Jan. 19th, 2015

c9: (Contrails)
I was recently asked to provide evidence for transit-related claims I've heard from many people for many years, and that I have also shared in public meetings I've facilitated with the TTC and Metrolinx. Since I like having the facts and sources, and sharing information to make the conversation around transit better, here's the results.

Question 1: "LRT actually encourages retail development more than subways." Evidence?

This is taken as a given by many – it’s been said or confirmed to me, in person, by multiple planners working at TTC, Metrolinx, and Toronto’s Chief Planner’s office. But it’s good to check, so I decided to take a look. First, the base: Transit-Oriented Development, what that means and what it does:So we can safely say transit encourages development around transit stations, and that development usually includes retail. But that’s just transit in general so far.

  • Same report, p39: 30% premium for retail development for LRT, but research was scarce in 2002 and inconsistent results mean we shouldn’t accept that 30%.

  • Same report, multiple spots: many other examples of how TOD means pedestrian-friendly areas, and information about the impact zones of LRT stops (as they are closer together, for example), though the impact zone concept applies to any stop providing reliable, predictable transit service.

So now we know the literature is inconsistent, with more research needed. There are many factors in why a city might have more or fewer retail stores, so we have to be careful not to make assumptions. However: we do know LRT stops are closer together, and that retail in North America is a ground-floor activity. We also know that LRT encourages mid-rise development (because there are more impact zones (stations) for a given area). Therefore there are more buildings, and more retail opportunities, and more pedestrian traffic near them.
More reading:
Can I safely conclude that retail develops more with surface rail than with subways? No! From this I can conclude that it develops more with closer stop-spacing. Therefore I should be more precise in my phrasing, which is oversimplified in the example that was used for the question, I agree.

I’m not a trained and certified planner and I happily defer to their expertise in this area. I would suggest, for those interested, a review of costs for underground versus surface transit, and how that may also play a part in what those experts recommend.

Question 2: "Both Sheppard and Bloor-Danforth subways have developed less than projected." Evidence?

This is another thing that is taken as a given and mentioned a lot, but more facts = better decisions, so let's check:
In year one, on weekdays, the Sheppard subway had ridership ranging from 34,000-40,000 riders per day. https://www.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Commission_reports_and_information/Commission_meetings/2004/May_12_2004/Other/Post-Implementation_.pdf That's weekday ridership, so to be very conservative (which means generous to the subway), let's multiply that range by 52 weeks and six days per week. (weekend days are generally not "half a weekday"), and let's ignore summer holidays, the extended Hannukkah-Christmas-New Year's period, and other statutory holidays that impact ridership.

34,000 x 6 x 52 = 10.6M
40,000 x 6 x 52 = 12.5M

Ridership in 2014 was 50,000 according to the TTC's presentation to the Board in December 2014: http://coderedto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/20141209_CEO_Presentation_Board_Report.pdf

50,000 x 6 x 52 = 15.6M

So ridership has now, 11 years late, reached the low end of the 2002 projections made during 2001.

But that question is also about condo and employment development, not ridership growth, so let's look at that. A report (which I have not personally read and would love to, hint hint) from a few years ago helps with the numbers: (http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2012/02/15/james_the_ttc_subway_report_mayor_rob_ford_doesnt_want_you_to_read.html )

  • "Planners projected 64,000 added jobs would come to the North York Centre, near Yonge and Sheppard, between 1986 and 2011. In fact, as of 2006, employment had grown by only 800 jobs over the two decades."

  • Note that the forecasts may have assumed the full original design length for the Sheppard subway, not the short version that was funded, so the next line in that same piece should be ignored: "Scarborough Centre, at McCowan and Highway 401, was forecast to grow by 50,000 jobs. Figures for 2006 reveal a net loss of 700 jobs."

  • "The office building market disappeared, taking jobs with it. Condos sprang up where offices were slated. Condos bring people, but they don’t necessarily take the subway to work because they work all over the GTA." Note that some of the most congested intersections in Toronto are along Sheppard where cars try to access Highway 401. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/08/toronto_identifies_top_10_most_congested_intersections.html

  • "There are more than 30 per cent fewer jobs than envisioned [city-wide]."

  • "Sheppard, even if built out to the Scarborough City Centre, will top out at 6,000 to 10,000 riders per peak hour," the report says.

A second 2012 report from city planners (http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2012/cc/bgrd/CC20_1_app3_14.pdf ) also provides helpful information in evaluating the situation:

  • Population growth alone will not generate sufficient ridership to justify a [Sheppard] subway [extension]

  • Commercial office development generates 4 to 5 times more transit ridership than an equivalent amount of residential floor area

‚ÄčSo we know that ridership is far below projections, and that employment has not increased as projected, and that employment brings more transit riders than condos and other residential development does.

What about Bloor-Danforth? That one is simpler. It's been open almost 50 years, and there are more tall buildings on Sheppard than there are on most of Bloor and Danforth (outside the core of course). I'm comfortable assuming it's below what would have been projected under similar planning approaches. Note that in this case ridership is higher due to the extensive bus feeder system, which is key throughout much of the TTC network.

So, there's some evidence and details and reading for anyone interested in discussing this stuff honestly.

I wholeheartedly support all modes of transit (bus, BRT, streetcar, LRT, subway, commuter rail) in appropriate places at appropriate times. I honestly explain the pros and cons of each when I facilitate public meetings with councillors, or when I meet with legislators in person. The 100% unpaid work I do, and the money I spend to print stuff to help make complicated topics more clear so others can decide for themselves what they prefer, is just because I kinda like this city and think it would be neat if more of it has better transit options. More options, improved transit, for more riders, sooner.

If you have any links to info or reports on these topics please feel free to point me to them. I really would love to see contradictory evidence, as the math and the facts matter more for rational transit planning than whether we build shiny thing A or shiny thing B.

if you have claims, but no links, you can hang on to those - I have plenty already.

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