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Rapid Transit Redux

Earlier this week, we looked at the Pembina Institute’s report “Fast Cities” on how the largest cities in Canada are improving their transportation ventures to include different forms of active transportation like rapid transit. But what exactly is rapid transit? In our last post, we just examined a short summary of the “Fast Cities” report and so with this post, we’ll cover a bit more in detail what exactly rapid transit is and how the rapid transit infrastructure is growing in Canada.

According to the report, rapid transit is considered the “highest order of transit service.” What this means is that it is the form of transit that is the backbone of any transit system in that it moves the “largest volumes of riders and provides the greatest level of mobility, frequency and speed.” Different forms of rapid transit technologies often include subways, LRTs, right-of-way streetcars, and right-of-way buses. Other key criteria in determine what form of transit can be considered a rapid transit technology is that it is separated from traffic, has priority signalling, all-day two-way service, and the maximum wait of 10 minutes during peak times.


The rapid transit infrastructure in Canada can be seen in how and when a city has experienced a strong growth which created the demand for increased public transit services. Montreal and Toronto, two of Canada’s largest and oldest cities built their significant subway systems decades ago, before other large cities started to come up such as Calgary and Vancouver. Due to this, Toronto, for example, have built limited rapid transit infrastructure, often for the construction of short subway extensions such as the Sheppard Line and some of Toronto’s right-of-way rapid streetcar infrastructure like the Spadina streetcar. Calgary, being a fairly new and booming city, leads Canadian cities in terms of “most rapid transit infrastructure per capita,” mostly with the city’s LRT network. Even though Toronto has also seen a boom in the city’s population numbers, the city has not built any new rapid transit services in the last 10 years (with the exception of the conversion of the St. Clair streetcar to right-of-way service).

Access to rapid transit, which is defined as “being able to walk to rapid transit in 10 minutes” is also a key statistical data to understand when looking at how cities have adopted a more active transportation model. In Toronto, 34% of the city’s residents have easy access to rapid transit, especially those within the city’s core with all the streetcar routes often stopping or entering subway stops, and many outlying neighbourhoods in the city and the rest of the GTA can easily access express buses or right-of-way buses. In fact, Toronto leads the way in express bus services with 87 km of express lines which serve neighbourhoods which are not reached by rapid transit.

The good news is, while Toronto has lagged behind other cities in building more rapid transit infrastructure in the last two decades, there is a more aggressive expansion plan underway. Currently, a subway extension and several new LRT lines are already funded and/or already under construction. Other cities are also adopting a more aggressive rapid transit approach. Just in August 2014, Calgary opened its most recent LRT extension, which is a 17-station expansion program which began back in 2001. Ottawa is also constructing a new LRT line and Vancouver is building a new SkyTrain line.

TTC Transit City billboardWhile investments are being made in Toronto to build and create more rapid transit lines throughout the city, the investments almost exclusively focus on subways, which as recently reports and election notes have shown are costly and requires at least a decade to fully build. Since the 2002 opening of the 5.5 km Sheppard subway line, the only other rapid transit project which has been underway is the 8.6 Spadina subway extension, which isn’t scheduled to be open and operational until 2016. In 2007, the Transit City plan proposed a new “120-km network of LRT lines that would be in place by 2020” which would be complemented by bus services throughout the city. Now, seven years later, the only Transit City project that is under construction is the “flagship 19-km Eglinton Crosstown LRT line” which has a completion date of 2020. Here are a list of current or future Toronto transit expansions:

  • 8.6 km subway extension to Vaughan, slated to be finished in 2016
  • The construction of a Finch West LRT is scheduled to start in 2016 and be completed by 2020
  • The construction of the 13 km Sheppard East LRT, which was started in 2010 and halted is how scheduled to “recommence in 2017 with a 2021 completion date”
  • The Scarborough subway (7.6 km) or LRT (9.9 km), which currently does not have a start or end date as it is still up in the air

The main thing to take away from this is that while Toronto has taken a long time to expanding it’s public transit services, especially in keeping up with the city’s rapid population growth, it is now acknowledging the importance of various forms of active transportation. It may be a slow start, but it’s a start nonetheless. Below is a video provided by TCAT’s It’s Your Move campaign highlighting the need for moving people within the GTA through active transportation.

To read the full report in more detail, click here.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/100135539″>Vito Tolone</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user2508271″>TCAT</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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