3 big issues with LRTs on the streets

Slow Emergency Response - Image credit: ambulance.gov.ae

There are three big and serious issues arising from the proposed street-level LRTs, to which the public expects that their proponents would be able to answer:

Reduced Public Safety: arising from a significant increase on road congestion, along the same route, and across its intersections. The volume of vehicles along that route might be reduced, but it won’t disappear. It will just get shifted to other roads, including local residential roads, therefore increasing the possibility for accidents on neighbourhoods where children and seniors walk or bike. Also, but not less important, this congestion increase will slow down emergency services response time, which would put too many lives at risk, or potentially leading to lost lives. I don’t think that Transit City, or a derivative plan similar to it, would include additional hospitals, nor EMS and Fire stations, on these affected neighbourhoods.

2.- No Reduction on Travel Times: There is no practical advantage in spending millions or billions of dollars for a transit service that moves as fast, or slower, than current bus service. Indeed, it would be quite irresponsible. If you want to increase bus riding comfort, then add more buses or get the articulated large capacity ones. York Region’s Viva buses provide a more comfortable ride compared to TTC buses. All this will cost a fraction, in the short and long run, and will be more efficient, compared to street-level LRTs. If you have a very large demand for transit, then build mass transit off the streets, therefore becoming rapid. This will not only improve the returns in the long run, but also reduces the life-threatening issues mentioned above.

3.- Costing of Transit Proposals: There doesn’t seem to be a rationale behind the costing of current transit proposals. Pretending to spend $1 billion to extend the Sheppard subway to Consumers Rd., or Victoria Park, is an enormous waste of money. Subways can be built in Toronto, with all proper TTC standards, for $250 – $200 million, or even less, per kilometre. Therefore, with the currently allocated money for the Eglinton Crosstown line ($8.4 billion), we should be able to build it entirely underground (from Jane to Kennedy), but also, extend the Sheppard subway to both Downsview and Scarborough Town Centre, and an underground extension of the Bloor-Danforth line, from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre. The latter would keep the current Scarborough Rapid Transit line in use, while the Bloor-Danforth line is extended, and will alleviate passenger pressure on Eglinton, therefore increasing ridership on Bloor-Danforth. This excessive passenger load along Eglinton is a major concern mentioned by Councillor Stintz during her presentation on February 8. Additional to these transit infrastructure improvements, you might even have some funding left over for a Finch subway, or Eglinton extension to the airport. All of this, again, for the same $8.4 billion, and without having to raise parking fees, nor asking to implement any road tolls; just by using the funds already offered by the province.

If we cannot deal with the 3 issues mentioned above, then the people of Toronto would not allow the use of their limited resources in such a detrimental manner.


18 thoughts on “3 big issues with LRTs on the streets

  1. To choose a one issue out of many:

    The $8.4B will cover a buried Eglinton LRT line, and nothing else. Repeat. Nothing else. No BD extensions, no going off to the airport, no Sheppard extensions, no Finch subway. Unless you have independent figures that show otherwise (a link would be nice, in that case). And if we’re going under the Don Valley, that money will disappear long before we get to Scarborough.

    • Hi Edmund,
      If they use all that money to bury the Eglinton Crosstwon Line from Jane to Kennedy, and to retrofit the current SRT, it means that they’d spend about $400 million per km for burying the line, which is completely irrational, and a waste of money (see the following table for further info: https://transto.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/eglinton-lrt-tunnel-budgets.jpg) If you think that you need to spend $300 million per km to build subways in Toronto, then you are just using an inflated figure from TTC to misleadingly justify for street-level LRTs. This figure comes from the overbloated estimates for the Spadina subway extension. In reality, you can build subways in Toronto for $200 million per km. Unfortunately, I don’t have “independent figures” to back me on my claim, but I am giving you 6 reasons why, at the bottom of this reply. Do you have independent figures to back your claim above?

      As for the Don Valley, Eglinton Ave. crosses the Don River at about 20 metres above it, through a bridge with a span of roughly 100 metres long. I don’t think that this would qualify for a “valley”. As for the Don Valley Parkway, do you know how many metres below Eglinton it runs? None. It actually runs ABOVE Eglinton Avenue.

      Best regards,

      Jose Ramon Gutierrez

      Six reasons why $200 million per km for subway construction in Toronto:

      – The first thing that we need in order to calculate transit costs with better optics, is having the participation of the private sector for, at least, part of the financing. For example, Vancouver’s Canada Line was built at a rate of $105 million per km (roughly 50% tunneled, and 50% elevated), and the private sector contributed with 1/3 of its financing. On the other hand, a similar project in Vancouver, the all publicly-funded Evergreen Line (roughly 20% tunneled, 45% elevated and 35% ground level) is expected to cost about $130 million per km, even though 4 of its 6 stations are already built. As soon as you remove the private sector, the budgets explode.

      – Second, the current Sheppard subway cost roughly $140 million per km, and was opened 10 years ago. Inflation for the last 10 years have rose by 20%, so we can expect it to cost, today, about $170 million per km, which is almost in line to Metrolinx’s $177 mil/km, as shown in TTIL’s report “Toronto Transit: Back On Track – page 11”.

      – Third, the Spadina subway extension includes 6 stations that will cost altogether between $800 to $900 million, as proposed. If we replace these station with simple ones, like the current Sheppard subway ones, we can save over $500 million, and that will automatically put the cost down from $306 mil/km to $244 mil/km. These subway stations costs can even be taken away from the equation if we just allow the private sector to develop right above it, which will bring the figure further down to $209 mil/km.

      – Fourth, a former planner with TTC (I removed his name since I’m not authorized to publish it yet) wrote to me: “The overestimates are no surprise to me. Even back in my day they put in a 10% to 15% contingency then added 30% again on top of that to make sure that they would never have to admit to going over budget.” Therefore, $300 mil/km should actually be about $200 mil/km.

      – Fifth, when you have a subway construction program, like the one in Madrid, you’ll get significant economies of scale, by reusing boring machines, construction crews, engineering designs, etc.

      – Sixth, the Eglinton Crosstown tunneling budget has been consistently increasing since it was presented only 5 years ago, from about $200 mil/km, to about $500 mil/km. See Eglinton LRT tunnel table at: https://transto.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/eglinton-lrt-tunnel-budgets.jpg. This shows that most politicians have no understanding of their proposed transit costs.

      • 1. Where does the figure for $200M per km come from? If you’re using the former TTC planner’s (name removed by blog administrator) comments, I’d humbly suggest that things might well have changed since his time there. Incidentally, I find it odd that you treat his (name edited) words as holy writ, while the word of everyone currently at the TTC is immediately suspect. Shouldn’t his words be treated with the same skepticism (as well as an awareness that things could and will have changed since his time there)?

        2. Can you please name me some private-sector bidders who have been champing at the bit to get in on subway action? All I have seen is some developers saying they like subways, but they’d rather someone else pay, thank you very much. It’s difficult to put together a P3 deal when one of the Ps won’t come out to play.

        3. I think most people would say the Don Valley at Eglinton is a valley. A 20 metre drop is significant. And what has the DVP got to do with anything? I didn’t mention it in my original post. We’re talking about the *Don Valley* here, which is *east* of where the DVP crosses Eglinton. Confusing the DVP with the Don Valley itself does not do your case any favours.

        4. You’re making a big assumption that if we do lease air-rights above stations, that developers will be clamouring to get it. You and I both know that the demand to build above (say) the 407 station will be substantially less than if it were at King and University. What’s the point of leasing air-rights if they’re not going to sell, or we get hosed on the pricing?

      • 1. I gave you 5 other reasons, but you don’t seem to understand them. I am not suspicious of “everyone currently at the TTC”, although highly skeptical of the statement made by some TTC officials that subways cost over $300 million per km. As mentioned in my third reason, by building simple subway stations at $50 to $60 million each (the original Sheppard West subway station was budgeted at $59.2 million – see https://transto.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/np-new-subway-costs-already-over-budget.pdf), we can reduce the Spadina subway extension to less than $250 million per km. And if we allow for private development on top, like on Eglinton, or Lawrence stations, then the cost gets reduced to about $200 million per km. We don’t need to obtain a special document to prove this, it is simple math.

        2. When you ask to any private individual or organization if they want to pay more taxes, their natural response is: no. However, if you allow for the private sector to build a subway station, and getting profit from development on top, you should be able to find a lot more interest. Toronto is full of developments built over subway stations, so it is not a far fetched scenario.

        3. A 20 metre deep by 100 metre wide drop in elevation, is too insignificant to be a major subway construction concern, as it was expressed on your argumentation. I mentioned the DVP, because I heard this argument before, which seems to portray a dramatic valley with the river and the parkway hundreds of metres below. If this was the scenario, then a simple viaduct would solve the problem.

        4. Again, same reply as in point 2 above. On the other hand, you don’t seem to know very much about Toronto, since the periphery along Highway 407 is being developed at a fast pace. I bet that as soon as the 407 station gets built and opened, we’ll be able to see explosive commercial development in its immediate surrounding. That will prove that a commercial development would’ve also been profitable right above the subway station.

      • 1. You’re assuming that since you build it, developers will naturally flock to it. Sheppard and Victoria Park, for example, is a very different proposition to Eglinton and Yonge. The former doesn’t have density, the latter does. Who’s “we”, incidentally? Referring to yourself in the royal third person?

        2. So I’m seeing things when I see a complete absence of development on top of: Kipling, Islington, Royal York, Runnymede, Old Mill, Keele, Castle Frank, Broadview, Greenwood, Main Street, Glencairn, Yorkdale, Eglinton West, Dupont, Chester, Pape, Rosedale, Downsview … ? And that’s only the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Developers aren’t idiots. They won’t build where the city wants them to build, or build what the city wants them to build. They’ll build where and what it makes sense to do so. If the former was true, North York Centre would be full of office towers, instead of being a dormitory for office workers to commute downtown. And Sheppard would be packed every day, instead of carrying old Metros back and forth.

        3. And you have a engineering degree from where, exactly?

        4. You “bet”? So instead of proof in the form of evidence and studies, we go on simple hunches and guesses. That’s the sort of thinking that got us an empty subway line.

        As an aside, you may have torqued the construction numbers to your own satisfaction, but unless you can conjure up the people to ride this subway, all you’re left with are a bunch more Bessarions. And is that what the city needs?

        Unless and until this subway is running near-ish capacity (the demand would have to increase five-fold for a subway along Sheppard to make sense), the city is going to have to subsidize them to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Empty trains are by their very nature not carrying paying passengers, and cost a lot of money to run. Toronto is not going to increase population to the density required, unless you’re a huge fan of condo canyons, and you can somehow make people move where they don’t want to. The population is not going to double (as one of your fellow subway supporters claims), it will increase in the next few decades by 100,000 or so. Not insignificant, but it isn’t doubling. Without density, a subway makes no sense, and is just a vanity legacy project for egomaniacs. Hello, Mel Lastman.

  2. Please provide a source for your allegation that dedicated transitways are a public safety risk or I shall be forced to conclude that your making an unsourced ideological assertion.

    • Hi lifeonqueen,
      You are blatantly falsifying my allegation. I’ve never said that “dedicated transitways are a public safety risk”. That is too general and out of context. What you need to understand is that street-level LRTs increase traffic congestion, and that increase creates serious public safety risks.


      Jose Ramon Gutierrez

      • Ripping the guts out of intersections to put in a new subway will cause levels of congestion that will make LRT construction tame by comparison (see pictures of Yonge and Sheppard when the new line was being built for evidence). And that congestion will include ambulances, squad cars, fire engines. Or are lengthening response times a price worth paying?

      • Temporary congestion due to construction is preferable to permanent congestion due to street-level LRT. Besides, you won’t see the same level of gutting out intersections, since at Yonge and Sheppard they had to build a crossing station between the existing station and the street level. Leslie and Sheppard was not the same case, which presents a similar scenario to most of the proposed Sheppard subway stations.

  3. Fire, polce, and ambulance vehicles are permitted to drive on the transit ROW. If anything, this should lead to reduced emergency response times.

    It is entirely possible for on-road surface LRT to exceed 30 km/h average. Check out Central Link in Seattle.

  4. Seeing as the report is linked to Caesar Palacio, who is clearly biased against the ROW, I see little reason in replying to the report. It probably doesn’t hurt to know the Bob Leek came up days later, and said the ROW is actually safe for the fire trucks to use:


    I direct you to this particular paragraph:

    Stewart denied that his comments were at odds with the report.

    “I’m not backpedalling. We’ve said right along St. Clair was safe,” he said.

    Looks like the report that you are trying to prove a lie has been discredited by it’s author!

    Let’s just end this lie, and say you’re wrong on the claim the ROW is not safe for fire trucks, OK?

    Obviously designs are not set in stone, and can be adjusted.

    • Where does it say in your referred Toronto Star article that Bob Leek said that the St. Clair ROW “is actually safe for the fire trucks to use”? Why are you saying that Bob Leek’s report is “a lie”? Until I see a different proposal for the Eglinton’s street-level LRT, I will still call it a danger for public safety.

      Numbers and calculations don’t lie. If you don’t understand them, that is another problem. Unless you continue calling me a liar, you are welcome to provide further constructive argumentation.

  5. Correction: It was Bill Stewart who is the Fire Chief, and not Leek who said the ROW is safe. Either way, my argument still stands. The fact is, the Fire department says the ROW is safe. Stewart’s comments are there in the article for all to see:

    “Stewart denied that his comments were at odds with the report.

    “I’m not backpedalling. We’ve said right along St. Clair was safe,” he said.

    “In fairness, that report was written in April. There’s alterations that are going to occur with TTC and we’ll make a plan work for Toronto. The issue for us is we’ll operate on the curb as we have and will continue to do so.”

    Again, you cannot just ignore what the fire department, because it debunks your claim. The St. Clair ROW is safe for emergency vehicle, and the TC ROW will be safe for emergency vehicles, though it’s unlikely the ROW will be used much, because suburban arterials are much wider than St. Clair Ave.

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