Cheol Joon Baek
And just like that, we're back to discussing subways as part of the transit conversation. This time, however, with the resurfacing of the Downtown Relief Line as a discussion item, there's more policy rigour and deep thinking.
A south-of-Bloor subway serving the downtown, and more importantly those travelling to and from the city core, has been talked about since the late 19th century. The concept emerged again in the early 1980s, when population growth was accelerating, as a way of taking pressure off the highly successful Yonge subway, but the economic recession of the 1990s killed off the need for the line and the long-term planning associated with it.
In today's polarized debate, the name of the Downtown Relief Line is politically problematic because it suggests downtowners will chiefly benefit, when the issue is really getting more suburbanites from Scarborough, North York and the 905 into the core and home again.
Before we get too excited about it, we should remember that while the line is in Metrolinx's long-term plan, no money is currently available, and funding isn't likely unless new revenue tools are instituted.
The city can't bankroll this multibillion-dollar transit investment on its own, but it could get things moving right away by beginning the detailed studies leading to a full environmental assessment.
An EA would start a conversation for the next two to three years while the study was under way. Public meetings could be held and initial concepts presented and debated.
There has been lots of discussion about the exact routing of the line. Current TTC thinking is to bring it down Pape to Queen, across Queen to Bayview, where it would slant south to King. The line would then proceed west along King to Dufferin where it would angle back to Queen, over to Roncesvalles and then north to Dundas West. This could, of course, still change.
There's also long-term consideration in the plan for a design heading north from Pape station through the "priority" Thorncliffe Park and Flemington Park neighbourhoods to the Eglinton LRT. Interestingly, no parallel extension has been suggested in the west end, though the corridor for the Pearson Rail link offers the opportunity to connect with Eglinton there.
The complete U of the DRL (Eglinton to Dundas West) would cost upwards of $10 billion - a figure that rises by 3 to 5 per cent every year it's not built because of cost escalations. Without the west part of that U, the cost drops to $8.3 billion, and the first phase, the Pape station to St. Andrew section, comes with a price tag of $3.2 billion.
But expect these costs to go up by at least 50 per cent once a subway yard is added (a must since existing ones are near capacity), inflation factored in and complicated matters of building in the core dealt with.
Still, Pape is not the place to stop, and the line should proceed north to Eglinton, creating a circle (albeit one requiring transfers). The design could also allow for future LRTs going north, as envisioned in Transit City - the Don Mills corridor was considered particularly well suited.
Looking ahead to 2031, the city projects that with hundreds of thousands of new residents and a growing trend to public transit use, ridership will be 51 per cent higher than today. The Yonge line will carry 38,000 PPHPD (passengers per hour peak direction) - well above its design capacity of 26,000, and the Bloor-Danforth line will see ridership grow by 26 per cent.
The long-term alternatives to the DRL are either very expensive or inadequate. Fixing the bottleneck in the Yonge/ Bloor station, for example, would cost upwards of $300 million for another platform and more stairs, and is very difficult to do in the already built-up area and in a way that keeps the station open for use.
The TTC has also looked at the advantages of the new signalling system now being phased in: it would allow Automatic Train Control (driverless trains) and enable the TTC to run trains closer together than their current minimum two-minute span between trains. If they could run every minute and a half, the number of people served would increase by 36 per cent. To get the full benefit, however, the TTC would need to install glass walls along the platform to reduce delays caused by door jams and track fires from debris.
Other capacity-increasing techniques might include buying more of the new more spacious trains, perhaps even ordering a longer 500-foot version of them, or adding another car to current trains. The new signal system would make this possible because it allows trains to stop precisely at the right place.
One also can't help but compare the DRL to the much-touted Sheppard subway that would run from the University line out to the Scarborough Town Centre. Both have similar costs, but a look at the numbers tells the tale (see sidebar).
It's clear that the DRL is the next logical subway project, and experience shows that if we start the formal planning and keep the conversation going, eventually the pressure may get the province and feds to kick in.
Sheppard subway vs. Downtown Relief Line
Sheppard East subway (8 km)
Cost (2010 $): $2.7 billion
Cost per kilometer: $338 million
Riders Served: 81,600
Low-income riders served: 4,782
Ridership (millions per year): 27.8
Cost per rider: $97
Green gas reduction (tonnes): 32,017
Cost of GHG reductions ($ per kg): $84
Downtown Relief Line (13.3 km)
Cost (2010 $): $4.7 billion
Cost per kilometer: $350 million
Riders Served: 433,580
Low-income riders served: 27,300
Ridership (millions per year): 117
Cost per rider: $40
Green gas reduction (tonnes): 426,364
Cost of GHG reductions ($ per kg): $11