Toronto readers, today's Globe & Mail everything you need to know about Mayor Rob Ford's dream of building expensive subways under low-density suburbia, thereby spending billions that could be spent expanding actual mobility (and access) where it's most needed and demand is highest. The article is about the crucial Eglinton corridor, an obvious grid-element that could help thousands of travellers get where they're going without having to go through downtown, thus adding to capacity problems there. But the same logic applies to an underground extension of the Sheppard East line toward Scarborough, which the mayor has also mooted. Reporter Adrian Morrow has done his homework (not just by talking to me) and he carefully sets aside all the main talking points of the suburban-subway advocates.
Bottom line: Going underground is expensive, so we do it only when we really need to! Responsible planning fights hard for space on the surface — especially in space-rich low-density suburbs — before sacrificing millions just to get transit "out of the way" of cars.
If you’re building in a place that’s fairly low density (Seattle’s in-city suburbs) but you want to plan for it to be high density, what should you do?
A bit of terminology abuse from one of the sources quoted in the article:
“If the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be at-grade,” she said. “If there’s a decision to put it underground, it should be a subway.”
Given that a subway is simply an underground railway, the second part of her statement is a tautology. If you put it underground, of COURSE it’s a subway, even if you’re running streetcar-class rolling stock on the tracks.
I assume what she meant is that if something goes underground, it ought to be a full-scale metro: long trains, high-platform boarding, possibly third-rail power, possibly even driverless. These attributes are (presently) incompatible with surface operation, or at least pose difficulties. In the local context, the existing Toronto subway has all of these attributes except for driverless operation–and is a fully isolated, grade-separated system.
One other note about the existing Toronto subway–there are two different types of rolling stock used on the system: The Scarborough line uses standard-guage, linear-induction trains, wherease the rest of the system uses wide-gauge trains (4′ 10 7⁄8″, or 1,495 mm) with conventional electric motors.
But the point stands: Toronto has plenty of wide avenues, especially in the suburbs, where tracks could be run in the median while leaving ample capacity for automobiles. The current right-wing mayor ran on a platform of “ending the war on the car”, however, so any transit project that reduces car lanes is, for now, politically out of the question.
There’s a political calculus here. If most people are driving, they’ll oppose giving surface rail real priority and speed, so the resulting system won’t necessarily make as much of a change in mode share as it could. People are also disproportionately more excited by “subway” projects than surface rail or light rail, by reliability and grade separation and the mobility vision those things can allow. So often, you can get people to agree to more money for grade separated rail – a lot more – than for surface rail. The raw dollars probably aren’t fungible.
If the development is going to be so dense (scale of downtown Bellevue, say) that it needs the subway underground, then developer contributions should help you get there, because they're going to make a fortune.
“Help you get there” might be said of developer contributions, but don’t bank on them paying the whole way. Mayor Ford’s other subway plan (an extension east and west of the existing Sheppard line) was promoted as being funded by the private sector. However, a study of this option has found that at best 30% of the cost would come from that source. A fundamental problem is that development does not occur when and where you build a subway, but possibly decades in the future, if ever. In the Toronto area, there is a strong market for high-rise condos, but in the core and in selected parts of the suburbs. Much of the Sheppard corridor is not prime territory for this market.
Indeed, the surcharge on each unit to pay the “developer’s” share of transit costs could drive potential buyers to other buildings without that extra charge if they don’t perceive the rapid transit as being of benefit to them. Proximity to the stations is important, and the effect falls off for property in between stops.
Putting it another way, Toronto’s needs for new transit construction far exceed the market for development that might conceivably fund it.
The developer of interest in Bellevue (Kemper Freeman) begs to differ–he seems utterly terrified by the prospect of rail transit of any sort coming to Bellevue and serving his properties. How much of it is knee-jerk right-wing ideology in general, and how much is the misguided (and frequently racist) belief that rail transit enables gang-bangers and other undesirables to move around town in ways that busses and cars do not, I’m not sure.
One other question: What is Toronto’s long-term population trend? If it’s stable or decreasing, rather than increasing, then TOD is less likely to be a viable strategy–it assumes, after all, that there will be a demand for the housing that is to be built; at least until (and unless) gasoline gets so inexpensive that suburban sprawl starts to become undesirable.
Toronto’s population is growing, but over a very wide region that is much larger than the city of Toronto proper. Between 1996 and 2001, the City proper grew by almost 100k, but the region around the city grew by 356k reflecting the explosion of suburbia. This growth at 100k/year for the entire region is expected to continue for the next two decades, but where they will settle is not as certain. This could be influenced by the cost and difficulty of commuting through sprawl as you note. You can read about this in more detail here:
Within the city (and for out of town readers, the “city of Toronto” includes its original suburbs, and it has an area of 630 sq km), many areas that require better transit are already developed, and “TOD” is not an option, at least in the short term. The problem is that as demand shifts away from cars, it does not take a big change to overwhelm existing transit services. The demand for transit will go up faster than the population, and years of non-investment in transit infrastructure now haunt us in the old (now called “inner”) suburbs.
The highest growth is in the areas least served by transit (the region around the city proper), and least likely to see (or justify) investment in high capacity, high cost transit expansion.
The Eglinton Cross-town LRT has had a very interesting history in Toronto.
It was first proposed as a bus-rapid transit line from the west side of mid-town Toronto out to the airport. Then the premier at the time changed the project to an Eglinton West “subway” (heavy-rail, 3rd rail powered, high platform etc) like the others. He also announced a similar line, running along Sheppard, towards the east (the Sheppard line mentioned in this article).
Then the new premier cancelled the Eglinton West line but continued with the Sheppard line to placate the new mayor of Toronto.
The Eglinton Cross-town LRT line was proposed as a streetcar for the sake of flexibility – demand in central Toronto was lower than in the suburbs, but the topography and layout of Eglinton Ave in mid-town Toronto(very hilly and only 5-road lanes wide) made a tunnel necessary through mid-town.
On the other hand, the west and east segments of Eglinton Ave are very wide – the west segment meant for an expressway that was built in a different area, the east segment a wide boulevard known as the “Golden Mile”. In both the west and east segments, Eglinton can be widened or there is room to one side of the road to run the LRT without taking traffic lanes.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly) Mayor Ford’s campaign picked up one people’s negative view of downtown Toronto streetcars and encouraged them to transfer that negative view onto LRT – even though the Eglinton LRT and Finch West LRT would not actually cause cars to lose out to public transport.
In Toronto, “subway” is also code for “runs every 5 minutes or better every day from 6 am to 1 am”, that being the experience with the current system.
Hi Jarrett – your quote at the end really hits the nail on the head with respect to the real goal of Ford.
I’m actually shocked that Ford is getting away with it – in Canada, the Mayor has no special powers and no veto powers and is only one vote on a council, which in Toronto is a council of 45 people – so somehow there are at least 22 other Councillors who are voting with Ford.
So as much as this is being laid that the Mayor’s feet, the other Councillors have a lot to answer to as well.
I think a few important points have been missed in the Globe Article, and in this discussion. In Toronto, nothing is as it seems when it comes to transit debates. Canada is an overly politically correct nation, and Toronto is the most politically correct city therein. All kinds of reasonable discussions are sidelined due to politically motivated overly-ideological debates (and the resultant finger pointing and labelling) that have little or nothing to do with actual transit issues.
The discussion of transit expansion in Toronto has been, and appears to remain, one of those ‘mode wars’ Jarrett laments. My understanding is that, even though they’re both in the ATU113 union, the subway division and the streetcar/surface rail divisions of the TTC are very different cultures. The subway division from what I’ve been told, which accords with my experience riding subways vs. streetcars here, is primarily concerned with rider mobility. Yay mobility! The cars are dirtier and over-crowded these days, but most people are pretty satisfied with the mobility aspect except when there are delays due to overcrowding. The surface rail division however, seems to hold mobility as the v-e-e-r-r-y last in a long line of priorities, if at all.
I think one of the most important paragraphs in the article was this:
“Historically, the TTC has also confused people about light rail’s potential: Promotional material in the late 2000s mapped the slow-moving St. Clair and Spadina streetcars as LRTs, even though they stop frequently and have to wait at red lights. Suburban light rail is a different animal.”
Much of the ‘discussion’ (which wasn’t really a discussion at all) about the former TransitCity did nothing to change that perception, and in fact a good amount of the TransitCity design really was not significantly better than either of those lines. The current commute from outer Scarborough to the downtown core can be up to 2.5 hours one way. TransitCity community planning meetings documented that the savings on some of these routes would be a mere 4 minutes!
Going back to Jarrett’s frequent point that discussion of mode should always be secondary to need, what the Toronto suburbs need is rapid transit. How we get that rapid transit should be of less importance than ensuring that transit investment serves the citizens needs in a cost effective manner.
I’ve been led to believe that part of Mayor Ford’s methodology/strategy was to insist on underground transit as much to get the new transit systems out of the hands of the surface-rail folks, and into the mobility-friendly hands of the subway division, as anything else.
Toronto’s streetcar advocates, who are pretty much the textbook definition of ‘mode warriors’, have largely brought this on themselves. Their past insistence on promoting streetcars in situations where streetcars have no business being, and their finger-pointing at transit riders whose commute experience on streetcars has been less than stellar, and illogically painting them as anti-transit (this is putting it very mildly), has made this an unnecessarily polarized debate.
I think if we could see that LRTs in Toronto were guaranteed to be permanently out of the hands of those people who have designed or operate our streetcar system, and put into the hands of those with an emphasis on mobility, this debate would largely fade away.
Until such time as we can start having sensible, reasonable debates about real transit issues in Toronto with groups and advocates who aren’t in it solely for their own position and benefit, we’ll be left with such nonsense positioning as the one hand labelling the St. Clair and Spadina streetcars as LRT, and the other saying ‘over my dead body are we getting more ‘St. Clair fiascos’ and insisting that LRTs be run underground.
So let’s hope that all this sturm und drang serves to better educate everyone in Toronto about transit planning – GOOD transit planning – and that the end result is a good transit system that will actually, to quote Jarrett “get people where they’re going”.
More on this from the Globe and Mail today: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/marcus-gee/ttc-chair-fires-first-salvo-at-fords-lrt-plan/article2312543/
Includes all kinds of red herrings (mostly quoted by the columnist) like “using LRT technology designed mainly for surface travel” and “the light-rail lines that would go on Eglinton east are just a fancy kind of streetcar”.
In other words, focusing on the technology rather than attributes of service. The public discussion is usually confused by the fact that TTC streetcars can and do provide a wide range of service, from slow-as-molasses-stuck-in-mixed-traffic to (potentially) highway speeds on a separate right of way.
“LRT” can, and does, mean a lot of things, even within the same system. Too many things for sane discussion, in my opinion!
Planners and the government have to come clean on what LRT means for Toronto.
When many people in Toronto hear LRT, they think of Calgary, which offers subway style service.
Toronto’s planned LRT lines are nothing like Calgary, or Edmonton. The planned LRT routes for Toronto are not going to operate at highway speeds, because they are planned to operate down the middle of a road. And no matter how much signals you have, these routes can not operate at high speeds, unless we were to do like Calgary and have crossing arms and chain link fences separating the route from the general traffic.
These LRT routes are not bringing rapid transit to areas of Toronto that really need it. And that is why there is such a big deal about these projects, and so much debate.
I live in the areas slated for LRT in the east. And as a the biggest transit supporter you can find, I do not support these LRT lines.
I understand the travel market and habits of residents in the outer areas. And the LRTs will do nothing to make transit a viable option for more people.
The last thing residents out here in the outer areas of the city want to do is sit for 45 minutes on an LRT to get somewhere that takes 15 minutes by car.
It sounds like TTC has a political/organizational problem–the correct fix would be to ensure that each piece of infrastructure has its goals set: Is this line about mobility? About placemaking? Some level of service in between?
The notion that one ought to choose a more expensive technology over a cheaper one because the more expensive mode would then be managed by a more efficient organization, is outrageous. (Not criticizing you, of course). Of course, many in government do find it easier to pour concrete than to reorganize bureaucracies, when instead you should do the opposite.
Thanks for the link Scotty. Liked this bit:
“Many tech boosters believe that smart phones, with built-in mapping and other apps, lead inexorably to “revolutionary transit.” […]But fixed routes running on “clock-face”
headways at the same times past the hour are simple and easy to remember compared to
digging through a complex smartphone app every time one checks to see when a bus or train will arrive, or ordering up a taxi.5”
You’re exactly correct that the TTC has a political/organizational problem. Until that is fixed, pretty much any proposed transit solution will be risky, and has good odds (if our current track record is any indication) of being ineffective, and cost-inefficient.
BTW, I think you misunderstand my political affiliations (generally I have none, but thats for another day); I live in the most leftist of left communities. The majority of my neighbours are almost rabidly pro-Transit City. But here’s the catch: it is an extremely affluent neighbourhood directly on a streetcar line with ‘frequent’ service. Over the last few years I’ve been informally polling those who profess to be pro-TransitCity. Interestingly, almost all of them either drive, or if they do take transit pay double for the express bus. I’ve seen this same way of thinking on many issues. They have good hearts for the most part, but have let leftist-looking people with their own agendas convince them to leave their brains at home, and are far too willing to align themselves with whatever is popular and seems ‘nice’. As long as they don’t have to use it. Nothing has moved me away from the left of the political spectrum more than living in a community that takes its direction from ideology at the expense of science, rationality, and common sense.
I’m in no way advocating burying the Eglinton line as a reasonable solution. What I’ve sadly come to see is that when one side of the debate is not interested in reasoned discussions and insists on using guerilla tactics (for instance branding anyone who has relevant complaints about the quality of service or design as anti-transit), then similar machiavellian strong-arm tactics will be used by the other side just to effect a kind of balance, no matter how much I dislike it.
I’d prefer to get rid of all the ideologues, and find a way to put sane, intelligent, educated, reasonable people in charge (with the appropriate checks and balances that would keep them sane and reasonable) so that we can just get down to business. In decades past, Ontario used to be that kind of province where things just got done in an efficient, effective way. Those days are, sadly, long gone.
It seems that when it comes to which mode to build, the existing network is somewhat left out. LRVs can easily run like metro-style cars in a tunnel and subways can run overground. I just don’t understand why the city would choose to use a new vehicle apart from streetcars or third-rail subway cars. The Eglinton line will not be able to directly connect track-to-track with either system (current collection, track gauge). Is future connectivity like that not as important? It seems you lose out on creating new routes/services within the network by building a one-off system.
Scotty, thank you! Best practices for transit design – you remembered! I think I’m in love (OK, just kidding, but let’s not tell my husband)…
Really, that’s a great article, thank you again. It’s a vision of transit to dream of.
A thought came to me as I was reading it re: Jarrett’s recent posts/debates re: ‘useful’ vs. ‘endearing/fun’ transit: when I ride transit systems that are well designed, efficient and useful, I find them endearing, and much more likely to be fun.
Well, my wife used to live in Toronto…. 🙂
Stino–high-platform metro cars, especially those with third rail power, CAN’T run at surface level–not without being fenced in. (At least under North American safety standards, which consider exposed third rails that pedestrians can encounter to be a Bad Thing). They can run as els, of course, and elevated rail down a boulevard median works well in a lower-density areas (see SkyTrain in Vancouver for an example).
But elevated construction is more expensive than surface construction, and even out in the ‘burbs where it doesn’t have as big of an impact on light levels, many people consider it ugly.
The problem with “Transit City” light rail is that is was slow (would have had a lot of minor stops); low capacity (would have been limited to 5 minute frequencies in order to have functioning signal priority without disrupting cross traffic); and the proposal to extend the Sheppard subway with a LRT and a transfer at Don Mills/Sheppard was beyond ridiculous. Keep in mind that there is a huge amount of suburb-to-suburb travel in the Toronto area, and the main east west highway (Highway 401) is 18 lanes in some sections and extremely congested at all times of day; GTA traffic is horrendous. The Sheppard extension is needed (LRT is not adequate here). As for Eglinton, tunnelling in the section that is controversial (east of Don Mills Rd to Kennedy Rd in Scarborough) made little sense because this section runs through a low density area of big box retail; I think though that elevated rail would be better here to increase capacity. In the eastern part of the city Sheppard is a much more important corridor though.
An interesting stat concerning the crosstown service and traffic on the 401. While the 401 is busy. It would be a lot more busy if the transit riders who use crosstown buses north of Eglinton Ave, started driving. Crosstown TTC buses north of Eglinton, carry over 365,000 riders a day east and west across the city.
The Sheppard subway along its small 6.5 km stretch, carries almost 50,000 riders a day. Not bad at all for a subway that is considered not busy. In fact the ridership is outstanding considering the line is not even halfway built as planned.
Good point Andrew. So does that mean that if Stintz is making hints to go to the original design for Eglinton that we are back to having local-ish transit with too frequent stops and slow speeds on the surface portion?
The paragraph in the article that gave me the most concern was this one:
““It’s not like you have the stores and houses along Eglinton East to generate the demand for more frequent stops,” said transit blogger Steve Munro. “It’s not like the Spadina car.””
Basically what this is saying to me is that we are avoiding – as Neil said above – defining any standards re: the expected attributes of service. Because what that statement seems to imply is that as soon as we DO get stores and houses along Eglinton East we will consider the demands for more frequent stops instead of saying “this is a rapid transit line and these are the technological and service standards we will be adhering to”.
So, with Stintz considering backtracking, will we also be abandoning any hope of rapid transit on the surface portions of the line? And if so, is there any other way around that issue?
Surface rail transit lines, even mixed-traffic ones, generally are harder to add stops to than are bus lines–for the simple reason that adding a stop is a big capital expense–signalling needs to be reconfigured, the station needs to be built.
Bus stops, OTOH, are easier to add. (Or remove).
Here in Portland, we’ve had surface LRT for 25 years now. The number of additional stops that were added on to pre-existing tracks (i.e. not extensions of the system) can be counted on one hand–and those generally were anticipated by the original planning. There are many critics who say that MAX is slow downtown–it is–but it was designed that way from the get-go. Stop-creep simply has not been a problem.
Dare I ask whether anyone has thought of doing a cost benefit study of the alternatives?
For another example of a fantastically expensive rail proposal that serves no other purpose, compared with the cheaper rail alternative, than to preserve space for cars: Second Sydney harbour rail crossing.
There’s already one track pair on the harbour bridge, but another track pair will eventually be needed. The status quo proposal is for a long steep tunnel under the harbour, at cost of about $8 billion (from memory). To put the second track pair on the bridge would be easy in engineering terms (the bridge was designed for it), and would be operationally preferable. I guess it would cost about a quarter as much as the tunnel. But of course it would sacrifice two traffic lanes.
This idea is common among train buffs who know that the bridge was designed to take the rails; but to my knowledge it has never been mentioned as an option in any official document. Presumably because, regardless of costs and benefits, sacrificing two traffic lanes is regarded as an Idea That Dares Not Speak Its Name.
A back of the envelope calculation suggests that the extra cost of the expensive option (say $6 billion), for the purpose of saving the two traffic lanes, represents about $100 for each peak period car trip on those lanes, into the indefinite future. 
To put it another way, you could offer every peak period motorist on those two lanes a sweetener of $100 to stay away, forever, and build the cheaper on bridge rail option, and still come out even.
I suspect that deep down many people, including politicians, simply don’t ‘get’ the idea of opportunity cost. ‘We cannot reduce the number of traffic lanes’, end of story, is as far as their minds can reach.
 Assuming 20,000 vehicles per business day per lane in peak periods, at 7 per cent discount rate. Off peak traffic does not need to be considered as it can be accommodated on the remaining lanes anyway.
Sorry, correction: “ Assuming 10,000 vehicles per business day per lane in peak periods…”
Anne, the general points you make are quite reasonable, but a strong anti-streetcar bias nevertheless comes through in your comments — e.g. in the fiction that the TTC’s surface divisions are somehow anti-mobility, in your claim that streetcars have been promoted where they have “no business being”, and in your dismissive attitude towards the 501 Queen streetcar, whose enormous ridership dwarfs that of the downtown express bus. Based on comments you have posted elsewhere, I get the impression that this bias results from your opposition to the construction of a new streetcar depot on vacant land near your neighbourhood. (If I have you confused with another Anne, I apologize.) It’s fine to rail against ideologues, but we all have our biases…
As to your particular concern that “guerilla” ideologues will force a slow-as-molasses LRT on Eglinton East, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill — because the difference in speed between the original subway-surface plan and Ford’s all-underground plan is just 6 minutes. Not that that’s insignificant, but a difference of 6 minutes is hardly “abandoning any hope of rapid transit”, as you misleadingly suggest. (And let’s remember that this 6 minutes — some of which is simply due to the omission of half the stops — would be coming at a $1.5 billion premium over the subway-surface alternative!) So I’m not sure that the thrust of your comments is particularly relevant to the issue at hand.
Are you sure the difference is 6 minutes?
Under the original LRT plan, a trip from Kennedy to Yonge was pegged at over a half hour and closer to 40 minutes.
While the whole trip from Scar Town Centre to Black Creek is pegged at 45 minutes for a fully underground option?
I think what the government has to do is actually post stats on each mode in an easy to read table. As it is, the planners and leaders of all these projects have been very quiet about ridership, travel time, etc.
And the general number of riders the old TC project would carry on all lines did nothing. In fact I found the system wide numbers they used showed that the TC plan actually attracted very few people to transit.
I want to know what the daily ridership is now on a specific corridor, and what that ridership will be on opening day with LRT, subway/elevated rail, BRT, etc.
Translink did this. It showed that LRT to UBC would be so slow that a Skytrain extension would carry something like double the ridership the LRT was proposed to carry.
At the end of the day I don’t care what the technology is. I care about if we are shifting people to transit, building mode share, thinking of future development, and providing service that is attractive to the residents and visitors to the area.
Given that I live in the area these lines will serve, and having talked to people in the area. The most important aspect for us is travel time.
We already have frequent transit service, etc. What we don’t have is a fast ride to anywhere.
We are 20 minutes from downtown by car. But 1 hour or longer by transit.
We are 10 minutes from Yonge Street by car. But 45-60 minutes from Yonge street by transit.
The people who don’t use transit in these corridors don’t use it because there is not frequent service, etc. They don’t use it because it is slow.
My father did not drive downtown to work for 30 years because there was not a bus every 5 minutes. He drove, because it took him 20 miuntes vs 1.5 hours by transit.
Mike, the 6 minute figure is straight from the horse’s mouth (Ford, in the statement he made when the all-underground plan was announced). If I understand his statement correctly — it’s carefully worded to make the underground option sound as amazing as possible — these are the numbers for the section of the line in question (Laird to Kennedy):
By bus: 28 minutes
By surface LRT: 20 minutes
By underground LRT: 14 minutes (with half as many stops as the surface option)
Remember that this is not the whole line, just the contentious eastern end — the rest of the line will get the same dramatic speed-up under either plan. So the difference between the two alternatives for the entire line would indeed appear to be just this 6 minutes, provided Ford’s numbers are correct (and I see no reason why he would undersell his preferred plan!)
Something worth considering is the psychological aspect of stop spacing in relation to speed. We have come to accept that for rapid transit, it should stop at regional and local arteries. Some think it should stop more often, some less. But this setup seems to dictate how we think about it and plan it.
With that in mind, overall travel time with Transit City might have been ad fast as a subway, since accessing the stop platforms would be much quicker than transcending stairs and navigating through a rail station. However, it is hard to get excited about a rapid transit line if it is stopping at local side streets, regardless of how easy it is to access.
Ultimately I think people value ride time more importantly than access time. Like walking distance, people are more willing to walk longer through a station if their ride will be faster, regardless if net time savings are smaller than expected.
This is important because while it is easy to claim that we know best for people, if people don’t perceive speed, then they won’t use it unless they absolutely have to. They may perceive it as something with little advantage over the local bus which currently runs, even if overall it is faster than they think it is.
For the record, I belong to the camp which believes Transit City to be a good idea overall, but had some significant problems, including stop spacing. In fact, easy accessibility should be used WITH stop spacing to improve speed and competitiveness with the car, not in place of it.
What I don´t understand is the fact why this stupid government proposes something completely irrelevant to our situation and current problems. We have many alarming issues that have nothing to do with building a crazy (Sheppard!!) subway… I don´t have words for it. What I can say from my own experience, it would be much better to improve the current surface system of buses and trams, maybe try to build new GO Transit lines and expand the usage of PRESTO Card (yeah I´m quite fan of this gadget).
I have experience with subway construction in Prague, which is currently going on. The technical issues and costs are extremely high and won´t probably pay off in a long term. The prices of the tickets are raising and people are extremely unhappy. New metro lines go through territory, where digging is not even necessary. It´s completely stupid in every aspect and I hope Toronto won´t have to experience such a colossal fail.
@Will, I wonder what the travel time would be if they kept the underground spacing on the above ground portion. I predict it would be the same as the underground portion, maybe a little worse if priority isn’t guaranteed.
This doesn’t even factor the reduced access time to the platform for the surface plan as opposed to having to walk down a flight of stairs if underground.
A surface LRT in Toronto will not have speed advantage over underground, because the trains can’t operate more than 60 KM/H, due to that being the speed limit on Eglinton Ave. And given the fact the rail row won’t be fenced off. So for safety, it would probably not even reach 60 km/h between stops.
The SRT does about 80 km/h in between stops.
If I was going to spend $8 billion on transit in Toronto right now, this is what I would do. I would invest that money in building the GO Train system into a metropolitan rail system like you see in Melbourne and Sydney. It would have trains every 10 minutes or so on all lines, and include new cross town lines to major suburban destinations.
Such a system would do wonders for Toronto and the region as a whole, and really give transit a competitive edge.
Mike. A commuter rail system is a different thing. High operating cost per train and therefore difficulty maintaining frequency. And you're not going to retrofit those into corridors like Eglinton where you need to complete the urban grid. Jarrett
““It’s not like you have the stores and houses along Eglinton East to generate the demand for more frequent stops,” said transit blogger Steve Munro. “It’s not like the Spadina car.””
For readers who don’t live in Toronto, the geography of the lines is as follows: Eglinton between about Don Mills and Jane is fairly dense and mostly pretty urban in form, and suffers from chronic traffic congestion. Most of the trip generators along the line are found in this section. Between Don Mills and Kennedy Road is low density, suburban big box retail that generates little local demand. However, this section serves the important role of connecting the Eglinton line to the Scarborough RT which runs from Kennedy/Eglinton to Scarborough Centre. Thus although I expect there will be very little demand originating from that section of Eglinton initially (although in the long term, it may be redeveloped), many people will want to use it to commute between Scarborough and neighbourhoods near Eglinton. If a tram line is built on this section then it will not be feasible to run trains through from Scarborough Centre to Yonge/Eglinton, and this through connection will be a lot less useful. Hence my suggestion that this section of the line be built with elevated rail similar to the SkyTrain system in Vancouver, which goes through a lot of big box/industrial areas similar to this although some areas near stations in Vancouver are now being redeveloped with condominiums. West of Jane the line was originally supposed to go to Pearson Airport but cancelled to save money; although there is little local demand along Eglinton in this section, I think that this section is vital because there is a huge amount of employment at and around the airport in Mississauga, and there are also a lot of commuters who commute from Mississauga and other western suburbs to North York and other northern suburbs. The busiest and most congested section of Highway 401 runs parallel to this section of Eglinton.
Sheppard East between Don Mills and Kennedy is much more dense than Eglinton east of Don Mills, though it is a fairly suburban, car-oriented urban form. The primary purpose of this line in my view is to facilitate commuting from Scarborough and Durham Region to North York, as this line connects to North York Centre (a smaller secondary downtown core north of downtown Toronto). Many people commute to North York Centre by car along Highway 401, and the roads get very congested in rush hour as a result.
As for the issue of improving the GO train system vs the Eglinton and Sheppard lines, I think that both are a high priority. Expanding the GO train system which is inadequate right now, and building the much talked about “Downtown Relief Line” is badly needed to provide more capacity into downtown, relieve overcrowding on the Yonge subway line and congestion on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, and provide more north south capacity in the suburbs. Simultaneously more crosstown subway lines are needed to relieve the 401 and overcrowded crosstown buses like Sheppard East and Finch East. If Toronto were to get funding to build all of these lines, this would drastically improve the quality of Toronto’s transit system and make it easy to get between many destinations both downtown and in the suburbs. I do not think that light rail is adequate for anything other than minor feeder lines, and given the importance of Highway 401, Sheppard and Eglinton are not feeder lines. St. Clair is a good example of a feeder line because most long-haul trips use Bloor-Danforth and the future Eglinton line.
Jarrett: commuter rail in North American practice is high-cost, yes. But Canada is better than the US about granting waivers when necessary, and then the cost can be astoundingly low. The O-Train is technologically commuter rail: it runs on legacy track, mostly on a single-tracked line with a station meet in the middle, and the rolling stock is mainline German DMUs piggybacking on a Deutsche Bahn order. But it’s run more like what is called light rail in North America, and the capital cost per rider is mouth-wateringly low.
Andrew. Have a look at Seattle to see LRT technology used in a very high-speed, high-capacity way, intended to be the transit backbone of a metro of similar size. J
I don’t know if I’d call Central Link (Seattle’s LRT system) “high capacity”–it runs 2-car LRT trains at 7.5 minute peak headways–about the same capacity as the MAX Blue Line. (Link is certainly faster than MAX, not running on a slow surface alignment downtown; but it offers far less capacity than long-consist, high-frequency metros do).
Jarrett, regarding the high operating costs per train for commuter trains; what drives this compared to other forms of transit?
And specifically what are the implications for a city like Melbourne if it were to boost off-peak frequencies significantly on it’s train system?
Scotty. LINK is built for longer trains in the future, once University Link starts creating that demand.
Greg. Simple. Operating cost is driven mostly by the number of on-board employees per transit vehicle. Usually at least 2 with the best of automation on commuter rail, and more commonly 3+.
So it’s not the technology. For example Melbourne’s suburban system trains and trams downsized fron two staff to just one in the 1990’s This should make Melbourne’s train and tram systems fairly competitive labour-wise.
Presently Melbourne runs its trains 15-20 minutes midday, 20-30 minutes weekends and evenings. These are basically legacy headways from way before The1990s downsizing.
Basd on only one staff per train compared to twice as many before could a system upgrade frequencies significantly?
Absolutely, Greg. Frequency is about labor cost! But expect fierce blowback from unions. Jarrett
Blowback over and done with.
Still waiting for frequency upgrades apart from Sunday arvos and the odd other upgrade.
Greg: another issue is that in North America, a combination of government regulations and institutional inertia favor trains pulled by very heavy diesel locomotives, which are optimized for long freight trains rather than for passenger trains. This drives up fuel consumption considerably, especially for short consists.
Thanks Alon for that explanation.
I very much appreciate your input. However, you are speaking from the POV of those in the sane world. I think it’s very hard for those who don’t live here to appreciate just how off-kilter the subject of transit planning is in the city of Toronto, and moreover how subject it really is to those hidden ‘thumbs on the blueprints’ you had mentioned several months ago. I wasn’t kidding when I said that, in Toronto, when it comes to transit talk nothing is as it seems.
For instance, I think we’re struggling, without it being articulated, with an undisclosed pro-Condon approach by the Transit City supporters. In a January 26th call-in show in Toronto, Councillors Joe Mihevc and John Parker (particularly Parker who we must remember is a TTC commissioner) were using very Condon-like language in their defence of the TC plans. And I think that the language used also supports the public’s perception that they are viewing these plans more as streetcars in ROWS than rapid transit.
From the call-in show “Goldhawk Live” – January 26th 2012:
TTC commissioner John Parker:
“… you also consider the kind of city you want to build, because the kind of transit system you adopt will influence the kind of city you’ll wind up with as a result; one will influence the other. If you go strictly underground by definition you’re going to have relatively few stations spaced some distance apart, because it’s so expensive. In our experience they’re about a mile and a quarter apart when you get out into the suburban areas. So you wind up with high density high rise development clustered around the stations, and relatively less development between the stations. But with an LRT you can actually fit in a few more stops, ‘cause all you need to do is apply the brakes and you’ve got yourself a stop. So add a few more stops and you can even out the entry points along the line…
And does that contribute, as we have been talking about, to the so-called vitality of the street, bringing the street alive, people are picking up a loaf on the way home, that sort of thing?
Well, exactly. And instead of clustering your development all at the nodes at a mile and a quarter apart, you have them spread out all along the length of the line, and you have more modest scale development but more continually along the corridor. And that makes for better development and more attractive community and more street life and more activity.
Well, what you’re talking about is what was in Transit City, kind of!
We don’t use that word.
(laughing) No but, I hate to bring it up and wave the flag… That was kind of – that was Transit City! David Miller sat right were you guys are sitting and went on, and on, and on, and ON about this …
Yes, Dale, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet as a rose…
(laughing) Or not.
Note: I’ve sent Jarrett a copy of the audio from this show for reference.
@Mike and Will,
re: the speed difference between grade separated and non-grade separated (Jarrett’s Class B I believe?), the article below describes the grade separated option as cutting transit times by 25%. The following is an excerpt from an article in the National Post quoting Metrolinx President & CEO Bruce McCuaig:
“Just two days before the greatest challenge to his leadership since his election, Mayor Rob Ford won a qualified nod of support from the chief of the agency that will spearhead transit expansion.
While stopping short of endorsing a particular transit blueprint, Bruce McCuaig said Mr. Ford’s preferred plan for underground light rail on Eglinton Avenue “delivers greater benefit” than the Transit City version a coalition of councillors want to revive.
The Metrolinx president’s carefully chosen words come in the lead up to a showdown between the Mayor’s subway-focused vision for transit, and the predominantly surface light-rail plan pushed by TTC chair Karen Stintz and a large group of politicians. Council will decide the matter on Wednesday, and all signs point to a close vote.
Insisting he is not advocating for any one plan, Mr. McCuaig on Monday called reporters to the headquarters of the provincial transit agency to put “the facts on the table” regarding the $8.4-billion agreement hammered out between the Mayor and the province. The attributes of a fully underground Eglinton line as the Mayor wants, instead of one buried only in a central section, include a 25% cut to travel time, more than double the peak ridership, higher capacity and greater reliability because it is separate from traffic, said Mr. McCuaig.
He played down the extra money already spent designing low-floor vehicles for a street-level line, a point Ms. Stintz has used to bolster her case, saying it was a small component of the contract.
“There are benefits to both approaches,” Mr. McCuaig acknowledged, such as more stations on a surface LRT. He added it depends on whether one looks at the full plan or a specific project. “While the revised [Eglinton] Crosstown project is higher cost, it does deliver greater benefits.””
Of course, I assume these comparisons were made without consideration of the extra stops TTC Commissioner Parker and Councillor Mihevic would prefer to add, in hopes of revitalizing the community along Eglinton.
A good news update
This debate is totally incomprehensible for an (admittedly left-leaning) European as I am. And I really thought that politics in Europe was a rather complex and pervasive business.
I can understand the technical issues, the relative costs and so on but the main thing I can see from here is that we have a bunch of people (well intentioned or otherwise) who are willing to spend billions more in a transportation project, just to preserve car space. Last I heard the price of gas in Canada was about 5.60 per gallon (I use gallons as a courtesy to the host country) and rising. In Europe we are at 7.80 a gallon and that’s maybe the reason why not even the most right-winger Bavarian politician who sleeps with his lederhosen on (TPMunich, help me..) would choose to spend a couple of billions more just not to inconvenience car owners.
I have the suspect that 20 years from now the good people in the Eglinton corridor will be very happy to get to downtown in 40 minutes. It’ll be much faster than walking….
Of course I may be wrong, but I do have a question. Have anyone considered the difference in time that digging under Eglinton would make, as opposite to simply laying tracks in the median of a highway (at least in the west and east sections)? I suppose so; but this does not seem to be a factor in the discussion. And it is a rather relevant factor to me.