Saturday, June 21, 2008

Progress on Transit City

While the Regional Transportation Plan is still on track for a fall release, previous funding announcements have given the green light to many transit projects across the GTA. Essentially, there are two classes to these projects. Fully funded projects, such as the Mississauga BRT and Brampton Acceleride have received most (if not all) of its funding, while EA funded projects, such as the Hamilton LRT lines and parts of Transit City, have the funding to move to detailed planning stages. We will have to wait and see how the RTP deals with these projects, as it could ratify, upgrade or provide alternatives to some of the proposed transit line. But, this uncertainty hasn't stopped the City of Toronto from moving forward on its plan to improve transit services across the city.

Among those these projects are the Sheppard East LRT, the Scarborough RT rehabilitation and expansion, the Don Mills LRT and the Waterfront West LRT. Here's a rundown of where the study for each project is and what options have left to be decided.

Sheppard East LRT
The city is moving ahead with a LRT line from Don Mills Road to Meadowvale Road, with stations spaced every 400-500 metres. This means that many stops will be eliminated, but the end-to-end ride will be much faster than the current bus route. The Sheppard bus will be completely eliminated, allowing resources to be deployed elsewhere, but the buses that currently serve Don Mills station will remain.

There are two options on the table for linking the Sheppard LRT with the Sheppard Subway. Both require tunneling, and both would have tunnels built to subway clearances.

"Option 3" calls for the LRT to go underground at Consumers Road, and stop at a double-length Don Mills Station platform. Passengers would transfer by walking further down the platform. This is the lower cost option, and has no drawbacks beside ensuring that a runaway subway train can be stopped before entering into the LRT section of the station.

"Option 5" calls for the subway to be extended to Consumers Road, and the LRT terminate on the surface, directly above the subway platform. This option has a higher price tag, but comes with some interesting pros and cons. The whole point of Transit City being an LRT project is to discourage disconnected spot of ultra-high density development around stations. The hope is that the relatively close station spacing will bring a constant string of medium density development, much like Queen Street. But, the area between Victoria Park and Highway 404 is a business park and a good place to develop a high-density area - so it may be wise to extend the subway as far as Victoria Park. But, many pro-LRT advocates worry that such an extension will bring calls for "just one more stop."

I think that an extension to Victoria Park has merit, but we need to know what the plan for Sheppard West is. If we are going to build an LRT from Yonge Street westward (as the official plan calls for), then we should convert the subway to LRT for a continuous journey - and not build any extensions.

Another aspect still under consideration is a branch to Scarborough Centre, either down Brimley or McCowan. I believe its a necessary connection, but both Brimley and McCowan have their pros and cons. More study is needed.

Scarborough RT
It's a pretty much guarantee that the Scarborough RT will be upgraded to the Bombardier ART Mk. II standard that has served Vancouver so well. This means higher capacity trains and the possibility of running them more frequently.

The extension of the Scarborough RT to Malvern Town Centre is already under consideration, and has been broken into two sections. Between McCowan and Markham Road, three choices are available. The first has the line follow Progress Avenue in its entirety, but this might mean moving McCowan Station. The second follows the abandoned railway corridor and Progress Avenue, while the third follows Highland Creek. I think the second option is best, as it only crosses the creek once, maintains McCowan station and puts a the proposed Bellamy station as close to Progress as possible.

The northern segment has four possible alignments, but each has issues. Option 1 runs up Progress and Markham Road to the CP Rail line, but runs through the front yards of some townhouses. Option 2 diverts to avoid these houses, but has significant backtracking on its way to the terminus. Option 3 takes the most direct route (the old railway corridor), but runs through the back yards of some homes. Option 4 follows the 401 and Neilson Road, but infringes on another Transit City project.

Option 3 could be viable, if the line runs through a trench when it passes close to the residences. It would result in the fastest journey and would place a station at Progress and Sheppard, where redevelopment potential exists. Option 4 serves more existing high-density development, and could reduce the need for the Scarborough-Malvern LRT north of U of T Scarborough, but would see a longer ride to the subway.

Nothing is currently planned beyond this extension, but the opportunity to extend the line in both directions exists. Eastward, Seaton can be served with an extension along the CP Rail corridor. This could serve trips to Scarborough, with downtown trips using GO services. Westward, there is the possibility to build the Eglinton-Crosstown line as an extension of the Scarborough RT. It would be elevated east of Laird and west of Weston Road, with a tunnel in between. Once at Renforth, a branch could head to Pearson Airport, while another branch could head to Mississauga City Centre.

Waterfront West LRT
From Dufferin Street to Union Station, the Waterfront West LRT will run parallel to the Gardiner to Fort York Blvd, then will stick to city streets to the Air Canada Centre, where it will join the tunnel to Union Station. West from Dufferin Street, there are many options, and alternatives on options, to get to the Roncesvalles/King/Queen/Queensway intersection.

Among them, I believe that "Option 2" is the best alternative. From the area around Dufferin Loop, the LRT line would run along the embankment beside the railway corridor to a direct connection with the line heading westward along the Queensway. This would allow the 508 LAKE SHORE to be rerouted into Union Station. Combined with all day service and improved frequencies, this will solve the problems of spotty service west of Humber Loop. However, the variant of Option 2 still under consideration doesn't allow for cars southbound on Roncesvalles to head to Union Station. If the Jane LRT uses the railway corridor to terminate at Dundas West, as many have recommended, this missing link will be needed to bring the line into the core.

West of Humber Loop, there are long term plans to build a right-of-way along Lakeshore, in addition to a new Loop around Park Lawn. This will benefit the towers around Palace Pier, but more will be needed to improve the relationship the residents have with the TTC. One thing idea that has been floated is to build a right-of-way along Queensway to Sherway Gardens. From the 427 to the Humber River, Queensway is under-developed with relatively poor transit service. If Transit City is truly a redevelopment tool, then this stretch is where it will bear the most fruit.

Don Mills LRT
The Don Mills LRT line will begin at Steeles and travel to Overlea and Millwood - that much is certain. Beyond that, there are multiple options for getting to the subway and on to the downtown core.

The route most commonly associated with this line is down Pape to Pape station. This would serve the most people employment and businesses, but would require tunneling to avoid bad surface conditions. To bring this line into the core, trams could continue down Pape to the railway corridor, then stay on the railway corridor to Union Station or interact with the proposed transit line on Queens Quay East. Alternatively, the line could use Carlaw to enter the Portlands, roughly following the route of the 72A PAPE bus.

Another proposed route uses O'Connor and Broadview to reach the subway, and could be extended to the Portlands using the proposed Broadview extension. While most places along this route need to be tunneled, there are some places where an at-grade alignment could be built. This alignment serves fewer people than the Pape alignment, but could bring some improvements to the 505 DUNDAS and 504 KING streetcars (though it could also completely screw them up).

The final alignment is to use Millwood, the railway corridor and the Bayview Extension to reach Castle Frank station. This alignment could be built completely at the surface, but serves the fewest people and has to deal with a very difficult approach to Castle Frank. To continue into the core, the line could follow the route of the 65 PARLIAMENT bus to Queens Quay East.

Of all the options, I think the Pape alignment will bring the most benefit. It has more people, jobs and businesses than the other alignments, and using the railway corridor will offer significant savings than Broadview or Parliament. If the line is to be tunneled, then stations will be located at Cosburn and Mortimer. If on the surface, O' Connor could be added, but I think this is an important stop to have regardless of the alignment.

Overall, progress on Transit City appears to be moving along well, and I'm eagerly waiting to see the direction the city plans to take on the other lines. Could some of the lines be built to subway standard? I suppose they could, but not without downgrading other proposed lines to BRT - and there is ample evidence to suggest that LRT brings the investment we need to keep this city growing. Of course there are faults to the project, but no one can disagree that its the most ambition (and most likely to get built) transit project the city has seen in quite some time.

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