Toronto – A Regional Plan – is all about integration. 

One of the key things that is lacking in the GTA is discipline, as recently seen in the decision by Brampton City Council to not accept their portion of the Hurontario – Maine LRT.   This really does undermine one of the keys in making a western side of region network function. This LRT was meant to link all the way to the Kitchener GO line. It is important that we not look at each municipality as an Island, because workers, employers, and shoppers do not regard the borders as important, and when transit forces strong divides, it merely creates a lot more trips by auto.

If the GTA is to work its way towards having transit actually serve – in allowing people a real alternative to auto for most trips, it must form a much more destination neutral network. The existing GO Train network is entirely focused on delivering riders to the core, and taking them home.   Increasing its capacity – will not reduce congestion across the region, and cannot be expected to have an impact on the 401 say.

There is a very real need to make it much easier to get to a much broader set of destinations. To this end, we need rapid transit that serves to deliver people to the employment concentrations around the region, however, we need to be realistic about the modes that can reasonably be. The Mississauga City Centre does not come close to needing a subway line, nor does Markham City Centre, the Richmond Hill City centre, the Meadowvale business district, or even the Scarborough Town Centre. It is critical, however, if we want to sustain mobility in the region, that we begin to make all these areas, accessible, with reasonable travel times from most of the region by transit.

It is also critical, that we make much better use of the links we currently have, by building a network, that ties them to other locations. This is the rub with Brampton’s decision, it affects a lot more than Brampton.

Many Modes

To make a truly a transit plan that will actually serve the region, means getting past the subway addiction, and looking at building a broad network that is capacity, and trip appropriate. To this end, I would like to actually discuss more modes, than are usually discussed, in building a broad network, we need to look at BRT and LRT, as having at least 2 distinct formats each, which are practically distinct modes. A BRT running in an within expressway ROW, or power corridor, is not generally locally available, as such it is not really a local mode, but a very quick regional one.

LRT running in a tunnel or with total grade separation, similarly, is very different than one running in median with frequent stops.

Network – as a web

If we are actually going to build transit, as a viable way of moving the majority of the trips in the GTA, it needs to be a wide network, very nearly a web, much like the road network for autos. Like this network, not all branches need be created the same, they each have their own role, and they need to work seamlessly as a feeder system. Continuing the approach of subway extension, like the TYSSE will break the bank, and not result in a broad, effective network.   There is a need to provide much broader coverage than this approach can ever hope to create. We need to start thinking in terms of frequent bus routes, feeding even more frequent LRT & BRT routes that in turn run to subways, GO and employment concentrations.

Toronto and the rest of the GTA, needs to build a frequent network, that is basically immune to congestion on the roads, and to do this well, will require GO trains be both frequent, and bi-directional. If the dream of RER is fully realized, where all GO lines offered 2 way service every 15 minutes or better, they can become a very real part of a much broader transit network. It will however, require additional linkages to make this truly work.

Looking at the region

Toronto has done a detailed survey of requirements, Metrolinx has as well, but politics continually muddy the water. RER will serve core bound riders, however, a proper rapid transit web would permit this to be the region as a whole.

Support for Growth at the core

The province has recently started to push a massive GO expansion, ahead of virtually all other projects – I believe this to be wrong headed. I think a far stronger emphasis on incremental growth for GO is critical, to free up resources to build a DRL. This singular link, provides the opportunity to provide linkages to a much broader network, that will also serve non core trips. RER is critical to long-term regional growth, but local transit cannot be dropped to do it, and a broad network is required to make it all work.   A DRL is critical to making this network – make sense, otherwise core bound trips will overwhelm the balance of the network. Ideally the DRL would run from somewhere north of Don Mills and Eglinton, through to a point far enough west of the core, to support a substantial Waterfront West LRT, and continued development in the Liberty Village area and points north, as well as a western gateway GO station to greatly increase commuter capacity into the core.

East Bayfront LRT, would go a long way to opening close to core opportunities for growth, that will permit substantial continued growth, for a relatively small investment. Such link will encourage growth where it can most affordably be accommodated.  What is required to support this at Union should also permit an extension of capacity for the Harbor Front car, and perhaps much more frequent runs to the CNE grounds.


The Scarborough Subway extension is the classic case in point of the political games being played with transit in the region. There was a real plan in place to replace the RT with a viable – and much less costly LRT, that would have provided more than enough capacity, and could have been easily extended. The additional money to build subway, could easily fund a broad network, that would cover most of Scarborough, and provide real linkage to GO. Instead of subway, I would strongly suggest that we revert to something that looks much more like what Transit City did. However, the one line at a time historic approach, combined with political games, has greatly undermined the belief in the notion of a network – even when the cost for a network is no more than a single line, and a clearly more effective solution.

Build the Scarborough – Malvern LRT to the end of the subway, and the Eglinton – Crosstown LRT.   The Crosstown, however, should either continue as the STC link or the Scarborough-Malvern LRT. The RT replacement, needs to continue ideally as far as the Sheppard LRT, as a grade separated LRT, with the ability to short turn trains at the end of the grade separated portion. This provides for both higher speed and capacity, preserving the ability to run 30 or 40 trains per hour on the highest demand section.   Sheppard LRT needs to provide high quality frequent and reasonably local service – however this begs a need for longer distance services.

It is critical to note that the Sheppard LRT would link both ways to the Stouffville RER line and the Scarborough Malvern LRT – would link both ways to the Lakeshore, and Stouffville lines.   Thus the Scarborough Malvern LRT provides 2 way ridership opportunities to both (ie a link between Oshawa and Markham). With a Markham road BRT as well, a rider on Sheppard bound somewhere other than the North York City Centre would have a wide variety of alternatives.



This region needs a plan nearly as extensive as what Scarborough had, however, TransitCity had some really good ideas, although some of this is now much harder to build.

Finch West LRT needs to be built to extend all the way to the airport, or the Malton GO in the west, and the Yonge Subway line in the east. The corridor is important, in terms of providing long-term connectivity to the region as a whole. There is a real need to link North York City center with the GO from the west, and provide an easier, through route for ZUM. There was a reason that Transit City had this as a through link.


We want to offer an alternative to driving, for those from Brampton, Mississauga and beyond.


Mimico – and southern Etobicoke

The addition of a Waterfront West LRT would add greatly to transit support for development, which is happening anyway in the Lake front area of southern Etobicoke. This is a high desirable area to develop, but more than GO support will be required, as GO is very likely to become badly overloaded, even at 12 trains per hour on the Lakeshore West line. Also this line provides the possibility of collecting and distributing GO ridership much more effectively in the areas between stations.

North South –

Right now there are a couple of very busy north south bus routes in Etobicoke. Kipling and Islington, both see a ridership of over 15k and pushing 20k per day. I would propose converting one of them – Kipling – to at least a BRT route, that would link through the airport and provide a link between the various east west routes. There was originally an LRT station built into the Kipling subway station, and this idea could be revived.   Such a line would provide linkage for the Hwy 427 business corridor, and the high-density residential area that has also grown up along it, tie the Mississauga Transit way, and Kitchener GO along with the airport district to the subway, Lakeshore GO. It also provides a much higher degree of neutrality, as riders could head west and north or south from much of western Etobicoke to reach the employment districts around the airport, the rest of Mississauga and Brampton.


North York

Along with the Sheppard East LRT, and the Finch West LRT all the way to Yonge, I would also suggest an extension of the Yonge subway as far as Steeles, to support a greatly enhanced turn capacity, and a station able to support a couple of LRT lines, one east west on Steeles, and another headed north to support York Region. The east west LRT may start life as a BRT, but needs to be considered to act as a collector to support a large number of bus routes.

Also the DRL needs to come through to at least Don Mills and Eglinton and meet an LRT on Don Mills at its terminus, although the province has presented an argument, to extend this as far as Sheppard, which would make a more ideal point to anchor an LRT line – although also greatly more expensive.



VIVA BRT – well underway needs to be completed, there are 2 east west BRT that need to link the region, and provide linkage to the proposed north south routes.

West-The budget has in essence already been blown here, with the TYSSE, and it will be hard to argue for much beyond BRT connecting to the end of the subway.

Central -The plan to build a Yonge Subway extension, seems very much a massive cost, to a single link, where this will direct too much load in a single direction, and will simply cost too much – while adding too little.

York region LRT The Yonge subway extension, should be replaced by 2 LRT lines, one to connect the Yonge subway, one to connect the DRL, which would presumably run as far as Sheppard. These LRT would connect to the various York region bus lines, and both east west BRT (highway 7/407 and Davis Road).   Building LRT will provide for far greater opportunity to extend rapid transit in the future.

East-Along with the Stouffville GO becoming RER- there should also be a supplemental north south – BRT connecting to the end of the Scarborough RT replacement.

Mississauga – Brampton

Mississauga already has 3 lines, either proposed, under construction, or complete. The Mississauga transit way, the Hurontario-Maine LRT and the Dundas Street BRT, are the ones currently on the list.

Currently, we have hugely limited the value of the Transitway, by cutting the Crosstown short, and as such the Crosstown, becomes critical to Mississauga’s network as well, as would a Kipling BRT/LRT. If we completed the Crosstown, and built a connecting North south route just inside Toronto, the value of this line grows dramatically.

I lump these 2 together, because of the Hurontario-Maine LRT, which should have also linked their city centers.

Brampton backed out, in part because they wanted a Queen Street line first. While I think this is wrong headed, an east west service, that will continue to be immune to congestion is important. However, this service makes considerably more sense when it is linked to a north south one.   There is a need in the long-term plan to add a service that links Brampton east-west, although the LRT would also link Brampton to other east west links.

Along with the currently proposed lines for Mississauga, I believe there is a need for an additional BRT linking Meadowvale and Erindale and their respective GO lines. This would currently see little use, but provides for future development, and growth in local transit – without requiring long runs on congested roads. This BRT should also extend north into the areas of Brampton that are still developing, and a route should be reserved now. Also such a line could act as an important feeder to the regional system.


Remaining regional concern:

The other issue that needs to be addressed in looking at that the region as a whole is creating a higher speed east west link that does not detour through the core. This would provide for a rapid link between other rapid transit, and local transit distribution hubs. So for instance it would go from the STC (1) to a stop on Stouffville GO (2) the end of the Sheppard Subway, and a Don Mills subway (3) line in a single stop, next stop being the Yonge Subway (4), then the University line (5), and next the airport (6). Each of these locations would in turn be a major mobility hub, where there was a very fast link, acting like commuter rail between them. This rapid link running every 5 minutes or so would mean that a hop from the STC to the airport could comfortably under 30 minutes.   If this was extended to the Pickering GO, you would have a high speed transit links to serve all major employment areas, and transit links across the city, including, permitting the Morningside hook and Scarborough Malvern LRT to enjoy a rapid anchor at the outer end.   Such a link draws its value from the existence of a broad rapid transit network, tightly connected a very extensive local transit network.   It would exist – purely to provide a way to jump quickly between major nodes. It is not clear to me what capacity this would need to be, as it would over time alter the way transit it used and likely make a substantial – if gradual change in employment decisions. Instinctively, this would be a fully grade separated LRT, capable of running 100 km/h or better, and would likely start as a 2 car LRT every 5 minutes, and grow from there. It would be important however, to ensure that the line would be able to absorb substantial growth and the stations be designed so as to allow extremely heavy transfer activity, as we could reasonably expect 25-40% turnover at many of the stops. Such a line would resolve many of the concerns now surrounding lines like the Sheppard LRT, as you could ride a small portion of that line, and then take an express ride to the major node.


Currently the province suggests that even with the BIG MOVE that we will at best tread water. I believe this is because of a mix of too much politics draining away money on poorly conceived projects, and not enough resources being available.   Clearly we could not build the list above in a matter of weeks or months, but with help from the federal government, a careful sequencing of projects, and building the most effective projects first, with a constant eye to the network as a whole, it could be done in a way that took us beyond merely treading water, within the next 20 years.

While a DRL is only being considered to extend the Yonge subway, it should be a major priority, and part of an early build. Beyond this single very high capacity link, instead of building anymore subway extension, lower capacity lines should be built to greatly broaden the network. The DRL is required to intensify the network, subway extension, is inappropriate.

Such a network could be reasonably built with reasonable support from both the province and the Federal governments, not least because it avoids the excessive use of subway.   It would also be important to note this last link – only makes sense in the presence of the wider network, and as such should be built very late in the game. The balance of the network needs to be taken in order. The projects that can be built without loading up the Yonge subway – should be started quickly. That would mean 500 million in the core for the East Bayfront LRT, 3.8 billion for Scarborough (LRT for RT replacement, Scarborough Malvern LRT including Morningside hook, and a Markham Road and Ellesmere Ave BRT), about 2 billion in Rexdale, extending Finch West to the airport and Yonge, and the Crosstown to the Renforth Gateway also about 2 billion for a capacity increasing extension of Yonge to Steeles and about 2.5 billion for Mississauga Brampton (Hurontario-Maine LRT, Queen BRT, and Dundas BRT and Erindale-Meadowvale-Brampton BRT), or a total of 10-11 or so billion dollars- that could be spent without a DRL, on projects not already underway.

The construction of a DRL will likely consume 7-10 billion in itself, but will then enable the construction of the Waterfront West LRT, a Don Mills LRT to and through York Region, and a Yonge Street LRT, for a total of another 15 or so billion, including the DRL.   This would bring the total to 25 or so billion plus RER investments, that should be running along at say a billion a year for a total of about 12-13 billion (or under 40 billion total). If this expenditure is spread over 3 levels of government and 20 years – of continuous construction, the investment could kept in the area of $1 billion per level of government, per year.  However $3 billion per annum – would be enough to have a substantial impact on the region. At the end of the period we could then afford to look at that high-speed link between the major nodes in the regional transit system. The commitment to continuous construction and the immediate reservation of space for ROW, would also start to change the form of construction, and location of new employment.   I believe that building what we can build without a DRL, and the incrementally rolling out RER, will permit the region to nearly hold its own congestion wise. Completing the DRL and rerouting buses, and continuing to build LRT beyond, should allow a rethinking of travel patterns and a continuing shift in modes, that will allow us to actually begin to reduce congestion.

At the end of this build cycle, you would the build a Steeles Ave LRT across the city and a Lawrence East LRT to the end of Lawrence- thus opening more area for development, and the opportunity to further support local bus routes, in a way that truly transformed the region.


2 thoughts on “Toronto – A Regional Plan – is all about integration. 

  1. hamish wilson

    Hello Malcolm N
    There is much to ponder (after reading) and perhaps comment on, but as a quick-start, in Brampton, I had this idea based on a bit of time there as that was where my mother had spent her last years near-old-core. The heritage value of Main St. S is high; and was there any consideration or real reason why there wasn’t a division of directions to another road/route/street? I did get around to suggesting it somewhat officially, but didn’t follow up a lot, but the consequence of not having the rail connection is a set of problems, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Malcolm N Post author

      Yes, I can understand why they would not want to have the rail disrupt a historic street, however, the logic of wanting east west instead, and ignoring the research that went into the initial proposal, or that the link was also anchored by rail links that did run east west makes it appear that there was not a great deal of concern for regional transportation in the process.

      The overall question, is how to create an effective network, and that means having appropriate modes running to the most important destinations, and being effectively connected to other rapid transit and commuter rail lines. One of the major points here would have been the effective tie in with GO at both ends of the line LRT line, as well as an effective tie for Brampton to the Mississauga transitway BRT as well as hopefully 407 BRT. The entire notion needs to be about integration. Personally I would like to see the airport area, get a dedicated service with high frequency link to core, instead of just the airport itself. This would then be the anchor transit hub for the area, which could allow connection to local bus service, Mississauga Transitway, service, Eglinton/Crosstown LRT, and ideally a Finch West LRT extension, as well as Brampton Zum services. The airport local train shuttle could then be connected to this, as a regional access terminal connecting all local transit and would offer the rail space that is now dedicated to the Airport only rail to serve as a frequent connection to core for the area as well. The hub,ideally would also eventually included a link via BRT or LRT to the Bloor Subway.



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