Friday, April 18, 2008

Sheppard LRT wrap-up - updated

OK - as usual the TTC is giving us a project that will deliver less than promised and cost more. I've updated this post based on the fact that the proposed line has now been shortened. I didn't realize this until I went through the material a bit more carefully:

The original proposal calls for the Sheppard East line to be 13.6 km long. The maps now provided (at the EA consultation and online) have the line going from the Don Mills terminus to Morningside. This is only 12 km long.

I've adjusted the stop spacing listed in the text below - all three posts. Obviously, this will reduce the speed on this s-LRT (slow LRT) even further.

As we wait to find out if there will be a TTC strike tomorrow, I'd thought I'd wrap up some last thoughts on the Sheppard LRT.

Here are my conclusions:


This line will end up with a cost of about $1.1 billion for the 12 km - from the Eastern end of teh Sheppard subway to Morningside. I expect the option to be recommended for the Don Mills interchange will be LRT under the 404. Additional cost items include:

- a service/storage depot for the streetcars - say $100 million
- grade crossing elimination at the GO line - say $150 million
- the 404 tunnel (as above) - say $150 million
- street-scaping (which is or isn't included in the $550 million - $40 million
- 10% for underestimation on the general line construction costs - $50 million

(I'd note that if there are indeed multiple rapid transit projects ongoing, particular engineering and skilled trades will be in short supply. This is going to add to the price.)

Add this up, we get: $1.045 billion


- negigibly faster transit service (most of the benefit is washed by the longer stop spacing and service). [Note - if the Don Mills interchange forces people to trudge down to subway level - most people will actually have longer trips overall.]
- new street-scaping - which could be done without the streetcar line


- four year construction period (2009 - 2013).


- potential traffic impacts. If the TTC sticks with the 5-minute headway, there should be minimal disruption to the N-S arteries that cross the route
- any option for the Don Mills interchange will help with the 404/Sheppard congestion.
- trucks might have a problem with the U-turns


A chunk of the route is a city designated 'avenue'. In the 'avenue' concept, the city provides 'high order transit' - and this will turn the streets into a lush, tree-lined, walkable avenues.

I don't really buy this for Sheppard - and in general. The staff at last Tuesday's consultation were unable to tell me where this concept had worked. There are many cities with trams - but the trams go in and out of already built-up areas.

No doubt there are some lots on Sheppard E. that can be redeveloped. However, it's not true that there are vast sections.

My take is that the growth projections were picked to justify the LRT - i.e. "buses can't handle it and it's not enough to do a subway or RT". My A++!


Sheppard could easily handle 3000 peak passengers (current is 1900) with a few adjustments:

1. Add 'scoot' transit priority - in Montreal, buses get a 10% speed improvement (and hence capacity) - $8 million
2. Add articulated buses for 50% of the schedule - gives a 25% capacity increase - $18 million

This pushes capacity to 2740 per hour - without any dedicated bus lanes. With a dedicated bus lane over the 404 (which would cost $$) , we'd be at 3000/hr peak direction easily - and speed would improve without taking away local services.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sheppard LRT (Transit City) Consultation - Part II

Yesterday I penned some notes and observations on the TTC's initial public consultation on the Sheppard East LRT proposal. Here is more:

4. Connection to subway at Don Mills

The proposed LRT will connect to the Sheppard Subway. The TTC gives three options:

1. Surface connection at Don Mills - This would require expansion of the bridge over Hwy 404.

This is likely the least expensive option - but it stinks as a connection strategy because of the configuration of the Don Mills terminus.

2. Underground connection at Don Mills - This requires a tunnel under Hwy 404.

3. Extend Sheppard subway to Consumers Rd and build LRT connection there.

As the printed material provides suggests, this is likely the most expensive option - but the best for riders.

Note - in the original proposal, the connection at Don Mills would be underground:

Light rail service would operate from the underground transfer terminal at Don Mills Station, rising to the surface to operate the rest of the way in a dedicated right-of-way.

In option #1 above, the connection is not underground - but via stairs/elevators. This means that the TTC determined that it was not feasible to cross the 404 at surface AND have the streetcar line connect level with the subway.

As the TTC's printed material admits, going under Hwy 404 - with the subway or streetcars - is going to add even more to the project cost. (Transit City is already at $8.4 billion - on its way to $11 billion I'm going to guess.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sheppard LRT public consultation - updated

I've updated this for the corrected stop spacing.

Yours truly attended the TTC's initial public consultation on the proposed Sheppard East LRT.

Here's a rundown of the details - good, the bad and the we're not sure yet - with my two cents worth:

(Information is from the display boards, Gary Carr of the TTC and Praveeen John from URS consulting.)

The details:

1. Stops and spacing

The TTC presented a board showing:

Red - existing stops
Green - agreed upon stops
Yellow - To be determined

Counting the Green + Yellow, it seems to work out 550 metres between stops. The TTC guy explained that the stops are closer together (i.e. proposed) in the retail intensive stretch between Victoria Park and McGowan - and thus spaced wider along the residential stretches.

The stop spacing issue is the Achilles' heel of this streetcar plan. The stop spacing the TTC is floating here is slightly longer than I've read in other spaces. This is comparable to the Strasbourg tram - which has average speeds of about 21 km/hr. This is negligibly faster than the Sheppard buses today.

The drawback is longer (roughly double) walking distance to and from stops - especially in the residential sections. With the walk to Sheppard plus walking along, many people will be looking at walks to and from getting up to 1 km each way.

If you live on Sheppard, and are at a stop you'd be in luck. If not - the extra walking means that you lose the time you've gained due to vehicle speed. The improvement in speed (20 km / hr ==> 21 km / hr) gains the average rider (based on 7 km) 0.9 minutes each direction each day. However, the rider loses 1.8 of those minutes by having to walk another 150 meters at 5 km / hr.

My two cents - the 21 km / hr is an insufficient improvement to attract riders. The increased spacing actually make using the service less attractive for quick trips - because of the added time walking (and distance carrying groceries.)

My guess is that public pressure will result in more stops and lower speed. I'd guess that speed will end up about only 1 km/hr faster than today's bus service.

2. Street layout

The streetcars would run in a semi-private right-of-way - similar to those on Spadina and under (interminable) construction on St. Clair W.

The cross section diagrams presented showed three of the typical proposed cross sections:

1. Mid block - no station

Here there is no sidewalk cut. There are two traffic lanes. The traffic lanes are reduced by 20 cm from the current standard (now 3.5 m - proposed 3.3 m). There is space for bike lanes (1.5 m) on each side - and some street-scaping (shown as little trees on the schematic.)

2. Mid block - with streetcar station

The station locations will require 2.5 m of sidewalk cut on each side.

The stations themselves will have platforms 3 meters wide and 60 meters in length.

3. Intersections

The signalized intersections will provide for a U-turn phase for vehicles to access locations on the far side. There will be two traffic lanes in each direction (widths as described above) and a left-turning lane of 3.0 meters in width.

The length of the turning lane is not specified.

There was no information on the turning radii support for commercial vehicles - the issue that the TTC and city swept under the rug on St. Clair.

My two cents - I didn't have a chance to explore the section of Sheppard under study. It's hard to tell how much the sidewalk cuts will reduce the attractiveness of the street for pedestrians. The intersections on Sheppard have a bit more space than on St. Clair W - so perhaps the stuck trucks problem wont be as bad at is in St. Clair.

3. Trains

The TTC is proposing to run two car trains at 5 minute or so intervals.

My 2 cents - I actually agree with this approach. The non-train-based Spadina service is impossible to keep 'on track'. A 5 minute service interval allows signal systems to give the LRVs priority without completely stopping traffic in the other directions.

I would note that extrapolates out to about 32o LRVs for the overall proposed Transit City Network with 20 % spare factor. Add some cars for the Eglinton line - which might be three LRVs per train - and we're close to the 386 I calculated back last year. (See:

Of course, riders will lose about 1 minute for each wait - since the headway on Sheppard E is currently about 3 minutes. (Average wait will increase from 1.5 minutes to 2.5 minutes.)


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hume on height

Here's The Star's Christopher Hume ranting about retailers. hmm - make them build up and insult them at the same time.

Christopher Hume's idea to require retailers to build may have merit. However, he seems not to have noticed that retailers are already building up. All Ikea stores are two stories. The new Canadian Tire at Leslie and Lakeshore is two stories. In addition, warehouse stores such as Home Depot use the space above the retail floor to store goods - which eliminates the need for a separate footprint for warehouse space.

Hume closing rhetoric is uncalled for. Most cities grew out of market places. In Ancient Greek cities, the agora- the trading and meeting place - was foundational to what became cities and city states. The agorai were open air - in essence a zero-story buildings!

Urbanity is based on the trading of goods and services. Instead of ranting against retailers, Hume should head back to school for a refresher course on architectural history.

Can you tell who is running Ontario

Today, Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman announced there would be no bailout of a number of hospitals in the East end of the GTA. The Rouge Valley Health System has announced it is cutting 72 nurses and 36 beds in order to balance its budget.

Smitherman is quoted in The Star:

"The hospitals have been poorly run and now must live within their budgets"


“It wouldn’t be fair to bail out Rouge Valley for activity that other hospitals are not involved in..”

Now, this is exactly what the Harris government said about the Toronto District School Board after it has seen the board squander $900 million in transitional funding. Of course, it did end up forking over more money to the cry babies - and McGuinty continues to treat this spoiled brat of an agency with kid gloves.

The teachers own McGuinty lock, stock and barrel. The sad thing is that we have no shortage of schools. The TDSB is practically drowning in surplus real estate. There is a glut of teachers on the market. In contrast, there is a severe shortage of hospital beds and nurses.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Movie review - The Lives of Others

I saw this film in the theatre last year some time. This evening, I watched it again on DVD on my computer.

There are only a few pieces of film or TV that I've found engrossing enough to merit a repeat viewing. This is the only one one where I depend on the sub-titles to follow.

The Live of Others is a German film ("Das Leben der Anderen") set mainly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The protagonist is a Stasi agent (the Stasi were East Germany's secret police) who is assigned to spy on a prominent playwright. I shall not recount the plot here. Sufficeth to say that this is gripping tale - more than deserving of the 2007 Academy Award for best foreign film. It's one of the best films I've ever seen.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wynne flip-flops at light speed

Ontario education minister Kathleen Wynne was quoted earlier in the day that Ontario teachers might have to work a little longer to earn their pensions. Per The Star:

“There are a lot of healthy, retired teachers, and it’s the baby boom issue, you know, there are pension plans all over the world dealing with these concerns,” Kathleen Wynne told reporters before a Liberal cabinet meeting. ..“It’s one of the things that the partners at the table have to talk about.”

Later in the day - but not much - Wynne clarified that:

“I just want to be clear: our government has no intention of putting forward a position that the 85-factor should be pulled.”

(The 85 factor is a formula that combines of age and years of service to qualify for full pension.)

Wynne was probably feeling the first few wisps of the gale-force wind of teacher union indignation that was headed her way.

What does this say? Given the very tight leash with which the teachers unions control McGuinty and Co with, it's likely that the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for mega$$$ to close the $12.5 billion or so gap in the Teachers' pension fund. (Yes the one that owns all the sports teams and soon Bell Canada too!)

Wynne's rapidity in clarifying her position is clear evidence of the taxpayer pain to come.