That happened quickly. We got word last night that TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s musings about an above ground Eglinton LRT have given way to a full-blown alternative transit plan. One that’s significantly different from the scheme Rob Ford and Metrolinx have been pushing for the last year.
The Globe & Mail’s Elizabeth Church:
A compromise is in the works to relieve Toronto’s transit headache for the new Eglinton light rail line and fulfill the mayor’s election pledge for a Sheppard subway extension.
A group of Toronto city councillors that includes TTC chair Karen Stintz is proposing that the eastern leg of the new Eglinton Crosstown line run at street level as first planned with the money that saves used to extend the Sheppard subway two stops to Victoria Park. The proposal also would use some of the money to improve TTC service on Finch Avenue West with a dedicated transit corridor.
The Toronto Star’s version of the story includes a helpful map, though it leaves out the coming Spadina subway extension for some reason. I’ve included their graphic at the top of this post.
So: Surface LRT on Eglinton East. A stubby extension to the already stubby Sheppard Subway. And a long Bus Rapid Transit line on Finch. Details are light, but — like with anything — there are some notable pros and cons to this plan.
PRO: This is a plan that’s actually sensible and realistic. It’s a design that serves riders, not the whims of a man with an irrational bias against transit he can see while he’s driving.
CON: Ignoring the fact that it was thrown in as an offering to the mayor, there doesn’t seem to be a strong business case for the one- or two-stop Sheppard extension included in the plan. The Star’s David Rider and Tess Kalinowski peg the cost of that extension at $1 billion, which seems like a high estimate considering that was the cost of the entire Sheppard East LRT, a 14 kilometre route.
PRO: The LRT, as planned as part of Transit City, would have required a similar underground connection to Victoria Park, because there’s a highway interchange standing in the way. In terms of design, a subway extension doesn’t greatly differ from what we would have seen under the original plan, and still leaves the door open to a future LRT line on Sheppard East from Victoria Park to the zoo….
CON: …or ANOTHER subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre. Without a firm long-term plan for transit in this corridor, Toronto risks spending another twenty years endlessly debating what to do on Sheppard. Meanwhile, other parts of the city that are crying out for transit infrastructure go neglected.
PRO: Finch finally gets some love. One of the most horrifically overcrowded transit corridors in the city, Finch needs something — anything — that can help provide higher order service.
CON: The ‘busway’ concept planned for Finch seems rather poorly defined. Rider and Kalinowski peg the cost at about $400 million, for a route that looks to be more than double the length of the 11km Finch West LRT. That LRT line was to cost about $1.2 billion, three times as much. The low cost-per-kilometre makes me wonder how much we’re sacrificing: is this ‘BRT’ just going to be some painted lines on the road or is the plan to build something robust enough that it can be easily converted to light rail in the future? More details are desperately needed here.
PRO: A return to the surface alignment on the eastern section of Eglinton opens the door to further on-street extensions of the line westward toward Pearson Airport. Over time, we may just get the kind of comprehensive network of LRT routes once envisioned with Transit City.
CON: On-street operation on Eglinton East means that the TTC and the City’s transportation department desperately need to get their act together when it comes to route management and transit signal priority. Staff tend to come up with an endless list of excuses for why the streetcars on Spadina and St. Clair continue to bunch up. But we don’t need excuses on Eglinton — we need a transit line that runs well.
PRO: With support from councillors like Karen Stintz, Josh Matlow and John Parker, this alternative transit plan will most assuredly sail through council. Both Dalton McGuinty and reps from Metrolinx have said they’re on board with exploring a new plan. Given growing political support for switching up Toronto’s transit plans, the mayor would have to be completely out of his mind to stand in opposition.
CON: The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba reports that Mark Towhey, Ford’s Director of Policy, has indicated that the mayor does not support any changes. “Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street,” he said. Right.
PRO: Despite the questions and concerns on the table, this rethink is very welcome. Blowing $8 billion on a single transit line is the kind of bonehead decision that haunts a city for decades, similar to building an escalator to nowhere or the world’s largest magnifying glass. Going forward, the thing to watch is that we don’t jump from one half-baked plan to another. Council has to make sure that what they’re proposing is realistic, cost-effective and timely.