One of the basic points frequently made by people who argue for subway in Scarborough or elsewhere, is that downtown is already well served and it is time to spread the wealth. I think as a city we need to question this basic notion before we simply move on.
The first question is what is well served? We have tended to look at in terms of: It is an easy walk to the local transit stop, service is frequent, fast, reliable. Well I would like to add at least one criteria, available. To be a useful service it must be one that you can actually choose to board. While there is a large number of streetcars on King is there good service? At peak, how many would be riders walk along the line, without every being able to board. To me service that I can actually board would be an important determination of service levels.
What service has been added to downtown in the last decade or more that actually represents an increase in capacity? How has employment and population grown in the area?
This type of growth means more load on the roads, and in downtown most notably transit. Something on the order of 140,000 condos were added in the downtown from 2000 to 2013/14. The skyline has been transformed since the 1990s. This means that the transit infrastructure that serves most of the “downtown” area, is now very heavily used. Also it is important to note that people discuss downtown, and the subway service frequently. This of course begs the question what is downtown? (Technically for above – west of the valley east of Bathurst, south of Bloor) Do we consider it to be only the area say west of Jarvis, east of Spadina and south of Bloor? Do we include the area as far west as the High Park or even Liberty Village, and the area surrounding Broadview or even east to say Coxwell? As we move east and west, the quality of that service is rapidly drawn into question. You cannot board a King streetcar from Liberty Village for large portions of the am peak. Coming from Broadview to the core, can seem a painfully long ride. Those who do live close to a subway line east of Yonge, also face the issue, of if they are core bound, they need to get to the core, and Yonge, is not an easy transfer. The point being, that while there is a great deal of service passing through downtown, it is not as available as it should be to its residents.
Because of delays in traffic and headway management issues, service that should be every few minutes, can be 15+ minutes to wait on a car or bus that cannot be boarded. This streetcar or bus, will then be followed closely by a couple more. We want growth downtown partly because of the reduction of cost to deliver these services compared to the outer areas. However if we are not delivering that service, we are in danger of spoiling the attraction. We are also as a consequence making it harder for the city to develop the very things that make living in a large city a pleasure,for all. The tight collections of active night life, restaurants, and cafes, galleries and theater. These are the natural outflow, of having an active, lived in, accessible downtown. However, when the subways are so full they cannot be boarded, or are not close to your trip and the streetcars are unreliable and massively over capacity? The downtown stops being as attractive, as does the city as a whole.