Rebuttal to CodeRedTO’s reply to my letter titled: Let’s say NO to Transit City, but YES to a Transportation City plan.

Below is the text of my original letter in green Italics font, CodeRedTO’s reply in orange Italics font, and my rebuttal in regular black font. CodeRedTO’s reply was published online at: http://c9.livejournal.com/538194.html

The official #CodeRedTO response, sent this morning:

Dear all:
On Tuesday morning, you may have received an email that provides an alternate viewpoint to transit policy in the City of Toronto. CodeRedTO welcomes this debate and would like to present the following as a rebuttal to the arguments posed by Mr. Gutierrez.

CodeRedTO’s motivations

“There is an ongoing attempt to revive the former Transit City plan as an alternative to building subways in Toronto, with its proponents getting attention to their cause in a series of articles and interviews by the Toronto media.”

CodeRedTO’s goal is not to revive Transit City but to ensure Toronto moves forward on an achievable, evidence-based rapid transit strategy. We are not advocating against subways: we’re questioning the appropriateness of directing all committed funding and resources to needlessly bury the planned on Eglinton Avenue, ignoring the transit needs of northwest Etobicoke by cancelling a funded and approved LRT line, and halting construction of a LRT line on Sheppard Avenue East to spend over a year on studies that show a subway line is not affordable by the private sector, let alone the through public funding.

The proponents that I referred to, and on the media articles that I linked in that letter, are also related to a website called “savetransitcity.com”. If their intention is not to revive Transit City, I suggest then, a change of name to their website.

With respect to how do we use our public funds more appropriately, I suggest that for less than the funds originally allocated to Transit City, we should be able to build the Eglinton LRT fully underground between Black Creek and Kennedy, both Sheppard East and West subway extensions (from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre), and frequent Express Bus service along Finch Ave. on dedicated bus lanes. Since TTC officials have mentioned that surface LRT would average a speed of 22 km/h, then we can get faster service with express buses on dedicated lanes, at a fraction of the cost, with less expropriation to compensate for road lanes, and far less disruptions to existing road traffic conditions, compared to surface LRTs.

LRT plans and road space

“Contrary to what they say, Transit City is the wrong approach to solve Toronto’s gridlock problem, since it is about taking existing, and scarce, road space in exchange for short trains going on their own right-of-ways, quite similar to current Toronto streetcars on St. Clair, or Spadina.”

Approved LRT plans on Eglinton, Finch, and Sheppard, largely minimized the reduction of road space for cars. On each line, the number of general traffic lanes are maintained. This is possible because the surface sections of these LRT lines are in road right-of-ways that are 30 metres, or more, in width. As noted in yesterday’s Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1120102–cohn-mcguinty-ford-lrt-deal-destined-to-collapse-under-its-own-weight), the Province is said to have offered expropriation on Eglinton Avenue East to actually widen the roadway to accommodate an extra general traffic lane, but Mayor Ford reportedly declined.

30% to 40% of road space reduction is not considered to be “minimized reduction”, and that will affect traffic conditions enormously. Also, the surface Eglinton LRT proposal affects left turns in almost all of its intersections, therefore complicating road traffic even further. It is not wise to go expropriating land, to justify a surface LRT, because of today’s density considerations, when a faster, fully underground LRT, would bring higher density along its route, in a matter of few years.

More importantly, transit lanes are arguably a more efficient use of road space than a general traffic lane. The throughput of people is much greater, given a two-LRT train could carry as many as 400 people. With auto occupancy rates in Toronto averaging around 1.1 persons per vehicle, that’s over 350 fewer vehicles on the road, which would occupy much, much, more road space.

This would only be if we assume that the same people traveling along that route would switch from cars to transit. Even with current traffic congestion, people still travel faster by car than by transit due to better route flexibility, and the time saved from transferring between different transit vehicles. Only fast transit service, which is completely segregated from road traffic, becomes reasonably competitive in travel times.

Congestion and travel speeds

“People use their cars mostly because they are able to travel in much shorter time compared to transit, and this happens everywhere in the city, except for downtown during rush hour.”

First of all, we have to be clear that vehicular congestion is not just a “downtown” problem. Much of the congestion downtown can be traced back to inadequate transit and other travel options in automobile-dominated suburban neighbourhoods. We should also note that some of the worst congestion areas in the Toronto region are in the the most car-friendly places. If building wider roads and more highways is the solution, then Highway 401 would never be congested, with sixteen lanes of constantly free-flowing traffic.

I don’t think that anybody in their conscious mind can say that there is no vehicular congestion outside of downtown Toronto, so let me explain my point in more detail: even on congested roads cars make complete trips faster than transit, except inside downtown at rush hour. It is hard to suggest that we would eliminate congestion, but we can aim to reduce it. With GTA’s population increasing by 50% in the next 20 years, we cannot expect that gridlock won’t get worst, and without building further road capacity. For over 4 decades, there has been no increase on road capacity in Toronto, while there have been increases on transit service. However, gridlock continues to get worst, and worst.

“If a proposed LRT is expected to save 5 minutes compared to an existing bus route, that will still remain uncompetitive to the car. And that is “if”, because streetcars on separated right-of-ways do not seem to go faster than buses in mixed traffic. Let me explain with the 5 cases below:
Taking the Queens Quay-Spadina streetcar LRT between Queens Quay/Bay and Spadina/Harbord (on its own right-of-way) takes 21 minutes and 15 stops, on a 4.3 km stretch.
Taking the St. Clair streetcar LRT between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street (on its own right-of-way) takes 19 minutes and 17 stops, on a 4.1 km stretch.
Taking the Eglinton West bus between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes also 19 minutes, but 19 stops, on a 4.4 km stretch.
Taking the Finch West bus between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes 12 minutes and 18 stops, on a 4.5 km stretch.
And last, taking the Bloor subway between Yonge Street and Dufferin Street takes only 8 minutes and 7 stops, on a 4.1 km stretch.”

The comparison of LRT plans on Eglinton/Sheppard/Finch to streetcars downtown is common, but wrong. With all transit technologies, travel time is largely determined by design. It is also inappropriate to compare downtown operating speeds with suburban operating speeds. For example, the Spadina Streetcar is “slow” by suburban standards, at an average speed of approximately 15km/h, but it is “fast” by downtown standards, when the comparative Bay bus (similar traffic conditions and activity) travels at an average of just 10 km/h.
Stop spacing is a major design consideration when it comes to speed. Mr. Gutierrez’s comparisons largely prove this point: the more stops you have the slower a service runs. Spadina/St. Clair has stop spacing of about 200 metres. The LRT plans provide much wider stop spacing (approximately 500 metres) to increase travel speed and will have signal priority to reduce long stops at intersections.

We agree that speeds in downtown are typically slower to speeds on the so called “suburbs”. My point is that on similar street environments, buses are as fast, or faster than streetcars on their own right-of-way (Spadina doesn’t have similar traffic conditions as Bay, since Bay has much higher density; Bay and York are the two streets with the highest density in the GTA). Buses on Eglinton Avenue East currently go from a slow rush-hour average speed of 18 km/h, to a faster non-rush-hour average speed of 27 km/h. This current situation is undoubtedly much better than investing billions of dollars, and attaining speeds of only 22 km/h.

The LRT lines on Eglinton, Finch, and Sheppard were all designed to achieve an average design speed of at least 25 km/h.

Not on Eglinton, since according to TTC officials the average speed would only be 22 km/h. The renovated St. Clair streetcar right-of-way was also promised to be rapid transit, but is only attaining an average speed of 13 km/h.

The average speed of the Bloor-Danforth Subway today is 30 km/h.
The average speed of buses on Eglinton and Finch during rush hour is 20 km/h.
The average speed of a car on the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour is 22 km/h.

It is point-less to showcase the downtown Gardiner Expressway at rush hour as the poster boy for car travel speeds, since it is one of the slowest roads in the whole GTA, at that time of the day. Average speeds for cars, elsewhere, is 30 km/h and above.

There are ways to further increase the design speed of the LRT lines. Further increasing stop spacing, grade separating the LRT line at congested intersections (as was planned at Eglinton and Don Mills), and different approaches to signal priority are all approaches that can be investigated.

The only way to make the LRT faster and more efficient than the current Eglinton bus service, is to completely segregate it from road traffic, either in a tunnel or elevated above the road.

Debating the costs of rapid transit

“Therefore, it is very hard to justify Transit City’s $167 million per kilometre expense (figure taken from Transit City proponent’s website:www.savetransitcity.com). On the other hand, the inflated estimate of $348 million per kilometre for building subways, seems to be taken from the current construction of the 8.6 km long Spadina subway extension (at $2.63 billion, or $305 million per km). However, this line includes 6 expensive subway stations that, by themselves, will cost about $1 billion dollars. If they had designed real estate opportunities (commercial or residential) above these new subway stations, TTC would’ve had these stations paid with private funds, therefore reducing the public cost for this subway extension to $1.6 billion, or $186 million per km.”

To assemble enough land to create a development parcel to finance a subway station is virtually impossible. Given expropriation requires “fair value” to be paid to the landowner and that any subway plan would dramatically increase the value of the land, the cost-benefit of this type of land assembly would be a tough sell. There’s also the argument against the legitimacy of expropriating land by a municipality primarily for the purpose of developing the land for profit themselves.

The swaths of land already dedicated for the new Sheppard West, Finch West, Steeles West, 407 and Vaughan Centre stations can easily accommodate large residential or commercial developments, without requiring any further expropriation. I don’t see the problem of building transportation infrastructure, and putting real estate development on top of it. It can be done in a Private-Public Partnership model.

A good point is made here: subway stations are expensive; even the most spartan and value-engineered station would cost at least $75-million, whereas the most elaborate surface LRT station would be a fraction of that cost, under $10-million. It’s easy to see why: no need for elevators, escalators, extensive digging, or disruption to the surrounding community.

Subway stations don’t need to be that expensive. On a competitive bidding process we can build subway stations at a cost lower than $75 million, and still include all of TTC standards. My concern here is that why are we spending almost $1 billion in only 6 subway stations, and specially when governments are crying poor.

“Alternatively, we can build elevated mass transit systems like the city of Vancouver does, where we would keep our scarce road space unaffected. We can even do this at a lower cost compared to Transit City’s LRTs, since Vancouver’s 19.2 km long Canada Line, including its 16 stations, cost about $2 billion, or $104 million per km. This is less than 2/3 of Transit City’s cost.”

Elevated lines are an option and it should be investigated further as a potential design solution. However, Mayor Ford also refused this option on Eglinton Avenue East when it was proposed. Most definitely, lessons from the Canada Line should be considered, such as public-private partnership options, and extensive value-engineering.

Elevated transit lines are definitely a good option on mid-density corridors like Eglinton Avenue in Scarborough. And since they are completely segregated (no need to deal with traffic lights, or other surface obstacles) they will definitely move much faster than at-street level LRTs. We agree about the use of private-public partnerships, since that will help us see all these transit cost figures in greater perspective.

Do note that station costs for Canada Line are significantly lower because they’re much smaller stations (50 metre length compared to 150 metres for a subway station, and 100 metres for an Eglinton LRT station).

Why do we need to build 100 metre long stations for a two-car LRT train?

Is the motivation misguided?

“To our advantage, Toronto has a series of corridors where we can put additional road capacity; and without having to destroy neighbourhoods, as it was done half a century ago in many cities in North America.”

Additional road capacity is not a solution to Toronto’s transportation woes, if we even have room for it.

We do have room for road expansion in Toronto, being along hydro corridors in Scarborough or along the Finch hydro corridor (great solution for a bus and truck-only highway across the city), or above or below existing road and rail corridors, as the Toronto Waterfront Viaduct proposal (http://www.toviaduct.com).

The motivation of providing enhanced rapid transit should not be to free up space for road widening and expansion. Why? Read about induced demand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand), which is an important concept. In short, increasing road capacity will only add more cars to our roads. Providing more transportation and mobility choice is the key to reduce our reliance on driving to get around the region. Driving when necessary, but not out of necessity.

Induced demand works similarly on just any other good or service that is offered to the public. If we use the same analogy with, say hospitals, schools, or sewers, when cities continue to grow, do we also stop building any further hospitals, schools, or sewers? Increasing road capacity doesn’t necessarily add more cars to the roads, since it is mostly a diversion of traffic into a more expedite route. A recent example is Highway 407, which was filled quite rapidly due to traffic being diverted from Steeles, Highway 7 and Highway 401. The idea of having expressways is to remove traffic from local roads, making them safer, not just for drivers, but also for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as more efficient for transit movement.

One way to better control road demand, would be to allow the private sector to build the new road infrastructure, and to charge a toll for it. Having said this, it doesn’t mean that we can now argue in favour of tolls on existing roads, since that is not acceptable, nor fair. Car drivers in Toronto have already been paying, for over half a century, gas taxes that are way in excess of any road maintenance or further development done during the same period of time. This is because a large portion of it has been going to the general tax pool. Therefore, we can’t accept the government to come and knock on drivers’ windows to beg for more money, in order to use the dated road system existing in Toronto. Road tolls on new infrastructure could be acceptable to the public since, at least, it is additional to the existing road network.

Agreeing on a balance

“Toronto doesn’t need a Transit City plan. Instead, we need a Transportation City plan that would improve transportation for all commuters. A balanced plan that serves transit riders, car drivers, walkers and bicycle riders, alike.”

We finally agree here. We need a balanced plan. A subway-only plan is not balanced. Nor is a LRT-only plan.

No, we don’t agree here, since I am not talking about balancing LRTs with subways. We need a balance between transit, road, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure improvements.

A balanced plan means:
We can build subways where they make sense: providing York University with a much needed subway connection, extending the Sheppard Subway to the employment centre at Consumers Road or a downtown relief line where more transit capacity is needed to support the transit-dependent development in the core.
We should build LRTs where its flexibility is an advantage and capacity is appropriate.
We should ensure our local bus network remains well-funded and provides reliable, frequent service.
We should make it safe and convenient to walk, bike, and carpool to transit and other destinations.

We agree in some point here, although your promoting of street-level LRTs is not part of the solution, but rather a creator of too many problems.

Those are the makings of a balanced plan. Instead, we face the danger of following a random, untested collection of ideas that claims to be balanced, but is deliberately unachievable as to stall transit progress in a city starved for travel options.

This is not rocket science, nor an “untested collection of ideas”. Toronto had a balanced transportation plan in the 1950’s to 1960’s, but made the mistake of bulldozing over neighbourhoods. Today, we have the technology and the economy to build transportation infrastructure below or above corridors. The only deliberate attempt that I see in this debate is the anti-car groups trying to run an LRT in the middle of the road, while slowing car traffic to a standstill, and then showing the LRT moving faster than the rest. It is like a runner braking the competitors’ legs in order to win the race.

We must move forward on solutions.
Laurence Lui
for CodeRedTO

We must move forward on balanced solutions that improves capacity for all commuters, including car commuters, which are, and will continue to be the majority in Toronto.

Yours sincerely,

Jose Ramon Gutierrez

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