Scarborough’s Metrolinx news

Scarborough Big Move

Yesterday was a newsworthy day when it comes to Scarborough’s share of Metrolinx’s (significantly toned down) “Big Move”. Metrolinx had their second board meeting in as many months, and two items pertaining to Scarborough were discussed, which I will in turn discuss below:

Durham-Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis

For those unfamiliar with Metrolinx’s processes, a Benefits Case Analysis (BCA herein) is essentially a modified version of a traditional transportation cost-benefit analysis. The process aims to measure not just the “transportation user and financial impacts” of each scenario, but also the “long-term economic, environmental and social impacts”. While the process certainly has its critics and significant inconsistencies, it is an important first step in the process of determining what project best fits a community and its users.

The Durham-Scarborough BRT was included in the Big Move as a 36-km rapid transit corridor, connecting Oshawa’s downtown in the east to Scarborough’s central transit station. Along the route, it connects with three Urban Growth Centres (Oshawa, Pickering and Scarborough), two significant town centres (Whitby and Ajax), and one university, UTSC (with UOIT moving much of its non-engineering facilities to downtown Oshawa, soon there will be two significant campuses on the BRT).

Three options are considered for the route, and these options are completed unrelated to the routing itself (that is to be considered through further planning study by stakeholders– especially through Scarborough). The three options  are essentially Full BRT, Half BRT, and the third option being something that I would not call BRT.

Graphical representation of the three BRT options.

Indeed, the results of the BCA indicate that the third option has higher costs than actual benefits, due to the lack of real improvements in the rider experience (i.e. time savings) as well as creating the least amount of short- and long-term jobs. The only situations in which I see the third option being the chosen one is a) Metrolinx via the provincial government abandons its long-term outlook on this and other projects or b) politicians get involved, and another option gets filed down so extensively that it is essentially the third option.

Fairly obviously, the Full BRT option comes out of the BCA process as a winner. The environmental, economic and user benefit factors are higher than the other two options. However, it also involves the highest capital outlay, at $500M currently (will be significantly more whenever the BRT is actually built).

Benefits Case Analysis results.

Keep in mind that this BCA is really early in the entire project’s process. The associated documents and presentations make it clear that the planning for the project is lagging for the Scarborough portion of the route, which is potentially the most controversial in terms of community impacts. From the beginning, Highway 2 (Kingston Road) has been a clear candidate for a Durham transit corridor, with its (mostly) wide right-of-way, established GO and DRT bus service, and numerous important community connections (shopping malls, urban cores, and significant retail activity). Through Scarborough it gets a bit muddled. Kingston Road bends to the south, away from Scarborough Centre, so Ellesmere Road and the Highway 401 become prime candidates for the route. As the BCA identifies, the Ellesmere corridor east of UTSC becomes mostly residential, and sensitive to BRT impacts.

In my mind however, the Ellesmere route provides the best benefit to the community overall. Diverting the BRT onto the 401 brings in all sorts of issues, such as heavy peak period traffic, and poor connections to important institutions (UTSC, Centenary Hospital).  In addition, much of the Ellesmere corridor is a 4-lane road with a right-of-way wide enough for at least two extra lanes. If I were a lead on this project, I would certainly be making the case for the Ellesmere corridor, even in the face of community concerns east of UTSC, as the overall community benefits outweigh the costs and concerns.

My guess is that Option 2 will eventually be chosen, as the money or the political gumption just do not seem to be there for a Full BRT system in east Scarborough and Durham Region (though more so in Durham, as they hope for a future LRT and really want just about anything better than the current situation).

Extension of the Sheppard East LRT to UTSC

This particular item was pushed on to Metrolinx’s agenda after the province’s much-maligned cuts and “re-phasing” exercise earlier this year (one of the most important of which was the SRT rehab being pushed back to begin after the Pan Am Games– TTC could not be sure they could finish it in time for 2015). With Sheppard East one of the only Transit City lines even getting started before the Games, it has grown much more important to Transit City as well as the Pan-Ams.

So why is the UTSC extension important? The Pan-Am Aquatic Centre is being built on the campus of UTSC, which will attract thousands of spectators and athletes to the east Scarborough landmark. While the athletes will likely be bussed in from their East Bayfront Athlete’s Village, spectators from across the GTA may have little choice but to drive or endure a long and transfer-full transit ride.

That changes with the proposed extension– what they are calling the “Morningside Hook”– at least for small amount of the populace. The memo that was presented at the Metrolinx is right to state that

It is difficult to justify extension of the LRT for the primary purpose of providing
rapid transit service to a major venue of the Pan-Am games. This is due to the
cost of the extension, the short-lived nature of the event, and the fact that the LRT
extension will likely serve a minority of spectators going to UTSC.

So while the Morningside Hook would provide a one-seat ride to the Aquatic Centre for the few that are served by the LRT and wish to head to the venue, such a short event and limited ridership are no reason to build the Hook. However, as the memo notes, it does provide some kind of impetus to construct the project.

There are other benefits of course. The proposed Hook runs south on Morningside Avenue, following the same route that the Scarborough-Malvern LRT would follow as proposed. The Scarborough-Malvern LRT is not to be built for close to twenty years, so constructing this piece would be a win for the community. In addition, UTSC and the adjoining Centennial College campus are expected to grow substantially; the campuses will serve as a strong anchor for the Sheppard East LRT, in addition to connecting the line to the Durham-Scarborough BRT and other important bus routes.

The EA and UTSC master plan conflict

There is still much work to be done on this file. For one, the funding does not yet exist, but the hope is that the city will find the cash (somewhere upwards of $100M) for the extension. Secondly, the Environmental Assessment for the Scarborough-Malvern alignment conflicts with the UTSC master plan, which has driven up the cost of the Hook by about 10%. Lastly, opponents will quite easily be able to say that the Hook is only being built for the Pan-Ams with little justification; and that similar service could be provided simply by having express buses run between the Sheppard East LRT (sans hook) and the campuses.

As  an advocate for transit in my community, I must say that I find few negatives with the Hook proposal. While there certainly are some issues to resolve, with the provincial election coming up, some in the transit community are prepared to accept just about any rails they can get in the ground, warts and all.

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