Suburbs and Subways

I find discussion around subways and transit in the GTA quite interesting.  There is this magical assumption people make that says you need density to support subways.  Read the above article for the typical arguments.

There are some points in the article that I agree with.  The main one is that most of our subway system was constructed a long time ago, before major labor laws and what not made it very expensive.  Heck, we could probably build subways to every part of the GTA if we brought in an Asian firm with Asian workers.

First, let me challenge this very notion of density is needed to support subways.  Let me also say, I don't really care about subways as much as I do about efficient transit.  To me, underground Light Rail like that of the Eglinton CrossTown is basically a subway in that it is out of the way of traffic.  BRT on their own right of ways is also good.

In general, I'm going to say, we need to spend more money on transit... period.
Essentially, I'm going to present arguments against the mentality that you need X amount of density to build higher-order transit.

I also hope to challenge the notion that the GTA lacks density to support higher-order transit in comparison to other cities. I still need to investigate this further though.

You need to spend more to fix old problems

The GTA was planned horribly... or it suffered for lack of planning.  More often than not, when you fail to plan, you need to spend more money to fix the problem.  This is no different than anything in life.  If you don't maintain your car with regular oil changes, it's going to cost you extra in the long term.  If you don't detect mental illness in a child early on, it's going to cost you a lot more in policing costs... later on in life.

So I think the way the GTA is laid out, you very well might need to extend the subway out to areas where it might even be underused.  I suppose the Spadina extension into Vaughan for this reason.  The suburbs were planned horribly, but highway 7 is a good boundary and there are long term plans to include a fair amount of business development there.  So yes, extend the subway up there.  Similarly, our airport should be connected to the subway and that could also act as a major connecting node for Mississauga businesses and commuter.  

The Costs are not that high

For example, the costs of having the entire Eglinton LRT underground would bump the costs from roughly $4.6 billion to $8.2 billion.  I know $4 billion sounds like a lot of money, but this is a one time capital cost.  Something that is meant to stand for decades to come.  Spread that out over 50 years... and its a sum in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.  This is chump change for our governments which spend so much more on everything else.  We spend such large amounts of money on healthcare and education in this province that it seems to blind people to spending.

Healthcare in Ontario consumes over 40% of the budget.

Education consumes another 30% or so.

Throw in and policing and you will see we spend so much less on transit.  Yet, transit is something everyone uses day in and day out.  It boggles the mind that the average citizen has been convinced to speak in these terms.  They certainly don't apply such scrutiny to the fields of healthcare and education. 
The Ontario budget is around 120 BILLION dollars EVERY SINGLE year.
Yet transit and roads... something that most people use and benefit from every single day and the infrastructure lasts for several decades... is something people feel the need to fight for every billion?

So yes, I'm willing to spend extra on transit... to make it comfortable and accessible for people.  The problem is transit in general for both roads and mass transit is severely underfunded as it is all taken by other areas.  I am willing to cut back on healthcare and education and other areas to make it happen.  Infrastructure is something we all need day in and day out.  It should definitely be getting a greater slice of the pie.

The bench marks on what is cost efficient transit is largely arbitrary based on what other cities and what was done in the past.  This is where people get the density argument for various kinds of transit.  But how much are people willing to pay for comfortable, convenient transit?  I suggest people pose that question relative to the amount we spend on healthcare and education and the amount we value those.

Mobility Hubs are Important

Ontairo and GTA have embraced this vision of mobility hubs.

All the mobility hubs, which are going to form the core of the system should have reliable and timely transit.  Not all of them need be connected to subways of course.  But they should all offer very fast and dedicated transit ways to each other.  Again, we should not observe the density arguments.  If something is going to be a hub, it should be well serviced and well connected.  They will form the spine of the transit system.  We need to make investments in the grand scheme of transit.  These are areas planned for both residential as well as business growth so it makes sense to make sure people can get to the hubs very quickly.  You might not even get density around a hub, but it might still be very much in use as people commute to the hub and take transit from there. In many suburbs, it might be completely feasible to have the hub be primarily for commercial purposes. I can attest to this myself as I will often drive to a Go-Station or TTC lot and take transit from there.

Cars are still Important

As a consequence of poor planning, the vast majority of people still use cars to get around.  Fixing transit in the GTA is going to take decades.  For a while yet, we will need to make sure cars are a very viable way to get around.  The goal of transit should not be to punish people who drive.  It is not wrong to drive.  If there was a subway from your house to where you work, who wouldn't take it?  To provide good transit while still allowing enough road space for cars, we might need to tunnel or build separate roadways for our transit even if density does not warrant it.  This point cannot be skipped over.  There are various streets that are simply too congested that we cannot reasonably remove a lane.  While at the same we know they need transit. 

Infrastructure Investments Take Time

Infrastructure investments take time to yield results.  Most importantly, you need to build it before the changes occur. I know of several companies in Vaughan who plan to relocate near to the subway extension to highway 7 in Vaughan to be transit accessible.  This is a process that can and will take time.  Yet, it won't even begin unless you have the infrastructure in place already.  Mississauga has huge array of companies which will be located within range of its up and coming BRT as well as connecting to the rather dense Square one area.  Where is the GTA's plan for a RAPID East-West transit way to connect to it? Currently, all such people drive to work.  I know... I work with many of them.  That is why the 401 is so congested.  If a reliable East-West system was build, it would allow them to take transit or at least park-and-ride.  Even many who live downtown, drive to work in Mississauga as there is no transit.

Entire usage patterns can and will change, but you need the big infrastructure investment to solve the big problems.  I have an infinite amount of disdain for the suburban office park.  Yet it is a reality we have and will have to build the infrastructure to fix it.

Regional/Local Transit Needs Compete

Another major issue is that of the competing needs between local transit and regional transit.  Consider again, the Eglinton cross-town.  For some, it will be used for local transit... and it makes sense to have lots of local stops.  For others, it will be seen as way across the city.  A way to bypass the 401. In which case, speed and far stop spacing dominate.  Now ideally, the regional transit is built separately, but if we're only going to do one cross-town project, it should attempt to serve both needs.  That means long stop-spacing... subway like speeds... and finishing the line to connect to other systems.  You will need to take into account the connectedness of the system to other systems.

This again has competing views that form an almost ideological nature. There are those who see transit not as a way to get people to where they are going, but as a way to create different lifestyles (urban, live and work communities...). There is a fair amount of opposition to building such rapid transit that makes practical sense to get people moving, but does not push for high-density live and work local community living.


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