Toronto badly needs a new subway.
That is an odd opening statement for a position in favour of LRT. To clarify it, let me state that I did not say that Toronto badly needs any subway. What Toronto badly needs is transit expansion that looks at the network as a whole, and the one and only subway that fits that need at this time is the eastern leg of a Downtown Relief Line. This would be a line into downtown, possibly somewhere between Queen and King, running from the University line, connecting with the Yonge line, heading east and curving north to the Bloor-Danforth line somewhere between Pape and Coxwell, then continuing up to the intersection of Don Mills and Eglinton. Eventually, a western segment will be necessary, but the priority at this time is the eastern segment.
In the Metrolinx plan, a DRL was identified but pushed into the next phase of funding. Efforts are needed to push for this funding as soon as it can be possible.
As for the rest of the network, other corridors simply do not support subway densities, not now, and not ever in the future. Ever in the future? That’s a bold statement, but comes with a caveat: as long as we continue to enhance the entire network, any LRT lines built today will never become over-crowded and unable to carry the demand. Fail to continuously enhance the network, and all bets are off. This is not unique to LRT, for one only has to look at the Yonge Subway line to see that a sit and do nothing to the network can result in the same fate for even the vaunted subway.
Funding is available for the construction of about 50 km of LRT lines that enhances suburban portions of our transit network. The idea of taking that money and using it to give us only half that distance of LRT and about another 7 kilometres of subway is just silly. When one considers that the 7 km of subway we are talking about is NOT the badly needed DRL, this is insane. It is the ultimate disrespect for taxpayer’s money. One could say it is pouring gravy on an empty plate!
Sure, everyone wants subways, but most have no idea of what LRT is capable of. We should be thankful that Ford is not in charge of our health care system, as it is safe to assume the same logic would be applied: everyone wants expert cardiologists because, after all, if one every has a heart attack, they want the best possible emergency service. The trouble is, we can’t staff all of the ERs in Toronto with several expert cardiologists. What we should do is what is being done now: staff the ERs with the doctors we have now and bring in specialists as needed. Ford would do the former and we would have ERs terribly understaffed and there’s a very good chance that the next heart attack victim dies while waiting to be seen by the experts we paid so much to have.
The key is to match the proper mode of transit to the corridor, and do so with a reasonable eye to the future. Then, continue to enhance the entire network for the long run.
The mindset that only subways are the next step when buses can’t carry the load is what has gotten us into the position we are in with a basic backbone of subways supporting (and supported by) a network of bus and streetcar routes. Everyone wants subways, but subways cost so much. That means that we have to forget about building a new line that enhances the network and instead any subway building is to add just another kilometre to the lines already existing.
Some suggest that we should be constantly building new subway at a pace of a kilometre or two each year. That’s all well and good to say that, but if you ask those same people how frequently we should be opening new subway under this plan, they naturally assume that would mean each year. That is very problematic for a number of reasons.
If we are talking about building a whole new subway line, say the DRL, then it will be pretty useless to open it a kilometre or two at a time. It could be opened in phases, but the first phase would likely be the part from Yonge to the Bloor-Danforth line. That wouldn’t be able to happen until about five or six years into construction. Construction could continue west and north and additional extensions could be opened as they are completed, but there would be many years with no new openings. Building a kilometre or two per year does not translate into opening a kilometre or two per year.
What advocates of continuous subway building tend to fall back on is to not build a whole new line, but add to what we already have. Radial expansion is a colossal waste of money, especially when done a bit at a time. It is a waste because as one moves further out along a line, it does not need the same capacity, so the cost of construction and operation is wasted on underused infrastructure. It can also lead to over-capacity situations in the central core of the line, just look to the Yonge line to see this effect. The greatest expense is the cost of a terminal facility. Terminal stations tend to have a lot of infrastructure for bus routes to meet the line. Each time you extend a line further into the suburbs, you need to build such a terminal facility. When one new facility opens, it can leave a previous one underused.
We certainly should be pushing for continuous construction of our transit infrastructure. It is important that we have to accept that new openings will not always be annual and that some of this continuous build will involve LRT as well as subway.