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.