Downtown Relief Line – what should be on the table

The Downtown Relief Line, needs to be looked as enabling other transit, acting to increase the ability of other lines to carry load, and to provide for further expansion of transit in the city. One of the basic issues facing Toronto transit today is capacity, in all of its modes. The surface fleet (buses and streetcars) faces an additional very basic issue, congestion. The need to get to Yonge Street for many routes means that they must fight their way in mixed traffic to the most congested areas of the city in order to transfer their loads. This reduces schedule reliability, and increases the number of buses required to serve a route – which in effect reduces capacity.

The TTC has focused on the DRL being a Danforth/Bloor to core line, and has resisted the basic notion of it for years, instead insisting that capacity on Yonge could be expanded to meet any load.  The current DRL proposal is focused on getting around the Yonge/Bloor connection. The questions needs to be asked, is that all that is required? Is that all that will be required in a couple of decades?   Can we afford to wait decades more to extend capacity further north?  Can we afford to hold on further access for wider rapid transit?  If we are going to improve transit, and draw more people out of their cars, and support substantial growth, we need an increase in capacity, but we also need a better route structure.

Building an LRT network in Scarborough for instance makes a great deal of sense. Building the Finch West LRT makes great deal of sense. However in the case of Scarborough either this or a subway extension, should it succeed in greatly improving access to transit, will also increase the number of riders who are core bound. The Eglinton LRT also greatly improves access for a very large area of the city to rapid transit. However, how many of these riders will be core bound, and is there still space on the Yonge line to take on this load even at Eglinton?

What else is required to make transit on a wider basis work? Looked at reasonably Transit City as a plan was meant to extend access across much more of the city, however it assumed in effect available capacity on the subways to which it connected. Growth has meant that this capacity – at least on the Yonge line, is no longer available. It was never reasonable to build an LRT to Danforth near Pape or Broadview at least not above ground. In order to provide the type of connection required for say a Don Mills LRT serving Don Mills north of Eglinton and the Lawrence and York Mills bus routes, along with the Cross Town LRT, means providing something out of traffic capable of absorbing the core bound load of those routes. I would argue this is likely to be on the order of 8-12k peak hour peak point ridership within a decade of its arrival, as the presence of the subway will make this public transit to core a much more attractive prospect for a very large area, and provide an alternate much more attractive path to the core for a huge number of people.. The more important part however, is that with this link, we can comfortably build out a wide network of LRT and BRT services without having too great a fear of overwhelming the capacity into the core, and anchoring these services in the north east of the city to a new subway east of Yonge would also mean that large amount of the ridership previously headed for Yonge will go here. This will free a large number of buses to provide service, and reduce the length and improve the speed of a very meaningful number of bus trips. A connection via LRT from Sheppard and north to Eglinton would also possibly divert a number of riders from the Sheppard subway and Finch and Steeles bus routes away from Yonge – greatly extending the time before Yonge is overloaded.  That would give an alternate path for the vast majority of the major bus routes on the east side of the city to core, and would mean that additional capacity on those buses would be available to the west of this line.

Basically DRL to Eglinton and Don Mills is required to enable the further expansion of quality low cost rapid transit across a wide swath of the eastern half of the city.  Extending it across the core to provide linkage for a new GO station, and a point where a LRT to serve the south west of the city would also greatly enhance future low cost rapid transit expansion.  The subway needs to be just long enough to allow the connection of LRT and BRT routes to a point where there can be viable service and capacity.

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