Recycling the SRT

The ink was barely dry on the TTC’s recent proposal that service on the SRT end in mid-2023 when the inevitable question was posed: what should be done with the infrastructure and right-of-way afterwards?

A scheme floated several years ago would have converted the elevated structure between McCowan and Midland Stations to something like the High Line park in New York City. That is certainly an option once the line is no longer needed to carry transit vehicles.

At the City Council meeting of February 3-5, 2021, Councillors Josh Matlow and Paul Ainslie, never fans of the Scarborough Subway, proposed the following motion. Council ran out of time and debate was deferred to a future meeting. However, the issues here deserve attention now, specifically at the TTC Board meeting planned for February 10, 2021.

Councillor Josh Matlow, seconded by Councillor Paul Ainslie, recommends that:

1. City Council request the City Manager to report to the June 1, 2021 meeting of Executive Committee on options for Scarborough transit that includes a:

a. technical assessment of moving forward with the Scarborough Light Rail Transit, including length of construction time and new platform location at Kennedy Station;

b. feasibility study and cost estimate of converting the elevated Scarborough Rapid Transit structure to an above-grade Bus Rapid Transit; and

c. feasibility study and cost estimate of removing the elevated Scarborough Rapid Transit structure and operating a Bus Rapid Transit at-grade.

2. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission Board to release the “Integrity Assessment for Life Extension/Continued Operation” report by Bombardier, in partnership with WSP Canada Inc. and CH2MH, referenced in the Fleet Life Extension – Line 3 Scarborough report to the Toronto Transit Commission Board on May 8, 2018 to City of Toronto residents as a public attachment to the aforementioned item on the Toronto Transit Commission’s website.

The likelihood that Council would approve another study of the LRT option for this corridor is dim, at best. This is an extremely contentious issue debated many times under clouds of conflicting information about various technologies. While I have always supported the LRT option going right back to its origin fifty years ago, I have no illusions that we are about to see it emerge soon, if ever as a contender.

Doug Ford’s government took control of the Scarborough Subway Extension project and will bull through with it no matter what. According to the most recent Infrastructure Ontario update, the contract for tunneling will be awarded in spring 2021, and it is hard to think of anything that will derail this. Cost overruns and delays may be in the future, but far too much political ego is on the line to change course today barring a financial catastrophe that prevents the SSE (and many other projects) from going ahead.

At this point, a review of the work involved to reactivate the LRT proposal would be a diversion. That ship has sailed. Also, to be quite blunt, in the current political climate it is likely than any LRT study would be tweaked to present a worst case scenario.

However, the BRT proposal is worth study, and this should begin immediately to inform the plans for a bus replacement service. Conditions on segments of the line differ, and this should not be seen as an “all or nothing” situation.

Kennedy Stn to Lawrence East Stn

The southern portion of the SRT runs in a fairly open area bounded on the east by GO Transit’s Stouffville corridor and on the west by a wide Hydro corridor and park.

Here is a satellite view of Kennedy Station. If there were a BRT corridor from the north, buses could access the station without any traffic conflicts on Eglinton Avenue. This is important not just to avoid the turns to and from Eglinton, but to bypass the effect of subway construction east of the rail corridor.

Source: Google Maps

The area east of Kennedy Station will be used as a tunnel boring launch site and for removal of spoil as the project digs east and north. Eglinton will be reduced and will not be conducive to frequent, fast bus service. This issue has already been raised in the context of the Eglinton BRT project which ends short of Kennedy Station in anticipation of subway work. The extent of the disruption is clear in the map below.

Cut-and-cover work will occupy Eglinton to east of Midland Avenue making an eastern approach for a Scarborough BRT fraught with congestion and disruption as conditions change. Anyone who has watched the Eglinton Crosstown project knows that this is not the environment for reliable bus service.

An important question is whether a BRT roadway would fit in the corridor where the SRT is today. Here is the line midway between Eglinton and Lawrence.

On the east side of the corridor is GO Transit’s right-of-way where double-tracking will add to the capacity for Stouffville service. On the west is the SRT.

The SRT itself occupies roughly 7 metres. By contrast, the York University bus roadway, a model for a BRT here, is roughly 11 metres wide. Buses are wider than the SRT trains (2.4m vs 2.1m) and they are not tethered to a track requiring more room for dynamic clearance and safe passing of opposing traffic. A bus roadway in this corridor will require more space than the SRT occupies today, but at least there is some elbow room.

Source: Google Maps

Here is the view north from the pedestrian/cycling bridge at Tara Avenue showing that there is room for a wider structure than the existing track slab.

Source: Google Maps

South from the bridge, however, there is a row of mature trees, a planting that was added as a sound barrier between the SRT and the housing west of the Hydro corridor. An important design issue will be retention of these trees.

Source: Google Maps

At Lawrence East Station, a connection to the road network could be made using the existing bus loop. A direct link right at the station is not possible because the street crosses the rail corridor on an overpass, nor is one to the east because this would require crossing the GO corridor.

Running buses through Lawrence East (and any other SRT station) would be complicated by two factors: the buses and their lanes are wider than the space taken for the SRT, and the roadway would have to be raised for buses to align with the platform.

Source: Google Maps

Lawrence East Stn to Ellesmere Stn

This is a difficult segment of the SRT to convert to a busway because the SRT is constrained between the rail corridor and the industrial properties to the west. Moreover, there is a grade difference to the west with a retaining wall hard by the SRT right-of-way.

Source: Google Maps

Ellesmere and Midland Stations

This portion of the line includes the turn east into a corridor running parallel to Highland Creek and behind industrial properties to the south.

Road access to the corridor from Ellesmere is possible using the existing roadway link west of the station, but the problem of the narrow right-of-way south of Ellesmere remains.

To the north, the RT crosses under the GO corridor in a tunnel which is almost certainly too small for buses. An alternative route one might think of looking at the map would be to continue north to Progress Avenue. However, GO Transit plans to build a grade separation here as part of their corridor upgrade, and what would be a simple connection today becomes complex, if not impossible, with Progress at a different grade from the rail corridor and any bus roadway.

Source: Google Maps

Midland Stn to McCowan Stn

There are several problems with using the elevated structure between the GO corridor and McCowan Station.

First is the extra space needed for buses and their dynamic clearance. The SRT cars are narrower, and they fill the structure in which they run. The guideway is actually a pair of U-shaped concrete “lanes” for the SRT track, and could not be used “as is” for buses.

Second, the station at Midland is integrated with the bridge, and could not be easily modified. (This problem came up during consideration of other modes on the corridor including a subway.)

Third, access to and from the elevated would require ramps just like the Gardiner Expressway, and these would increase the structure’s footprint at ground level.

Fourth, operationally it would be much simpler for buses to serve Scarborough Town Centre at grade than to run via the elevated (leaving aside other problems) because they would not be constrained by access points to and from the structure.

If this segment were to be used for BRT, the existing elevated structure would have to be demolished and a new roadway built at ground level. There would still be problems at Ellesmere Station and the narrow right-of-way south from there.

Summary

The SRT corridor is seductively “available” for recycling using another mode, but the change is not straightforward or even physically possible in some locations.

Without waiting for a Council motion, the TTC should undertake a review of what could be done with a focus on the southern segment from Lawrence to Eglinton. This would give a traffic-free access to Kennedy Station, a location that is likely to be the most difficult in any BRT replacement for the SRT.

There will be a challenging interval between the start of SSE construction and the shutdown/reconstruction of the SRT for BRT and this cannot be avoided.

So much of the planning for whatever might happen is constrained by the effects of years of delay and the elimination of any flexibility that might have existed for project timelines. The problem now is to make the best of a very bad situation.

46 thoughts on “Recycling the SRT

  1. I’ve had a further thought about all of this: somehow, we need to take almost ALL the scheming out of this process, and for me, no I don’t really have confidence/trust in most all of the players to do so, especially with the Ford Cons. A possible way to have more neutral assessment could be to have Mr. Gary Webster head up some cross-government/cross-disciplinary-silo Review and propose a set of solution, assuming some real budget, where the model of the Suspect Subway Extension is a Help, as money seems to have been irrelevant as if built, and if it gets new riders, the Star calculated it would cost about $1.5M for each! new rider (must find date).

    Mr. Webster may not want to have a single thing to do with Moronto/Caronto and our messes, but he did have the integrity to stand up for what he saw as the facts and good value, and paid a price that many others haven’t, though we have had a migration of staff like Ms. Keesmaat, Ms. Holden and more than a few TTCers I think.

    One question however, is how to have a completely open process? And for me, yes, under-used, wide, fairly open, long and diagonal corridors going all through the Scarborough area where about 40% of peak travel is within the Scarborough communities vs. to downtown is a most logical thing to add in, just as it makes sense to think of adjusting other deficient parts of the old core, though only for bikes and transit, nada for cars, and same for Carborough too.

    Politically, it makes sense to advantage transit off-road as much as possible ahead of squeeze on the votorists; an example is how the 2001 Bike Plan is mostly undone in Caroborough, and with very little political interest to do on-road either vs. burying billions.

    Steve: What is really needed is some detailed info on origin-destination patterns for travel within and outside of Scarborough. That would establish the degree to which demand would be served by the subway, various LRT/BRT schemes, or the hydro lands. Also, of course, some unbiased info on what it is physically possible to build and where. We spend too much time drawing lines on maps to satisfy one group of riders, advocates or politicians.

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  2. Steve said: What is really needed is some detailed info on origin-destination patterns for travel within and outside of Scarborough. That would establish the degree to which demand would be served by the subway, various LRT/BRT schemes, or the hydro lands.

    Surely that would be a SUPERB expenditure of how many dollars? $3 million? $200,000? Or maybe $8,000,000M?

    And we’re lurching towards committing to a however many billion subway tunnel contract? It’s not just Moronto, but MORONtario. Or is that MoreOntarioOwe? – what’s a billion, or three?

    Steve: I suspect that a lot of the raw data already exist. It’s just a question of pulling out the relevant parts and formatting them. Eric Miller’s group at UofT does this sort of thing regularly. Definitely six figures at most, probably less depending on how much detail is wanted.

    There is also the need for an inventory of just what road/corridor space is truly available. I am thinking not just of the Gatineau but of some streets where taking lanes is not going to be easy. FYI the city is already getting pushback from people on Jane and Dufferin about proposed “Red Lanes” there.

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  3. Thanks Steve – it is fairly astounding that there’s not been such pulling together of origin/dest. data for the many years and costs involved, but there was also the ‘lead’ of the majority of the Council c. Dec. 2016 in a 23-19 vote to basically ignore facts in major transit decisions, sigh, and why would any other level of government think to challenge the wisdom of Clowncil?

    Changing usage of the carterials is controversial. I don’t know the Scarborough carterials at all well, but I think generally they’re wider, but still challenged as usage by the SoVs has been the norm,. With the relative narrow-ness of both lower Jane to Bloor, and much of Dufferin being as tight as King/Queen/Dundas etc., I can see the pushback happening as a logical response. So at times I’ve seen pictures of areas in Europe where tram tracks condense to a single pair, and it’s two way traffic of streetcars, and hmm, could this be adapted to a busway here? So it’s akin to Jarvis St, but not for cars, for buses? I trust the bus drivers, and as this too is a ‘new’ idea and with some complications it would require a lot of analysis, but at times I’m a ‘roadical’. The NACTO doesn’t have anything like this I don’t think; and with widths that may be required now, it might be a real stretch to fit this in, and likely no room for bike lanes either, though depending on context, wider curb lanes and slow-ish speeds are an improvement, relatively.

    Part of the political rationale for a certain corridor is that it speeds up transit first, without that much impact on the carterials, and yes, I see something extending across the Don River to the Thorncliffe area, and there are some potential mostly-surface routes to the near-core via the Don Valley to provide a long Relief function network option, with a spine north on Don Mills or nearby Rail Trail, also complicated and soon with options being built shut.

    Steve: Where you see two interlaced tracks, the service is infrequent enough that opposing directions meet infrequently, and they will be controlled either by a traffic signal (rather like what one might find on a temporary one-lane road) or for a very short distance, on sight.

    Speaking of the rail trail, it was only a single track line. Also, a new pedestrian/cycling link has already been proposed to span the CPR at Wynford as part of the new development on the former IBM/Celestica lands.

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  4. I know this is a little late, but I wanted to know your opinion on converting the SRT corridor into a guided busway like the O-Bahn Busway or the guideway for the Leigh-Salford-Manchester Bus Rapid Transit. They say it is relatively cheap as it is just concrete and any bus can run in the corridor with the quick installation of a kerb, and the fact that it is guided means the buses can run much closer together in either direction. Would it actually work, probably, but would it actually happen, definitely not.

    Steve: At the anticipated combined level of service in such a corridor (70 buses per hour), they are quite capable of driving within a guideway. Between Eglinton and Lawrence, there is enough room to build a two-lane roadway similar to the York University busway. Between Lawrence and Ellesmere, there are pinch points that even a guided bus system cannot solve. I really have to emphasize how important it will be to avoid technology for its own sake especially for what will be a “temporary” arrangement. Better it be built simply and work, than depend on yet another technology we are not yet using in Toronto.

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  5. Thanks Steve; presumed signals, and frequency would perhaps be a real issue/problem.

    With Rail Trail, the actual RoW is much wider than a single track; and when combined with some real change in elevations/topography to make connection with Eglinton/OSC/Don Mills, anything there might have to be well buried, with cut and cover, likely with no stops for area, and a trail/jogging path put back top it. It’s sad that we haven’t had the GO folks start that EA that was nudged at in the last Metro-level OP; but at least we have the corridor still intact and in public hands. And the goal would be to link to is it Oriole Stn of the Richmond Hill GO before it gets too ‘involved’ in the meandering/slower Don Valley, and provide both faster trip to core but also connection to Eglinton, presuming there’s capacity.

    This isn’t a new idea it seems – Mr. Levy was proposing this in his book – and some hints of it all in previous plans there as well.

    Steve: I really think that any idea of running a frequent bus service on the portion of the trail north of Lawrence would be doomed simply by the neighbourhood it runs through. If you think that Riverdale might scream about noise from GO and the above-ground Ontario Line, imagine the howls from the neighbours of the north end of the trail.

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  6. Thanks again Steve – to try to be clearer, I wasn’t thinking of doing buses on that possible link to GO, though as always, buses have innate flexibilities, though that doesn’t quite make up for their relative lack of high capacities. I was thinking of something rail-based, hence a need for cut-and-cover to trim out the noise and the NIMBY’s reactions, and yes, odds are high that the area residents won’t like the linear transportation corridor being used for more public benefit. Yes, it may make more ‘sense’ to put something robust on Don Mills instead as per some other plans, but in terms of having faster/robust Relief function from Oriole to Eglinton and south, we do need to improve connectivities, and many politicians will like to have projects that cost a lot and use concrete – our challenge is to have good transit/value. And yes, I buy lotto ticket too.

    Steve: An alternative for sensitive corridors like this will, of course, be electric buses. Then all we have to do is make sure that the TTC actually schedules the appropriate vehicles. They have a fairly long history of not doing that, notably on routes that are scheduled for artics but get standard sized vehicles (buses or streetcars).

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