Why the Eglinton Crosstown is Confused with Streetcars

In Toronto, there is an on going debate about whether to build subways or light-rail. Advocates of light-rail insist that it is the 'masses' who just don't understand LRT. They are confusing it with 'old streetcars'. The masses just don't get LRT.

It is however my position that it is not the masses who are confusing LRT. It is in reality transit planners who are deploying LRT technology in a StreetCar like manner. 

You see people focus on the results of transit.
How fast will it take me to get somewhere?
How can I connect to other lines?
How far do I have to work?

Advocates of LRT, constantly focus on the vehicles themselves.

The Vancouver SkyTrain for example is an elevated light-rail system.  Yet, to people... it serves the purpose and vision as a subway system.  It is separated from traffic.  It gets you places quickly...That's what people talk about.

Let's see the plan for Toronto's Eglinton Cross-town.  As MetroLinx tries to contrast LRT and StreetCar.


Notice stop spacing. Stop spacing heavily influences the speed of travel.  The more stops you have to make, the slower the line will go.

Existing slow street cars in Toronto have stop spacing of 250m.  The grand amazing Eglinton CrossTown will have stop spacing of.... 450m.  Yes, it is 850m in the tunneled section.  I'll get to the backwardness of this in a second.

Here are the average speed (including time spent at stops)

Your typical North American line has stop spacing of 1000m-2000m.  It has to stop less and it can actually put the RAPID in RAPID transit.  The Mississauga BRT for example will be RAPID. 
The surface portion of the Eglinton Crosstown is barely 4km/h faster than the existing bus service on Eglinton.  What kind of improvement is this compared to the cost of this multi billion dollar line?  As you can see, in the tunneled section, the speed approaches that of subways, and you can see a significant improvement in travel time.

The Eglinton Crosstown will be slow... and streetcar like.  Not because of the the technology, but because of the transit planner's deployment of LRT.  It will rightly be perceived as StreetCars.

I mentioned I would address the backwardness of the stop spacing.
Transit planners often say that density is required for tunneling or subways.  There's lots of people, lots of places to work or shop.  You typically need a smaller stop spacing as you get to the downtown with higher-densities.

As you head out into less dense areas, you need your line to cover more ground and thus you should increase your stop spacing.

A map of the Calgary C-train shows this.


As you can see, stations are closer together in high-density areas... and more spread out as you get into less dense, suburban areas. 

The surface LRT on Eglinton should be at least 1000M spacing.
This is even more true given the limited budgets these days.  The Eglinton Cross town represents people's vision for bother regional as well as local transit.  Some people see the Egliton Crosstown as a way to cross large areas of the city... travelling from Scarborough all the way to etobicoke.  They might wish for a Go-train line across the northern portion of the city. Others see it as local transit.

Alas, only the Eglinton CrossTown is in the works.  

The question is what is a good compromise.
What is reasonable to satisfy people's desire for speed as well as local transit.

It's a good idea to bring this down to walking.  That is what people are worried about with respect to having stop spacing too far.  How far do you actually have to work to get to a station?

With 1km stop spacing... the most you'd ever have to walk to get to a station is 500m.  That would take the average person about 6 minutes.  Is that unreasonable?  The upside is you actually get a bit of inter-regional transit within the Eglinton Crosstown.  Making a trip from Scarborough to Etobicoke reasonably tolerable.  Given the interconnectedness of the GTA, I'd even be tempted to push the stop spacing further as the route gets more suburbans into 2km stop spacing.

This is why you see Mississauga's BRT, most other North American RAPID transit services delivering about 1km stop spacing as you get into less dense areas.  It keeps speeds up.

One might wonder if this is so obvious, why was the decision made to have such small stop spacing on the Eglinton LRT.  The answer is two-fold in my view.

  1. Everyone wants a stop close to their home/business.  This is not unusual and is rather typical politics.  Not much you can do about this one expect to have a strong visionary at the helm of the transit system to see the project as a whole instead of bowing to every local demand.
  2. Transit ideology.  This one is more dangerous.  A large portion of the TTC and various ideologues have this idea of live and work, walkable communities. Such was the vision of 'Transit City'.  This might be an admirable goal, but it simply does not deal with the reality that is the GTA.  People live and work everywhere in this region.  Rather than deal with that reality, they prefer to build transit for a city that doesn't exist and then hope the city reshapes itself to suit that transit.  So we build closer stop spacing, which will encourages medium/high density development and we reshape Eglinton into a live-work walkable community.  This is as opposed to building the Eglinton Crosstown as a rapid transit line to get people where they need to go... and then if/when a region develops density, you can always add more stops.

The Eglinton Crosstown has been intentionally slowed by transit ideologues and will be rightfully views as streetcar as opposed to Rapid Transit.


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