Why Getting Scarborough Right, Matters!!!
The dog and pony show of the mayoral race here in Toronto is coming into the home stretch and truthfully speaking it can’t end soon enough.
But whether it’s been Rob Ford Or Doug Ford, John Tory or Olivia Chow, or some other clown, in all the debates and banter the only real issue that has had any air time has been…
Transit is the central policy issue of this election, and no issue affects more voters than transit, and the plan people believe will be best for the city, will likely be the deciding factor in who takes the top spot on Oct. 27.
Now in the debate on transit, the debate often centers around:
“How Will We Pay for It?!?”
“Where will it be built? When will it be built? What Kind of Transit should we build?”
Subway, LRT, Bus, Streetcar
Roads, Bike Lanes, Walkable Neighbourhoods
All of these issues factor into how the public has looked at each of the candidates, but one plan that has already been debated, approved and funded has become one of the defining lines between the candidates.
The Bloor/Danforth Extension AKA The Scarborough Subway…
And there is a reason that it has 2 names, Detractors will often call it the 3 stop, 3 billion dollar, Scarborough Subway or Stubway. Supporters on the other hand point out the truth, that it in fact the line will be a continuation of the current Bloor/Danforth Subway and is in fact not a separate line like the current RT.
I have often extolled to those I know why the extension is vital to the future of Scarborough and the rest of the region, which I will get into, but because of Olivia Chow’s continued assertion to cancel the fully funded extension, and as a counter to irresponsible editorials from the Toronto Star and other “news” outlets, with the election top of mind I figured now was the time to end my silence as to why the Extension is the Right Solution for Toronto’s Future.
“Moving People… Faster”
From the beginning of her campaign, Ms. Chow has always made a point of saying that she intended on “moving people, faster” so much so it could be considered her mantra on transit, and sounds exactly like what many transit experts believe is fundamental to building great transit.
Unfortunately it appears that Ms. Chow is misguided on what that really means. In Olivia’s “moving people, faster” mantra she comes from a simplistic mentality of how quickly a project can be completed, and while that’s a laudable goal that is not actually what matters most to the everyday person. When transit experts speak of faster they speak of what really matters, which is getting people to and from, faster. It’s the very thing that politicians who try their hand at creating transit fail to realize, that the success or failure of transit hinges on, whether or not that form of transit is considered to be the fastest mode of getting people to where they live, work and go about their daily lives. This simple fact is something that Olivia and other detractors of the extension fail to admit about the LRT, because it simply isn’t the faster option and the numbers back that up.
A recent report by the TTC, found that the average time it takes to transfer from the elevated SRT to the Bloor Line or Bus, platform to platform is 5 mins for each transfer.
That works out to be 10 mins per trip and at an average of 2 trips a day over the normal work week, that works out to approx. 2 hours a week, compared to the 2 min transfer time at all other transfer points. For the average rider, this 20 mins daily can mean the difference between something as trivial as catching the early show at the movies with your girlfriend to something as important as expanding your range of areas within the city you can to work and still get home before 6 to pick up your son from daycare. That 20 minutes of wasted time can simply mean the difference between using transit daily and driving to work. With converting the SRT to the LRT, and keeping the elevated platform we lose out on truly making the average citizens trip, Faster. We would simply be swapping out old technology for new technology, with the same 2 hours of delay every week, still making transit an arduous trip and less likely to be the preferred mode for those who currently are clogging the 401 daily. On the other hand in continuing the subway tracks out past Kennedy up through to Sheppard we effectively are eliminating this unnecessary transfer point, seamlessly connecting East end commuters with the rest of the city and giving back 2 hours to the citizens of the city.
Now for some 2 hrs extra may not be that enticing but if we could get to almost 3 hrs, people will begin to take notice.
And achieving that extra time is actually quite simple…
Subways Move Faster
As reported by the Toronto Environmental Alliance the average LRV which would be used on the LRT goes 27km/h while Subway cars travel at an average rate of 32km/h. So let’s do the simple math to see what the time difference will be for the the proposed changes.
Currently the overcrowded Scarborough RT takes approximately 15 minutes to complete the 6.4 km ride from Kennedy station to Scarborough Town Center.
At a rate of .45km/min and with an average loading time of 1 min per station the LRT would have an average trip time of: approx. 7 mins
On the other hand the subway at a rate of .53km/min completing the same distance would be: approx. 5 mins.
Taking these numbers into account and extrapolated out over a normal week (2 trips/day, 5 days/week) the difference in time saved between the LRT & Subway is 20 mins.
But these are simple calculations of time saved, as there are plenty of other factors that would tend to widen the gap between LRT and Subway, factors such as true headway speed and capacity loading issues, but it clear to see that from day one on a very binary level the Subway would be faster for the people of Toronto. Understanding these simple numbers it is also clear, that if Ms. Chow and other detractors truly wanted to “Move People Faster” they would support the approved and funded extension of Line 2 into the heart of Scarborough.
But Moving Toronto Faster is just the tipping point of the advantages of building the extension.
“4 More Stops…”
Ms. Chow’s second line of attack when attempting to denigrate the approved extension is to say that she will bring “4 more stops & 4 years faster”, and as we already have proven faster is just a relative term for Ms Chow.
And while 4 More stations SOUNDS Nice, digging deeper you find out its not that nice after all.
As you can see above, the 5 stations listed are the lowest used stations within the TTC system. And while Bessarion & Leslie stations have the excuse of being relatively new for their low usage rate (both opened in 2002), they are starting to see increased usage in large part to the increased development surrounding the stations (Concord Park Place).
The RT stations on the other hand aren’t so lucky.
Each of these existing SRT stations listed in the bottom 5, have been in use since 1985 and they have consistently been at or near the bottom of station usage.
Understanding why these stations have been a failure and why the LRT and some of its potential stations will not provide a solution to this issue is quite simple.
Location, location and LOCATION
The age-old adage of real estate is equally important in transit as well.
and with the the SRT from its inception it has suffered from poor location. Taking a look at the location of the current route it leaves Kennedy station through a hydro corridor (Strike 1) then runs along the backside and through Scarborough’s industrial employment corridor (Strike 2). After that it it goes up above the end of this industrial corridor directly into Scarborough Town Center and coming to an end abruptly across the street from the mall. And if all that was not bad enough because of the elevated status of the platforms and poor placement, surface connections are few and don’t have significant ridership to feed the stations (Strike 3). Three strikes and your out, and if proposed stations in the new LRT line at either Bellamy or Brimley were to be built they would strike out just like the others.
But when you make the comparison with building the extension, it’s clear that it will capitalize on the few good takeaways from the current SRT.
The proposed station at Lawrence Ave would capture the 8000+ passengers that currently pass through the Lawrence East station and more than likely even more based on it proximity to the hospital (more on that later). The usage rate at this new subway station would be comparable with current stations at Museum, Greenwood and Bayview. Next up the line would be the stop at Scarborough Town Centre. At this station because the alignment along McCowan Rd it would enable the TTC to create an East End Transit Hub for commuters directly off the 401 eliminating a portion of the traffic that bottlenecks west of Kennedy going to the DVP. This new station would also remove the redundancy of the McCowan station, collectively creating a station with the usage rate similar to that of Islington, St. Clair or Downsview Stations.
These two new stations along the new transit line show that placement of the transit line is more important that having lots of stations that serve very few people. With Additional station at Sheppard this extension has the potential to complete the loop of subways out east (one can only hope) bring true service to Scarborough something that the current and proposed RT lines could not do. With these stations as well as the potential of another station at Danforth & Eglinton (more on that below) there is tremendous proof that “4 more stations” is a nice slogan, but like someone once said:
“Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers Don’t”
“What’s Best for Business”
So far it’s been rather easy to make the technological case for the subway extension. Simply a subway extension is faster for the people.
We’ve also seen that Less is actually more as having more stations isn’t better if they aren’t in the right place.
But none of these points matter as much as the economic case for building the Subway, and that’s the biggest and most important reason why Scarborough needs the subway.
Building mass transit is typically undertaken for one of two reasons in the context of city building. It either serves to connect existing communities or to build up a new community. This was the case in the construction the railroads across Canada in the late 19th century and more recently we have seen how the Sheppard line continues to transform that area. As noted earlier, the main failure of the SRT was its placement in the fabric of Scarborough. Not because it didn’t attempt to service the community that was there but because it didn’t allow for growth to be built around it.
Having the train and more importantly the stations weaving through an industrial zone never allowed for the community to grow around the line. This is the reason attempts to intensify development in Scarborough have largely failed and would continue to fail with the LRT proposal. Conversely the alignment of the Subway would be the greatest advantage for building the extension, as it will open up areas that have been stagnated by poor access to good rapid transit, and increase the economic benefits to the city.
Looking at the proposed alignment of the Subway here are a few sections of Scarborough that could under go major restoration.
Danforth & Eglinton:
Dotted with strip malls & strip clubs, the triangle corner of Danforth, Brimley and Eglinton has vast potential for economic redevelopment and the poster child of how the construction of the Subway but more importantly its alignment has the potential to transform Scarborough. The corner is highly trafficked with both auto and buses passing through the area because of the 2 major arteries of Eglinton & Danforth. Recent developments within the area have pointed to a more dense form of dwelling and by converting the local businesses from parking lot centric developments to more street facing walk-up style businesses combined with mid to hi rise density the intersection offers plenty of space to grow a walk-able & transit friendly zone. Redevelopment of the area would help the community grow up with transit at its front door and help begin the shift towards less reliance on the car to complete their day to day activities. The economic impact of such a development is experienced not only in the hard asset increases from development charges and future tax revenue from the intensified residential and commercial development but as well will increase the soft economic impacts of healthier community that is walking, cycling & using transit. The city can foster this shift by executing proper planning, establishing the correct infrastructure & offering competitive tax incentives for developers to ensure the success of this redevelopment. Atlantic & Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn pictured below is a great example of how to reinvigorate a neighbourhood through proper planning and incentives.
This intersection in New York’s largest borough took an old rail yard and formed one of the trendiest up & coming neighbourhoods outside of Manhattan, full of retail, residential and commercial development.
McCowan & Lawrence:
The land prime for development at this proposed stop isn’t as plentiful as other stops in the subway alignment, because of the density of protected park land.
But that is a good thing…
In planning for community development, it is important to understand that not every corner of needs dense development of high rise office towers and condos, and that connecting our transit to our green spaces. In a city not lacking for Green Space (despite of what environmentalists councillours say) our one failing maybe how we’ve connected transit and more importantly people to our many Green Spaces. That would be the one of the goals of this smaller intersection, where only one corner has potential for extensive development. A greater emphasis would be put on connecting the city with the parks nearby, the largest of which is Thompson Memorial Park. Thompson park is a mid sized park that boasts a variety of attractions & amenities including the Thompson Heritage House, which is the original house of the founder of The Old city of Scarborough and serves as a Museum of the early years of Scarborough.
Through proper planning and local resident support, this Museum could be turned into the east end equivalent of Black Creek Pioneer Village or better yet a natural history museum of the borough detailing it’s transformation from sleepy farm village to the second most populated area of Toronto. The museum could serve as an attraction for residents and visitors to the city highlighting the successes of many area residents who have their roots in Scarborough. In addition Thompson Park offers great community spaces for groups to organize events such as the annual Rotary Club Scarborough Ribfest and outlets for various physical activities which are key for building a vibrant neighbourhood.
Fortunately, greater access to the parks system wouldn’t be the only benefit of the proposed stop at Lawrence & McCowan. At the foot step the proposed stop would be Scarborough’s largest hospital, Scarborough General Hospital and the supporting network of seniors homes that are within feet of the hospital. The improved access to this recently renovated care facility would open up better access for patients who look to General Hospital for care, including its dialysis program which is the largest of its kind in North America. Coupled with a world’s first in innovative heart diagnostic processing and our aging populations need for convenient access to health care, the accessibility of this stop will make the hospital advantageous to our seniors and the sick, something that can not be simply measured in dollars and cents.
Scarborough City Centre South:
The development of Scarborough Town Center has been underway for over a decade now as condos have shot up around the old Scarborough city hall. The area of Scarborough City Center South stretching from West from Brimley over to Grangeway on the east side, north to the RT line and south to Ellesmere, is home to no less than 10 condos, a YMCA and 2 government buildings, yet the area is ripe for a creative over hall.
First up would be ending the inefficient use of land of having to separate government buildings across from one another, with both being largely under used. Old Scarborough Civic Center which currently holds community council meetings & area offices for the councillours from Scarborough, is largely unused. Within 100 feet of the Civic Center is a Service Canada building that is home to a variety of services including a passport office. Coordinating an collaborative program between the City and the Feds, the 2 buildings could be condensed into one state of the art facility maximizing the functionality of both services. The efficiency of the land use would allow for further development of the area (condos, offices, expanded retail or hotel space) that would increase the density of the area as well as increasing tax revenue. The benefits of the efficiency of land use would not be limited to building further density in the area though, as this change would also provided an opportunity to re-imagine the purpose of Albert Campbell Square.
It is no secret that the area around the Square has been the focus of redevelopment in the area, but the square itself has largely be left untouched and no longer is a fit for area. Updating the largely concrete Square could allow for the area to serve as a true meeting place for area residents as they make their way to and from on a daily basis. Development of the square could include art installations, grass areas for play, an expansion of the reflecting pool, an improved band shell for performance art and continued direct access to the new library on the south side and the mall on the north end that have become staples of the current STC stop along the SRT. The opportunity to tie this square into the fabric of this area would help change it from a group of condos and office space into a liveable, Walkable, family friendly community built on the foundation of transit.
Scarborough City Centre North:
Much of the area North of the current RT line that is south of the highway has been developed as the mall takes up a significant portion of the area on the west side of McCowan. Pockets of land particularly adjacent to the highway have potential but the real chance for change exists on the east side of McCowan. The land on the east side of the line is dotted in large part with parking lots for the office towers on that side. If this land were downtown developers would already have it earmarked for the latest glass tower.
A city plan that would rezone the available land to open up opportunities to build density around the high capacity transit and favourable tax incentives for prospective developers will allow City Center North to tie into the accessible reliable transit.
Sheppard & McCowan:
It’s the end of the line (hopefully not) but the corner of Sheppard and McCowan is the most intriguing potential development land on the line. While the development or redevelopment of some of these other areas are plain to see, development here is going to require strong vision of what tomorrow will be in the rest of the GTA.
Do we build the Sheppard Subway extension or go with the LRT as approved?Will this be the last stop long term or will there be continued expansion to Finch? Steeles?
Evaluating the area based upon the current agreement in place, Sheppard will need to become a more street accessible area. Much of the street currently is focused on retail with 2 large auto dealers on the northeast corner and the Canadian Tire brand taking up the Northwest corner. Transforming these facilities into a more foot accessible space will be imperative to creating a more LRT friendly area. Redevelopment of the South corners will be where the economic advantages will be borne. On the southeast side the lot of a former gas station sits empty with a low rise commercial/medical building positioned beside it. Behind this corner are low rise apartments that developers would be interested in redeveloping into mixed use high and mid rise units, which could include some affordable housing directly connected to multiple lines of transit.
The west corner is the more controversial block of land as there is TCHC housing mixed in with single family semis and detached homes. The largest fixture at this corner (and the one in need of the most redevelopment) is the Nanak House which is a large 1970’s apartment building at the corner of Pitfield & McCowan. This apartment building has been an eye sore of the area and could use either a major gut and refurbishment of both the interior & exterior or be completely torn down and replaced with a more modern development befitting the overall redeveloped area.
A Vision for the Future
When thought of as a stand alone form of transit infrastructure it is easy to see how Olivia Chow totally misses the ball on the Scarborough subway. Swapping out technology because it’s cheaper is easier, it requires no forethought, will or vision of where the entire region is headed.
But when you Envision what the GTA and Scarborough will be 25 years, even 50 years from now with the culture of the world at our doorstep it becomes crystal clear. It becomes clear that being able to connect the city faster, to better locations, in a fashion that fosters the development the city needs, can help transform Scarborough from a sleepy 70’s suburb into a 21st century urban center that all levels of government and city planners believe in and that the PEOPLE need.
It becomes clear that the Scarborough Subway is The Better Way !!!
Posted on October 15, 2014, in Politics, Transit and tagged #DougFord, #JohnTory, #OliviaChow, #onlib, #RobFord, #topoli, 2014 Mayoral Election, City Planning, LRT, Scarborough, Sheppard, SRT, STC, Subway, transit. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.