Metrolinx Contemplates Relief

At its meeting on February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board will receive a presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study. Despite the need for better regional transit links (and by that I mean links that do not take people to downtown Toronto), the elephant in the room has always been the unstoppable demand for more capacity into the core area. Planning for and debates about catching up with the backlog of transit infrastructure cannot avoid this issue, and it skews the entire discussion because the scale and cost of serving downtown is greater than any other single location in the GTHA.

Conflicting political and professional attitudes across the region colour the view of downtown.  Toronto suburbs, never mind the regions beyond the city boundary, are jealous of downtown’s growth, and for decades have wanted some of the shiny new buildings and jobs for themselves. But the development, such as it was, skipped over the “old” suburbs to new areas in the 905 that could offer lower taxes possible through booming development and the low short-term cost of “new” cities.

Strangling downtown is not a new idea, and politicians decades ago foretold of gleaming suburban centres to redirect growth together with its travel demand. The transit network would force-feed the new centres, and downtown would magically be constrained by not building any new transit capacity to the core.

Someone forgot to tell GO Transit where service and ridership grew over the decades. Downtown Toronto continued to build, and that is now compounded by the shift of residential construction into the older central city.

Thanks to the early 1990s recession, the subway capacity crisis that had built through the 1980s evaporated, and the TTC could talk as if more downtown capacity was unneeded. To the degree it might be required, the marvels of new technology would allow them to stuff more riders on existing lines. A less obvious motive was that this would avoid competition for funding and political support between new downtown capacity with a much-favoured suburban extension into York Region. Whenever they did talk about “downtown relief”, the TTC did so with disdain.

Times have changed. Long commutes are now a burden, not a fast escape to suburban paradise. Every debate starts with “congestion” and the vain hope that there is a simple, take-two-pills-and-call-me-in-the-morning solution. Top that off with an aversion for any taxes that might actually pay for improvements, or sacrifices in convenience until that blissful day when transit arrives at everyone’s doorstep.

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Sir John A. Station?

Yes, we must be into the mayoral campaign, even among undeclared candidates.

At today’s meeting of Toronto’s Executive Committee, Councillor and sometimes-mooted candidate for the Mayor’s office, Denzil Minnan-Wong (better known as DMW to the blogging community) walked a proposal into the meeting to rename Union Station as Sir John A. Macdonald Station.  It’s a slow news day, and this is the sort of thing we see at City Hall when the Ford Family hasn’t triggered any new scandals.

Never mind that this is a National Historic Site.  If someone wants publicity, why not pick a great big monument and propose a new name for it?

Don’t ya know that old Sir John A., our first Prime Minister, is coming up on his 200th birthday, and what better excuse to rename the station after that master of the Canadian Pacific (despite the fact the railway was built long, long before the current Union Station even existed).

It seems there is a group called the Toronto Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald who, along with “appropriate groups and individuals”, are to be consulted in the preparation of a report on the subject that will be back at Exec by July 2 at the latest.  This group even has a website with one rather trivial post that is over a year old.

According to The Star:

Supporters include Alan Broadbent of the Maytree Foundation, broadcaster Steve Paikin and journalist Richard Gwyn.

They should be ashamed.  Just because “Union Station” seems rather prosaic does not mean the name is without significance in Toronto.

No doubt, part of the impetus for naming anything in Toronto after Sir John A. might be his reputation for drinking gin (conveniently disguised as a glass of water) in the House.  A role model for our current Mayor, no doubt.

Poor DMW is doomed to be one of the also-rans in the mayoralty race, presuming he even puts himself on the ballot.  The things people do to get attention.  At least he has not changed his mind on transit funding and jumped on the subway bandwagon, yet.

This proposal is a waste of time for staff and Council who have far more important things to consider.

Leave Union Station alone!

Waterfront Transit Update July 2013

Many projects affect the development of Toronto’s waterfront and transit services.  It is easy to lose track of how everything fits together, and this is an attempt to put updates for the various parts in one place.

For an overall map of the waterfront, go to Waterfront Toronto’s site and click on “View Map”.

Construction progress photos can be found on pages for individual projects, and a good overview is available in the minutes of the Waterfront Toronto Board meetings under the CEO Reports and Construction Updates.   (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked page, click on “View Details” for a meeting, and select the report you wish to view from the pop-up menu.)

Waterfront Toronto will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, July 24 from 6:00 to 9:00pm at the Toronto Fire Academy, 895 Eastern Ave (at Knox) with updates on the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection, and the Lower Don Lands Master Plan.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting of June 27, 2013

The Metrolinx Board met on June 27 with a full agenda.

There is a great deal of duplication between various reports, and I have consolidated information to keep like items together.  Some reports are omitted entirely from this article either because the important info is included elsewhere, or because they simply rehash status updates with no real news.  Metrolinx has a love for “good news” to the point that each manager stuffs their presentations with information that is already well known, or which parallels other presentations.

Among the more important items in these reports are the following:

  • Metrolinx is now conducting various studies all of which bear on the problem of north-south capacity into downtown Toronto.  This involves the (Downtown) Relief Line, the north-south GO corridors and the Richmond Hill subway expansion.  A related study involves fare and service integration across the GTHA.  It is refreshing to see Metrolinx taking a network approach to planning, rather than looking at projects in isolation, and recognizing that some of their own, existing routes can be part of an overall approach to solving this capacity problem.
  • The Metrolinx Five-Year Strategy includes dates for the beginning of service on various projects including the LRT replacement for the Scarborough RT.  Previous versions of these dates cited “by 2020”, and Metrolinx has indicated a desire for as short a construction/shutdown period of under three years.  However, the new strategy paper talks of an “in service date” of 2020.  Metrolinx is aiming for a three year shutdown at most, but the SRT might continue operating beyond the originally planned September 2015 date, possibly for one additional year.  This could lead to an earlier reopening than 2020.  (Correspondence from Metrolinx on this issue is included later in the article.)

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Development Charges and Transit Expansion

The City of Toronto Executive Committee will discuss the matter of a new Development Charges Bylaw at its meeting on July 3, 2013.  This is a statutory requirement as the current bylaw expires in April 2014, and it must be replaced in order for the city to continue collecting these charges.

Already press reports show a real estate industry apoplectic at the possibility that these charges will double.  With all the concern over a possible softening of the market for new units, the last thing they want is yet more cost added to the purchase price.  However, what we are seeing is a combined effect of the rising population and the exhaustion of surplus capacity in existing infrastructure, notably transit and water.  Much of the new development is concentrated in the central city in former industrial areas that do not possess the infrastructure needed to support their coming new populations.

(Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat observed at the “Feeling Congested” session earlier this week, about 70,000 people will call places like Liberty Village and the waterfront neighbourhoods their new home over the coming decade.)

There is bound to be lively debate, especially from the “no new taxes” brigade on Council, but the simple fact is that the city cannot have new development without some way to pay for the supporting infrastructure and services.  In this article, I will talk only about the transit component which is the single largest piece of the new DCs rising about 150% from the previous level for residential development.  (DCs overall will go up 86% because other categories have lower increases.)

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TTC Meeting May 24, 2013 (Update 3)

The agenda for the TTC meeting on May 24 contains a few items of interest, but also a troubling sign that matters of public interest are being debated behind closed doors.

Items included in this preview:

Updated May 23 at 12:10 am:

Links to the TTC construction pages for the York Street, Ossington Avenue and Kingston Road reconstruction projects have been added.

A reference to a statement about the New Streetcar Implementation Plan attributed to Andy Byford at the April Commission meeting has been corrected to reflect that it was made by Chris Upfold, Chief Customer Officer, who was standing in for Byford at that meeting.  TTC’s Brad Ross has confirmed that this plan will be presented in the public session of the June Commission meeting.

Updated May 23 at 9:15 pm:

The Kingston Road construction project info has been updated to reflect the early replacement of streetcars by buses effective June 3.

Updated May 25 at 1:30 pm:

This article has been updated to reflect events at the Commission meeting.

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TTC Rediscovers the Downtown Relief Line (Update 4)

Update 4 October 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm:

It’s intriguing to look back at coverage of the DRL the last time this was a major issue.  Mike Filey passed along a clipping from the Star from December 2, 1982 that makes interesting reading.  My comments are at the end in Postscript 2.

Update 3 October 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm:

A postscript has been added discussing the various demand simulations as a group rather than individually.  Charts of total demand southbound from Bloor Station as well as pedestrian activity at Bloor-Yonge are provided to consolidate information from several exhibits in the background paper.

Update 2 October 19, 2012 at 11:00 am:

This article has been reformatted to merge additional information from the background study as well as illustrations into the text.

At its meeting on October 24, 2012, the TTC will consider a report on the Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study.  The full background paper is also available on the TTC’s website.

A study by the City of Toronto and TTC, including consultations with Metrolinx, concludes that transit demand to the core by 2031 will grow at a rate that exceeds the capacity of all of the current and planned transit facilities.  Ridership will be 51% higher than today.  The residential population south of College from Bathurst to Parliament will grow by 83%, and employment by 28%.

Capacity is an issue today as Table A-1 in the background paper shows.  Several corridors into downtown are already operating over their design capacity.  This is particularly the case on GO where the target is to have few standees, and there is more room for additional passengers in the design capacity than on the TTC subway services.

Table A-2 shows the projections for 2031.  All of the shortfalls are on GO, but the TTC lines are close to saturation.  This presumes a considerable increase in the capacity of various lines.  For example, the YUS goes from a design capacity of 26,000 to 38,000 passengers per hour (pphpd), an increase of 46% which may not actually be achievable.  Similarly, the BD line goes to 33,000 pphpd, an increase of 27%.

Exhibit 1-10 shows the components of projected capacity increase including 36% from running trains closer together.  As discussed at some length on this site previously, the constraints on headways arise at terminal stations.  A 36% increase in trains/hour implies a headway of about 100 seconds as compared with 140 today.  This cannot be achieved with existing terminal track geometry, not to mention the leisurely crew practices at terminals.

On the GO lines, the projected capacity on Lakeshore West doubles, and smaller increases are seen on other routes.  It is worth noting that the projected capacity of the north-south corridors to Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Barrie are nowhere near the level of service implied by The Big Move, probably because these lines are not targets for early electrification.  This contributes to the capacity shortfall in the northern sector.  Recommendation 1 of the study includes encouragement that Metrolinx review the possibility of increased capacity in those three corridors.

The full list of lines included in the modelled network can be found in the background study at section 1.2.1.

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Where Should We Put the “Downtown Relief” Line?

The Downtown Relief Line has been in the news a lot lately, what with dreams of vast new revenues to pay for transit expansion and, at long last, a recognition that more people want to travel downtown than we have transit capacity to handle.

Back in the 1980s, the Network 2011 plan included a line from Union Station to Don Mills and Eglinton by way of the rail corridor, Eastern Avenue, Pape, a bridge across the Don Valley, and Don Mills Road.  This scheme was turned down in favour of the Sheppard Subway as part of a misguided idea that if we simply stopped building new lines into downtown, growth would stop.  In fact, GO Transit did a fine job of providing extra capacity, and more recently the new downtown condos have raised short commutes by streetcar, cycling and foot to levels nobody expected thirty years ago.

The Yonge subway filled up, for a time,but the pressure fell off thanks to the 1990s recession and the general drop in transit use.  That’s no longer the case, and suddenly everyone wants to “do something” about transit capacity downtown.  The TTC, shamefully, downplayed anything beyond its own mad scheme to stuff thousands more riders onto the Yonge line, a project requiring major changes in signalling, reconstruction of Bloor-Yonge station (and possibly others) for extra capacity, a much larger subway fleet (and yards to hold it) and possibly even the addition of platform doors at all stations.

Council asked the TTC to look at a DRL, and there is even supposed to be a study.  However, its web page is the only sign that anything is going on.

Meanwhile, every would-be transit planner in town is busy drawing maps, to the point where a credible plan can be found simply by dropping a piece of spaghetti on a map of the city and declaring this a route.  (Post-graduate degrees are available to those who can determine the ideal height from which to drop the pasta and cooking time needed to produce the best results.)  What’s missing in a lot of this discussion is a view of how a DRL might fit into a wider network, not to mention a few basics about how a new rapid transit line will, or will not, fit in some of the proposed alignments.

One of the better proposals is on Phil Orr’s DRL Now site.  It’s not perfect (no proposal is, including those I have floated from time to time), but at least this is a place to start with sufficient detail to understand what is going on.  Drawing a swoosh across a map is easy (politicians do it all the time), but designing something that might actually work is a lot harder.

A major challenge with some versions of this line is that proponents try to do too much.  Playing “connect the dots” with a transit route has its limitations, and trying to hit too many of them causes the line to wander out of its way.  This ties back to a fundamental question:  what is a DRL supposed to do?

If we believe some of the simpler plans (notably one in last week’s Star proposed by Councillor Pasternak), the DRL’s sole function is to get people from the Danforth subway to Union Station.  This is far too simplistic and guarantees the line will not be well used except as a peak period relief valve.

Other schemes take the route south of the rail corridor to serve the Port Lands and eastern waterfront.  Aside from the problems of building such a line in landfill beside Lake Ontario, the route would not provide the fine-grained transit access possible with a surface LRT, and would vastly overservice an area whose expected demand is lower than the existing Sheppard subway.  Connection to Union Station from the south would also be a big challenge.

From time to time, I am asked “what would you do”, but to start that discussion, a few first principles:

  • A”DRL” should not exist solely to relieve the Yonge line’s peak traffic problem, but should provide new links within the transit network giving rapid transit to areas of the city that do not have it today.  Indeed, the regional function within the network may well be as important as the “relief” function at Bloor-Yonge.
  • Any proposed route through downtown must respect the actual built form of the streets and buildings.  Diagonal routes through built-up areas should be avoided as they are difficult if not impossible to build.
  • Stations must be located where it is physically possible to build them.  Some routes use rail corridors without considering how either a surface or underground station might fit or be built.
  • A “DRL” is not the complete solution to capacity problems on the subway.  These problems originate north of Steeles Avenue, and a major role in trimming peak demand falls to GO Transit which has several north-south routes that could drain traffic otherwise headed for the Yonge line.

The proposed route on DRL Now (click on “Interactive Map” under the “Station Information” pulldown) includes four phases:

  • Don Mills and Eglinton to City Place
  • City Place to Dundas West
  • Don Mills from Eglinton to Sheppard
  • Dundas West to Pearson Airport

I have concerns with a few details of this plan, but the basics are good.  Another view of the route is available via Google Maps.  This has the advantage of showing the detailed alignment rather than a “route map” graphic.

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Union Station / King Station Update

Union Station

Work at Union Station has progressed to the point where the existing link between the railway and subway stations is affected by construction.

The westernmost door leading onto the moat outside of the GO Bay Street Concourse from the subway has been closed, and space in the subway west mezzanine formerly occupied by rather tired shops has been walled off.  There is a narrow passage from the fare barrier to the westernmost stairway down to the subway platform.  (The escalator to the same space was out of service today, March 11, for repairs, but it should be back in operation for Monday, March 12.)

Of the two stairways leading from the south side of Front Street down to the subway, the western one is now closed.

These arrangements will allow for construction of the western part of the new fare control area under Front Street.


The moat looking west.  The hot dog vendor is still doing business surrounded by construction, but the westmost exit from the subway mezzanine is fenced off.


The moat looking east.


The excavation directly in front of the main doors of Union Railway Station. The large concrete box on the left side of the photo is the subway station, and the deep trench will be the space for the new northbound-to-Yonge platform.

King Station and Crossover

On the weekend of March 23 to 26 starting at midnight on Friday the TTC will close the Yonge subway between Bloor and Union for the first stage of installation of the new crossover at King Station.  Preliminary work is already underway, and there is a slow order through this area.  If past experiences at College and St. Clair are any indication, we can expect two more shutdowns in coming months.

Activation of the three new crossovers will not occur until the signal system replacement project finishes in a few years.  The original crossovers at these locations were never electrified and there is no provision in the existing signal system to manage them.

Also, the power feeds on either side of the crossovers are not set up to allow isolation of the crossover territory as a terminal.  When Bloor crossover was done many years ago, new section gaps were added at the south end of the station and midway north to Rosedale so that power could be maintained on both sides of a crossover even if there were a shutdown further north or south of Bloor.  Changes to the power feeds will be done concurrently with the signal work.