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 (https://transto.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/apta-costs-revenue.pdf). 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 (https://transto.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/torontos-true-subway-costs). 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.
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.