Crossrail versus TYSSE update

Black Creek station on the York-Spadina subway extension, slated to open in 2017, is an example of how suburban stations tend to be designed in the absence of a land value-capture regime.

Pioneer Village station on the York-Spadina subway extension, slated to open in 2017, is an example of how suburban stations tend to be designed in the absence of a land value-capture regime.

Late this year, Torontonians will be asked to celebrate the opening of the TTC’s 8.6-kilometre Line 1 extension from Downsview to Vaughan, the first bit of subway we’ve been able to accomplish in 15 years. The six-station Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension is very late and way over budget, with the latest calculations coming in at $3.2-billion, or $372-million per kilometre, despite traversing only low-density suburban areas.

Meanwhile in London, Crossrail — now officially named the Elizabeth Line — is also nearing completion. Granted, it had a six-month head start on the TYSSE, but it’s 118-kilometres long, nearly 14 times the TYSSE’s length.  The 40-station Elizabeth Line (also known to wags in London pubs as ‘The Lizard’) includes 22 kilometres of tunnels through the dense central city, but the project’s total cost comes to just $205-million (Canadian) per kilometre. That’s 55% of the per-kilometre cost we’re paying.

Let’s hope the people in charge of this controversial Scarborough subway project have finally learned their lessons. We don’t want to get burned again.

Stephen Wickens

Why not remove the Scarborough subway stops altogether?

Something lost on most tourist is that 55% of London Underground is actually above ground, and for good reason

Something lost on most tourists is that 55 per cent of London Underground is actually above ground, and for good reason. Toronto seems to have forgotten why it usually makes little sense to tunnel for subways in low-density areas; we didn’t even tunnel between Bloor and Eglinton in the era when we were good at planning and building subways.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

If eliminating subway stations to save money is the way to go, why haven’t we pondered going all the way? Why not a no-stop Bloor-Danforth extension in Scarborough?

I’ve been asked repeatedly what I think of the January 2016 transit compromises (and some have also asked whether the plan might give us the world’s longest stretch between stations on a tunnelled subway).

I love the idea of cutting unnecessary expenditures, and I fully back the reallocation of resources to Eglinton-Crosstown extensions. But the one-stop subway idea requires serious re-examination.

Extra long access-free underground corridors, though rare, are useful and are used in extremely special cases. The question is: What makes Scarborough so special?

Moscow has a 6.6-kilometre tunnelled stretch with no intermediate stations between Krylatskoye and Strogino on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (Line 3). That’s 900 metres longer than the uninterrupted stretch proposed as a Bloor-Danforth extension from Kennedy to Scaborough Centre under Eglinton Avenue and McCowan Road, but it is used to protect Serebryany Bor forest on the city’s western flank.

Geography also explains the 9.6-km ride from Embarcadero to Oakland 12th Street on the BART. That’s two-thirds longer than our Scarborough gambit, but not even the looniest Toronto politician would consider stations under San Francisco Bay – or would they?

A definitive list of global examples on this scale would be short, but the fact we’re considering joining the club without a geographic barrier says lots about the perceived level of political crisis over Scarborough, as well as the strange obsession some locals have with tunnelled transit.

Widely spaced stations on the world’s great systems aren’t rare in themselves, it’s just that they’re almost always above ground, such as the 6.3-km stretch between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer on London’s Metropolitan line (upper-left corner of your Tube map).

Sane cities rarely tunnel once their subway tentacles spread beyond dense cores. Fifty-five per cent of the London Underground is actually above ground. Honest!

MTR Corp. of Hong Kong, which in recent decades has been the international gold standard in terms of combining an urban transit business model with great service and continual system expansion, is 62 per cent above ground.

Our ancestors – Torontonians who who survived the Great Depression and helped win World War II – got this, and their wisdom and sacrifices left us the basics of a very good system (at least in North American terms).

Their Toronto was much smaller and poorer, yet they built good subways – and did so without funding from Queen’s Park or Ottawa. They opted for open trenches between Bloor and Eglinton on the Yonge line (since covered between Summerhill and St. Clair). They used shallow cut-and-cover box tunnels to keep costs down on most of the rest of the early system – the parts that now need relief.

Now, we’re too good or too rich for such economy measures. Cut and cover is messier and often requires expropriations, but it allowed our ancestors to hit budgets and deadlines. They built the University and Bloor-Danforth lines (Woodbine to Keele), 16 kms and 25 stations in just 75 months. That’s less time than we’ve spent so far on the 8.6-km six-stop, wildly over-budget Spadina-York extension.

The generation that survived the Depression and helped win the Second World War, came home and made more sacrifices for future generations by ripping up Yonge Street for a subway we all need and need to relieve. TORONTO ARCHIVES PHOTO

The generation that survived the Depression and helped win the Second World War, came home and made more sacrifices for future generations by ripping up Yonge Street for a subway we all need and need to relieve. TORONTO ARCHIVES PHOTO

The wise elders only considered corridors that could justify lots of stations. The one-stop Scarborough idea is about the same distance as Queen to Eglinton on the Yonge line, and Woodbine to Yonge on the Bloor-Danforth, stretches that comprise 10 stations, eight of them intermediate. Yonge to Keele, also about 6 kms, has 11 and nine of them intermediate.

Of course, once subway tunnels get very long, they require emergency exits, one for every 762 metres. TTC admits this Scarborough idea would need eight of them, and while they’re cheaper than stations, they’re very expensive. (The extension also go under West Highland Creek three times and have the deepest station on the TTC system, incredibly wasteful design). Those who ran Toronto in the 1950s and ’60s would tell us that if three stations are too many for the Scarborough plan, it’s not a logical subway idea in the first place (whether it costs $3.56-billion with three station or $2.1 billion with one … and certain to start rising again).

And our ancestors come to those conclusions even if there weren’t a cheaper option in replacing the SRT rolling stock and rebuilding the bend, or massive potential at a good price in the Scarborough ExpressRail/SmartSpur option – which the city is now afraid to study because it would undercut the sacrosanct subway plan. See the Star’s Royson James.

Our ancestors would also warn us that it’s crazy to even start on Bloor-Danforth or Yonge extensions until after the Relief Line and/or some variation of SmartTrack is up and running (tiny, cramped Bloor-Yonge station is dangerously crowded, handling 30% more riders daily than the busiest stop on the London Underground (three-line Oxford Circus station).

A no-stop subway? Obviously it’s an absurd idea, but only slightly more-so than the one-stop proposal considered sacrosanct by politicians eager to saddle us with yet another public transit blunder.

We have better options, and the best way to thank those who left us a great legacy is to do great things for our descendants, people who’ll need to get around Toronto and its suburbs long after we’re gone.

Stephen Wickens is a veteran journalist and transportation researcher.

Adham Fisher helps put Toronto on the subway map and brings smiles to town

Mary Marshall, having her picture taken by and with Adham Fisher, was one of dozens TTC riders delighted to meet the minor celebrity from Leicester, England.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

As meltdowns go, this was a fair display of British self-restraint.

The anguished shout rattled some folks on the Kennedy station platform and there was a peevish toss of the backpack. But if you’ve seen just a flash of the intensity Adham Fisher brings to a subway challenge, you too would have expected more.

Misled by a malfunctioning electronic sign, Fisher and I boarded a train on the north side of the island platform, only to hear door-closing chimes from the other side. The resulting four-minute delay killed any hope of breaking his day-old record for visiting all 69 of Toronto’s rapid transit stations — two hours, 46 minutes and one second.

Fisher appeared inconsolable and I kept silent, like I do when a ball shanked into a pond ruins a round for a golfing buddy. But 10 minutes and five stations later, the Leicester native was apologetic and back to poking fun at himself.

Adham Fisher takes lots of notes and pictures on his subway challenges.

“Most people would rightfully consider me absurd for losing my temper,” says Fisher, 27, who has garnered media attention with attempts to set records for speed-riding the subway systems of New York, London, Paris, Madrid, Chicago and Toronto. “I’ve been known to stew for days over a mistake like that.”

Others might consider Fisher’s interests and his subway obsession absurd altogether.  Among the places he wants to visit most in Canada is something called “the quadripoint“, where the borders of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories meet. Fisher, who makes his living arranging European camping trips for Formula 1 auto racing fans, says he has no interest in sports. He also says doesn’t read much, though he is involved in a music project and had hoped to have a forthcoming album out in time for his North American trip.
But odd or not, here’s a good man who has not only found what he likes to do, he does it. And as long as he can run between trains without crashing into people, he won’t be doing anyone any harm. Having spent a few hours talking with him, I can say he seems worthy of the goodwill this city has shown.
Only the “Tube Challenge” in London and the “Subway Challenge” in New York are recognized by Guinness World Records, but that doesn’t diminish Fisher’s commitment to setting the standard for Toronto’s relatively puny system.
Planning a challenge attempt involves research on the layouts of stations where he’ll switch vehicles. He keeps detailed notes telling him which doors to exit so he can be closest to the stairs. He needs to know the schedules of connecting services and, on this day, a key variable will be the bus options for getting from Don Mills station to the Scarborough Town Centre.
Before setting out, he takes a pee. “I don’t drink coffee and I can get by without much fluids,” he says at Downsview staion, before we ride all the way round to Finch.
En route, he must shoot pictures of every station and record to the second when the doors close at each. He also needs witness statements, one of which was provided by Celia Foster in the long tunnel between Eglinton West and St. Clair West.
“There are strict rules and regulations,” he says.
At Don Mills station, Fisher is concerned by the amount of time lost waiting for a 190 Rocket bus that will take us to Scarborough Town Centre. But he has a plan to buy time once we get to STC and runs like madman to McCowan station rather than go upstairs with me for an eastbound RT.
“I missed by about five seconds,” Fisher says, when my train pulls in and finds him waiting on the platform. If he’d caught that RT, there’s a good chance he’d have been three subway trains earlier and might not have made the fateful blunder at Kennedy.
“There was a knock-on effect with the wait for a bus at Don Mills,” he says, estimating that cost eight minutes. “If I’d made it at McCowan, I would have been in good shape. That’s probably where I lost it, not at Kennedy.”
In the end, at Kipling, we stepped onto the platform 11 minutes and 31 seconds off the pace, but still under three hours. Compare that with the nearly 23-hour commitment needed to conquer the Big Apple’s system.
But this would be Fisher’s last shot at the TTC for now. He’s off to subway-free Winnipeg to visit a friend before going to Chicago in hopes of reclaiming his mark for the CTA system.
Over candy bars at Kipling, he says he has been emailing with the people who broke his Chicago record. “I’m hoping we can have a shindig when I get there,” he adds.
Then we take a leisurely ride back through town, and more Torontonians, including TTC employees, continue to smile and point or come up and introduce themselves and wish good luck to this minor celebrity, who was front page of the previous day’s Metro and on Global TV’s morning show.
“I’m quite overwhelmed by the reception here in Toronto,” says Fisher, who professes not to be disappointed by the TTC’s subway. “Yes, the system does seem quite small for a city this size, but I’m just glad you have one.”

Us, too. And we’re glad you took to the time to visit.

TTC employees John Taylor and Steve Wilson were among those who greeted Adham Fisher and wished him luck on his subway challenge.