Mayor Ford’s more costly Eglinton underground LRT
Eglinton LRT is a go but no cash left for Finch, Sheppard
(Column written for Town Crier April 4)
Get ready, midtown, to face the envy and scorn of the rest of Toronto.
A new, underground version for a 25 km Eglinton LRT is moving ahead, thanks to a joint announcement by the province and the city.
Good news, right? Yes, except that the previous plan included $8 billion for surface LRT routes along Finch, Sheppard and Eglinton, and converting the Scarborough RT into light rail transit lines. Then-incoming mayor Rob Ford pronounced that plan dead on Dec. 1.
Mayor Ford wanted the Eglinton line fully buried, so that it won’t interfere with traffic. That’ll be achieved except for a small elevated portion as it approaches Kennedy subway station. Burying the entire rapid streetcar line will increase the cost of the Eglinton project by at least $2 billion.
The result is the $8.4 billion the province had set aside for four will now be entirely eaten up by two: Eglinton and Scarborough. As a result, the new plan cancels LRTs on Sheppard and Finch.
But here’s the kicker: The city will be on the hook to pay back $49 million in costs already incurred for the Sheppard and Finch routes to provincial agency Metrolinx. That is a lot of money down the drain for a decision by a mayor who claims to value respect for taxpayers.
Metrolinx spokesperson Vanessa Thomas says the estimate of $49 million in sunk costs is mostly for work on the environmental assessments, designs or engineering and project management for Finch LRT and Sheppard LRT.
“The next step is to negotiate the terms of how those costs will be paid back,” Thomas says.
The mayor signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the province and Metrolinx, promising that the city will pay back any costs already incurred for the original projects.
But back to the good news for midtown, which is the 25 km Eglinton route moving forward. Midtowners already saw tunnels for an Eglinton subway buried by former premier Mike Harris in the 1990s. Residents and businesses along this vital east-west corridor have waited a generation for a route on Eglinton that’s faster than the current buses that struggle in congested traffic.
Mayor Ford promised commuters a shorter trip on Eglinton.
A trip from Kennedy to Laird Avenue takes about 28 minutes by bus, he said, and a surface train down the middle of Eglinton would be only eight minutes faster.
“Our new plan will cut that travel time in half,” he told the media.
Mayor Ford promised Finch won’t be left in the cold, as the city will run enhanced bus service from a Humber College station to a new Finch West station, to be built as part of a separate subway extension.
And he announced, perhaps for the first time, subway service on Finch within a decade.
But Ford’s big push is to leverage $4.2 billion from the private sector to build a new Sheppard subway line, from Downsview to Don Mills station and then east to a new terminus at Scarborough City Centre.
He promises to report back with a financial plan on how to achieve this goal.
As midtown councillor Joe Mihevc told reporters at the March 31 transit announcement, the city will have to pay back the private sector if they do invest billions in a Sheppard subway. And in his view there’s no guarantee it’ll even happen.
Said Mihevc: “The suburbs get screwed. Transit riders get screwed. The people along Finch get screwed and the Sheppard subway, if it ever gets built, will in-debt the city to such an extent that not only will my children, but my children’s children will be responsible for paying for it.”
In the meantime, get ready for rapid transit on Eglinton. Midtowners aren’t the only ones who want this to happen. But don’t be surprised if you get some disgruntled looks from people in the suburbs as they tell tales of their daily commute on crowded buses.
They still dream of one day getting rapid transit of their own.
Tibor, I am not saying, take the profit out of development as I realize that profit is what the world relies upon to work. What I am saying is that, specifically that developers are directing the development of the Sheppard subway line, based simply around profit. That is the trade-off that we have to accept when we turn to the developers for funding. Ford will tax the developers to develop land around the stops on the line for condos, that is where the financing will come from.
However, mass transit should not be built for the sole purpose of profit for developers, it must be located for and built for both the businesses that it serves and the commuters that use it.
Toronto did not need a Sheppard subway from Yonge to Don Mills and does not need a subway from Don Mills east to the Town Centre; the location is wrong. The final subway plan should be east/west line on or close to Finch, east/west line on or close to Lawrence, east/west line on the existing Bloor Danforth and an east/west line close to or on Front. These east/west lines should run city boundary to city boundary, excluding the Finch line which should run to the airport. Then we should have North/South lines running on or near Morningside, on or near Leslie, on or near Yonge, on or near University – continuing to York University, on or near Black Creek and on or near the 427 highway.
All other transit needs should then be met by buses, streetcars and LRT service. We still need a master plan that serves the residents of the city, not just make money for the developers.
There is an alternate solution for this problem which is to build overhead trains like the ones in Chicago http://bit.ly/h9siYO http://bit.ly/hTzFHY It can be built faster so it will not affect businesses as digging a subway would. It would require less labour time to assemble; the supports could be made off site at a Toronto location, which would provide jobs for people in this city. It would cause minor traffic disruptions because the hole in the road for the supports for the overhead tracks would not take that long to build
The overhead trains would open up the road for more vehicles, which include cars bikes trucks electric personal transportation devices and there would be dedicated bike lanes.
I tried explaining this to Joe Mihevc on Twitter but 140-character limit was just not enough.
I am pretty sure that Joe has complete knowledge of the Chicago tramway. Yes, you are correct that an elevated tramway would be an easier build, however, according to the costings on such a system by the city and the province, not much cheaper than a subway. Case in point, the elevated tramway on the Scarborough RT avoids vehiclular traffic through the grade separation, but cannot support the heavier cars from Bombardier travelling at “rapid transit” speeds of 40-50 k.p.h. If an elevated system were implemented along Sheppard, the support system would have to be new engineering (beyond RT tech.).
Then you have a choice, where do you put it? On the south side of the road allowance, on the north side or straight down the middle? If it on the sides of the road allowance, the stations and terminals are easier and cheaper to build but then you are blocking business views. If you build it down the centre, then all of the stations have to access points and platforms elevated above the roadway, which is technically more difficult and expensive.
An LRT on Sheppard, above Sheppard or even buried below Sheppard will not attract condo and retail developers, their preference is a subway.
Mass Transit in the 21st century is simply not the same as it was in the period from 1950-1970. Back then, you built mass transit and occasionally rapid transit, where the numbers warranted it. This usually mean’t that there were too many commuters for regular bus routes to feed your subway lines, so you extended the subway or built another subway line. In the 21st century, mass transit is a development tool. First you build the mass transit and the development will follow. This is what the new Sheppard subway line is all about. Development has never changed at any time in history, it is simply the pursuit of profit. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that a developer’s goal is to improve the city or improve the lives of its citizens. It is simply about money. That is why Mr. Ford will be successful in attracting developers for the Sheppard line, there is money to be made and believe me developers’ can be both profit driven and patient at the same time.
It was not a coincidence that Canadian Tire decided to sell their property at Leslie and Sheppard to a developer for condo tower construction after the city decided to extend the Sheppard line to Don Mills. It was not a coincidence that the new subway extension at Sheppard and Allen Rd was built and plans for thousands of condo units exist for the land west of Allen Rd and the new Federal Park. Coincidences do not happen in development, only plans do. Such is the story with the new Sheppard line. As you drive east on Sheppard Ave. into Scarborough, it does not take a lot of business acumen or real estate knowledge to identify which properties will be subject to condo re-development. And this will happen because it is what the developers want. There is a long waiting list of potential buyers to snap these units up as fast as they are built, just look at Sheppard and Yonge and Sheppard and Avenue Rd., Sheppard and Leslie and Sheppard and Kennedy Rd. No, the Sheppard corridor is a prime condo development area and therefore a subway will work and the increased density will justify it and make it profitable.
The city will be happy because of the subway getting built and because of the thousands of extra residential taxpayers. The developers will be happy because they get to do what they like doing, developing and making money. Perhaps Toronto residents may not be happy, but they will get over it, they always do.
I am not saying that building a subway on Sheppard is a good or bad idea, simply an idea that will happen and one that will change that area of the city forever.
Now, as for the rest of the city and it’s transit woes.
As I stated previously, there are no coincidences in development, just planning. Now, within planning, there is good planning and bad planning. If the province and the city had built the Eglinton subway line in the 80’s when they should have OR not have stopped the building of the Eglinton line in the 90’s when they did, the entire discussion regarding the Eglinton LRT would be mute. But they did nothing and now we are getting nothing but a compromise because all we can do now is bury an LRT line; when we really need a subway under Eglinton. The subway should not stop at Black Creek, where the LRT will stop, but should continue west to the 427. The subway should not stop at Kennedy, where the LRT will stop, but continue east to Kingston Rd. But, we are not getting a subway, we are getting an LRT, so why don’t we make it the best LRT that we can have. Leave it buried at the Kennedy Rd. end and have it load and unload commuters on the same level as the existing Bloor line subway terminus, then continue it east above ground on the existing Scarborough RT line all the way past McCowan Ave., past Centennial College and east to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus with the new Pan Am swimming facility. Then, in the future it can be extended north to meet an extended Sheppard line at Morningside or Conlins Rd.
Now, a Finch West line, will it happen, perhaps in 10 years as Mr. Ford says, but I cannot see it right now. I have driven along that route many times and I just do not see the development potential that could justify the needed increase in population density to justify an improvement in mass transit. Very little money to be made in the north west end of the city, too many small properties, too many mixed uses, too many light industrial areas, too many realty marketing issues, too many other problems to solve first. And as I said, what drives development, profit. The only people that really need mass transit in that area of the city, are, unfortunately the people that live there and spend their lives everyday on the buses. They, like in any other city in a capitalist society are not reason enough to spend the billions needed.
But still, these are not my transit plans, not my transit dreams but they are all compromises between money for the city, money for the developers, money from the province and money from the feds.
My transit plans are about the people and the businesses that use a transit system, its’ really about them and for them. My transit plans are about dreams and vision, not about dollars. But my transit plans will not make developers millions in profit, will not make the city see another 20 to 30,000 condo owners start paying property taxes, they would simply make the commuters better off. No profit in that, so they will stay, my transit plans.
Visions and dreams when put into reality cost money and if you took profit out of development Toronto would still be a farming community today.
People want convenience and they are willing to pay for it and people want to live in this city and businesses go where the people live so that the people can buy their products and services locally in the neighbourhood.
Profit is what gets the economic engine going. The city should charge the developer a transit tax so that the city will not have to pay the full cost of the transit and taxpayers will not have to pay more than they have to.