Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Transit City full speed ahead

Planners refine details as first of 7 proposed light rail lines to break ground this fall

Tess Kalinowski TRANSPORTATION REPORTER - Toronto Star

They have talked about it. They have even advertised it on billboards.
The TTC's Transit City vision of breathing new life into Toronto's suburban avenues using Euro-style light rail is clear.
Now, with the first of seven proposed Transit City lines set to break ground, planners are down to the nuts and bolts of how the system will function. Big decisions are being made with almost unprecedented speed, thanks to a shorter environmental assessment process and the province's stated commitment to public transit.
Shovels go into the ground on Sheppard East in September. The Eglinton Crosstown line and Etobicoke-Finch West lines will follow next year, if Queen's Park delivers the anticipated funding in this month's provincial budget.
But there are potential pitfalls. Kennedy station "is the classic example" of mistakes the TTC is trying to avoid with Transit City, said Mitch Stambler, manager of service planning.
"The transfer between the subway and the Scarborough RT at Kennedy is just incredibly customer-unfriendly, and we are determined to never, ever replicate that kind of thing," he said. A Kennedy makeover is in the works.
Meantime, engineers and planners are poring over plans for Don Mills station, the likely junction for the Finch West and Sheppard East light rail lines and the Sheppard subway.
Originally the TTC had been considering whether to tunnel under Highway 404 to connect the Sheppard LRT with the subway at track level there, or to extend the subway another stop to accommodate commuters to the business park at Consumers Rd.
The subway extension is less likely now that regional transportation planning agency Metrolinx has asked the TTC for a continuous east-west route across the city's north end.
Several scenarios are being studied to create that path. But the most likely would see the Finch West line, originally expected to terminate at Finch station, travelling on the Don Mills LRT line to Don Mills station, where it could link to Sheppard East.
The idea of eliminating the need to take stairs, escalators or elevators to transfer between the subway and Sheppard LRT was fine. But it probably isn't doable if there are two LRT lines to contend with, so the TTC is considering its options, Stambler said.
"What if we brought in Sheppard and Etobicoke-Finch both at concourse level? What if we bring Sheppard East in at subway level and Finch West and Don Mills in at concourse level, so they're not exactly continuous but the transfer again is quite convenient?" said Stambler, outlining the options.
The TTC is also looking at connecting Eglinton Crosstown with the SRT. That has implications for the Scarborough RT, including whether the RT is converted to light rail along the existing grade-separated alignment.
The aging RT technology can't run at street level because of its electrified rail. But LRT, with overhead wires, could run on the RT's alignment.
"Nobody should think for a minute that going to light rail would be a loss of capacity or lower quality than the RT, because the modern LRT vehicles are going to be spectacular compared to anything the city's seen," Stambler said.
As the project moves forward, the list of extensions to the system continues to grow. The TTC is considering several options, including taking the Sheppard East line to the Toronto Zoo and connecting the 512 St. Clair streetcar right-of-way to the Jane Street LRT.

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