Subway expansion or LRT?

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). 

6 Responses to “Subway expansion or LRT?”

  1. Josly Says:

    Nice post! You have said it very well. Keep going.

  2. Transit Fan Says:

    Well put! As much as I would like the convenience of many subway lines all over the GTA, it is not practical from a cost point of view.

    LRT will provide the capacity needed, and with a much lower cost, will allow a NETWORK of lines that will provide alternate routes for those days when something goes wrong somewhere.

    The sad thing is, there is a group of business owners and residents along Yonge Street in Thornhill who are pushing for the subway extension ( They are upset that York Region has only suspended the plans for VIVA dedicated bus lanes and have not cancelled them.

    Cal’s comments: Since this line will only be used for half of the capacity it is capable of, I wonder if the SubwayNow folks are willing to pony up half the cost of building it? Probably not - from the fact that this group makes reference to the Yonge subway extension as a commitment from the provincial government, and not simply the election promise it really is, it appears they have their heads in the clouds with no real concept of what the “right solution for Yonge Street” really is.

    It is important to contact those in office, at all four levels of government (feds, province, region, and local municipality), to promote the idea that LRT is a viable and economical alternative.

    Better still, make this an election issue in the upcoming provincial election. I will be posting contact information for candidates where these subway extension plans pass through their ridings. I encourage all to get in touch with the candidates.

  3. City Boy at Heart Says:

    Hi and nice start on your site. As you can see before your comment on Steve Munro’s site, I agreed wholeheartedly with you on the York Region subway stance. Yonge should be a BRT/LRT service. However, the link to Vaughan should not even be considered. Vaughan is the ultimate urban sprawl community, where every effort has been made to make things as easy as possible for the car. Most main roads are 4 to 6 lanes wide with little thought for pedestrians. Try finding anywhere on Hwy.#7, Rutherford, or Major Mackenzie where there are more than 5 people just walking. Doesn’t happen. Because of this, you can’t build the other and hope they will come. The auto is king in Vaughan. It does change though as you get closer to Yonge.

    Cal’s comments: I more or less agree that the auto is king in Vaughan (and most, if not all of York Region for that matter), however I do not agree that something in a rapid transit alternative should be scrapped altogether. LRT can provide rapid distance coverage as well as more local travel that much of Transit City looks to provide. While car may be king in the area, a rapid alternative will help change minds. It won’t be overnight, but it can occur if done properly. I say properly, because some of our current spawl can be blamed on improper attempts to change minds. Rightly or wrongly, many people want space around them and attempts to urbanize suburban areas have pushed the sprawl out further as people go for the space that is one step further from the city as the urbanization of suburbia takes place.

    That aside, phase 3 plans for VIVA involve LRT, and if the Vaughan extension were to be implemented as LRT, the option of interlining services from Vaughan to Downsview opens up. I see one of the biggest benefits of LRT in Toronto, as well as outlying areas, is that a true rapid network can be created that benefits the greatest part of the population for the most efficient cost. The other huge benefit comes from the network aspect: alternative routings will provide a means for a significant number of commuters to get to their destinations when a problem occurs on a line.

    The SOY group is getting a fair amount of press in the Liberal (Richmond Hill paper). Most merchants right up to and past Hillcrest Mall have their poster plastered in their windows. Most of them just want status quo. It has not dawned on them that an provincial elections are coming and subway promises that can be broken are just that!! Besides, as I recall, federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, when asked if they would help Toronto out of their fiscal woes, he laughed. Now, why then would anybody be expecting the TTC to build any subway, when it looks dismal that there will be any federal help! Go figure.

    Cal’s comments: Speaking of the Liberal, I strongly encourage anyone to write letters to the editor promoting the LRT idea. I have already had one published and there is a pretty good chance they will print others. After all, whether a given paper has a slant on a topic or not, they are in business to increase readership and a great way to do it is to generate controversy. Opionions that differ from SOY do just that, and will have a better chance of getting to print.

  4. City Boy at Heart Says:

    Cal, Have you seen the back page of Sunday’s “LIBERAL”?

    Cal’s comment: My kids deliver the Liberal, so they pointed it out to me while sorting.

    This group obviously has some money involved with it to have a half page ad (sorry, I forgot to mention the group being the Save Our Yonge—Subwaynow). Funny, they never in the ad just how much longer the road will be torn up for subway construction and just how much it will cost and who will cover it. Ah well, it should be an interesting provincial election.

    Cal’s comment: on their website, they seem to believe that there will be little, if any, disruption. They actually say, “most of the action takes place underground and out of sight.” Yeah, just like Sheppard was!

    I also get a chuckle out of their idea that a subway will be “A seamless subway system from the 407 to downtown.” As I have said, in order to improve frequency on the Yonge line during peak operation, two turnback terminals will be necessary. One will be at Finch or Steeles and all those folks who planned on a seamless subway ride to 407 will have a 50/50 chance (or worse) to get there seamlessly.

  5. MannyJ Says:

    There is no need to extend the subway from Downsview, to York Region. In fact, they should only extend it to York University, as far as I am concerned. There is ample LRT technology available that would better serve VIVA and future expansion. The cost of the technology would be substantially less then a subway. However, I do think that the Yonge line should be extended to Steeles, and no further.

    Cal’s comments: I question the capacity requirements of extending the subway to York University - LRT could provide ample capacity and would essentially replace VIVA Orange through the area. While York University has lobbied for a subway for more than a decade, they would be horrified at the thought of one ENDING on their campus! They simply do not want the feeder buses coming in there, so they would absolutely insist on the subway or an LRT going one stop further to Steeles.

    However, if subway is considered an absolute must for this area, I suspect that extending the Sheppard line west to Downsview then up to York U/Steeles may be a better use of the money in terms of providing a more useful connection and making the Sheppard line more useful.

    One item that has not been looked at is the amount of people traveling via the Yonge subway line. Begs to wonder why no one is considering the possible (not sure how viable) electrification of the GO train line into Richmond Hill and Markham, with all-day frequent service (to help ofset the amount of people traveling to downtown Toronto). Or even the use of all-day service using LRT or O-train styled trains, running at “regular intervals”. However, with that said, for York Region, an LRT network could easily be created to vvarious parts of York Region. I think the time of Subways, for now, is ended. Maybe sometime in the future? The only subway that should be finished is the Sheppard Line (I hate unfinished work - whats done is done). But thats another topic!

  6. MannyJ Says:

    It’s interesting that you mentioned using the Sheppard subway. I have always thought that they should complete the line westward to Downsview station. I agree with you entirely, since it would make the line more useful, if extended up towards York University. In addition, there would be the opportunity to get a useful east to the west connection inside Toronto.

    Cal’s comment: The original full plan for the Sheppard line was for a line from Downsview station to Scarborough Town Centre. Totally new subway lines are politically difficult - they cost a huge amount and take so long that the politicians that get the photo ops for the groundbreaking may not be in office for the ribbon cutting. Many people are unaware of the fact that Sheppard is the ONLY new subway line construction since the original Yonge line from Eglinton to Union. Every other piece of subway construction in Toronto has been extensions of existing lines. Even the Bloor line was approved as an extension to the Yonge-University line - I have my suspicions that the design of Bay and St. George stations was intended for separate line operation, but the plan was sold as an interlined extension to get over the political hurdle.

    To make the Sheppard line politically viable, it was cut back in phases - lopping off everything east of Victoria Park, then Don Mills, and almost everything west of Yonge. I am not convinced that Downsview to York U would be best served by subway, but if it must be, then perhaps serious though into extending Sheppard to serve that area should be considered.