served by ‘priority bus’, which I assume to be transit-priority signalling in curb lanes, then this isn’t much of a plan at all for increasing transit share. Funny how those priority buses seem to sprout in the poorer areas of the GTA.

    The 80 residents+jobs / ha limit for <30min frequency of transit, which is much higher density than standards elsewhere, seems set to meet the budget envelope of $45B, rather than aimed to shift transit share. 20 to 40/ha would be more commonplace, and only <20/ha would be ambitious.

    Steve: GO Transit has grown by comparatively easy methods over the years. First, use track time that is spare because freight railway operations have shifted. Next, buy chunks of the rail network to take control and own the upgrades. Grow ridership mainly through provision of ever larger parking structures that reinforce existing suburban land use patterns and avoid the need to fund better local transit. Eventually all of this hits a wall, and even RER has its limitations thanks to capacity constraints both at Union, but also of the signal system.

    The crosstown GO corridor is of course the CP mainline, and until there is a way to divert this traffic elsewhere, the corridor is not available to GO Transit. Even so, the idea that it would compete with the Eglinton LRT line shows just how much Metrolinx planners still do not understand about the difference in regional and local transit.


  5. I think it’s so sad that Steve’s commentary and observations are more profound than the millions spent to produce a pile of superficial graphics.


  6. Anyone who gets on a GO train and looks out the window at most of the stops can instantly see the problem. Most stops have vast expanses of surface parking and/or huge (free) parking garages. In Japan, or Hong Kong or France, or Spain or Germany – anywhere where transit and land use planning integration is taken seriously – these vast open spaces that are here reserved for cars is there used for housing, retail, office space and public amenities of every kind. It is not 1955 in North America anymore and we have gone about as far as we can go with the car. It is time to get serious.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve based on their logic, would this not still support focusing on rapid transit within, and towards the areas of existing higher density, and enabling more development as back fill within those areas still be the first and best focus? That is to say, focus first on things like the DRL, then LRT in Scarborough, and in Rexdale, and southern Etobicoke. Encourage increased density in the areas that are already have concentrated destinations and higher density of origins of trips, and create transit support that seemed permanent thus encouraging heavier investment there ? So for argument sake, in Scarborough making the STC a hub for rapid transit. Thus encouraging oriented development, and making it the center of a larger area that employers locating there would be able to see the wide variety of housing, within ready reach of the location?, Rather than investing in making it the end of a line, and as a destination the end only of bus routes stuck in traffic? Would this not also make a strong argument for ensuring that Finch West extended to the airport and the Yonge subway, so to support NYCC, as a hub of development, that could be served in the future? Do we not need to build the within Toronto network and drive to drive development to areas that can be served by rapid transit, as a first step, Do we not need to create first the sense of permanent lines to pull investment there? To create anchors for better local services. Finch West to an airport area hub would also provide a good tie to the ZUM services, and the Mississauga Transit services, required to make both Brampton and Mississauga more transit oriented. Attach to the Kitchener GO at the same point linking the Kitchener GO to the Subway in effect both Yonge and University sides, making a trip from Guelph to NYCC, a viable one.

    Should not the transit oriented development be first and foremost, about serving the areas that are closest to viable first? Would not a slightly enhanced/modified version of Transit City, with more consideration for regional transit providers not still be the way to go? Should not one of the goals to serve areas that already have reasonable density, and try and drive development there as the priority? For now, encourage increased density in the Eglinton corridor? DRL+Don Mills LRT – and drive for more development Flemingdon Park and beyond?

    Steve: This is all very well, but Metrolinx has no power to dictate land use, and as we have seen across the GTHA, neither do the municipalities. Even if we could encourage more transit oriented development, it would take a long time to be established, and meanwhile we would still be fighting battles about who “deserves” a subway. Also, we are pretty much at the mercy of where developers own land, and this often has little to do with official plans.

    Another point about your scheme is that it is very Toronto centric, and it would be hard to expect 905 munis to restructure their growth when most of the plan lies inside the 416. We may not like the densities found in the 905, but they are now a fact of life. I remember riding the train to Stratford when there were large open fields between each of the cities and towns along the way. Now the development is almost continuous at least to Guelph. Suburban KW goes on forever triggering highway widening projects.

    We are decades past the point where one could talk about “transit oriented development” as if there were empty fields just waiting for transit stops to be built. Meanwhile, within Toronto, especially the old city, there are people who, in the name of a “housing crisis”, would demolish much of the existing single family housing because it is a “waste of land” and build higher density.


  8. Awesome! More maps and crayons. Thank goodness we aren’t wasting that planning budget on instead simply building the 10% of it that we can actually afford.


  9. I always laugh when I hear arguments in favour of a GO crosstown route on the CP route across Midtown Toronto. It seems like another one of those ideas where some rail fan or advocacy dreamer has spied a railway line on a map and decided it’s suited to passenger service simply because it’s there.

    What amazes me today is the discussion of the elimination of CP freight traffic on the line because of yet another 2025-or-so project by the Wynnies at Queen’s Park. Everyone seems to think CP is ready to transfer over to the proposed Milton-Bramalea freight bypass that the province says it will build to get CN off the Georgetown-Bramale segment of its Halton Subdivision, which the Grits require for their RER and HSR schemes.

    Not so. Putting aside the fact that the government doesn’t even have an agreement in place with CN for the freight bypass, CP has already turned thumbs down on this for several valid reasons, including the unreasonable terms CN set for CP’s participation. These include a CN demand that CP give them 50% of whatever price they may fetch from the province for the CP corridor that consists of chunks of the Galt and Belleville subdivisions, plus the entire North Toronto Subdivision.

    There are other reasons, but that alone should suggest this isn’t going to happen. However, politicians at all levels from Milton to Scarborough continue to believe it’s a go — pardon the pun.


  10. This is typical bureaucratic bafflegab. Studies, charts, maps, meetings, reports ad infinitum. It all follows the Number 1 Rule of Bureaucracy. Don’t actually accomplish anything otherwise you will not have a job!

    Think of all those subway proposals (first with streetcars underground) then actual subway trains, that appeared in the press decades apart until 1950’s when the Yonge Subway was finally built. Remember too the far-thinking man who provided a lower deck for transit on the Bloor Street Viaduct half a century before anything got built. Also, the far thinking with Queen Street subway (for streetcars) under Yonge Subway that still has not been built yet. It is coming after the King “pilot” is made permanent. The Queen “pilot” will go underground at Yonge and several other main north-south streets so as to not interfere with autos too much and all those suffering bars and restaurants!


  11. Steve Munro said: “We are decades past the point where one could talk about “transit oriented development” as if there were empty fields just waiting for transit stops to be built. Meanwhile, within Toronto, especially the old city, there are people who, in the name of a “housing crisis”, would demolish much of the existing single family housing because it is a “waste of land” and build higher density.”

    I would make the argument that while we should not be looking out the older homes in downtown that are tightly packed and close to the original streetcar lines, because for one they were developed as transit oriented development. However, there are areas that have decayed or come open for other reasons and increasing density there makes sense. There is a also sprawl that could be replaced with much more attractive, higher density development along the proposed LRT lines.

    I would also make the argument that beyond Toronto areas share this, and could easily also be supported in a similar way, but where BRT would likely make more sense. One of the advantages in my mind of extending Finch West and Eglinton LRTs to a common hub, that would meet the Mississauga Transit way, is that it increases the attractiveness of that transit way. Express lanes for buses, to a great extent could be used along ZUM lines, however, essentially increasing the number of links to the network to make it actually start divert any significant load from the roads. This means looking at connecting LRT to GO. I would say, the issue in Brampton, of doubts around the connection of a Hurontario LRT to the GO in Brampton would hugely reduce its regional value. This also makes improvements to Kitchener GO service more valuable, as it increase the easy destinations that available to it. However, this should also mean a greater interests in development along that corridor, and an increased willingness for Mississauga to entertain it.

    Ideally it should also mean a change in zoning in terms of times coverage allowed, and parking mandated in the corridor. There is low density sprawl here, that begs redevelopment as well. The province needs to take real ownership, as it is its policy goal to limit the sprawl, it is within its power to alter zoning direction, and the direction of transit planning, and city and regional plans should be a single integrated exercise not independent of each other.


  12. Yes. The plan? Here’s the plan. I think everyone can agree it’s an excellent plan:

    We plan and begin design and procurement work on LRT lines on Finch West, Sheppard East, Scarborough RT replacement, Jane, Don Mills, and Eglinton. Then we cut funding in half, push most of the work out into the future, then have the city write a $75-80 million cheque to buy nothing except the cancellation of all but most of one of those lines.

    We build an airport express train that makes minimal stops thus avoiding providing new rapid transit service in as many areas as possible, then set the fares high because it’s a premium service, for premium people going premium places to further discourage usage.

    We get the TYSSE subway extension and all day bidirectional Go Train service to Hamilton both up and running in time for the 2015 Pan Am games.

    We design a lengthy LRT line in Mississauga and Brampton, then lop off the northern end to make sure it doesn’t connect to another train station.

    We design a crosstown LRT line in Hamilton running from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Then have the provincial government approve it, but change it to have a spur to the West Harbour Go station to meet that all day bidirectional Go Train service that started up in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games. But instead of going all the way to Eastgate Square, truncate it at the Queenston traffic circle and buy land for a terminal, thus putting the Hamilton Sports & Fitness Multiplex out of business. Hint: Bubble Soccer ISN’T here despite what the sign outside says. Then get the municipal government to approve it, only if it goes back to Eastgate Square, foregoing the connection with West Harbour, leaving all those passengers on the all day, bidirectional train service that started up in 2015 stranded. All this while the municipal politicians try to unapprove the project after approving it, while bickering over who gets to operate the damn thing, if some version of it ever actually opens.

    We do extensive surveying and design work on electrifying the Lakeshore East and West Go Train lines. Then, instead of proceeding to build it, at the last minute decide to go with undeveloped, unproven, costs more, does less, inefficient hydrogen fuel cell technology. After all, the Toronto rush hour isn’t bad enough already and desperately needs proven, reliable improvements, and is the perfect opportunity to do an expensive science project in the name of industrial policy so that Ontario can once again be the world leader in expensive underperforming garbage that, depending on which state the hydrogen is in, may be literal as well as figurative vapourware that nobody else wants to buy for good reason.

    In short, the plan is to completely, utterly screw everything up at every opportunity. Implementation is well underway.


  13. It should be noted that the Liberals in their 15 years in power have failed to build the DRL, Scarborough subway, Sheppard subway, Yonge subway extension, and every other project that matters. If you want any of those projects, then vote for change in 2018. Happy New Year.


  14. Not the experts you all are here, just a Brampton resident who used to live in Toronto. And the one thing that struck me looking at the planned maps is how it ignores that Brampton already has a population around 600,000. Sorry Brampton, only buses for you. Maybe one LRT line if you’re nice. Granted, the city council has totally screwed up the Hurontario LRT to please the rich burgers of the town who live by city hall but to ignore that most of the population growth here is coming from immigration from areas that are used to using transit is wasting a large opportunity. Density will increase and when they get the university they want, it’s going to increase the congestion on current transit routes. It’s already hard to travel anywhere besides Toronto and I see nothing in this plan to address that.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Malcolm N says, “…focus first on things like the DRL, then LRT in Scarborough, and in Rexdale, and southern Etobicoke.”

    To improve the internal strength of your argument I would suggest that the logical argument first asks, how do we create an exceedingly prosperous internationally competitive business distinct whose wealth can be shared with all people, and then build around that.

    If you want to see these ideas in its infancy see East Harbour.

    Steve: I am waiting for some bozo pol from Scarborough to complain that “downtown gets all the development”.


  16. Steve: I am waiting for some bozo pol from Scarborough to complain that “downtown gets all the development”.

    Perhaps, but when you have a tool like Smartrack and GO RER that will provide the residents of Scarborough with excellent access to the substantially greater prosperity generated by the downtown, the backwoods parochialism you are concerned about can then be easily dealt with.

    Steve: My point of comparison is the alleged future development at STC.


  17. I note that this analysis is based upon the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey data. The 2016 TTS data is now out, so it should be used to update this analysis. Of course, no government would base a multi-billion dollar plan upon obsolete data, would they?


  18. “Steve: My point of comparison is the alleged future development at STC.”

    I would posit that the back office growth that STC is depending on is directly contingent on the success of the downtown fostering the development of internationally competitive businesses.

    These regions need each other, as the old saying goes what is good for the goose is good for the gander.


  19. Jon Johnson said: “To improve the internal strength of your argument I would suggest that the logical argument first asks, how do we create an exceedingly prosperous internationally competitive business distinct whose wealth can be shared with all people, and then build around that.

    If you want to see these ideas in its infancy see East Harbour.”

    There are really two aspects to that argument however. One is to help build that district, and allow the sharing in it, the other is to recognize, that the 2nd best alternative for investment that would come to downtown, or other well connected area in Toronto, may not be elsewhere in the GTA, but somewhere elsewhere else entirely, like Seattle, Calgary, or any number of other cities. The maintaining of effective transportation is important.

    The reality that the GTA has now largely spread commercial space around throughout the GTA, with auto being the primary access to many of these jobs also makes for a hard situation to address. However, continued growth, and supporting it, as well as providing access to the maximum number of jobs for those starting out, means creating a network, that connects both the most promising districts, which includes downtown, and the new areas just beyond, where much can be done with small investments to increase the impact of existing infrastructure, like short runs of dedicated right of way streetcar routes. It also means looking at how we connect the relatively high concentration of destinations that lie along the routes like the ones initially proposed in Transit City.

    I would argue that it serves the entire region, as you note, to make the York University, as well, as the Humber College and more of the airport district, easily accessible to the Kitchener GO. We need to look first at the connections that will both serve the highest concentrations of destinations, as well as considering the way that would increase their attractiveness, and the investments that open the largest access to them, for the smallest relative dollars. Connecting the Kitchener GO to the TYSSE as well as Yonge subway also means that Guelph and Vaughan Center are well connected to NYCC, the airport district, Humber College, as well as just the core.

    Extending Crosstown to the same point, means mid town is also better accessed from Guelph, and the Mississauga. That is, the western half of region as a whole gets much improved access to important destinations, and job centers.

    The same sort of view needs to be taken in the eastern half of the city, in terms of how to connect existing heavy rail, to the promising areas of development, and in some instances to each other without going through core. Connecting Markham to the Lakeshore East GO at some point in Scarborough, with an easy and quick trip, also makes Markham business district a potentially more viable destination for growth. The process has to get back to the essential logic that was built into the early Transit City, that is, making as many of the trips as possible viable by transit, and looking for the biggest bang for money that can be spent, in order to make the region work.

    East Harbour, is a good example of that, as it opens a large highly attractive area, for a relatively small investment to a large area, because it ties back to a central hub.


  20. “The reality that the GTA has now largely spread commercial space around throughout the GTA, with auto being the primary access to many of these jobs also makes for a hard situation to address.”

    Although I respect the network perspective and believe that it provides a valuable contribution to transit planning, the underlying problem remains the cost dynamics of creating a competitive business environment. Just because you have connected an area does not mean that it is connected well and able to attract and retain top talent. The spread of commercial space you are talking about is largely based on post World War Two paradigms and economic conditions, most of which are antiquated and unable to provide a sustainable prosperous future.

    If you are going to be asking people to take transit to go to work, the employment better be able to provide them with top dollar as compensation because exogenous competition for talent and investment is fierce, and neither tolerates mediocrity for long.


  21. Jon Johnson said: “Although I respect the network perspective and believe that it provides a valuable contribution to transit planning, the underlying problem remains the cost dynamics of creating a competitive business environment. Just because you have connected an area does not mean that it is connected well and able to attract and retain top talent.”

    I would agree, however a well designed LRT providing service between other important transit links can and should provide good service, providing the connections. Hence Finch West being of value in connecting the airport business district with the subway lines, and Kitchener Go.

    There is no way to look at serving all spaces everywhere, but a network that radically improved service to the potential back office areas, as well as hugely improving the access to the core (Finch West also connects in that case Rexdale to University/Spadina) matters. Understanding the idea that the city has a form, that needs to be dealt with, and understanding that business set up in these areas, and business act as part of a larger web of services to each other and employees matters. Retaining top talent, also means making choices for places to live, and services to gather at prices that can be afforded matters. Business locate for employees, service providers (including financial) access to airport, etc. That also means having a variety of prices for the housing of employees at a wide range of prices. Transit, does not need be a bad thing, and LRT or even bus, not stuck in traffic or overcrowded can be very attractive. Slow moving, heavily overcrowded, and/or unreliable in terms of travel and wait times however, makes it a huge burden. Transit City, would have acted to make more of the city accessible, it simply cannot be in the place of a DRL on an light LRT for the East Bayfront and Gulf Lands. Looking at these LRT & BRT lines in reference to connecting the GO lines, simply makes sense in terms of both improving access to the entire GTA, and providing access to core, from other areas, making the core itself a more desirable place to locate business wise.

    PS: There is good reasons some businesses want to be close to a major hub airport, as a region, we need to understand and respect that.

    PPS: If you are going to ask people to sit long in their cars, moving at 20kph or less, you also better be prepared to pay them a handsome premium. Load on roads grows exponentially with the size of a city, capacity, as the number of lanes required and the number of miles used both increase simultaneously with a spreading population. We have already reached a point where the reality of most households is such that both partners cannot be a couple of km from work, and people are regularly changing employers and location, so the auto, is not longer really viable as the sole or primary method of transportation. To make this work, more trips need to be directed to higher capacity, lower impact means. Hence transit, it is just we cannot allow it, to continue to carry more and more, with less and less. We cannot allow it to continue to be subject to the same slow pace as the auto on common lanes, because yes, if I must sit on a bus stuck in traffic, or my car stuck in traffic, well I prefer my uncrowded car, with my private radio/cd/music player, my heated seats, and coffee cup holders that are heated for my morning coffee.


  22. You have two irreconcilable problems:

    One, “We have already reached a point where the reality of most households is such that both partners cannot be a couple of km from work, and people are regularly changing employers and location, so the auto, is not longer really viable as the sole or primary method of transportation. To make this work, more trips need to be directed to higher capacity, lower impact means.”

    Two, “The reality that the GTA has now largely spread commercial space around throughout the GTA, with auto being the primary access to many of these jobs also makes for a hard situation to address.”

    In a decentralized model transit will either be an inferior way to get people to the commercial space or it will be prohibitively expensive. But when you centralize the commercial space you can build excellent transit at an affordable price.

    The main difference between our positions is that I favour population growth around a core business district, and suburbs that grow through productivity gains.

    Steve: This is something of an academic argument given the vast number of jobs and people who are already well established far from the core. Horse. Barn door.


  23. Jon Johnson: Steve’s barn door comment points up the impossibility of the GTA ever being able to afford a transit system that will work efficiently. I would think that we might have had a chance if we had listened to John Sewell, 40 years ago, when he spoke out against the future evils of over centralization. No one listened.


  24. Well, the barn door may be closed on centralizing all business, but it is not closed on upgrading transit for the entire area. Pining for what-might-have-been is kind of pointless — although of course learning from past mistakes is desirable.

    I also am skeptical that you could centralize the business that’s found in the current GTA and have any sensible transit strategy either. Even the old city was built on a fairly decentralized model, with employment nodes (industrial in those days, not office towers and tech lofts) all over the city, with surrounding residential areas in reasonable proximity, but not exactly high density.

    Toronto wasn’t Manhattan back in the day, and it’s unlikely to become Manhattan any time soon, condo boom or not.


  25. Jon Johnson said “In a decentralized model transit will either be an inferior way to get people to the commercial space or it will be prohibitively expensive. But when you centralize the commercial space you can build excellent transit at an affordable price.”

    The issue is whether there are concentrations of destinations beyond the core, and groups of trips that could be reasonably addressed. This to a degree would be an issue of also creating links with, and between existing transit. There are a large number of destinations along Eglinton beyond the subway, The airport employment district represents an area with a high concentration of jobs, that could be served with a combination of local bus, and a hub destination for rapid transit. This could act as a two way linkage, and serve a lot of origins and destinations well. No you can’t serve every area of the city with rapid transit to the front door, However, you can bring it closer, and to the front door or nearly of a large number of businesses, and destinations. While they are dispersed beyond the core, they still have local concentrations, and well, providing support for the largest and best of them, would allow good service at a viable expense. It is a question of being smart about it. Transit City was conceived around this. Local bus to these rapid transit hubs also spreads the impact by shortening the ride to out of traffic transit.


  26. Ed said : “Toronto wasn’t Manhattan back in the day, and it’s unlikely to become Manhattan any time soon, condo boom or not.”

    I think it is worth noting that rapid transit serves more than just Manhattan or trips anchored there anyway. Even this center of centers has areas around it with notable business districts that are served by rapid transit and connected back.

    MTA Subway Map

    I think there are 3 large issues that Toronto now faces after decades of avoidance.

    1. Avoiding the construction of capacity into the core is now required.
    2. It must build real service to areas beyond the core as rapid transit.
    3. It must also expend considerable sums to bring its standing system to a point of reasonable repair (massive to bring it to good).

    Investing earlier in either of these 1st 2 would likely have changed the spread of business in Toronto, and the way housing was constructed to make the investment smaller, to get a larger result. We have passed up opportunities in the past to encourage concentrations in a way that would be more easily served, we need to act now, facing what we face, in order to improve what we will have to contend with going forward.

    The province needs to take responsibility in terms of regional planning, and getting the OMB to respect planning decisions, however, that would also require council to appear to have a plan they intend to stick with. If we hope to keep the city competitive we need to start to build, and to do so in cost and transit effective fashion. That means in my mind more BRT and LRT, and subway only where absolutely needed for capacity.

    It also means serving trips that have neither end in the core with frequent rapid transit of appropriate capacity. However, planning and zoning also needs to stop forcing large amounts of parking, and allow this to be priced in as an option in development. We may find that developers are willing to build higher density, when they are not required to provide 2+parking spots per residence and 1 spot per use in commercial construction. Create transit, zone accordingly, and give developers choice and we may find parking lots get filled with buildings around malls that are easily served with transit.


  27. Ed says, “I also am skeptical that you could centralize the business that’s found in the current GTA and have any sensible transit strategy either. Even the old city was built on a fairly decentralized model, with employment nodes (industrial in those days, not office towers and tech lofts) all over the city, with surrounding residential areas in reasonable proximity, but not exactly high density.”

    Centralization in not an all or none issue, my premise is that a certain degree of centralization would create the conditions necessary to foster a segment of economic development that would otherwise not be possible in a decentralized model. Once the centralized economic development exists it has a propensity to create spin off growth in the regions. It is through this form of mutual cooperation and coordination that the regions create a higher level of prosperity that would not exist otherwise.


  28. Malcolm N says, “However, planning and zoning also needs to stop forcing large amounts of parking, and allow this to be priced in as an option in development. We may find that developers are willing to build higher density, when they are not required to provide 2+parking spots per residence and 1 spot per use in commercial construction. Create transit, zone accordingly, and give developers choice and we may find parking lots get filled with buildings around malls that are easily served with transit.”

    I would add that when modeling for growth, consideration must be given to creating the highest quality of life for the lowest cost and risk profile which tends to be associated with building near prominent economic zones.


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