Everyone hates gridlock and almost everyone has an opinion on mass transit. There are even some interesting plans floating around on how to get people moving. But there is very little being offered that would aid the commuters in Ward 5. That is until now.
I am proposing an innovative and very affordable express transit line downtown that would run along The Queensway. And perhaps best of all, it would not disrupt vehicular traffic patterns or travel times.
The streetcar has taken a bad rap over the last few years. Perhaps due in part to the experience on St. Clair Avenue and also to the general perception by many that they slow cars down and add to gridlock. In reality, it’s the other way round – cars slow down streetcars.
First, let’s look at some facts and figures based on 2008 Metrolinx estimates.
Subways are fast and by virtue of being underground they do not impede surface traffic. A subway car costs about $3 million, so a six-car train would cost $18 million. One kilometer of track costs between $250 and $300 million, including stations. As fast and desirable as subways are, there are diminishing returns the further out of the core they go. This is true in terms of the number of passengers they carry to the extremities and the time it takes to travel from the extremities to the core. It would not be practical to extend a subway to Oakville or even Mississauga. Another disadvantage with subways is that they can never provide express service given that there are no bypass tracks at stations.
Light Rail Transit
Light Rail Transit (LRT) is more economical than subways, but is still relatively expensive and comes with its own limitations. An LRT car costs between $3 and $5 million, so a train of six cars will cost up to $30 million. Excluding stations, one kilometer of track costs between $35 and $40 million for aboveground and $150 million for underground (where it effectively becomes a subway). Dedicated LRT tracks set on existing roadways permanently remove two lanes of traffic. If the tracks are aboveground (on or off existing roadways), they form a formidable barrier for cars and pedestrians trying to cross the street. Finally, just like subways, they cannot provide express service because there are no bypass tracks.
Streetcars are admittedly slower than subways and LRTs, but they do offer the following significant advantages that the others cannot:
- Although the individual streetcars cost as much as subway and LRT cars ($2.5 to $3 million), the cost per kilometer of track is a fraction of the others at $5 to $10 million. Furthermore, no stations are required.
- A streetcar does not require a dedicated right of way (unlike an LRT), although cars may be restricted access to streetcar lanes during peak hours.
- Compared to buses, streetcars are smooth, quiet, comfortable, energy efficient and non-polluting.
- By virtue of being aboveground, they are much better for businesses and merchants than subways because additional stops are made and businesses are highly visible to potential customers riding the streetcar.
- Of the three rail services, the streetcar is the only one that can be configured to provide express service easily and effectively. With today’s GPS and signalling technologies, as well as strategically placed bypass tracks, streetcars can have specific collector and express zones.
- Despite the slower travelling speed, if configured to run express, streetcars will give subways and LRTs a run for their money!
The express streetcar system I envision would look and operate like this during peak hours. For non-peak hours, the system would operate the same as it does today.
This video demonstrates the system on a six lane roadway:
- The bypass tracks and signals are illustrated here on a six lane roadway.
- During peak hours, cars would be prohibited from using the middle lanes. The middle lanes would be reserved for express streetcars only. Parking in the curb lane would also be prohibited during peak hours just like it is today.
- As collector car approaches for a pick-up, a traffic signal would turn red stopping the traffic in the curb lane to allow the collector car in.
- The collector car would pick up and drop off its riders.
- Any approaching express car would bypass the collector car and the waiting traffic.
- After pick-up, the collector car would return to the middle lane and traffic would resume.
- The video illustrates a six lane roadway. This proposal could be adapted to a four lane roadway such as King and Queen Streets and thereby provide express service to and from downtown.
- Aditional adjustments would be required. First, the concrete jut outs would have to be removed to restore the original curb lane (which would also allow additional parking).
Second, parking in the curb lane would be allowed during off peak hours (18 hours per day). Keep in mind that parked cars provide pedestrians a sense of security by creating a buffer between them and moving cars. Moreover, allowing parking is good for businesses. The net effect is that The Queensway would not lose a lane of traffic for cars and would gain a streetcar service.
This Express/Collector streetcar scheme would not slow traffic or increase congestion on The Queensway.
There will be a few additional logistics to work out, such as incorporating advanced greens for left and right turns for cars during which pedestrians would not be allow to cross the street. Strict traffic enforcement and towing of illegally parked cars would also be required.
The collector and express zones that I foresee are illustrated in Figure 7. The first zones in the west would not require bypass tracks and would operate as regular streetcars.
- Long Branch: Brown’s Line to Islington along Lakeshore >> Express from Islington to Bathurst.
- Mimico: Islington to Park Lawn along Lakeshore > >Express from Park Lawn to Bathurst
- Sherway: Sherway to Islington along The Queensway >> Express from Islington to Bathurst
- The Queensway: Islington to Humber Loop along The Queensway >> Express from Humber Loop to Bathurst
- Humber Bay: Humber Loop to Roncesvalles along The Queensway >> Express Roncesvalles to Bathurst
- Queen St / King St. Downtown: Roncesvalles to River St. >> Collector
If our counterparts along Queen Street East and Kingston Road do not opt into this plan, then our streetcars could loop back at River Street just before the Don River.
Figure 7. Collector and Express Zones
There has been a lot of talk over the last several months about the need for a Downtown Relief Line.
While I do not question the need for such a line, I have yet to form a strong opinion on any of the proposed solutions. However, I do use the Bloor Line from Islington Station every work day to get downtown. And every year, the trains are more crowded; I often get on a westbound train and travel to Kipling only to head back east so that I can assure myself a seat. With the intensification of Etobicoke Centre, congestion will only get worse.
The Lakeshore-Queensway express streetcar solution that I am proposing will provide relief to an already overcrowded Bloor Line – and by extension the Yonge line – for years to come. My proposal is affordable, practical and can be implemented relatively quickly. Streetcar tracks are already in place all the way to Long Branch on Lakeshore Boulevard and the Humber Loop on The Queensway. Extending The Queensway Line to Kipling and then to later to Sherway would not cost nearly as much as the LRTs and subways being proposed elsewhere.
Finally, regarding the all-important commute times, I am confident that an express streetcar can travel at an average speed of 30 km/hr and can go from Islington and The Queensway to Yonge and Queen in 20 minutes! It is hard to believe that many commuters in southwest Toronto would not opt for this service.
And the icing on the cake would be the new fleet of streetcars being rolled out this summer. Isn’t she a beauty? All it needs is a sign at the front that says 101 The Queensway.
The Queensway Express Streetcar would be the catalyst for attracting desirable new development, residential projects and businesses. Imagine living on an “Avenue” that offers express transit to and from downtown, high quality housing, stores, good restaurants and other services all within walking distance, and so on. It will provide an excellent alternative to downtown and suburban living for families, seniors and individuals alike.