Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Competing Mayoralty Visions for the TTC

The second issue that plagues Torontonians the most is the increasing inadequacy of the TTC to meet our transit needs. Increasingly, the subway is packed morning, noon, and night, not just during the day. This is true for the less-crowded Bloor-Danforth line as much as for the Yonge-University line. Bus service has not gone back to previous service levels. Fares are too high, and we're being told that we cannot afford more subways -- even though Montreal now has more lines than we do, and guess whose taxes paid for those? It seems rather ridiculous that my taxes can help Montreal build subways, but I'm told that I have to settle for more buses (which many TTC users hate), longer streetcars (which are a nightmare to figure out when in the back half as the drivers still refuse to call out the stops except maybe for King Street), and perhaps dedicated streetcar or bus lanes. None of these measures will in any meaningful way reduce congestion on the main arteries nor will it reduce travel times. Taking the car will remain superior when time is important -- and one has that option.

David Miller has a vision for the TTC. According to his website, he has stopped the decline of the TTC. I beg to differ. It's harder and harder for me to find a seat in the middle of the day (which means the trains are reaching capacity during non-rush hours), service is erratic, drivers still don't call out stops, fares are too high -- including the obscenely priced Metropasses -- and it's often a pigsty. There has been zero change in capital projects, just a lot of talk, some studies, and aside from the $670 million the province set aside for subway expansion no goals or commitments. Miller did not secure that money; the Liberals did it to make the northwest happy.

Miller talks of making streetcars and buses as speedy and reliable as the subway. Physically impossible. The subway has no traffic lights nor other traffic to deal with, and you cannot put right-of-ways in every single arterial road in Toronto. In fact, other than Spadina and parts of St. Clair, no other road is wide enough. It's interesting that all his proposals for this speedy and reliable above-ground service are in the not-going-anywhere waterfront area and in the outer reaches, whereas the worst congested areas for the TTC are in the middle and south areas of the city. From Cork to Toronto recommends a different form of streetcar, something Miller mulls over as well in his vision. Yet that won't overcome the fundamental problem that streetcars run along congested roads, and there's nowhere else to put them. In the end, all Miller's proposals are small, except for the York University line. But he proposed it because the province wants it. And his proposal to extend and upgrade the Scarborough RT is a non-starter because the line is old and way beyond capacity and no-one is manufacturing new parts. It has to either become a subway line (the logical solution) or a busway (freezing and uncomfortable and crowded for the commuters but will make the bean counters happy).

Jane Pitfield has a competing vision, and she grabbed everyone's attention by declaring that she would build 2 km per year of subway line. The original builders of the subway envisioned this, and their successors followed this idea until the mid-1980s when despite cash flowing like rivers, the do-nothing Art Eggleton was voted in, and everything ground to a halt. Pitfield is resurrecting an old, proven idea. Unfortunately, she has no specifics. On the other hand, unlike Miller, she will start working with the GTA for region-wide integration of transit, something that's doable in the immediate term.

So since Pitfield has no ideas for subways. Here are a couple. Classic Quarters recommends a diagonal line that would connect Scarborough with the downtown, eliminating at least 3 changes to get from the northeast to midtown.

The critics of the proposed subway lines and the Sheppard line say they are only worth the expense where density allows. Even though the Sheppard buses were a nightmare of being stuffed like sardines, the subway is pretty empty. Part of the problem is that it was not completed as per the original plan due to the Mike Harris government's transit ineptitude and so it doesn't fully meet the needs of the riders along that corridor. So if density is a prime consideration, why has no-one, and I mean NO-ONE, looked at the fact that we have two north-south lines, but only one east-west line (notwithstanding the short Sheppard line); that we have such crowded streetcars along Queen and King that it's standard to wait and wait and wait as one crowded car after another passes, until finally 3 show up in a row and one can get on the last one; that the speed of these cars makes molasses look fast due to the narrowness and congestion of these arterial roads; and that lots of people work and live all along these streets.

Thanks to James Bow, I now know that the TTC recommends subways are viable where density is 100 people or jobs per hectare or higher. According to their very own map, the density in 1996 along Queen Street ranges from 250 person and jobs per hectare between what looks like Spadina and Bay to over 100 from Coxwell in the east to Keele in the west. In other words, from Coxwell to Keele, Queen Street meets their viability requirement to build a subway. This is a longer stretch than on Yonge Street, which has the most crowded line on the system. It encompasses 19 stops along the Bloor-Danforth line, which has a slightly longer but less consistent high density pattern as Queen, probably partly because of the existence of the subway for the past 40 years. Queen is also as far south as one can go and still reach the two far east-west ends of the city.

Nowhere else in Toronto is the density this high, not going towards York U, not along the Scarborough RT, not along Sheppard, nor even along the horrendously crowded Eglinton West bus corridor. And so why, given that the biggest criticism of subway expansion is lack of density, has no-one come out and said a subway is needed here to relive the congestion in this high-density corridor, to relieve the congestion on the Bloor-Danforth line since so many go up to it to speed across Toronto instead of crawling along it on the Queen car, to make taking down of the Gardiner feasible so that all the east-end residents will have an alternative high-speed way to get from east Toronto to downtown or the west end? Why? For the same reason as Miller thinks buses will relieve congestion, even though in no other city of comparable size have they done that. Because we Torontonians have learned helplessness and are too afraid to ask for what we need.

When we only ask for what we think we can get, we will never get what we need.

We need subways.

Only Pitfield has the courage to go back to our city builders and adopt their vision of Toronto, the vision that made us the mecca of transit and cleanliness, the vision that was lost in the 1980s, and the lack of which has landed us in this deteriorating mess where even the most diehard Toronto lovers are musing about where to move to.


Mark Dowling said...

I think a critical issue is getting people off the Yonge line who are heading for the B-D. Every day it seems like half the people getting on/off are doing so at Bloor.

Here's my idea - get rapid transit moving to Sherbourne and Bay stations. In the morning peak, service would run every 2 minutes from both stations to downtown but running directly back with the help of visible and vigorous policing of no-stopping zones and no-turn junctions, and Bloor passengers would be encouraged to use it instead of the Yonge line. In the evening it would be reversed - buses stopping going north and express running back south to pick up more passengers. Transit priority signals should be installed at all junctions where a streetcar is not crossing east-west.

Pretty soon given the condos going up on Bay it may be time to consider re-instating streetcar service there.

I have taken the existing Bay bus to the B-D but all too often it is held up by double parkers and other congestion, but it does mean you can get on a Danforth train before it fills up at Yonge. All too often it's just faster to get on the Yonge line to get to Bloor and squash on there and at peak this displaces passengers heading to Rosedale and onward.

James Bow said...

It (the Scarborough RT) has to either become a subway line (the logical solution) or a busway (freezing and uncomfortable and crowded for the commuters but will make the bean counters happy).

You're wrong, here. The consultant's report was fairly clear: there are three options:

1. Upgrade the line to use Mark II Skytrain equipment: $350 million, plus no real hope for expansion.

2. Upgrade the line to use new LRT vehicles: $450 million, and the SRT becomes the trunk line for an LRT network through Scarborough. Most Scarborough councillors now favour this option or a combination of 1 and 2.

3. Extend the Bloor-Danforth subway along a different alignment: $1.1 Billion.

A busway would have a lower capacity than the SRT now carries. A subway would be nice, would be very expensive.

LRTs make the most sense, here and, if push comes to shove, the province and the city will swallow the cost of upgrading the line to handle Mark II ICTS equipment. A busway is not under consideration.

James Bow said...

As for why nobody is advocating a downtown or Queen subway line, that's also not quite true. The Downtown Relief Line was part of the TTC's Network 2011 plan in 1984, which Metropolitan Toronto endorsed. Unfortunately, it fell off the radar in subsequent plans.

Why? Because everybody wants a piece of the subway pie, unfortunately. The suburban majority on Metropolitan Council demanded the lines in the suburbs, and there weren't the votes to maintain the DRL.

The big problem that has been at work here is political greed. People believe too much in the things subways can do, for transit, and for political photo opportunities. I think it's time for a more pragmatic approach, which was the real thing that made Toronto great: LRTs do improve the public transit picture; they've been effectively used throughout the States, and they can be built at a fraction of the cost of subways.

If we blow our wad on subways, we simply won't get the transit we need. Ontarian taxpayers already believe that Torontonians are subsidized enough. (Not true, I know, but that's what they think, and that's what McGuinty and Tory have to cater to in the next election).

James Bow said...

when despite cash flowing like rivers

This was also inaccurate.

By the late 1970s, TTC planners and politicians were growing increasingly concerned over the high cost of subway construction. The federal and provincial governments were in serious deficit and the country was about to enter a serious recession.

By this time, TTC planners believed that the dense areas of the city which were best served by new subway construction were, by and large, served. Plans to get transit into the suburbs which was rapid, but cheap, were first laid in the mid 1970s, when the first plans for the Scarborough RT materialized.

The TTC proposed a major installation following the current alignment, using streetcars. It is for this reason that the current CLRVs have a top speed of 120 kph, even though they have only ever operated at a fraction of that speed -- these were the vehicles that were supposed to ply the SRT in three-car trains. However, the province of Ontario wanted to build a market for high-tech transit, and convinced the TTC to alter the design of the SRT to demonstrate the province's new linear induction vehicles.

If the Scarborough RT had been built for streetcars instead of the current white elephant vehicles that now operate on it, I think Scarborough would have been substantially better off. For one thing, it would have been substantially cheaper and easier to extend the network.

Classic said...

_I'd have to re-confirm it, but that diagonal Malvern - Summerhill/Dupont line would be upon an existing limited use freight rail line track.
_A couple of traincars, some new generation quieter? engines, and a pair of jumbo park 'n rides nearby the DVP and also the 401, a M-F rush hour and maybe to 11pm schedule... sounds affordable & useful.

_Also, the Bloor line could be extended along Dundas to the almost empty Honeydale Mall location right at the 427.

talk talk talk said...

classic, I've heard rumblings of using hydro corridors and existing rail corridors for LRT or subways. It seems like an excellent idea to bring faster public transit to the suburbs.

James, you bring up several good points. When I said cash flowing like rivers, I was referring to the fact that in the 1980s the economy boomed after the recession in the early 80s. The 80s was known as the era of overt materialism and consumption, and the insane housing market reflected that. Yet governments stopped spending on important items, perhaps because they had built up deficits in the previous decade. Still Mulroney's government created the biggest deficits ever, and though I lived through it, I still have no idea how he did it when taxes were pouring in. It was only government ineptitude, not lack of money going into the coffers, that stopped things such as TTC expansion. And Art Eggleton was definitely the master of do nothing and keep the people comatose.

talk talk talk said...

James, as far as the SRT is concerned, the best solution for commuters is to extend the subway. It will speed up commute times (having to change increases commute times by 10 minutes/change, less if you're lucky, this I know from practical experience) and be more comfortable. It is really cold waiting for the SRT or a bus or an LRT when you're out in the burbs. Because of political squabbling, and the slide to the lowest denominator, I have no faith that they will build what they say they're considering. Plans have a way of disappearing -- they're already going to put in a busway to York U, pretending it's temporary. Temporary has a habit of becoming permanent, which is why I believe the University President objected.

The Downtown relief line is not the same as what I'm suggesting. I believe that line was supposed to go from Pape to Union. Whereas I'm talking about a second east-west line along Queen (perhaps starting at Coxwell, ending at Keele, but with the idea of extending both ends) so that people who live or work near the lake or as far north as Dundas, can use that instead of having to use or go up to the B-D line and then back down. As for your point about why, I'll address that in another post.

Mark, I know what you mean about where to change to the B-D line. Eons ago, the Bay bus was a frequent trolley bus. Aside from the entertainment of watching the hapless bus driver trying to get the bus reconnected to the overhead lines when they took the turn too fast, I liked it better cause it was quiet, bigger, didn't pollute the air, and was far more frequent. With the change in bus type, they soon reduced service. It perplexed me because that bus route was well used. They closed the second platform at Bay station for a reason I cannot remember. It was intended to siphon off commuters from the Yonge-Bloor interchange. Now they use it for movies and ads. They were also supposed to expand the Bloor platform, and I'm starting to feel pretty uneasy if I have to use it during rush hour. Good ideas!

James Bow said...

The Downtown Relief Line is actually similar to the Queen proposal. In 1984, the idea was for it to go from Pape station (or possibly Donlands) south to Eastern Avenue and west along Eastern and the railway tracks, *past* Union Station to the Front/Spadina intersection. The stops enroute would have been Gerrard, Queen East, Don Lands, St. Lawrence, Union and Skydome.

There were already suggestions of continuing the line to the west, following the railway tracks and the Weston sub to Dundas West station. And then the line could be extended north at both ends, to a U-shaped line that could run from Eglinton/Don Mills to Eglinton/Weston.

I think this idea would have been cheaper than tunnelling under Queen, while being still useful -- even though the plan called for tunnels to get to Eastern Avenue and along Eastern Avenue and beneath Front Street.

It's not beyond the imagination to conceive of a line that parallels the Lakeshore railway tracks from near Greenwood Avenue to Union and then up the Weston sub. The TTC already owns property between the Lakeshore sub and the Bloor-Danforth tracks, thanks to the Greenwood subway yard. Such a line would cross Gerrard at Pape (the location of the DRL station) and cross Queen near Broadview (a useful connection for the King and Queen cars, but away from the Beaches and Leslieville), but still serves the West Don Lands and St. Lawrence.

But to your point that we have to ask the moon in order to get what we need; the argument makes sense, except that we shot the moon back in 1984, and have been waiting 22 years for successive provincial governments to do anything about it.

If the province had started on the Network 2011 plan back in 1984, then we *would* have been better off. But it may be too late now to pin all our hopes on the government comings to its senses and playing catch-up on 22 years of neglect.

What the TTC needs is money to ensure that its current system is in a state of good repair, money to add buses and streetcars to keep up with ridership growth and provide additional capacity throughout the region (imagine full service on all routes, and never having to wait more than 20 minutes for a bus, even late at night), as well as adding to our subway network. But I put it to you that we need to do these things in the order of priority I've listed above.

Simply put, our governments might not come through. And if we allow them to distract us with promises of subway extensions, we may end up failing to address the bread-and-butter transit issues that affect commuters throughout the region.

Classic said...

_The Honeydale Station (with the other little half-deserted plaza next to it) short overground rail extension from Kipling I mentioned would attract a few thousand more regular paying daily 905 commuters.
_I remember driving in to chase for a metropass parking lot spot before it filled up at 7:30 a.m. That was a dozen years ago. Non-Lakeshore GO Trains still offer nowhere near the scheduling access for me.
_Plus, additional Rush Hour buses could use the location and allievate Islington's old bus terminal.

_Instead, High Park candidate Ted Lojko seems intent on pushing the Sherway downturn. Yet, many retailers are now located across the 8-lane Queensway. And I can already ride direct to Bloor/Yonge, Yorkdale, and the Eaton Centre.

talk talk talk said...

Classic, my sense from talking to people and seeing comments here and elsewhere is that the populace is leading our "leaders" in coming up with solutions. Bill Carroll on CFRB is advocating wholesale voting the incumbents out. I wonder what would happen if that miracle were to occur...

James, thanks for the info on the DRL! Your idea of paralleling the railway tracks is interesting. It wouldn't solve the problem of the Beaches and the area west of downtown being poorly serviced, but it sure would be a good start. (Good example of just one of the problems with the streetcars at http://www.flickr.com/photos/makeupanid/292592138/)

James Bow said...

"(Good example of just one of the problems with the streetcars at http://www.flickr.com/photos/makeupanid/292592138/)"

Oh, come now. I've seen that happen plenty of times to suburban buses. Why, just the other day, I waited at Finch and Victoria Park and three westbound Finch buses showed up.

Shows you why we need busways and streetcar rights of way. :-)

Sj said...

On Miller saying he "has stopped the decline of the TTC" I agree with you that this is not really true. I would add "in the areas that count."

He was mayor while we did the whole Bio-Diesel thing and while we decided to get new subway cars. The installation of automatic stop announcement on the bus and the soon-to-be implimented bus driver Red Light delay thingie... but nothing to help the service in a way that impacted US. The users...