Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Light Rapid Terrificness

I've been learning a lot about public transit over the past few months from sites like Transit Toronto and Steve Munro's Web Site. My sources are somewhat limited in number, but I feel like I've been given such a convincing case for building an LRT network in Toronto, that I don't need to hear the opposition. For those unfamiliar, LRT is Light Rapid Transit, which means a modern, faster, bigger street-car, which would typically stop a lot less often than our downtown streetcars, but stop more often than a subway.

I don't know who actually opposes LRT. I saw Howard Moscoe say he wanted streetcars going from one end of the city to the other.

If you're missing out on this conversation, I highly recommend having a look through some of the recent posts on Steve Munro's site. Now that I've seen his site, I notice that Steve's name comes up every time a politician is questioned about the TTC's subway system.

I'll make a feeble attempt at summarizing the case for more LRT. Toronto is an expansive city, with lots of suburban development. A subway (heavy rail) is designed for high density urban cores. A subway can carry a huge number of people, but it costs a lot to build, so in order to make it worthwhile, it should be used at the rates found in high density urban areas. LRT on a dedicated lane will cost near one tenth of what a subway costs on a per km basis. It can run frequently and carry the numbers needed in suburban areas of Toronto. If street space is at a premium, they can duck underground for a stretch.

To reiterate: they cost one tenth of what a subway costs, so you can either save money, or use it to make the network cover 10 times more streets!

They even look slick, which should give them a little more political capital, as far as I can tell. Take a look at the photo on Transit Toronto of a model from Bombardier. (Aside: Anyone want to vote on the proper pronunciation? -- bawm-ba-deer or boam-bar-deeay)

The more people that find out about LRT the better. I see this as a problem of public relations in Toronto. People just don't know about the other options that exist, so they equate transit with either subways or buses. A lot has changed in the past 20 or 30 years. LRT networks are being built or are already built in cities all over North America, partly thanks to US federal support. LRTs are flexible and effective and based on current knowledge. Focusing on subways and their slow growth would be like our government deciding that Magnum PI was a great show, so it shall be the only thing on TV from now on. Public transit obviously involves some high level, big decisions, so we need to do what we can to build in flexibility to keep up with what's going on in transportation technology and our city's development.

Last week, I was faced with the exact weakness of our transit system that an LRT could address. I needed to get from one busy suburban centre to another. I was in the Richmond Hill/Markham business centre at Leslie and Hwy 7, and I needed to get to Scarborough Town Centre. It probably would have taken at least an hour and fifteen minutes by bus, which is ridiculous when you consider the number of people that live or work in both of these areas, and how close together they are. I could definitely have ridden my bike there faster, if that was an option.

I ended up getting a ride with a coworker, which took us through the daily traffic jam on the 404 southbound and then on the 401 eastbound at Kennedy. Most of those cars belong to people traveling from a workplace to home, neither of which have anything to do with Yonge St, Bloor St or University Ave.

I would love to show those car drivers how great it is getting around on a bicycle, but that whole process is going slowly so far. In the meantime, a set of LRT branches reaching out around our city could make big differences in everyone's quality of life, giving people the choice of not owning a car in huge swathes of suburban Toronto.

Darren J 4/11/2006 01:48:00 PM

4 Comments:

A dedicated streetcar line would have made much more sense instead of building the Sheppard Subway. But the problem with that was opposition from drivers (ie voters) that didn't want a lane of traffic taken away. I think you'll see lots of opposition to reducing lanes of traffic in the burbs by people that don't have the vision to see that the streetcar is going to take lots and lots and lots of cars off the roads as well.
I would be more in favour of a London UK style network of buses with dedicated bus lanes which are usable by bicycles and licensed taxis. This would be coupled with the removal of parking from arterial routes.

This allows public transit that isn't subject to the effects of traffic and therefore faster and more appealing as well as less subject to failure.

My main objections to LRT are that it is suceptible to failure, similar to regular street cars, and, because of it's nature, needs to occupy the centre lane. This encourages more curbside driving which has an elevated risk level.
Also, by reducing the frequency of stopping it makes it very commuter driven, an inhibiter to localised social development, unless you include a bus transit system that would in part have to run parallel and double-handing isn't cheap, which public transit needs to be.
On some of the roads in the suburbs, it looks like taking a lane away wouldn't even be necessary. They could add a lane on most parts of Hwy 7 to give dedicated lanes to LRT or a bus. But I know what you mean. There are many streets where it would cause a big fuss.

I think this is where York Region's Viva is doing a good job. It creates a very visible reminder that there are other options for getting around, and, paired with some higher density development, will fit well with more dedicated lanes, whether they have buses, LRTs or bikes on them.

(By the way, I wouldn't want to share a lane with taxis).
Sharing the lane with taxis was something of a prime concern when the bus/bike/taxi model was proposed. However, the high majority experience since it's advent in London has been positive with some studies suggesting a decline in animosity between the Capulets and Montagues of the road.

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