Transit Infrastructure – What should realistically be on the table in Toronto?

Transit City seemed to represent a really good direction to take. Yes there were some flaws, and there were some needs not covered, but it certainly represented a solid start to solving a very real problem. The LRT Plan needs to be taken in the context of the associated planning for bus routes, and this goes a long way to create a wide network of improved service.

The process of route selection started with the idea of where load was, where it was likely to grow, and providing a reasonable opportunity to shorten all rides by allowing shorter bus rides to rapid transit. The basic routes selection was based on real data, not primarily political considerations. Thus the plan was designed to increase capacity where the load would be anyway. However, it was primarily target at spreading high quality transit across the city.

There were however, some notable issues with the original plan. These were largely questions of space for the route to run, not whether transit wise it was in the right spot. The first and most obvious was Jane. The bottom of Jane close to Bloor, is simply not wide enough to support an LRT. Don Mills route had a similar problem off Don Mills and south of the Valley. Most of the other routes were both viable, and extremely useful.

Finch West, this would travel through is a heavily used corridor, with a lot of existing ridership, a large population, and it represented a good way of linking a large area both to the core, and to another employment anchor the Airport Corporate Centre. It also provided potential service to the airport itself. The link for this route in the first half, has it running to the University line extension, which means it is linking somewhere, that at least for now there is the possibility of making considerable capacity available.

Sheppard East, this extends the subway, and links across the eastern half of the city, replaces a heavily used bus and potentially links in Morningside, which is itself a very heavily used bus route. The one major issue with this route, at least in my mind, is it also extends the ability to carry yet more riders to a very busy Yonge subway line.

Don Mills, This is also a very heavily used bus route, however, here I have a couple of issues. As Mr. Munro has argued, a quick look south of the Valley, and you know you are in trouble. Getting to Danforth is simply not on at least above ground. Just as critically would be, having gotten to the Danforth by some ruse, you are creating a much better way of getting riders to the Danforth subway line. This would make transit a much more attractive for potential riders, but Yonge its route to the core, is already overloaded. Don Mills LRT is an LRT that should wait until after a Don Mills subway has been completed.

Scarborough RT, this is almost the perfect place to put an LRT, It is a closed right of way, without even having to contend with traffic signals. It would have improved service and increased capacity on the RT line by an order of magnitude. This service should have been designed to permit 4 car LRTs to operate eventually, but started with at least 2 car LRTs, and a frequency of 2 minutes. This would have meant both doubling capacity and service over the existing. Providing the platforms were extended, capacity could have been doubled again after that. There were a number of issues in the original RT design, as mentioned above, however, a critical one to users was that there were never enough cars bought. The shortage of cars has been evident as a lack of capacity for a very long time. I suspect that you would come close to filling a doubling of RT capacity quite quickly, but of course that would still leave a lot of room to grow.

Eglinton, this one as we all know is underway, sort of. The underground portion has been extended. There have been some serious reservations expressed about the design for vehicle left turns, and the line has been radically shortened at least for now. This should still provide hugely improved service for a large section of Toronto’s middle. However, this line needs to live up to its name, the Crosstown. It needs to actually extend further so that it meets MiWay at the Renforth Gateway as originally conceived. This provides a much more complete route, and a better link both to the airport area, and with Mississauga.

Kingston Road, while the ridership here is likely to be much lower; there have been both BRT and LRT proposals for this route. A really good forecast of ridership is required to answer the question on this.

Waterfront West. The number of possibilities here is endless, in terms of what we could be talking about. However, the obvious requirements, are to create a better link to southern Etobicoke and create a better link for Liberty Village to the core. This might actually require a length of tunnel somewhere to make any route serve both needs.

To make Toronto work, now there are of course some changes and additions. The core and ridership destined there has continued to grow, which now forces some issues.

Don Mills Subway, or perhaps better, “Getting to Downtown Relief Line” as a commentator named it on Steve Munro’s Blog. The major hole in my mind in the initial Transit City plans, was one, that it was never intended to fill, that is provide additional core bound capacity. This, or some other service to do the same, is needed in order to provide an alternate route to the core, for Crosstown riders, and Danforth riders.

This route would mean that there could also be a real link for the Don Mills LRT, and/or the Lawrence Bus. It would also provide the means by which the Don Mills LRT was an alternate route to the core for the buses on York Mills and the Sheppard Subway, and LRT. There are many who gainsay the need, but a look at the current ridership on Yonge, and its continued growth, would indicate that even with additional capacity possible with new signals and a short extension, the line will be in trouble if Toronto continues to intensify anywhere north of Bloor and east of Yonge.

East Bayfront, this is quite a short proposal, that links the Unilever site, amongst others back to Union Station. It would provide a highly valuable, linkage to a large basis of employment, and possibly provide good linkage to a large new area of development, that will likely see 50k+ residents soon. The population of this area could easily dwarf that of Liberty Village. However, the priority would depend on exactly how the Don Mills Subway was routed.

The problem I have is that the list of real need just inside Toronto itself. The areas that require serious service improvement are so many and the list of projects so long, that it would be pointless to make the argument that it can all be served by subway. The other point of course, is that the demand on most of these routes is too low to either justify subway, or make it cost effective to support.

The other issue that all need to face up is that there is a limit to the amount of money that can really be had from other levels of government. The current city of Toronto itself needs about 7 billion in the way of LRT. It also needs about 5 billion in subway now.

If we stick to a core, of what is really required to make a start for Toronto, and try to ensure that we build to ensure future flexibility, we are looking to build now, at a minimum, Sheppard and a hook to the foot of Morningside and the RT replacement as LRT, and something to complete the loop, and provide rapid transit to U of T Scarborough campus, we also need to build the Finch West LRT out to the Airport Corporate Centre and ideally provide a airport link, and extend the Eglinton West LRT there as well. That is something on the order of 7 billion in the way of LRT beyond the current Crosstown to Mt Dennis. Finch West,  ideally should explore the idea of coming all the way to Yonge Street, however this will mean getting off Finch near Yonge.  Hydro does not appear supportive of using their corridors and there are few alternatives.

To keep the city subway system from being overwhelmed, it also needs to build about another 4-6 billion in the way of subway. Don Mills & Eglinton through the core, to someplace like the CNE or slightly west. So the city needs to find a total of about $12 billion for new transit projects. If one were to say 1/3 comes from each level of government, that means Toronto needs to find 4 billion. I would say given that we should be trying to do this quickly, we likely want to stay to only these core projects.  So within Toronto, that would be Finch West from the airport to the Spadina line, Sheppard East to the foot of Morningside, and UTSC, Scarborough RT, and something to close the Loop, completion of the Crosstown to the airport and a relief line for the Yonge subway.  The completion of the re-signaling and basic repairs for the infrastructure in the Yonge subway line need to continue apace.  These projects need to be undertaken and completed at best possible speed.  They also need to be built to ensure that they can support the next phases required in transit development.  If rapid transit is possible in the UPX, or we can route a future Waterfront West LRT to meet the DRL location of the western terminus or other stations, their orientation, and configuration have to allow for this.

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