Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Why is council letting SmartTrack derail LRT plans for Eglinton West?

By: Metro Published on Thu Feb 12 2015

As a rule, I’ve got nothing against studying transit options. Without careful study, politicians can only make transit decisions based on their gut feelings — and I think we’ve all had enough of that kind of thing, thanks.

But transit studies need to come with justification. Metrolinx and the TTC can’t just study every random idea. That would be a waste of time and resources. We’d end up seeing studies for a subway under every major concession road in the GTA to destinations as far flung as African Lion Safari and the oversized nickel in Sudbury.

If a study is going to be conducted, proponents need to explain why their proposal makes sense, one based on tangible things like the population served and overall network benefit.

Which brings me to the Eglinton West section of Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan.

Council voted 35-9 on Tuesday to proceed with a feasibility study of the western section of the mayor’s rail plan that is supposed to run, probably underground, from Mount Dennis to just past Highway 427 in Mississauga.

But no one has ever given a satisfying explanation as to why this idea is worth considering.

Even worse, no one has bothered to explain why this is a better option than the approved and designed Eglinton LRT plan that pretty much covers the exact same route.

And here’s a map from the Eglinton Crosstown environmental project report, showing how the LRT would extend westwards to Pearson Airport. The phase of the Eglinton LRT project currently under construction ends at Black Creek.

The LRT immediately looks like a stronger plan. For one, it actually connects with the airport, while the SmartTrack plan terminates to the south of it. The LRT boasts far more stops, owing to its surface configuration. And while an exact costing of this section of SmartTrack has yet to be conducted, it’s a safe bet the LRT is significantly cheaper because it won’t require substantial tunnelling.

On the other side, there’s not a lot in SmartTrack’s favour. The plan would offer a one-seat ride to Union Station for people in West Etobicoke and Mississauga, but it’s not clear that most transit riders in this area are even looking to get to Union. And while it’s possible that SmartTrack would offer higher average operating speeds, it’s worth noting that the LRT through this section had a design speed of between 28 and 31 kilometres per hour, comparable to the average operating speed of the Bloor-Danforth subway. How much faster could SmartTrack be?

Most importantly, the key benefit of SmartTrack as a whole is entirely absent in this section. There are no existing GO Transit tracks to co-opt for SmartTrack on Eglinton West. It would require all-new construction — costly, time-consuming, complicated construction.

So why even consider it? That’s the question I’ve been struggling with all week. Sure, the extension of the LRT is unfunded at the moment, but so is SmartTrack. Both projects will require the same amount of political manoeuvering to get things moving.

Speaking on the matter at city hall this week, Tory would only say that this part of SmartTrack is important because it connects people with jobs located in the so-called “Airport Corporate Centre,” an area apparently located south of the airport itself.

Which makes some sense, I guess. But the LRT would seem to do just as well at connecting people to those same jobs, while also offering more stops, more connectivity to local transit and at a much lower price.

It's still difficult to find the justification.

Sure, Tory’s SmartTrack map during the campaign included an Eglinton West section, but just because something was bandied about during a political campaign doesn’t mean it needs to become real transit policy.

It’s not as if this stretch of SmartTrack is at all integral to Tory’s vision, anyway. In fact, the remainder of SmartTrack — from Mount Dennis through downtown and up to Scarborough — would work very well with the second phase of the Eglinton LRT, providing riders with another convenient transfer point, and potentially allowing a future phase of SmartTrack to continue along the existing corridor to North Etobicoke.

It would be the best of both worlds.

My bet? The council-commissioned feasibility study on the Eglinton West corridor will conclude pretty much the same thing. So let's ask the question again: Why is council even looking at this? Why pursue an alternative transit plan for an area that already has a transit plan?

And, most critically, why — again — can’t Toronto just build transit that was already approved?

This post was originally published at on 2015-02-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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