Transit and the GTA – a vision is required.

While the GTA needs a transit vision, this needs to be developed by city and land use planners and transit experts, without significant interference from politicians.  Toronto has spent too many years with politically driven visions for transit in the region.  This has meant plans that could be sold to the public have been outlandishly outsized.  The Vaughan extension should not have been built, at least not as far north as it was, the Scarborough and Richmond Hill extensions do not appear to be based on sound planning, but rather the easy political sell of subway.  This is exactly what we need as a region to move beyond.  Extending Yonge will require a new subway to be built in order to provide capacity within Toronto, and require it to be much longer, as it will mean overloading the Yonge line much further north.

First, Ontario and the GTA needs to create integrated regional plan and a formal organized priority list.  Look at where the development is, where there will be the largest impact for the fewest dollars.  A clear goal of where we are trying to get to, and what that vision looks like needs to be developed.   Planners not politicians need indicate what the most urgent projects are, and what else they enable.  The idea of rapid transit – that tied to a tight network of local transit, and enabled transit based commutes to a much broader portion of the region, much more quickly.  This needs to be the play book for the region, not just the city, and the plan needs to provide for a transformation in planning – and create areas where the requirements for parking etc can be lifted beyond the core.  Markham City Centre, Richmond Hill City Centre, the Airport Corporate Centre, Scarborough Town Centre, North York City Centre etc, all need to be quickly and easily accessed from across the region via rapid transit, as does every major college and university campus.

A real debate needs to be had, around the plan as it will change the region, and not around single lines etc.  It needs to create a reset in terms of looking at the issues, and how transit will work, for the entire region, and how it can be integrated.  It is important that we start to view transit in the same way roads function, as an integrated network.  Nobody drives only the 401 from their origin to their destination, they work their way thr Collectors, arteries, limited access /express routes, and a tight surface grid.  Roads are not designed to provide access all to a single location, but rather provide a web of service, transit must be transformed to achieve the same end.  While there is a real need to provide a substantial increase in GO capacity, there needs to be an understanding of what else can be achieved, how much additional capacity is required on each line, and how else this can be used to provide real integration for a region wide transit network, not just a core oriented system.

GO needs to be a part of a web of service, that should be able to be much more destination neutral, than the current vision is.  I imagine seeing large hubs around GO stations, that are served by links to the closest large business concentration, these links providing service enough to make GO to the outer business districts attractive, Stouffville line to Markham, Kitchener line to the Airport Corporate district.  There is also a real need to link these lines to each other, or rather other GO lines to the local services.  Oakville to the Airport, should not involve a trip downtown, but if you could use say the Hurontario LRT, to jump between lines.  Where we are not already approaching capacity of the line, electrification needs to take a back seat to integration, and there needs to be a region wide vision, of what this web of service will look like, and this, not a Scarborough or Yonge subway extension needs to be the focus of debate. When we start to integrate these services, where will we need to the next large increase in capacity to make it work? The original Transit City plan, while not focused on this goal, could have provided critical linkages to and from GO to a wide variety of locations within the city.  It also integrated far more of the city with close rapid transit. A similar plan is required for the region, and where there are clear capacity issues, they need to be addressed within the framework of this network, and modeled as part of a broader system, where the flows of riders where they originate, where they are destined, is clear, and not being manipulated for electoral politics.  We should not be looking at the DRL in isolation, but as part of a network, how far does it need to go, to have the required network effects?  Can the portion beyond Eglinton be LRT? Where do we actually need electrification on GO to support required frequency?  Also GO, as it has indicated needs to refocus on service levels more than capacity.  4 K per hour as 2 trains is much less desirable, than it is as 4, which is less desirable than 6.  Building a network to support a train every 5 minutes would be ideal, however in the choices we are making, we need to look at what that means we are giving up, with the limited resources that can be directed at addressing transit in the region.  Building a line as part of a 5 minute network, that does not connect well with anything beyond the core, does not address the needs of the region as a whole, unless this is also required to support capacity required into the core.

What needs to be built in order to support support a large increase in the uptake of transit?  How do we drive transit as not only the main transportation mode to the core, but most of the region? That to me means being able to have a complete system of local and regional transit, that includes local rapid transit, and integrated with it regional transit.  It means being able to use transit in the same way we use roads, not having to pay a fare every time we transfer, and a system that supports transfers in many more places, which requires much more frequent services.  The plan for the region needs to focus on creating hubs that can be best served by transit, which means they must be very walkable – at the point of connection and final destination, not built with a sea of parking.  Where we are radically improving transit access, we should also look at reducing parking requirements.

However, the vision needs to flow from planners, not politicians, and needs to be created with the detailed origin destination information, and built based on an overall model of the region, with alternate versions of a network being evaluated, not a single line.  GO cannot absorb the vast majority of capital available, merely to bring forward the date of full network electrification.  We need to have it clear in our minds that BRT is a critical portion of a viable transit system, and can provide rapid service for huge areas, and for most of the GTHA, should be the first and most common building block.  Subway should only be being used, where there is no reasonable ROW available, and there is massive demand.  One can imagine a network with short lengths of tunnel approaching subway, near Yonge where there is not the road allowance, to support LRT, and then substantial lengths of LRT being fed by BRT at the end of the line and several crossing BRTs, to form a web of rapid transit immune to congestion, where even the BRT was of varying types, in most cases it being primarily comprised  of bus queue jump lanes, well ordered transit priority signals etc.  A smaller number of routes, where demand was considerably heavier, being dedicated full lanes.  It would quite reasonable for instance to see a couple of north south dedicated lane BRTs in both Scarborough, and in Etobicoke, where these would link subway to a couple of east-west LRT lines, and perhaps even a couple of east west BRT lines.  Other than making transit fast and reliable that needs to be done in the GTA is of course making space on it.  That means more frequent buses, more rides that do not rely on subway and more capacity through much of the system.

GTA needs to look seriously at more options

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.

Regional Planning – not local politics

One of the on-going problems in Toronto, comes down to selling a solution other than subway, in too much of the region.  The GTA needs to start rolling out a real plan, that can address the basic transportation problems in the region.

However, the very first things that is required to fix the problem, is listening to planners, not polls, or politicians seeking only political advantage.  It means looking at the travel intentions of residents, and likely getting some even more detailed information, but then paying attention to the results.  It means dealing with some basic truths

1-We need more capacity into the core

2-Most trips in the periphery of the 416 let alone 905 are not core bound.

3-A large portion of the congestion is beyond the 416

4-GO needs to be used to serve core bounds riders from the outer 416 as well as the 905.

5-Transit and GO needs to serve regional trips that are destined to areas other than the core.

6-GO needs to be tied to local transit in a much more integral way to serve the non core bound trips, and even to be more effective in the core bound trips.

In order to address our problems therefore will require a broad network, of tightly tied transit, not just Smart Tracks, or GO or subway.  We need to be prepared to entertain a lot of smaller, more local projects in order to create a wide enough web of rapid transit, to make transit a highly attractive, time competitive method of travel to areas other than the core.  If we are going to address congestion, we need to be able to make a trip from most of Mississauga, to points in a wide variety of areas within Toronto, that are not the core, where diverting all the way downtown is a major additional trip, that will not be made- and the attitude of many will be – if I have to sit in traffic and do not have to pay for parking, I may as well drive.   Each new project- needs to be viewed in terms of building a network, not in isolation.  Focusing on GO electrification, instead of a high focus on local service integration, means increasing capacity in some places, long before it is required, and not making transit more feasible for other- important destinations.

Can Mi-Way and TTC support the Airport Corporate Centre (ACC), in a manner that will permit a high transit split? How can GO make this work?  If the Malton GO was used as a major station for ZUM, with substantial inbound and outbound, local bus service, and was also served by a Finch West LRT that continued through to the Renforth Gateway to meet the Mi-Way transitway and the Eglinton Crosstown?  Let us be truly outrageous, and add 15 minute GO service on the Kitchener line, and a Kipling BRT or LRT that also made their way to one or other of these locations?  While I doubt even this would raise the transit split to where it is in the core, it would certainly attract a far greater number of rides than today, and allow a much better connections for people who want to ride on to areas that are not the core (or even to the core) for people from Mississauga and Brampton, as well as getting to employment in these areas from Toronto.

Connecting services, that will permit, faster, and more reliable transit are important to create ridership, but they need to provide much broader coverage, as opposed to massive capacity for most of the region.  People keep talking about the notion that Eglinton should have been subway – but projections are for 5400 riders peak hour/direction.  This is around 1/3 of what could be served by the underground portion – where the load is likely to be seen – and around 1/2 of what could be comfortably served by a surface LRT.  What needs to be understood, in terms of making a system work, needs to focus, on what impact will this addition have in terms of attracting new ridership, and permitting a redesign of the surface routes.  New routes like the Crosstown, and Finch West need to make a link with transit beyond in order to have a more substantial impact.  The Mi-Way and airport links are crucial in the case of Eglinton, as is a Kingston Road extension to support Lakeshore GO.  These links would have (and still could) allow the Crosstown, to be a major part of a web of service, helping to make much better use of surrounding rapid transit, and especially GO rail.

The debate in the GTA, needs to look at where we have holes in a network to allow people to get to more of the employment concentrations, from more of the points of origin, with a relatively quick, frequent and reliable transit trip.  The network, needs to be more destination neutral, and make 2 way use of the rail it has – that means access to destinations in the outer 416 and 905 from GO on local transit.  Lakeshore GO to Eglinton LRT, would mean it would be a viable way of accessing mid town employment, across the width of the GTA, with the Stouffville link, we add Markham city centre, and with Richmond Hill, that destination as well, along with anything along the Highway 7 BRT.  Creating rapid transit connections to GO should allow rapid transit service – from across the GTA to the ACC, North York City Centre, the Scarborough Town Centre, Mississauga City Centre, Markham City centre…..  GO connected to an LRT, BRT, or subway will support much of this, however, subway as a general answer – is beyond our means.  Start building a broad network 1 link at a time, and build what is, frequency, capacity and cost appropriate.  This will mean much more BRT than LRT and much more LRT than subway.  The network, should be planned as a whole, but the links added in a sequence, that permits each to valuable as it is built, but where the network effects are fully realized.   Eglinton GO needs to be added as a frequent stop on GO, before connecting the LRT to it really makes sense, for instance.  Others it is less clear, Agincourt GO connection makes sense with or without double tracking, as long as the trains that do run – stop there, however, better 2 way use of Stouffville GO would come from a connection there, and a link to the Lakeshore line in Scarborough.

The network 25 years from now should be dominated by BRT and LRT, with subway representing only a handful of heavy links. Any new subway should be a major point of attachment, for a large number of LRT and BRT links.  While 1 new subway line is likely required to support core bound ridership, it is only 1, and further substantial extensions (except to explicitly increase capacity), are a poor idea, lighter services, with many more lines would serve better.  Tying these services, well to GO is crucial to making both work well.  Sheppard East to Agincourt GO, Sheppard subway to Oriole GO, Eglinton LRT to Eglinton GO at the least (an extra 2-3 km), if not beyond to the Guildwood GO, and these stations receiving frequent GO rail service.  These moderate extensions, would make the lines more effective in Scarborough, and much more effective in terms of providing regional transit integration, which is key to addressing issues surrounding congestion.

The region needs electrification now on Lakeshore East and West, double track on Stouffville, Richmond Hill and Kitchener, but beyond this, the focus should be on an extensive network of LRT and BRT.  There is no way that the GTA can justify the scope of rapid transit network required to make transit truly attractive for rides away from the core, if we are going to do even a small portion as subway. Capacity wise, simple double tracking will permit 6-8 trains per hour, or more to the point the equivalent of 12 lanes of traffic, the issue is making the trip make sense – while using transit. Riding most of the way, on vehicles that are not slowed by traffic, will make this much more attractive.  Having a web or dense grid of routes, that get us very close to our final destination without backtracking, even more so.  The implementation of even BRT can allow land use changes, however, supportive changes to zoning are also required.  BRT can be designed to be converted to LRT, where the demand is not likely to be seen soon, but perceived to be an eventual consideration. GO needs to be integrated with service at both ends if it is going to allow people to actually use it to where they would drive otherwise.

Planning versus politics

Toronto, and Queen’s Park – need to get past the basic pandering, and get back to actually building a real transit network.  The basic subway – as it stands – does not need to be extended in length, but in the effect it provides, needs to be enhanced and extended.  The other issue here of course is capacity – that is now hugely over committed.  The solution to the GTA’s transit woes starts with real cooperation and planning, and removing grandstanding and politics.  If we are to really address congestion, GO needs to add a role, that of connector between transit systems. This means offering co pays that are effective for potential users.

The answer to this issue, is however, to undertake a serious examination of increased and parallel capacity – where we are at or beyond capacity.   The limits to increasing capacity, are not as far away as the TTC would liked to have had us believe.  Once the new signalling project has been completed on the Yonge line, you quickly run into concerns with regards to the ability to turn trains.  While you can station trains at Davisville to fill – there is a limit to the number of trains that can be inserted.  You could gain a small additional amount of capacity by extending the line enough to add an additional turning point – but well you are likely looking at something on the order of 33-34 trains per hour, because beyond this or maybe 35 trains, you are looking at substantial problems at Bloor in terms of dwell time required.  Realistically – 36,000 planning capacity, with an existing load of 31,000.

Beyond this – well you are looking at massive and expensive changes to stations required to reduce the dwell time.  Realistically in terms of making the network function, a new line, running parallel to Yonge would be better.  It will allow more flexibility, and improved route design for the bus routes that feed the subway currently.  This line – while consuming considerable resources, would answer the problem of core bound capacity for the east side of the city.

The bottom line however, is that beyond this need to enhance subway capacity, there is not really a spot in Toronto, where subway extension should be seriously entertained, in terms of actually providing effective service. Scarborough would be better off, with the full LRT plan, that could be delivered for the same cost as a subway, leaving money to spare, and blanketing Scarborough in service.  The debate should be comparing just the Scarborough RT replacement LRT with subway, but rather, the Malvern LRT, the Scarborough LRT replacement, the Morningside Hook portion of LRT, and of course include the Sheppard LRT, in how the network would function.

Smart Tracks – is frankly merely a distraction from the core debate- political grandstanding at its worst.  The GO system needs to be a bigger part of linking Scarborough, and Rexdale to the core. The Finch LRT needs to run at least as far as the Malton GO, where it should link to Brampton Transit, as well as GO, ideally it would continue on the Mi-Way transitway at the Renforth Gateway. The Eglinton LRT needs to get there as well.   If you extended the Finch LRT east as far as Yonge, you would have created a couple of substantial east west links across the city – much closer to where the cars are currently headed. The transit service in the Airport Corporate Centre would need to be substantially improved, but, it would be effectively linked to rapid transit – in a way it is simply not currently.  It also means creating a real hub for transit, and provide access to/from GO,  MiWay and ZUM services to services that reach most of Toronto, not just the core.  Finch West LRT could also effectively link the Barrie and Kitchener GO lines.

I would note that this is in essence the Transit City Plan, with a couple of minor tweaks.  There is not yet a Jane LRT mentioned, and I have not really dealt with Don Mills – beyond a subway extension.  The province is currently studying a DRL as far north as Sheppard.  This would  greatly enhance the connection for a Sheppard LRT, and also the heavily used Lawrence, and York Mills bus routes.  However, I personally favour the notion of using an LRT to make the connection north of Eglinton, as it will likely provide better local service, and be much less expensive, although would not relieve the Yonge subway to quite the same degree.  However, building additional length of subway, means expending massive resources in construction and operation, which takes away from the ability to extend services elsewhere.

At this point it will be more critical to provide the other links in the system. Waterfront West and East Bayfront LRTs for instance will help address a huge need in the shoulder areas of downtown. There is a requirement to support any further development in the shoulder areas, with improved transit flow and capacity, as much of the network is already overwhelmed in that area.  The rapid intensification, has not been met with required transit improvements.  To make these work, will require a substantial additional investment at Union Station, or providing an alternate anchor point for the WWLRT portion.  However, in terms of the overall development, tax base growth, and transit oriented development, these lines are very important.  Another service that would be worthwhile, is one that was considered a generation ago, an out of traffic rapid transit link from Kipling subway to the Airport, to link to the Renforth Gateway, and thus the Miway BRT, Finch West LRT, and Kipling GO.  Ideally this would link further south as well, providing a fast reliable link between the Kitchener, Milton and Lakeshore GO lines.

It is far more important that the transit services be linked, and rapid transit be close to both the riders origin and destination if we are to deal with congestion, than to meet the notion of a one seat ride, that can not realistically be provided with simple subway extension, especially in that these consume all the resources available – simply to overload the route as it approaches the destination of this supposed one seat ride.  The other issue that must be dealt with of course is frequency and reliability of that ride, if we are to actually hope to pull people off the roadways.  Creating a web of access to and from subway, GO and surrounding transit systems is critical.  Toronto, also needs to support the development, of real transit connectivity beyond the city itself.  Where we know we can ride GO to rapid transit and/or frequent bus service to destination across the region.

It is important, we understand the role of GO in building a regional transit system, but also that we understand where we are spending too much too early in that area – 15 minute service does not require electrification.  Electrification and new signals are critical for the Lakeshore East and West services, as they are already approaching the limits of service without them, however, on most of the balance of the network, diesel and signal block size to permit only a train every 10 minutes is just fine. Providing Rapid Transit services to link GO to many more destination, is more critical for now to making it relevant than electrification.  Stouffville and Richmond Hill, need double tracks, but not electrification yet.  Viva BRT and for Stouffville the connection to a Sheppard East and Crosstown LRT are more important.  Adding the Malvern LRT, or extending the Crosstown to Lakeshore East GO and thus providing more destinations to both, and linking the Lakeshore,Stouffville, and Richmond Hill GO (thus making an Oshawa to Markham GO rail based commute possible) would be more relevant.

Planning – making allowances

It is really critical that the TTC, the city of Toronto and Metrolinx, move much more deliberately to make allowances for future capacity and systems improvements.  Plans for the Union Station approaches for LRT need to reflect the real demands required.  The city should also be looking how it would handle LRT in station on the BDL line, as well as any potential locations along a new DRL.  The obvious one being the new Eglinton LRT Line  needs to have an allowance in its station design to allow a tie to a new DRL.  The station that links Sheppard subway and LRT line also needs to have an allowance to not just link these but a DRL, and a Don Mills LRT reaching further north.  A DRL that stretched that far should also be making allowances for the conversion of the Lawrence and York Mills bus routes to LRT.

The approach to the Union Station, streetcar loop, and the potential approaches for a Waterfront West LRT, are very worrying.  The fact that Union Station underwent massive changes, and there does not appear to be an allowance for a new Loop or platform to permit very substantial increases in vehicle frequency for the East Bayfront – and likely routes further east, and a waterfront west, route also finding there way to Union is quite worrying. While the have included plans to increase capacity, the choice to not expand now while the staion was under construction will make it to deal with later.  When the combined frequency is looked at, it is hard to see how the current loop would handle it, (or even the proposed expanded loop).  If we were to suggest that the WWLRT was a 5 minute service, Spadina is a 2 minute service, Harbourfront as a 5 minute service and say East Bayfront as a 5 minute service, that alone has 66 cars per hour arriving at Union, if the East Bayfront and WWLRT were to grow as one would expect (ie each being on the order of 2-3 minutes – as there is not the option allowed for a multi-car configuration), it could easily be in excess of 90 cars per hour.  It is hard to imagine the current Union loop managing that, and even with a loop that allowed cars to load and unload on opposite sides and pass each other, it would need to be able manage a new car every 40 seconds – and even the proposed configuration with 2 platforms and passing tracks.

Transit – enough with the mega projects – lets start talking long term planning and integration.

There are two basic issues that are caused by mega project planning and debates –

1- It sucks all the oxygen out of the room for the basic questions around service – which should be what transit and its planning are about

2- It sucks up all the money to make incremental improvements.

Mega projects should be the last resort – not the first.  The moment you resort to a mega project you are committing all of your resources to a single bet, and having to build more than is likely required in the short or even medium term.  The other problem is that they are far too immersed in politics, and grand visions that relate only poorly to real requirements.

The construction of the TYSSE has created massive controversy in the GTA, and is frankly a poorly considered project.  If a subway extension was required – a much shorter one would have been better.  The extension beyond York U – defies logic and results in a large long term operating cost, not to mention massive construction costs – that are not required.  It also makes it harder for York Region to take over the planning and construction of their own network in the longer term.  The York Region investment should have been in a much longer, and more appropriate LRT.  York would have been in a position to build to and beyond Vaughan City Centre, and then take up construction again – in reasonable and affordable chunks.

Planning around Scarborough feels very similar.  The province would only commit 2.7 billion to provide 2 LRTs to Scarborough – until suddenly we can find between 3 levels of government 3.8 billion ++ for a subway – and well still the 1.3 billion for a Sheppard East LRT.  Yes the plan to spend 5.1 billion is more attractive to the area, than a plan to spend 2.7 billion.  However, if we are prepared to spend 5.1 billion – gee could we not build a lot more coverage if the province had stuck with LRT?  You want to get downtown – well that would be better on GO anyway – and the LRT network and GO should be fully integrated – not just with the subway.

Having said that – why are we always focusing on large single commitments – and why do we as the public go for it?  This does not represent good governance – just good politics, which it would appear are extremely hard on the well being of the province.

We should be making a commitment to building a flexible, effective and efficient transit system, that serves as many riders for as many trips as possible, by making moderate affordable investments, and committing to a system that we can operate effectively, and can easily afford to do so.    Scarborough would be better served by building a network, not a single line, and building something that can grow and serve local and regional trips well, the regional ones by delivering people to GO.

Downtown suffers from a similar issue – in reverse.  Downtown itself does not need a mega project, but a couple of large projects would go a long ways, along with better planning and staging.   Union Station was ripped apart, well we should have worked in a substantial addition to the streetcar loop, or better still another one – to support the East Bay Front and some form of support for an eventual for a Water Front West line.

We should have reserved space to run something through the rail lands, before all the construction was completed, it should now be a question of laying tracks to hugely improve service to the west end, and western downtown areas.  Now we will likely need to run those cars on Queens Quay – and hope there is space there and in Union Station, and unless something is changed radically at Union – there is no way to support this level of service – strikes me that this could have been better supported – if it had been part of a small incremental plan – instead of one that will now require very substantial spending – some of which could have been avoided – if we had supported a long term plan.  As it is – if we have to use Queens Quay, it would mean Spadina, East Bayfront and Waterfront West would all have to share a space.  Seems a stretch, as does the idea of running a substantial service along Bremmer with changing how traffic works now.

Unfortunately there is a single place where the idea of incrementalism fails now and another where it will fail soon.  The city cannot realistically get around the need for more capacity into the core, and it is hard to see from where growth seems headed, how you can avoid having an additional link into the core, to support growth, and provide a point of connection for a greatly improved local network elsewhere in the city.  The other eventually is Union Station.  Toronto largely faces many of its current problems because it has chosen not to develop incrementally – and put transit development on the back burner for decades.

Regional Transit – what are the criteria for a project?

We seem to spend a great deal of time looking at the ridership that a specific project would attract – but far too little on network capacity, the impact on the quality of rides on existing and reconfigured routes, and the cost of provision of service.

There is a fundamental need to look at all transit in terms of the network.  What will any new line/route/service do in terms of improving service and re-aligning the way in which riders use the system, and the crowding and capacity available on the system.  Also what will the impact be on the cost of service on all routes if we add this one.  Ideally each capital project should really be able to be justified as an investment – in that it improves service on the network, increases capacity, and reduces the cost of providing additional service.

If we looked at the transit in the GTA as a single integrated network – where there was a near seamless transfer between TTC and GO, I suspect that a suggested network based on this would look very different if this was a basic assumption.    Extending subway in order to send people to the core, and including those riders from the outer 416 and inner 905 would not longer make sense as service on GO would be faster, and could be offered more quickly for a much lower cost. Also attempting to run TTC trains in this space would also make no sense.

Again looking at the network in this way would reduce the pressure to extend a Yonge subway to Richmond Hill, likely would have reduced the drive to push it into Vaughan, and would also reduce the pressure to create a subway extension in Scarborough. There is a need for the TTC to focus on short haul, local service, to and from longer haul subway and other heavy rail services.   We cannot build a system around the idea of sending ever more load onto the existing subway, and not looking seriously at proper service integration.  LRT should provide an out of traffic solution to allow high frequency linkage to these heavy rail routes, while allowing bus routes to be both shorter and more reliable.  Looked at with a more flexible view to service delivery – should permit a large improvement in service, and a greater increase in effective capacity for a smaller capital investment and smaller increase in operating subsidy.

The province will need to set standards for service, and allocations for future transitways, and requirements for funding transfers between systems to prevent areas from choosing to not heavily support transit.  However, these standards for transit should also be accompanied with a drive to less required parking and higher density in new development and re-development throughout the region. A properly considered and integrated transit system should permit most employment and shopping to be readily accessed in reasonable time, from the vast majority of the region.

Every projects should should be considered in the light of how it improves service for connecting lines, will draw additional riders to the network as a whole, and how it will create – and consume capacity elsewhere. The improvements in GO for instance will draw riders but consume capacity at Union.  LRT linking to Yonge, will improve bus service, but likely to increase loading on Yonge.  A DRL extending to Eglinton or beyond – would draw load away from Yonge, and enable further connections to shorten the Lawrence Bus route, and greatly improve service there.  A line that continued North from there would also allow a large number of buses to stay away from the most congested portions of their runs, and thus improve service and reduce cost of delivery along the balance of the route.  This project would enable tremendous service and capacity – and open many other options – but would also consume tremendous resources to construct. The transit system needs to be rethought – fares and integration hugely improved, and every new route planned in the context of the overall network, in terms of how it will affect service, capacity and delivery costs for balance of the network.

Each project needs to be seen in the light of whether does it open new options – or consume the existing ones.  When Union Station renovations were underway – extra capacity for the streetcar loop, or even an extra streetcar loop needed to be considered – if this is ultimately going to the destination of the East Bayfront and Western Waterfront LRTs.   A DRL offers the possibility of a real Don Mills LRT that would serve core bound riders (as well as those bound for locations along Don Mills and the balance of the Subway and LRT network)  while helping to relieve pressure on Yonge and improve many bus routes operations.  

The overall network, and how to make transit more effective needs to be at the centre of planning – not mega project magic bullet solutions. That means looking at how to improve management, decrease run times, improve schedule and headway adherence, and looking at projects in terms of the service they enable – first and foremost.  This means first improving management, and clearly identifying what is required to improve basic service, and where running conditions really are an issue, and getting all working together to clearly address them, and only where truly required resorting to substantial new construction.