Transit City – a notion in need of a revisit – and a regional version.

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Should Toronto have something like this on Finch ?

Transit City – can we talk about the idea again.   One of the key issues that needs to be discussed is what is realistic and appropriate. There is a drive to provide a “single seat ride”, which while understandable, means the notion can only be focused on a single destination, or at least a small set along the existing subway. The simple extension of subway, does not serve riders that are going elsewhere. The extension of the subway to Vaughan will mean a huge capacity along a very narrow corridor, and a very long run of track with few trains, or near empty trains. The issue is – what are the alternatives, and what should we honestly be looking at.

The problem is that we need to look at something beyond just serving the core, if we hope to address the real issues in Toronto. Yes there are supposed to be another 100k jobs in the core in the next couple of decades, but there are also suppose to be another 2 million residents in the region.   Clearly not everybody is going to the core. Also the subway in the core area, is already grossly overloaded, and the very people that generally argue for subway extension, argue against more in the core and downtown.

Why do we want subway above all else? Because we believe that it will be there every few minutes, and do not believe that any other mode will be? Because transfers are a pain? Because downtown has them, and it is only fair? Well honestly the 1st two are design choice in either service or infrastructure, and the last is well a question of being realistic. The old city of Toronto built and paid for that subway, a long time ago, and it serves the entire city. Also density, especially of destination in the downtown area, means that this portion of the subway really makes sense. Building subway in areas where it will see peak ridership of under 10k makes little sense. Building to serve core bound riders beside an existing set of track where there is already core bound service, that can be much more easily and less expensively expanded makes even less.

So there are 6 basic issues in providing service, reliability, frequency, speed, accessibility, and ride to destination we want, and of course cost. That means it must go where we want to go quickly and often enough to be really useful, and be cheap enough that we will pick it. If we run buses every 5 minutes, in a tight grid, they actually have space to board, do not get caught in traffic, and actually are 5 minutes apart (as opposed to a 20 minute gap, then 4 buses) it can be great service. The issue in Toronto, is really centered around poor service management, and service cuts. The TTC has not worked hard enough to manage service, and thus maintain appropriate headways and schedules, the one service that is still seen not to have these issues is subway, and somehow to many this is just the way it is, so give me subway.

The way forward, what Toronto has to do:

1-Information – right now broad information is gathered, however, it would a great deal of sense to try to get a snapshot now at a highly resolved level, ie at a postal code level.

2-Be realistic in the provision of infrastructure – build what makes sense, and you just may be able to afford it. That means the appropriate capacity of rapid transit, going where it needs to go.  It also means using the resources and space that you have.  Away from the downtown, the major roads can generally be made to accept a dedicated transit right of way.  People need and want access, speed and reliability, not perforce subway.

Toronto’s right of ways – for major roads

3-Make a real effort at managing service – if you actually space service correctly, provide real signal priority for any system that is not grade separated,

4-Integrate – the systems in the GTA at this point are run too separately in terms of schedule, ensuring that a much broader number of both origins and destinations is served.

5-Plan regionally – we need to start encouraging a much denser development, and that means getting away from the requirement for giant seas of parking around shopping malls, less parking for condominiums and apartments, better support for transit and cycling, and less sprawl. That means planning for a rapid transit corridor, and bike routes – before development starts, and radically reducing the required parking. We should plan to support ½ of all trips via transit in the region, going forward. That means hugely increasing the coverage of rapid transit, and moving towards making most neighborhoods walkable. That means, more density, and having business in accessible locations, where they are close and transit routes are designed to serve.

This means making a real effort at providing a broad network of transit and a lot less focus on simply getting people to the core. The core needs to be understood as the largest single destination, not the only one.  Integrate the entire regional transit system, so that GO acts to provide the link between 2 local trips, across most of the region.  Yes, build a rapid transit / frequent GO network, but it needs to serve more than just core bound riders and there are some required longer distance links that a detailed survey would likely reveal, that GO cannot practically serve now.  I would suggest one will be something that runs across the city, immune to traffic, at a higher speed than the Crosstown, and further north, but still south of the 407 BRT.  Ideally it would tie together the north south rapid transit and GO lines running through the region, and provide an anchor for additional rapid transit.  Businesses along these rapid transit routes, should not only be permitted to have less parking, they should be encouraged to make their business easier to access by transit and bike, so that they reached out to the street, where there was much less parking between transit and access. If we reduced the parking requirements at malls, they could expand where they are, reaching towards the street with new areas.  If we can fill the capacity of 3 minute headway 3- 4 car LRT on a route, it will have required so much density, and such a large change in choice between car and transit, that we will have already effectively changed the area along that route.  Imagine Finch running 3 car LRTs in a median, that was grass when the LRT was not there.

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Imagine 2 lanes in each direction, no noisy buses, and a frequent, quiet, and hugely capacious LRT gliding through a much greener area, much faster than a bus can, especially at rush hour.

Start to think if you built this the full length of Finch, so that it could connect with Mississauga and Brampton in the west, and Pickering in the east, you would have feeders beyond.  However, more important, imagine also having such service on Kipling, Don Mills,  Markham Rd,  and Sheppard East, as well as extending the Eglinton LRT onto and along Kingston road, as well as west to the Renforth Gateway.  You would have a substantial network of rapid transit for the city, not just core bound subways.  You add in the DRL from Eglinton & Don Mills where it would meet the Don Mills LRT and you have opened a huge area for intensification.  Also you have provided important linkages to the surrounding areas transit systems and to GO for much broader commuting across the region.  You would have hugely improved the development possibilities, and could begin to reduce the requirement for parking, and start to make huge inroads in human scale and transit oriented development.  Build real transit hubs, to move quickly and easily between regional systems.  Properly done, an LRT network can transform the avenues it runs in, go a very long ways to providing mobility, and move the city towards a more person oriented livable place.

Transit needs to support existing load, drive more to trips to transit, and  effectively support redevelopment, however, we also need to be realistic as to its limits.  We should not be attempting to build for the ages, and access needs to be easy.  Building a subway with 2 km stop spacing, will mean a long – unattractive walk, or bus ride to the subway, and will not guarantee development.  Build to a reasonable load – and change planning requirements to go with it.

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