To LRT, or Not To LRT?… Subway is the Answer

To LRT or Not

After researching and analyzing most LRT systems in the world, we conclude that when placed at street level, they end up being a complete waste of money, space, and other resources, which can otherwise be used in more efficient and effective transit systems like subways or express buses.

First of all, experience shows us that only subways attract big commercial and residential development. This has happened everywhere a subway is built in Toronto, with a few exceptions along established and protected downtown neighbourhoods. In contrast, the LRTs, or streetcars, on St. Clair or Spadina have had practically no effect at all. New development brings new challenges to an area, but a subway along the Finch West corridor between Keele and Hwy 400, would definitely improve the area’s safety and quality of life. The same could not be said with a surface LRT.

On the other hand, speed and time of travel is an important issue for daily commuters. LRT proponents claim that the current Finch West bus takes 42 minutes (at an average speed of 16 km/h) between Humber College and Keele St., vs a surface LRT that would take 28 mins. (average speed of 22 km/h). Well, they fail to mention that an express bus service along Finch West, stopping at major intersections only, would take the same time as their proposed surface LRT. As a matter of fact, the current Finch East express bus service runs at an average speed of 24 km/h. This can be done with minimum capital investment, and keeping the same current 4- to 5-lane road configuration (2 lanes per direction, plus middle left-turn lane). Therefore, the same quality of service as proposed with the Finch LRT can be obtained with minimum investment, and no traffic disruption. Now, with a slightly larger investment – but far less than a surface LRT rail construction -, Finch West can add 2 more lanes of traffic (one on each side) for an even faster service with dedicated bus-only lanes during rush hour, while also avoiding any road disruption.

Proponents of the Finch LRT claim that they will add two traffic lanes to compensate for 2 current lanes of traffic, but they fail to acknowledge that the LRT will remove the dedicated fifth middle lane existing along most of Finch for left turns, therefore it will reduce road capacity from 5 lanes to 4 lanes. Also, due to transit-priority signals to keep the LRT moving at the expected average speed of 22 km/h, motorized left turns will be done after passing major intersections, provoking additional right-turns and dangerous lane-crossings to complete the turn. It will also remove all other left turns that are not on major intersections, which will contribute, even more, to road congestion.

Finch West deserves a subway today, justified by the current density, and the high potential that it has in the foreseeable future. It has a large transit-dependent population that will gain enormously with higher transit speeds, that only a subway can provide (average speed of over 40 km/h). A subway will multiply their employment opportunities, not only by new commercial development arriving to the area, but also due to the fact that they’ll be able to reach other parts of Toronto in significantly less time. Additionally, this will allow parents to keep their children in daycare for shorter times, while improving their family time.

At the same time, a subway along Finch West will bring great advantages to the Emery Village business community, since it will allow them access to a larger pool of qualified workers, and a significant consumer growth brought by new real estate developments. As for York University, it will benefit much more with a subway along Finch West, giving its students and faculty a serious alternative to driving to campus. Even a lower cost extension of the current Finch busway to the west can have a much better effect than the proposed LRT on Finch, since it is already 200 metres closer to campus.

In terms of the costs of building and running a subway along Finch West, it will be cheaper than the proposed Finch LRT, considering both capital and operational costs. Experience in the U.S. shows us the fact that subways are more economical and efficient than surface LRTs ( If we look at the latest contracts made by TTC and Metrolinx for building both the Spadina and Eglinton underground transit, we conclude that subways can be built in Toronto for $100 Mn/km, or less. After studying former mayoral candidate Ford’s subway plan, it was concluded that it can all be built with the same money currently allocated by Metrolinx to build their proposed surface LRTs ( These costs can be further amortized by selling the air rights over the subway stations to private development. Today, the Spadina subway extension is costing over $300 Mn/km, but this is only due to “palatial” subway station designs, and serious TTC project mismanagement. As a matter of fact, the tunnels were completed last year, so that subway could be running by now, and not on 2017 as it’s being continuously delayed.

Examples of development over Toronto subway stations

Examples of development over Toronto subway stations

All residents and businesses along Finch West are concerned about growing car traffic volumes and delays in the area, so they need to support sensible transit solutions that do not contribute to higher road congestion, that are more affordable on the medium to long run, and that will serve more peoples’ mobility and life opportunities.

If the priority is for better mobility, community, and growth opportunities, then a subway on Finch is the right answer.

Waterfront Toronto, UofT and Concordia University work together to design new smartphone travel Apps – Oh and there’s a contest with $1,600 in prizes! – by Chris Harding


There are lots of apps currently out there that help you map your jogging routes, Yelp knows where you went for dinner, and Toronto Cycling knows what routes some cyclists running their app used. What Toronto.Datamobile and UofT-WT Travel Survey do however, is location-log in a way comparable to traditional travel surveys like the Transportation Tomorrow Survey (TTS), a regional phone-based travel survey conducted in the region every five years since 1986.

Ok… so why is it useful to make an app that does something a phone based travel survey already does? Good question! While the TTS has been a valuable tool in collecting travel information about residents of the region for nearly three decades, the fact that it is still carried out in the same way three decades later – calling people at home on their landlines-, means it needs to be complimented by new sources of data to better represent the population of Toronto; residents who do not have wired phones at home are de-facto excluded from current TTS surveys.

Toronto.Datamobile (iOS) and UofT-WT Travel Survey (Android) allow users to feed travel data directly to civil engineers and geographers, enabling them to come up with new and innovative ideas to improve transportation in the region”

  • Chris Harding

synthetic_UofTWT_screenshot[1]                                  IMG_6703[1]

In addition to this representativeness benefit of the smartphone approach, there is also an issue discussed in the travel survey literature that short trips and active transportation (walking and cycling) are typically under-reported. While this may not seem like a big deal, since these trips don’t require much in terms of hard infrastructure or overtly create much congestion, there are profound implications from a transportation engineering perspective if these are not captured. Among these is under-predicting trip-making behaviour in an area and then investing too little in infrastructure. This can lead to increased congestion, but also more strained interactions between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, all of whom deserve a place on the road.

Toronto.Datamobile and UofT-WT Travel Survey combine GPS, Wi-Fi and cell tower location information to provide data in the least battery intensive way, while maximizing accuracy. This allows them to run in the background and collect information on trips that may be forgotten when responding to traditional travel surveys, while also reducing the burden on respondents.

Plus, apps are cool!

Both applications are available free of charge via the App Store (iOS) and Play Store (Android) and GTHA users who install them and provide their email address are automatically entered into prize draws totalling $1,200 dollars. An additional $400 dollars is also up for grabs for users who submit data through the project’s web validation tool – links will be sent to active app users after installation.

Full contest information at

Benefits to running the apps include:

  • Three weekly prize draws of $100 (GTHA residents-only)
    • Additional $100 weekly prizes for web participants (GTHA residents-only)
    • Ability to directly impact planning in the city
    • Improved Quality of Life and transportation network efficiency
    • Customizable travel visualization

To download the apps, click HERE


For further information or interview requests, please contact:

Chris Harding & Yunfei Zhang
Phone: 647.963.6950 / 647.202.1106

Toronto’s True Subway Costs


Photo by Jose Ramon Gutierrez

For a decade we’ve been creatively told that subway construction in Toronto is an extremely expensive enterprise, with costs supposedly reaching up to $500 million dollars per 1 kilometre, and this political belief has done nothing but fueled the fake theory that building LRTs in the middle of our streets is more cost-effective than subways. This is not true, or at least, it shouldn’t be; and the report “World Class City, World Class Vision – Toronto” shows you why, and how to make subway construction affordable, again, at $100 million per kilometre, or less.

Unfortunately, we are currently exposed to over-inflated subway budget examples. The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension has been estimated to cost more than $300 million per kilometre by its completion in 2016, while the Eglinton Crosstown’s tunneled section is estimated to cost well over $400 million per kilometre. More dramatically, Metrolinx has even estimated both Yonge Subway Extension and Downtown Relief Line to cost almost $600 million per kilometre, each. Why can Spain build subways for $60-$70M/km, why can Vancouver do it for $170M/km, even Montreal (with all its construction-related scandals) does it for just over $100M/km? The answer given is that Toronto has a very different terrain, and tunneling in Toronto is “very” expensive; but this is NOT true.

After reviewing the actual contracts that TTC and Metrolinx have signed for tunnel construction, we can actually find out that tunneling ONLY costs between $35 to $50 million per kilometre, which is only 10% of their supposed budget costs. So where is the catch, then? Well, nothing more than over-the-top, high end subway station designs, that resemble airport terminals rather than regular subway stations. This, plus poor project management, exaggerated contingency costs and, of course, massive political and special interest group interference. To this end, Metrolinx is approving a $4 billion mega-contract for the Eglinton Crosstown project, which includes 25 stations, of which only 12 are underground. Are they planning to build underground stations that are even more colossal than the Spadina Subway Extension, or is this another example of gross government mismanagement?

Doug Ford is running on an election campaign platform to build 32 km of subway as an initial phase. This will finally put an end to LRT plans on Toronto streets, which considering their operating costs, they would become less cost-effective than subways (Source: APTA), and which will significantly increase traffic congestion in our already congested city. The “World Class City, World Class Vision – Toronto” report looks at Doug Ford’s platform, and shows how it is feasible and affordable, and can be completed within 8 years if there is enough political will. This will lead us to better transit, and better mobility, setting Toronto as a world class example. And finally doing the most good for the greatest number of people.