Trains at ca­pac­ity, but con­dos keep com­ing

Mid­town’s only hope to stop over­crowd­ing is a down­town re­lief line, decades away. Is it time for a de­vel­op­ment freeze on the Yonge line?

North Toronto Post - - News - By Jasen Sag­man

The Yonge-Univer­sity sub­way line north of Bloor Street along Yonge Street is fac­ing a ca­pac­ity cri­sis. Re­ports and stud­ies con­ducted by Metrolinx and the City of Toronto tell Mid­town res­i­dents what they al­ready know all too well: that the Yonge line is full.

The Yonge line is cur­rently op­er­at­ing at 96 per cent ca­pac­ity — around 34,700 pas­sen­gers per hour in peak di­rec­tion. It goes with­out say­ing that this is un­sus­tain­able at cur­rent city pop­u­la­tion growth rates, let alone along one of Canada’s busiest thor­ough­fares.

The ques­tion some are ask­ing is a sim­ple one: why is the City of Toronto ap­prov­ing con­do­minium de­vel­op­ments that will bring thou­sands of new res­i­dents to tran­sit nodes at sta­tions such as St. Clair, Eglin­ton, Lawrence and Shep­pard when indi­ca­tions are that there isn’t any­where near the tran­sit ca­pac­ity avail­able for new res­i­dents?

Many peo­ple have sug­gested ways to al­le­vi­ate the conges­tion. None, how­ever, have been as pop­u­lar as the con­struc­tion of a down­town re­lief line (DRL).

John Bos­sons is an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at the Univer­sity of Toronto. He, along with Ge­off Ket­tel, co-chair of the Fed­er­a­tion of North Toronto Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tions, re­cently penned an edi­to­rial for the Toronto Star in which they ar­gue that “it is ir­re­spon­si­ble to ap­prove de­vel­op­ment with­out pro­vid­ing the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port it.”

Bos­sons said the city must be re­al­is­tic about the num­ber of new de­vel­op­ments ap­proved along Yonge Street, even sug­gest­ing that the city could im­pose a mora­to­rium on all official plan amend­ments and re­zon­ing along Yonge Street.

Josh Colle, Toronto city coun­cil­lor and chair of the Toronto Tran­sit Com­mis­sion (TTC), said that the city needs to do a bet­ter job of ty­ing ap­provals of new res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments to tran­sit ca­pac­ity.

Steven Munro, a Toronto tran­sit ad­vo­cate who has spent the last 40 years writ­ing about tran­sit and pol­i­tics in Toronto, has heard this be­fore. He said that “the horse has left the barn” on this sug­ges­tion, re­fer­ring to the fact that it’s in­ac­cu­rate to link den­sity at sta­tions with the source of de­mand.

“Look at Kennedy sta­tion,” Munro said. “There are no big de­vel­op­ments nearby, but try telling that to folks head­ing west­bound dur­ing the morn­ing rush.”

Cur­tail­ing de­vel­op­ments along the Yonge cor­ri­dor will do noth­ing to cur­tail rid­er­ship since a large per­cent­age of den­sity comes from feeder buses and, in the case of Shep­pard sta­tion, feeder sub­way lines, ex­plained Munro.

So how did the city get into the cur­rent tran­sit mess? Ac­cord­ing to Bos­sons, a line can be drawn from to­day’s over­crowded sub­way sys­tem to the 1995 Rus­sell Hill sub­way ac­ci­dent that left three peo­ple dead.

“At that point, the city stopped spend­ing money on new items [sub­way trains, ex­pan­sions, etc.] to fo­cus in­stead on main­te­nance, re­pair and im­prove­ments — par­tic­u­larly on fail-safe mech­a­nisms, which were, in ad­di­tion to hu­man er­ror, the lead­ing cause of the tragedy.”

Colle agreed with Bos­son’s as­sess­ment, but said that while main­te­nance work gets less glory it can pro­vide much needed re­lief in the near fu­ture.

“The work we’re do­ing now, re­do­ing the track and sig­nalling sys­tem, is es­sen­tial,” he said. “The sad thing about that is that it has been ne­glected for about 50 years.”

Ac­cord­ing to Colle, sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of this work should be com­pleted in 2019, which will help al­le­vi­ate some conges­tion along the Yonge line north of Bloor at a frac­tion of the cost of the DRL. The down­town re­lief line is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be a two-phase project that will con­nect down­town Toronto with the Bloor-Dan­forth sub­way east of the Don River first, fol­lowed by a fur­ther ex­ten­sion north to the Shep­pard Av­enue East and Don Mills Road area.

The cost for the project ranges be­tween $6 and $8 bil­lion, with Phase 1 open­ing in 2031 and Phase 2 open­ing in 2041.

Colle is sup­port­ive of the project that Toronto City Coun­cil voted to ad­vance to the plan­ning, en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment and initial de­sign study stage ear­lier this year. He said the TTC cur­rently has an $8 bil­lion back­log of cap­i­tal projects — not in­clud­ing cur­rent and pro­posed ex­pan­sions like the Eglin­ton Crosstown or SmartTrack.

To ad­dress this con­cern, Bos­sons said that the TTC, City of Toronto and Province of On­tario should bor­row more money.

“In­ter­est rates are as low as at any point in the last hun­dred years. It makes sense to bor­row at th­ese rates and in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture,” said Bos­sons.

Colle ex­plained that the city sim­ply isn’t in a po­si­tion to bor­row any more money. “The city has around a $30 bil­lion back­log when you in­clude in­fra­struc­ture, hous­ing and tran­sit projects. The city lit­er­ally can’t bor­row that much money.”

As a re­sult, Toron­to­ni­ans are likely go­ing to have to wait un­til 2041 for re­lief. An­other op­tion to ease conges­tion along the Yonge line is to in­stall more north-south pri­or­ity rush hour bus lanes. But Colle said the is­sue is the amount of buses needed for the job.

“The TTC re­cently or­dered 100 new buses, with an­other 200 on their way thanks to fed­eral fund­ing,” he said. “This will al­low the TTC to re­tire a num­ber of older buses, and to po­ten­tially in­cor­po­rate more ex­press bus routes.”

The ad­di­tion of two trains per hour along the Yonge-Univer­sity line is ex­pected in 2019 as a re­sult of on­go­ing sig­nal im­prove­ment work and au­to­matic train con­trol. This will con­sti­tute about a 10 per cent in­crease in ca­pac­ity, which may seem like a drop in the bucket to com­muters wait­ing in line to get to work.

The Yonge sub­way line is near­ing ca­pac­ity, and de­vel­op­ment is soar­ing

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