Saturday, January 30, 2010

Visions for the GTTA: Rapid Transit, Part II

This post is a continuation of this post.

Recommendation #3 - Quickly introduce Rocket service to major corridors

Within recent memory, several bus-based rapid transit projects have been implemented to improve transit service in the GTHA. Notables among them include iXpress, which snakes through Waterloo Region; A-Line and B-Line, forming a north-south network in Hamilton; and VIVA, York Region Transit's celebrated rapid transit network. In the fall of 2010, Zum in Brampton will come online and provide express service along the Queen Street corridor. While there is no question that these routes have been successful, they all run primarily in mixed traffic and they all experienced long implementation times. Zum, for example, can be traced back to 2004 - a six year lead time for only 1/3rd of the first phase.

[More after the jump...]

Many of these bus routes use signal priority and congestion management systems to give vehicles an advantage over traffic, and use unique vehicles and stops to give added value to riders. This is generally the source of the long lead times, but could there be a way to implement transit projects of this nature must more swiftly? The Transit City Bus Plan calls for the TTC to, among other things, quickly implement limited-stop express bus service on major corridors, including corridors where light rail transit routes are to be implemented in the coming years. These service improvements will serve as gap fillers, allowing transit to be improved today without compromising the future vision. As such, I recommend that high frequency (every 10 minutes or better) and limited stop "Rocket" service be implemented on all designated high frequency transit corridors. These corridors, identified in municipal official plans and transportation master plans, identify corridors where high-quality transit service is envisioned.

Based upon VIVA, Mississauga Transit and Hamilton Street Railway schedules, express buses can deliver between 13% and 18% decreases in travel time. The time savings will be less pronounced in more congested areas and less pronounced on shorter routes, but will deliver faster travel times in the suburbs where transit is less competitive with private automobiles. These routes can be implemented within two years of a funding commitment, as in the case of Hamilton's A-Line route and the proposed Transit City pre-LRT routes.

As ridership on these corridors build, services should be upgraded to higher capacity transit solutions like those contemplated by the RTP. By no means should these Rocket bus routes be considered the final transit solution.

Recommendation #4 - Expand the Metrolinx RTP projects

Aside from subways, mainline rail and regional transitways, the Metrolinx RTP identifies a class of transit technologies known as Other Rapid Transit. While I believe that the automatic guided transit technology (Vancouver Skytrain, for example) described in the RTP is better grouped with subways due to their need for a fully segregated right-of-way, the two main types contemplated by the document are light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT).

Light rail transit in the GTHA will most likely take the form of streetcar-style trains running on the surface in their own lanes. These transit rights-of-way may be placed in the centre of the roadway, along one side of the roadway, or in a utility or railway corridor.

The right-of-way may be fairly narrow like on Spadina or St. Clair West (about 8 metres wide), or it may be as wide as the subway corridor in the median of The Allen (about 16 metres wide). Stations may be placed on the near-side or the far-side of intersections as required, and may be relatively simple or fairly elaborate. The local context is key in the urban design of the right-of-way and the stations, and having a minimal impact without sacrificing efficiency and passenger comfort should be strived for.

In most cases in Toronto, the transit right-of-way is flanked by two general traffic lanes in each direction and a generous pedestrian realm. According to the TTC, this requires a road allowance of, property line to property line, no less than 36 metres. Many roadways, especially in older downtowns, do not have road allowances this wide. A solution for narrow rights-of-way is critical to the success of the rapid transit program in the GTHA, and some difficult decisions must be made. Tunnelling below the roadway has traditionally been the preferred proposed solution, while mixed traffic operation and removing a traffic lane have been dismissed as non-starters. Short sections of vehicles operating in mixed traffic can be acceptable, provided that turning and parking restrictions are visibly enforced. In addition, leaving only one traffic lane in each direction, either permanently or on a part-time basis, is a solution that must be considered. This option does have a transportation demand management element to it, but should come with a strategy to ensure that local businesses can remain viable under the new roadway arrangement.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the GTHA will most likely resemble LRT with only a difference in vehicle. While BRT is often less expensive to implement due to less expensive vehicles and less expensive infrastructure, the ability to couple light rail vehicles together gives LRT a capacity edge. In addition, LRT routes are known to attract more development and ridership than BRT routes (remember how everyone wants subways?). However, a well-designed BRT route can be upgraded to LRT by simply laying rails and putting up wires.

Streetcars - light rail vehicles operating primarily in mixed traffic - have traditionally been used as locally oriented lines as opposed to rapid transit lines, but lines like St. Clair, Spadina and Harbourfront have blurred this distinction. In the past, building a right-of-way has not seen to be practical, but the solutions for narrow rights-of-way used in LRT projects may allow for the reliability of streetcar routes to be improved.

All-door boarding, required under a fare-by-distance scheme, will decrease dwell times at stations and speed up service.

Though each mode has its strength and weaknesses, the transit technology choice is a complex decision and needs to involve demand, expected development, and cost. However, the following expansions to the Metrolinx RTP should be made after the individual projects particular line has been implemented:

  • Hamilton - James Street
    • Also known as the A-Line, the Metrolinx RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the James Street corridor from John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport to Downtown Hamilton. A northern extension would serve the railway station on the Great Western Railway (CN) line and Hamilton Harbour.
  • Hamilton - King Street / Main Street
    • Also known as the B-Line, the RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the King Street / Main Street corridor, between McMaster University and Eastgate Square. An eastward extension would serve Stoney Creek and Winona and a westward extension would serve Dundas and Ancaster. If the recommendation to use King Street through the downtown core and Main Street elsewhere is adopted, additional east-west rapid transit capacity should be added to Main Street through the downtown core and King Street outside of the core. Eventually, this should develop into independent King Street and Main Street lines.
  • Halton / Peel / Toronto - Dundas Street
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Dundas Street corridor, between Brant Street in Burlington and Kipling Subway Station in Toronto. A westward extension into Waterdown will serve this growing community, and an eastward extension to Dundas West subway station will serve neighbourhoods such as The Kingsway, Lambton and The Junction.
  • Halton - Trafalgar Road / Main Street
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Trafalgar Road corridor, between downtown Milton and midtown Oakville. A southward extension would serve downtown Oakville and Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital.
  • Peel / York / Durham - Queen Street / Highway 7
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Queen Street / Highway 7 corridor, between downtown Brampton and eastern Markham. A westward extension will serve planned growth in Huttonville, while a westward extension into Durham Region will replace current service provided by GO Transit and serve the Brooklin community.
  • Toronto - Finch Avenue West
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Finch Avenue corridor, between Finch subway station and Pearson Airport. An eastward extension towards Malvern would replace one of the city's busiest bus routes with reliable, high capacity transit.
  • Toronto - Eglinton Avenue
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Eglinton Avenue corridor, between Kennedy Station and Pearson Airport. A westward extension deeper into Mississauga will be in keeping with Mississauga's Official Plan and better connect the west end of the municipality.
  • Toronto - Sheppard Avenue East
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Sheppard Avenue corridor, between Don Mills subway station and Meadowvale Road. The RTP calls for a southward branch along McCowan Road to connect to Scarborough Town Centre. A southeastward extension along Port Union Road will serve that community and improve connections to the railway station on the Grand Trunk railway line. A westward extension along Sheppard Avenue West, the hydro corridor and along Highway 409 will provide an additional link to Pearson Airport. In order to accomplish this, the Sheppard subway must undergo a technological conversion to accommodate surface line trains. Though this may appear to be a "downgrade", the quality of service will actually increase. Eliminating the transfer at Don Mills station and at Sheppard-Yonge station will benefit those travelling east and west along Sheppard Avenue. Actual capacity will not decrease despite smaller trains, as the 2031 peak hour peak point ridership of 5000 people per hour is well within the capacity of the light rail line planned for Sheppard East. Within the tunnels, operating vehicles every two and one-half minutes (rather than every five minutes on the surface and every five minutes current) would compensate for the loss in theoretical capacity with tangible service improvements. Travel times within the tunnels will not increase. 
  • Toronto / York - Jane Street
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Jane Street corridor, between Jane subway station and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. A northward extension to Major Mackenzie Drive will serve Vaughan Mills Mall and will be in keeping with York Region's Transportation Master Plan. A southward extension along South Kingsway will serve Swansea and connect to the Queen streetcar and the Waterfront West LRT for direct service into the downtown core.
  • Toronto / York - Don Mills Road
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Don Mills Road corridor, between the Beaver Creek business district in Richmond Hill and a station on the Bloor-Danforth subway along Don Mills Road. A northern extension, potentially to 19th Avenue, will better serve the business district and will be in keeping with York Region's Transportation Master Plan. To accommodate the Downtown Core Line, the section south of Eglinton Avenue should be built with eventual conversion in mind.
  • Durham - Highway 2
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Kingston Road / Highway 2 corridor, between Scarborough Centre and Downtown Oshawa. An eastward extension into Clarington will better connect smaller communities like Courtice, Bowmanville and Newcastle with the rest of Durham Region.
  • Durham - Simcoe Street
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Simcoe Street corridor from Downtown Oshawa to the Highway 407 extension. A southward extension would serve employment lands near Oshawa Harbour, and would connect to the proposed railway station on the Ontario & Quebec Railway (CP) south of the downtown core.
  • Peel / York / Toronto / Durham - Steeles Avenue / Taunton Road
    • The RTP calls for a rapid transit line along the Steeles Avenue / Taunton Road corridor, between Lisgar GO station and downtown Oshawa. Rather than duplicate rapid transit service along Simcoe Street to downtown Oshawa, the line should be extended eastward along Taunton Road in keeping with the region's transportation master plans.
Alongside transportation activists, local residents have a very good reason to be interested in where transit lines will be placed. Access to transportation will become a more and more important selling feature in the future, so (aside from the obvious benefits) rapid transit will improve property values. But, as development often follows expanded transit, transit lines can bring greater noise and activity to otherwise quiet communities. This is not necessarily a bad thing - provided that the changes are for the better - but we often vilify those who seem only concerned about their property values. But, taking a step back, would we be any different if we were home owners? Would we want our property values to rise? Would we want to minimize the potential for our property values to drop? Would we worry that our small businesses would not be able to survive the disruption?

This does not mean that we should abandon or heavily modify our transit plans because of community opposition. Rather, we must include the best ideas and respectfully justify why the worst ideas are unfeasible. We need to overwhelm the nay-sayers with demonstrable benefits of high quality transit. We have to respond to the "me first" detractors with construction in every corner of the region. Most importantly, we cannot rest on our laurels.

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