LRT vs Subway in Scarborough, Toronto

Scarborough LRT vs Subway station map, Toronto, Canada

Scarborough LRT vs Subway station map, Toronto, Canada

Confusing is the watchword for the Scarborough LRT. Metrolinx, the provincial organization with the mandate for regional transit has put in a plan called “Transit City”, and has allocated funding for a Light Rapid Transit, or LRT on Sheppard Avenue East. Environmental assessments, financial funding, purchase of rolling stock has been completed and construction work on the line has already started. In comes Rob Ford, the new Toronto mayor, who wants to put a subway on Sheppard instead. All the Transit City plans, decades in the making, are put on hold. Major Ford’s vision is to have the Sheppard line funded by the private sector, based on increased densities, namely condominium development, along the Sheppard line. Today I have no clarity on what will or should happen. There is a vacuum of information on the current plans for the Scarborough LRT.

On the pro side of the LRT is that existing densities on Sheppard East are just minimally sufficient for an LRT, but sorely low for justifying a subway line. I cannot see how any logical analysis can create the densities sufficient for a subway within 10 years. That being said, I am sure that when the Yonge subway was being built this issue was the same. But the Yonge subway was built and Toronto benefited from it with rapid expansion. Today the Yonge corridor and its subway are over capacity.

A Scarbrough subway built today will actually serve less people than an LRT. This is because the subway stops will be further apart and the subway turns south at Kennedy Road, cutting off the rest of Scarborough East. This subway route covers less than one third the LRT route. On top of this there are significantly less subway stops than LRT stops, so riders between Victoria Park and Kennedy would have to walk it to the closest subway stop. There are a lot of people who take transit east of Kennedy Road that would need to rely on a bus to get to Kennedy North (Kennedy/Sheppard) subway station. That being said, densities east of Kennedy are lower than densities between Victoria Park and Kennedy. On the plus side, when they get to the subway it would be faster to travel to the Yonge line.

Unfortunately for all Scarborough residents, no matter what solution is implemented, be it LRT or subway, residents who travel to the Yonge line will be met by an overcrowded Yonge Subway traveling south in the morning, and north in the evening. This bottleneck will still not be alleviated by either solution.

What I like about the subway solution is that it is visionary. It does away with the analysis paralysis and says, with no doubt in anyone’s mind, that Toronto East will not only thrive, but grow very quickly, and the subway will usher in this rapid growth. I believe this vision from Mayor Ford will prevail. This can only be beneficial for all of Toronto.

Subways would be faster, reducing travel time significantly. They are impervious to Canadian winters and snow. They are significantly more reliable than buses or LRTs. Cars and trucks cannot crash into them, slowing the morning commute. A subway extension from Don Mills station to Kennedy would greatly increase the now very underutilized “Stub”way from Yonge to Don Mills station, the stubway that goes nowhere. These are the obvious benefits.

Visionary also describes the way Rob Ford would partner with private companies to build and pay for the Scarborough subway. Toronto has never done public-private financing like this on a large basis. Sure you hear this verbiage in many cases, but few projects have succeeded. Private business partnering with the TTC would force the TTC and the City of Toronto into a much more financially progressive mindset that they lack today. This can only be a good thing. The TTC squanders valuable land opportunities that they own, forcing yearly increases at the fare boxes. Look no further than the progressive MRT in Hong Kong for an innovative transit operator that doubles as one of HK’s largest land developer. The TTC owns valuable land, so why are they not developing on it?

For those of us that live near Sheppard Avenue East a subway will mean years of inconvenience, a lack of subway stations and increased financial pressure on the TTC, but visionary this project is.

I support the Scarborough subway.

Addendum April 2 2011: Provincial funding backs the Eglington Crosstown Subway, leaving the Sheppard line to be fully funded by the City, to the tune of $4B. Where the City of Toronto will get their funding is unknown. Shining new transit reality is a dream lost

Will the Sheppard subway extension ever get built?

Will the Sheppard subway extension ever get built?

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