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Greater Toronto Transit Authority -- sorry, Metrolinx -- wants your input

Want to travel around the GTA and its outlying areas over the next generation? The freshly renamed transit authority wants your input on what it needs to consider. Here are my answers to its "what are your ideas?" survey.

Transit improvements, including buses, subways, commuter trains, light rail, streetcars:

My focus is on the need for inter-regional rail transit, and so my comments are based primarily around that.

Focus should be concentrated on the expansion of rail-based GO services to outlying areas such as Waterloo region via the CP Milton line extension to Cambridge and the CN Georgetown line extension to Kitchener (beyond the proposed Breslau), eventually reconnecting down the Huron Park/Waterloo lines. All regional city bus systems should interconnect, including between cities that have countryside still between them, allowing people to travel from anywhere to anywhere without cars for minimal cost.

Mobility/Transit hubs where the different modes of transportation come together:

Grid systems are more efficient for travelers than hubs, even if hubs are more efficient for the service providers, and would reduce the strain on over-loaded hubs like Toronto's Union station. The CP Milton line cuts across North Toronto and could be used for a northern hub. Similarly GO's CN Georgetown and CN Oshawa lines should be run as one line - the tracks are in place to run service from Hamilton to Burlington to Georgetown across the top of the GTA and down the CN reconnecting at Liverpool and continuing into Oshawa. Small interchange stations could be built where it connects with the Milton, Barrie, Richmond Hill, Uxbridge, and future Vaughan and Peterborough lines. Each of these interconnections and all stations must connect meaningfully to local bus systems, where they exist.

Cycling and walking:

Dedicated cycling/skiing lanes and walking never hurt. Cycling would probably be significantly encouraged if busses, as a rule, rather than as an exception, allowed passengers to bring their bikes aboard or hang them on external racks. Many of the cycling lanes that exist end haphazardly between intersections, and sensor-based traffic lights cannot detect bicycles, something that I encountered frequently when biking at night as a student. The current road system set up does not lend well to cyclists.

Encouraging people to use a variety of transportation choices:

Having frequent, regular, reliable service to get anyone from anywhere to anywhere efficiently is critical. Anything less and people will never leave their cars. The morning VIA train from Guelph to Toronto departs at 7:05 am and arrives at Union station at 08:20 am. This train is booked solid and packed to the gills every morning. Better train frequency and more stops (the train does not stop between Brampton and Union) would allow more people to use this service. Rail transit is by far the most efficient mode of transportation. There is no other way to move 1,800 people (displacing some 1,700 cars per run) on a crew of 3 or 4. Turf disputes between VIA and GO risk being very damaging to the public good and it is incumbent upon the two to agree that what is good for one is good for the other particularly for outlying commuters.

Roads and highway enhancements:

Road enhancements never seem to improve anything. The more roads, the more cars. Building more highways facilitates this cycle. Dedicated roadways for public transit would be an exception to this rule. The new highway 7, for example, between Guelph and Kitchener is expected to last until 2031 before becoming completely clogged, compared to adding a lane in each direction to the existing highway 7 which will only last until 2014. This is not a remotely sustainable approach. 2031 will not always be a date in the future, and so we have to plan our enhancements to last indefinitely, not for barely a single generation. More and better highways are simply not the answer.

That said, existing highway enhancements that would encourage car pooling would be very beneficial. One such idea would be to take the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to an unconsidered extreme: each lane of a multi lane highway should be limited, by lane number, to the number of people in the vehicle. That is to say: the right lane, lane 1, is available to all vehicles with 1 or more occupants. The next lane over, lane 2, has 2 or more, and so by the time you get to lane 4, you have to be in a full vehicle. The relative sparsity of cars in these lanes should give real, meaningful incentive to carpool, as failing to carpool will make commuters essentially immobile in the right lane. Calling 2 people "high occupancy", as is currently the case, is a bit farcical.

Moving goods and services more efficiently:

Paris, France, has a law preventing trucks from being on its roadways during business hours. This is a sensible policy that would do wonders for our road system's congestion issues, however like for moving people, moving goods by rail should be encouraged. A 150 car freight train removes between 300 and 750 trucks from the road on a crew of 2 people. Service vehicles will continue to require use of the roadway but concentrating on diverting commuter and medium/long haul freight traffic to rail will allow service vehicles and the relatively small number of really esoterically-routed commuters to continue to survive on our existing road system.

Other ideas:

Not completely within the mandate of Metrolinx, but nevertheless something that needs consideration is drive-on, drive-off rail service connecting major urban centres. CP rail currently runs a high priority piggy back service for semi trailers between Montreal and Toronto. A similar concept on the more direct CN line between Toronto and Montreal at a reasonable cost but for cars could be very helpful to highway congestion and environmental issues. If people are willing to pay $8 to cross the Ottawa river on a barge on the Hudson ferry, then paying for a 100mph car ferry service between Toronto and Montreal is not as outlandish as it sounds. The concept and technology already exists and is in use for semitrailers on CP's Expressway between Toronto and Montreal, the Channel Tunnel service between England and France, and on Amtrak's Auto-train service between DC and Miami.

On another note, it is imperative that track abandonments be ceased and already ripped up rights of way be preserved. The ripped out rail line between Cambridge and Brantford, currently not even on anyone's radar, for example, will eventually be needed as the region expands to the point that inter-regional rail is needed between those cities which will be part of the GTA within just a couple of generations. Other tracks that are at risk exist around Toronto such as the shortline-operated track between Streetsville and Brampton. As we have a societal habit of ripping out tracks and building homes on the rights of way just before we realise we need them for passenger rail services, it seems very important to me that we cease making that mistake.

Finally, for an invading army to be successful, it must offer the people something better than what they have. Public transit is the invading army, and for it to be truly successful, it has to be faster, better, and, most importantly, cheaper (in perception, not necessarily in reality, considering what people don't realise they spend on their cars), than what they currently have. This concept is what allowed cars to displace public transit starting in the 1920s and 1930s. Auto manufacturers, it is well known, bought up street car companies and shut them down, forcing people to use cars. Roads were built and had no user-pay system. The tide has to be reversed. It is cars that have to be displaced to allow the functioning of public transit, and eventually it will really be public transit that once again reigns supreme after the 80-year long automotive insurrection.

Posted at 10:15 on December 14, 2007

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