Corp Comm Connects

A primer on the seven-stop Scarborough LRT

It's hard to keep up with morphing transit plans in Scarborough. Some are proposing a return to the original seven-stop LRT plan.
July 11, 2016
By Jennifer Pagliaro

What’s happening Tuesday?

When councillors meet, they will be asked to revive a seven-stop light-rail line to the Scarborough Town Centre that is already on the books with the province and to scrap a move backed by Mayor John Tory to build a single-stop subway extension instead.

What is this LRT?

LRT stands for “light rail transit,” typically using electrified LRVs, or light-rail vehicles. In Scarborough’s case, the line was planned to run nearly 10 kilometres with seven stops from the existing Kennedy station to a new station near Sheppard Ave. E. and Markham Rd. at the southwest corner of the Malvern community.

Would it cause a traffic mess like the St. Clair Ave. streetcar project did?

No. Despite what was often repeated by former mayor Rob Ford, the LRT - which would use modern, low-floor vehicles - would never interact with traffic. It would run in its own right-of-way along the existing Scarborough RT corridor, between Kennedy Rd. and Midland Ave., before turning east north of Ellesmere Rd. toward the Town Centre and beyond. It would be better compared to the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT line that’s scheduled to open in 2021.

How much would it cost?

The LRT was originally estimated to cost $2.45 billion in today’s inflated dollars, funding that has been committed by the province. Now city staff say the LRT may cost nearly $3 billion due to still-to-be-confirmed construction delays. The province would also pay for future maintenance costs, like replacing the tracks and vehicles as they get old.

Won’t the subway spur development in Scarborough?

Staff hope to spark new development in Scarborough’s city centre, but transit doesn’t guarantee growth. “We have a lot of subway stops in Toronto that have been there for a long time and have seen little or no development,” says Toronto urban designer and architect Ken Greenberg, who also said there are several North American cities using LRTs to successfully stimulate growth in suburban areas. “So, it’s pretty clear that the mere presence of absence of a subway stop, in and of itself, is not a sufficient condition.”

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat has said recently the subway will create an urban growth node at the city centre. But she previously told council that an LRT, running through mixed-use areas and unlocking further development potential east of the Scarborough Town Centre, would make the LRT more “desirable” for economic development and great city building.

Won’t the LRT be packed at rush hour?

Not according to city planners. As part of planning future transit routes, staff looked how population and jobs are expected to grow to estimate how many future riders there might be on either an LRT or a subway. The LRT was originally estimated to have 8,000 riders in the busiest direction at the busiest hour by 2031. The LRT’s capacity is 15,000.

Aren’t LRTs slow?

The LRT would have the same top speed as a subway at 80 km/h. LRTs in their own dedicated right-of-way have similar average speeds to subways. The Crosstown LRT would run at 28 km/h compared, with a downtown subway at 24 km/h and a suburban subway at 39 km/h, according to the province’s transit arm, Metrolinx.

Would riders have to transfer at Kennedy station?

Yes, but it would easier than it is today to transfer from the SRT to the subway. Staff had originally planned an improved transfer - one flight of stairs - between the LRT and the subway. Those plans would have to be re-examined if the LRT is revived because the Crosstown LRT was redesigned at Kennedy station and is now using that connection.

How would SRT riders get around while the LRT is under construction?

The SRT would need to be decommissioned to allow for the LRT to be built in its place, meaning temporary bus service. The province, under a master agreement with the city, would pay for those temporary service changes.

What happens next?

Nothing about planning transit in Toronto is easy. If council backs a subway, those plans still require work on an exact alignment and provincial approval before they can move ahead. The LRT already has provincially required approvals that would need amending. Staff estimated a revised LRT plan could be approved in 12 to 18 months.