Should the Spadina line be extended or should LRT be the better choice? What about the talk of extending the Yonge line to Highway 7? The former may appear to be a done deal, but some bickering regarding its municipal share along with the upcoming provincial election may throw a wrench into this extension.
In my opinion, the entire Spadina extension should be implemented as LRT. As for Yonge, the subway should be extended to Steeles and anything north of there should be LRT.
My main reason for this is that there is not the need for the capacity that a subway line will provide to justify the costs. LRT can provide the capacity, with room for increased capacity well into the future, at a fraction of the cost and be available for use in less time.
While I am generally not in favour of the “just another station” approach to subway extension, doing so on Yonge as far as Steeles has its merits. First of all, there is a bottleneck of bus routes that come down Yonge from Steeles to Finch. The TTC has routes 60 and 53, while YRT has routes 2, 5, 23, 77, 88, 91 (including 91A and 340), and 99 as well as VIVA Pink and Blue. This represents a large amount of capacity that would be better served by the subway.
More importantly, the Yonge subway is going to need some changes to increase its capacity. The next generation of subway cars will allow passengers to move throughout the whole train, which adds a small amount of capacity by evening out the load and making use of pockets of space that could not otherwise be used. It also adds some small space in between the cars. A planned upgrade of the signalling system to be installed over the next decade has been touted as being able to reduce head-ways down to 90 seconds.
However, the roadblock to reducing head-ways is the turn-around time needed at a terminal such as Finch. Even if the signalling system were to allow a 90 second headway, it still will require about 140 seconds to turn a train back at Finch. The only way to decrease head-ways below this is to have some trains turn back at a different location. By extending the line to Steeles, only every other train will go that far, allowing half the trains to turn back at Finch and the other to turn back at Steeles.
If this line were to be extended all the way to Highway 7, either the entire 6 km of line from Finch, or perhaps only the 4 km from Steeles would only get half the trains. In fact, the planned extension of the Spadina line all the way to Vaughan will only see one out of every three trains go that far, while the other two will turn back at Steeles (unless York Region is willing to pick up the full cost of operating those other two trains, as empty as they will be). I have my doubts that York will want to pick up that cost, so how can one justify the capital expense of building that subway line if it will only be used for one third of its capabilities?
Getting back to Yonge, I can accept building a 2 km extension to Steeles and using only half of its capacity in the interest of increasing overall capacity on the entire line. The extension to Highway 7 should be built using LRT technology, as this will not only provide the capacity needed, with room to grow, but it will also fit in with VIVA Phase 3 plans. Those who complain about having to switch from LRT to subway at Steeles really have no argument, as an extension of the subway to Highway 7 will just move the place to switch. A faster mode down to Steeles with a switch to subway there would be tremendously better than a bus down to Finch where the switch to subway is currently.
The same applies for the Spadina extension, except that there is little need to extend subway capacity beyond Downsview station. The entire extension from there to York University, Steeles, and on to the Vaughan Corporate Centre should be built with LRT technology. For only 20% (or less) of the cost, it will provide ample capacity that will be in service sooner with room to grow, and be able to interline with VIVA Phase 3 operations (which means eliminating a mode change at Jane and Highway 7).