There is not a big bang solution to the Toronto Area traffic woes, or to providing high quality transit in the region. The focus in the GTA has stayed firmly on the large projects, we need to ask ourselves what can reasonably be done to incrementally improve transit across the region – other than massive projects? We then need to ask where the growth is focused, and what projects can make the biggest difference.
We need to ask why people want to ride transit other than buses. One of the reasons that people do not like the bus – is that it is not seen to be reliable enough, and another is that frankly it gets stuck in traffic, and still another is that well, it is far too crowded. We need to find ways to make services better, however, that does not mean subway. We need to ask, what has to be done to get the buses to run on time, run faster, and be less crowded. The issue is within the city, is that in many cases the buses run on crowded roads, and do not get enough help moving through traffic, nor is enough done to space the service present.
The TTC needs to radically improve its dispatch, in order to get better spacing, but beyond this, bus bypass lanes for intersections, need to be implemented in many more intersections across the city, and the city and TTC need to introduce a vehicle tracking system, that works with a transit priority system, that improves transit reliability, and helps in spacing, by moving the vehicles that are falling behind to run faster. The city also needs to fund a notable increase in the bus fleet to overcome the lack of fleet growth for the last few years. I would make the argument, that 100 additional buses per year for the next 4-5 years would be appropriate.
Beyond this, the region needs to work harder on integration. GO/TTC need to do better with fare integration, but also service integration. A key goal for GO in the next 5 years should be improved service in the outer 416, a key goal for the TTC, should be to create superlative service to those stops. Sheppard and Warden to core should be a ride through Agincourt GO and then GO train, not subway- the bus routes, rail frequency, and fares need to support this.
Downtown, we have failed to support the growth in the western shoulder areas, Liberty Village etc, with additional capacity, or anything to address issues with running on the street. The new streetcars should help to address some of this, but not enough. Redevelopment at the Exhibition Grounds and beyond needs to see a 508 link that goes around Roncesvalles and King Street, and allow for higher frequency of the 504 to improve service for both the west end, and more room, for streetcars with less crowding on King for the areas closer to core. The same approach needs to be taken on the east side with the East Bayfront project becoming a real priority, along with an increase in capacity in the Union Station streetcar loop, in order to support the 508, 509, 510 and an East Bayfront route.
This does not deal with a very real need to increase capacity core bound, however, we need to be clear, that improving transit service in general needs to focus on surface operations, and a moderate number of dedicated ROW services. Making the GTA work, means looking much harder at what we have in hand or underway, and what can be addressed with that. It also means creating a plan into the future, that does not involve building a huge amount now, but instead focuses on many small fixes, and integration first. We will not realistically be able to avoid building another subway line into the core, but we should already be looking at how that can best be integrated with largely improved services in the outer 416. What is the best way to deliver central York region residents to mid town, and the core? How many riders are destined to which areas ? Does a Yonge subway line extension really make sense, or would the region be better served with a lighter service going north, and focus spending on subway on capacity and routing improvements for bus routes currently over exposed to congestion? A DRL to Don Mills & Eglinton, would provide access to the Lawrence bus well away from Yonge street congestion. Building a much smaller amount of subway leaves more funding for more BRT and LRT to link GO services, and much more of the region to rapid transit.
The other serious issue that must be addressed as we move forward with redevelopment, and new development is how to serve it, and we cannot do what we have done in the shoulder areas, merely assert that there is good service, regardless of the number of residents we add. However, just as important these new plans need to integrate with greatly improved land use planning. The region cannot keep moving forward with parking requirements, that mean there is a parking spot for every shopper, 2+ parking spots for every residence etc. This assertion that everybody must be able to drive, makes it harder to create walk, bike or transit friendly neighborhoods, and pushes sprawl into development planning. Add an additional 1000 parking spots to a mall and you are adding what 7 acres of parking? That is a lot of dead space, that must be walked through if you are walking or riding transit, makes it harder to justify building up, when you must support all that additional parking anyway. That is space, that should be reserved for living,shopping, parks, transit, bike trails etc- not for cars. If you think about your average suburban mall – how much is actually shopping, and how much parking? When you look at an apartment building in the newer areas of Toronto, how much is parking, how much otherwise? How frequently is all the parking really required, and how often would it be needed if the area was not so car centric? We need to build one link at a time, and yes a DRL to Eglinton is critical, but other than this, we should be focusing on a large number of lighter links, not a handful of heavy ones.