Saturday, April 18, 2009

Does cynicism trump?

I've been having a debate recently over the commitment to electrify the Georgetown corridor, and I think it boils down to this question:

Is "I don't believe they can pull it off on time/on budget/at all" a valid criticism of the Metrolinx RTP?

I don't think it is a reasonable criticism, because such a statement could be used to argue against anything at any time. I am curious to see what others feel about this line of reasoning. Please comment.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Much ado about a bridge

As we move towards more frequent service on the Georgetown, Milton and Barrie/Bradford GO lines, as well as implement an express train to the airport and increase VIA rail services, there is a need to separate trains from cars at Strachan Avenue, just west of the approach to Union Station. However, there appears to be a showdown brewing over the preferred option. Metrolinx, the regional transit authority, is recommending that Strachan Avenue be raised above the tracks, while the city of Toronto is recommending that the tracks be lowered below Strachan Avenue.

I'm not going to take sides quite, but I have reproduced the planning matrix from the City of Toronto's report:

Strachan Overpass Railway Underpass
Street Network Connectivity VERY POOR
Maintains Strachan connections
Removes 3 east/west connections
Impacts Quality Meats Access
Maintains existing patterns and allows for improvements
Open Space Community VERY GOOD
Does not impact open space
Maintains existing patterns and allows for improvements
Pedestrian/cyclist Experience VERY POOR
Unattractive ped. environment
No cycling lanes
Very long approaches
Increased change in grade
Maintains existing patterns and allows for improvements
Existing Development Impact VERY POOR
Disconnects 460m of existing frontage
Overshadows existing development
Maintains existing patterns and allows for improvements
Development Potential VERY POOR
High Impact on adjacent sites
Restricted frontage south of crossing
Restricted access to Triangle Lands
Maintains existing patterns and allows for improvements
Cost and Feasibility POOR
Medium impact on utilities
No impact on railway operations during construction
Difficult construction with adjacent existing development
~ $25 million
High impact on utilities
Cost of new trackage
Impacts railway operations during construction
~ $125 million

As we can see, lowering the railway is the optimal solution, but it costs a heck of a lot more than the sub-optimal solution. Taking a look at the broader issue,

If the objective is to separate cars from trains, do urban design considerations justify spending much more than the absolute minimum necessary to get the job done?

If so, how much more?

Is the city paying for the construction, or is the province paying through Metrolinx?

How would the recommendation change if the opposite party were the one paying for the construction?

We are at the intersection of city-building and fiscal responsibility, and the rhetoric has already started to fly. But, why does it always seem to be about bridges in this city?

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