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Sexy public transit, part I

Crossposted to Spacing Wire. Click here to offer your feedback on this proposal.

Which proposal looks sexier: a Toronto-wide network of BRTs and LRTs (first map) or the Spadina subway extension (second map)?

POTENTIAL FUTURE BRT/LRT NETWORK (via page 31 of the City of Toronto & the TTC’s Transit City report)

Estimated total cost: $1.5 billion (rough estimate) Estimated ridership growth: 80 million new riders by 2016 (conservative estimate)



Projected total cost: $2.1 billion Estimated ridership growth: 30 million new riders by 2021

The expensive and inefficient Spadina subway extension doesn’t address the diverse and urgent transportation needs of Toronto, and does little to enhance the quality of life for all Torontonians. However, a massive city-wide BRT/LRT network is a huge step in the right direction.

Imagine a network with lines on:

  • Kingston (at Lawrence), along Lakeshore Blvd. to the Queensway (at South Kingsway)
  • Queen St. (from Dufferin to Coxwell. Admittingly, this would be difficult to implement)
  • King St. (from Dufferin to Queen St. East. This would also be difficult to implement)
  • Dundas St. West (from Kipling Station into Mississauga)
  • St. Clair West (from Jane to Yonge)
  • Eglinton (from Renforth to Kingston)
  • Lawrence East (from Don Mills to Kingston)
  • Lawrence West (from Jane to Lawrence West Station)
  • Sheppard East (from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre and then to Markham Road)
  • Sheppard West (from Allen to Yonge)
  • Finch Hydro Corridor (although the feasibility of a hydro corridor line is questionable. It should be on Finch Ave. instead)
  • Jane (from Bloor to Steeles)
  • from Downsview Station to York University and then to Steeles (staggered configuration)
  • Yonge (from Finch to Steeles)
  • Don Mills (from Danforth to Steeles)
  • McCowan (from Scarborough Town Centre to Sheppard)


  1. It’s the smart choice:

    BRT’s and LRT’s are better suited to our current suburban areas because of their densities and design, as opposed to a subway which grossly exceeds current and projected capacity needs. BRT’s and LRT’s will help establish future transit riding patterns and better land use.

  2. Increases efficiency and attractiveness of public transit:

    By taking buses and streetcars out of mixed traffic, their speed and reliability is greatly enhanced. This helps public transit become a more attractive alternative to the car.

  3. Cost is relatively low:

    (Note: these numbers are for general comparison only, as each specific line would have different construction variables leading to different costs)

    BRTs are approximately $20 million/km.
    LRTs are approximately $40 million/km.
    Subways are approximately $200 million/km.

  4. Relatively short time span for implementation:

    an LRT/BRT line will take approximately 5 years to build
    a subway line will take approximately 10 years to build

  5. Helps a large number of people over a large area:

    See potential future BRT/LRT network map above.

  6. Addresses a wide-range of interrelated issues:

    Economics: job creation, raises property values, increases Toronto’s competitiveness and attractiveness, generates more revenue from increased ridership, addresses the GTA’s estimated loss of $1.8 billion due to congestion

    Social issues: less travel time = more personal time, assists in community building, raises civic pride, better mobility, establishes transportation equality, better quality of life in Toronto

    Health and the environment: less cars = less smog, less wasted fuel, eases reliance on oil, less driving related stress

    Urban planning: the potential for better land use patterns and higher densities along transit lines becomes easier to achieve, less gridlock, stronger public transit with more riders, fulfills some of the ideals of the City’s Official Plan

    Psychological issues: addresses the transit dichotomy between the suburbs and the city centre/core. For the suburbs, transit becomes the “smart choice” as opposed to the “last choice”

  7. Addresses current problems:

    Inadequate public transit in the inner and outer suburbs, massive gridlock, worsening air quality, long commuting times

  8. Addresses future problems:

    Population growth in the GTA estimated to be an additional 3 million people in the next 30 years

The Spadina subway extension does relatively little to enhance transportation in Toronto. The extension is not completely devoid of merit, but its total benefit pales in comparison to a city-wide BRT/LRT network.

The BRT/LRT network makes sense transit wise, cost wise and planning wise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense politically.

The Ontario Provincial government are major supporters of the Spadina subway extension, especially Finance Minister Greg Sorbara. (It must be noted that the Spadina subway extension will stop at the City of Vaughn’s new corporate centre, which just happens to be located in the riding of Vaughn-King-Aurora. Who is the MPP for Vaughn-King-Aurora? You guessed it: Greg Sorbara. He was also affiliated with a development firm that owns many properties near the Vaughn corporate centre. The name of that company: The Sorbara Group)

Mayor David Miller supports the Spadina subway extension, more as a political sop to Sorbara and the Provincial Liberals then as sound transit planning. He’s stated several times that building subways are too expensive, while simultaneously promoting a smaller version of the BRT/LRT network displayed above.

The problem with supporting both projects is that subway construction takes up so much money and time, it threatens to push any serious discussion of a BRT/LRT network (or for that matter the urgent need to buy hundreds of new buses, as well as replace and expand our streetcar fleet) off the table.

If our past experience is any indicator, we are wrong to think that there is enough money to do both projects in the timeframe needed to address massive gridlock, ridership growth, population growth and the quality of life in Toronto.

Unfortunately, many of Toronto’s mainstream and independent media outlets have a defeatist attitude towards public transit, LRT technology in particular. They describe LRT as “uninspiring” and “nothing new”. LRT has never been given a fair chance in Toronto, so if our urban affairs writers don’t seriously discuss all of Toronto’s transit options, then the majority of citizens will continue to think that “improved transit” must mean new subways. True, if you discuss LRT as individual lines, the grand scheme is hard to grasp. That’s why it has to be discussed in terms of a city-wide network in order to galvanize citizens.

Instead of taking David Miller to task for his support of the Spadina subway extension, and challenging him to stand up for all of Toronto, they justify his political pandering to the Provincial government as a trade-off for potential future benefit.

We’ve made too many big-ticket transit mistakes in the last 20 years because of the politicization of transit: building the Scarborough RT, scrapping the Eglinton subway and building the Sheppard subway. Toronto has suffered greatly, in part, due to these terrible mistakes. Building the Spadina subway extension is a continuation of that sad legacy.

Transit advocate Steve Munro says it best:

“David Miller: It’s time you recognized that your constituency is the transit riders of the City of Toronto and started fighting for things that benefit all of us. Indeed, a move away from subway-dominated planning will benefit everyone in the GTA by showing what can be done over a much larger area for far less money. Toronto could lead the way in a transit renaissance, if only the Mayor would actually embrace the role.”

Ask yourself and your elected officials: what is the better way to spend $2 billion? Helping one area of the city, or helping the entire city?

Cartography by Graeme Parry. To view or download larger, more detailed maps please click on the following:

Special thanks to Graeme Parry, James Bow, Steve Munro and Deidre Tyrell for all of their assistance.

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