Jan. 25th, 2012

c9: (Toronto)
Yesterday, several media outlets received an email regarding the goals and activities of #CodeRedTO and the abilities of Light Rail Transit (LRT) systems. This email was misleading in some places, flat out incorrect in others. If you missed it, read the original message here. (What's CodeRedTO?)

The official #CodeRedTO response, sent this morning:

Dear all:

On Tuesday morning, you may have received an email that provides an alternate viewpoint to transit policy in the City of Toronto. CodeRedTO welcomes this debate and would like to present the following as a rebuttal to the arguments posed by Mr. Gutierrez.

CodeRedTO's motivations

"There is an ongoing attempt to revive the former Transit City plan as an alternative to building subways in Toronto, with its proponents getting attention to their cause in a series of articles and interviews by the Toronto media."

CodeRedTO's goal is not to revive Transit City but to ensure Toronto moves forward on an achievable, evidence-based rapid transit strategy. We are not advocating against subways: we're questioning the appropriateness of directing all committed funding and resources to needlessly bury the planned on Eglinton Avenue, ignoring the transit needs of northwest Etobicoke by cancelling a funded and approved LRT line, and halting construction of a LRT line on Sheppard Avenue East to spend over a year on studies that show a subway line is not affordable by the private sector, let alone the through public funding.

LRT plans and road space

"Contrary to what they say, Transit City is the wrong approach to solve Toronto's gridlock problem, since it is about taking existing, and scarce, road space in exchange for short trains going on their own right-of-ways, quite similar to current Toronto streetcars on St. Clair, or Spadina."

Approved LRT plans on Eglinton, Finch, and Sheppard, largely minimized the reduction of road space for cars. On each line, the number of general traffic lanes are maintained. This is possible because the surface sections of these LRT lines are in road right-of-ways that are 30 metres, or more, in width. As noted in yesterday's Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1120102--cohn-mcguinty-ford-lrt-deal-destined-to-collapse-under-its-own-weight), the Province is said to have offered expropriation on Eglinton Avenue East to actuallywiden the roadway to accommodate an extra general traffic lane, but Mayor Ford reportedly declined.

More importantly, transit lanes are arguably a more efficient use of road space than a general traffic lane. The throughput of people is much greater, given a two-LRT train could carry as many as 400 people. With auto occupancy rates in Toronto averaging around 1.1 persons per vehicle, that's over 350 fewer vehicles on the road, which would occupy much, much, more road space.

Congestion and travel speeds

"People use their cars mostly because they are able to travel in much shorter time compared to transit, and this happens everywhere in the city, except for downtown during rush hour."

First of all, we have to be clear that vehicular congestion is not just a "downtown" problem. Much of the congestion downtown can be traced back to inadequate transit and other travel options in automobile-dominated suburban neighbourhoods. We should also note that some of the worst congestion areas in the Toronto region are in the the most car-friendly places. If building wider roads and more highways is the solution, then Highway 401 would never be congested, with sixteen lanes of constantly free-flowing traffic.

"If a proposed LRT is expected to save 5 minutes compared to an existing bus route, that will still remain uncompetitive to the car. And that is "if", because streetcars on separated right-of-ways do not seem to go faster than buses in mixed traffic. Let me explain with the 5 cases below:

  • Taking the Queens Quay-Spadina streetcar LRT between Queens Quay/Bay and Spadina/Harbord (on its own right-of-way) takes 21 minutes and 15 stops, on a 4.3 km stretch.
  • Taking the St. Clair streetcar LRT between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street (on its own right-of-way) takes 19 minutes and 17 stops, on a 4.1 km stretch.
  • Taking the Eglinton West bus between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes also 19 minutes, but 19 stops, on a 4.4 km stretch.
  • Taking the Finch West bus between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes 12 minutes and 18 stops, on a 4.5 km stretch.
  • And last, taking the Bloor subway between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes only 8 minutes and 7 stops, on a 4.1 km stretch."

The comparison of LRT plans on Eglinton/Sheppard/Finch to streetcars downtown is common, but wrong. With all transit technologies, travel time is largely determined by design. It is also inappropriate to compare downtown operating speeds with suburban operating speeds. For example, the Spadina Streetcar is "slow" by suburban standards, at an average speed of approximately 15km/h, but it is "fast" by downtown standards, when the comparative Bay bus (similar traffic conditions and activity) travels at an average of just 10 km/h.

Stop spacing is a major design consideration when it comes to speed. Mr. Gutierrez's comparisons largely prove this point: the more stops you have the slower a service runs. Spadina/St. Clair has stop spacing of about 200 metres. The LRT plans provide much wider stop spacing (approximately 500 metres) to increase travel speed and will have signal priority to reduce long stops at intersections.

The LRT lines on Eglinton, Finch, and Sheppard were all designed to achieve an average design speed of at least 25 km/h.

The average speed of the Bloor-Danforth Subway today is 30 km/h.
The average speed of buses on Eglinton and Finch during rush hour is 20 km/h.
The average speed of a car on the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour is 22 km/h.

There are ways to further increase the design speed of the LRT lines. Further increasing stop spacing, grade separating the LRT line at congested intersections (as was planned at Eglinton and Don Mills), and different approaches to signal priority are all approaches that can be investigated.

Debating the costs of rapid transit

"Therefore, it is very hard to justify Transit City's $167 million per kilometre expense (figure taken from Transit City proponent's website:www.savetransitcity.com). On the other hand, the inflated estimate of $348 million per kilometre for building subways, seems to be taken from the current construction of the 8.6 km long Spadina subway extension (at $2.63 billion, or $305 million per km). However, this line includes 6 expensive subway stations that, by themselves, will cost about $1 billion dollars. If they had designed real estate opportunities (commercial or residential) above these new subway stations, TTC would've had these stations paid with private funds, therefore reducing the public cost for this subway extension to $1.6 billion, or $186 million per km."

To assemble enough land to create a development parcel to finance a subway station is virtually impossible. Given expropriation requires "fair value" to be paid to the landowner and that any subway plan would dramatically increase the value of the land, the cost-benefit of this type of land assembly would be a tough sell. There's also the argument against the legitimacy of expropriating land by a municipality primarily for the purpose of developing the land for profit themselves.

A good point is made here: subway stations are expensive; even the most spartan and value-engineered station would cost at least $75-million, whereas the most elaborate surface LRT station would be a fraction of that cost, under $10-million. It's easy to see why: no need for elevators, escalators, extensive digging, or disruption to the surrounding community.

"Alternatively, we can build elevated mass transit systems like the city of Vancouver does, where we would keep our scarce road space unaffected. We can even do this at a lower cost compared to Transit City's LRTs, since Vancouver's 19.2 km long Canada Line, including its 16 stations, cost about $2 billion, or $104 million per km. This is less than 2/3 of Transit City's cost."

Elevated lines are an option and it should be investigated further as a potential design solution. However, Mayor Ford also refused this option on Eglinton Avenue East when it was proposed. Most definitely, lessons from the Canada Line should be considered, such as public-private partnership options, and extensive value-engineering. Do note that station costs for Canada Line are significantly lower because they're much smaller stations (50 metre length compared to 150 metres for a subway station, and 100 metres for an Eglinton LRT station).

Is the motivation misguided?

"To our advantage, Toronto has a series of corridors where we can put additional road capacity; and without having to destroy neighbourhoods, as it was done half a century ago in many cities in North America."

Additional road capacity is not a solution to Toronto's transportation woes, if we even have room for it. The motivation of providing enhanced rapid transit should not be to free up space for road widening and expansion. Why? Read about induced demand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand), which is an important concept. In short, increasing road capacity will only add more cars to our roads. Providing more transportation and mobility choice is the key to reduce our reliance on driving to get around the region. Driving when necessary, but not out of necessity.

Agreeing on a balance

"Toronto doesn't need a Transit City plan. Instead, we need a Transportation City plan that would improve transportation for all commuters. A balanced plan that serves transit riders, car drivers, walkers and bicycle riders, alike."

We finally agree here. We need a balanced plan. A subway-only plan is not balanced. Nor is a LRT-only plan.

A balanced plan means:
  • We can build subways where they make sense: providing York University with a much needed subway connection, extending the Sheppard Subway to the employment centre at Consumers Road or a downtown relief line where more transit capacity is needed to support the transit-dependent development in the core.
  • We should build LRTs where its flexibility is an advantage and capacity is appropriate.
  • We should ensure our local bus network remains well-funded and provides reliable, frequent service.
  • We should make it safe and convenient to walk, bike, and carpool to transit and other destinations.

Those are the makings of a balanced plan. Instead, we face the danger of following a random, untested collection of ideas that claims to be balanced, but is deliberately unachievable as to stall transit progress in a city starved for travel options.

We must move forward on solutions.

Laurence Lui
for CodeRedTO

August 2015

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