Metrolinx studies regional relief as part of Yonge Relief Network Study Update

Today's agenda for the Metrolinx Board meeting of February 14, 2014, includes two items of interest, the Yonge Relief Network Study update and a second item titled Regional Transportation Plan Legislated Review.

The first item refers to a study that is "part of a broader and comprehensive Regional Relief Strategy" to develop regional network-based solutions to address Yonge subway crowding.

It is encouraging to note that it requires coordinated planning from Metrolinx, the TTC, the City of Toronto and York Region.

On the table are a broad range of proposals in three categories: policy, new infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure. It's a thought-provoking list, and, like all "long lists," tends to represent "blue-sky" thinking. Eventually certain options will be removed from consideration. Some of those ideas may not make it past the public consultation proposed to start early March.

The list, however, shows a willingness on the part of Metrolinx to consider a regional relief strategy, network synergies and multiple as well as incremental solutions to address the problem of overcrowding on the Yonge line as part of the consideration of the proposed multi-billion Downtown Relief Line (DRL).

The ideas include everything from Bus Rapid Transit on the Don Valley Parkway, LRT through the Don Valley, Relief Line Rapid Transit, additional Express Service on the Yonge subway and Electrified GO Corridors for Fast and Frequent Rapid Transit.

The list is sensibly organized around the "mental map of a transit journey," including getting to the station, paying the fare, waiting, travel time, and arrival. Of course, "travel time" has the greatest number of proposals, and many of them are big-ticket items.

The inclusion of "Electrified GO Corridors for Fast and Frequent Rapid Transit" is particularly important.

In his recent review of the Big Move, Michael Schabas wrote about "the massive benefits to be gained from upgrading the GO Rail system into a two-way system offering fast and frequent all-day services."

He outlined the need for "three-tier" transit systems with a network of radial lines for inter-regional trips, with slower metro and light rail systems providing local collection and distribution and bus and surface trams to penetrate local communities.

He also pointed out how the initial enthusiasm for upgrading the GO Rail system, which was "Priority Action #1" in the original Big Move, quickly dissipated and how there is little chance of delivering Metrolinx objectives for regional transit without a regional rail system as the "backbone" of the GTHA public transit system.

"The entire GO system can be upgraded to a 15-minute-all-day, two-way service with 25% faster journey times for less money than the cost of the $4.9-billion Eglinton Crosstown LRT," Schabas noted.

That one item would transform our transit network and arguably do more to relieve congestion across the region than any other item on the list.

The second item before the Metrolinx board today is the Regional Transportation Plan Legislated Review. Both matters are a sign that Metrolinx, a relatively young organization, is moving towards using evidence-based planning and fostering region-wide synergies from the whole network. This is a welcome change from the First Wave plans, an ad hoc amalgam of inherited local projects.