The Case for LRT

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.

3 Responses to “The Case for LRT”

  1. W. K. Lis Says:

    Now from this link at it appears that if Rob Ford gets no Subway, he’ll just take his ball and go home, if we all do not do as he says. Rob Ford says, “if we don’t get the subway … we’re not going to waste people’s money and build an LRT.” In other words, no transit for you!

    Cal’s comment: I heard this mentioned this morning on Jerry Agar’s show on Newstalk 1010. Even Agar, who supports subways to a fault, wonders what special power the mayor could have that he hasn’t told us about that could be used to not build anything.

  2. Robert Wightman Says:

    I think it is time that we stopped using the term “SUBWAY” because it implies to too many people that it has to be entirely underground. One reason that rapid transit in Toronto is so expensive is that every single cm of it has to be underground so people don’t have to see it. There are great sections of the existing and planned extension that are underground to placate politician and their pampered constituents.

    Cal’s comment: I’ve toyed around with the terminology because it can be confusing. A “subway” is any passage under something else, be it heavy rail rapid transit, light rail rapid transit, a tunnel for cars, or even the new walking tunnel to the island airport that is starting construction. Calling lines like BD, YUS, and Sheppard “metro” lines is probably most accurate, but tends to sound ‘foreign’ to people in the GTHA (meaning, from somewhere else, not necessarily a foreign country). In writing, I tend to use the non-capitalized “subway” to refer to something underground, and the capitalized “Subway” to refer to our HRT rapid transit. Unfortunately, capitalization does not translate well to spoken word.

    Yonge should have crossed Hogg’s Hollow on a bridge as originally planned instead of going under the Don River. Danforth from Kennedy to Warden should have been in a cut as well as most of the York Spadina extension built to re-elect the local MP and MPP.

    If people believe that a Subway along Sheppard and/or Finch will greatly improve the travel their times from Northern Etobicoke or Scarborough they are mistaken. Most of the passengers who get on out their are not going downtown. Also the major cross streets, and station locations, are 0.8 to 1 km apart so most will have to walk farther.

    Absolutely - I pointed this out to some relatives who live about a four minute walk from the intersection of Birchmount and Sheppard. With a subway line, the walk is more like 14 minutes to what would be the nearest station at Warden and Sheppard, not to mention the vertical travel down two or three levels to the platform. Out of 365 days a year, at least 250 of them will not be ideal conditions for that extra 10 minute walk each way, either due to cold and wind, heat and humidity, or falling and blowing precipitation.

    A downtown relief line, like you suggest, would be of much more use to them, especially if it made use of surface rights of way to go to the north east and north west suburbs. I would start going from Don Mills and Eglinton to Downtown, but I would seriously look at joining it into the Airport Rail Link and running a true Rapid transit service up the Weston Sub to the Airport and Bramalea GO Station. Metrolinx owns the entire right of way and giving 2 tracks to a proper rapid system rather than a Heavy rail line would carry a lot more people a lot faster for a lot less money. In order to relieve over crowding at Union I would probably build a “SUBWAY” under Richmond Adelaide from the Weston sub to the Kingston Sub. If possible I would follow the Kingston Sub to near Greenwood yard then tunnel up to the Don Valley connecting into the CP’s Belleville sub. A major problem would be convincing CP to allow 2 rapid transit tracks to run along side their main line rail corridor to Agincourt or beyond, but there should be some trades that would make this beneficial to them.

    For priority purposes, I am only in favour of the eastern part of the DRL at this time, but moving towards protecting a western segment that would involve the ARL corridor should be considered as well. My preference for the east DRL to meet the Bloor-Danforth line would be at Coxwell because the alignment from there north is ideal to take advantage of above-ground right of way. From downtown at the Yonge and University lines around Richmond and/or Adelaide streets, it could tunnel east to the Kingston sub and come above ground to somewhere near Greenwood Yard as you suggest. Underground from there to Coxwell station and continue underground north to the valley where it would appear out of the side of the valley and cross on a bridge about half the height of the Millwood Road (Leaside) bridge. This would put it in perfect alignment to travel above ground up one side of the valley that passes under Overlea Boulevard, where a station could be located. Continuing above ground, it could return underground near the location of the Science Centre for a terminus at Eglinton. Future extension at this end could consider following CP’s Belleville sub just north of Wynford Drive, though LRT would be a better mode to feed into the line from here, as feeds from mulitple directions could be built for the same money, thus serving more people.

    In order to be a higher speed line than the normal subway it would have greater station spacing outside of the core. Also it could run up the Uxbridge sub as that is also owned by Metrolinx. If it when to Lincolnville, I would use the existing GO stations to Agincourt with another at Finch then Warden and York Mills, Lawrence and Victoria Park, Don Mills and Eglinton, Thornecliffe Park, O’Connor, Danforth, Gerrard, Queen, Jarvis, Yonge, University, Spadina, Bathurst, Exhibition, Dundas, Bloor, St. Clair, Eglinton, Lawrence, A couple in Northern Etobicoke, Woodbine area, then Airport/Bramalea.

    There are a lot of problems in doing this, namely getting CP to let Metrolinx use part of their right of way and getting Metrolinx to look at something that is not FRA/TC compatible heavy main line rail. It would be sort of like City Rail in Sydney Australia. Now if only someone at the TTC or Metrolinx had any experience with that type of service!

    My other pet peeve is people who complain about how awful streetcars are and never ride them.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Robert Wightman Says:

    The one thing I miss from your new look is the arrow to return to the main page. I also find it difficult to read some of the text above the picture. I like the idea but perhaps you need a darker or larger font. I like most of the changes. Keep the site going.

    Robert Wightman

    Cal’s comment: The ‘return to main page’ button was removed with the first pass at a new look for city pages, but in the second pass (see Denver) there are now two buttons at the top of the page: one to return to the main page, and one to return to the previous page, which for most will be the new “LRT in Other Cities” page. This second pass also increases font size significantly.