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Archive for the ‘Urban Planning’ Category

Transit Canada Special: Toronto’s Transit City LRT Plan

This post looks at Toronto’s (now superseded) Transit City LRT plan.

Light Rail has become quite popular in Canada- Toronto (Eglinton LRT), Edmonton (ETS) and Calgary (C-Train), Ottawa (Transitway/Busway conversion to LRT) and recently Light Rail was endorsed as the preferred rapid transit mode for Kitchener-Waterloo. The Transit City LRT plan for Toronto was different from the other proposed or existing LRT systems in that it had a more “feeder” function- the purpose was to provide rapid transit to connect people in the suburbs to the main rapid transit artery: the subway system- and in doing so provide mobility for both CBD-bound and cross-town trips. Many of the TTC’s bus routes carry around 40, 000 passengers per day (roughly about 10 million per year), so the capacity of LRT would be a plus here.

There was much debate and controversy over the Transit City LRT plan as it was the brainchild of former Toronto mayor David Miller, who was replaced by now incumbent mayor Rob Ford who ran on a platform espousing subways and portraying LRT as slow streetcars (in earlier posts the difference between LRT and streetcars has been made clearer). A good LRT system can do up to around 10, 000 passengers/hour/direction in Class B ROW and, if built like a subway (Class A ROW), around 20,000 passengers/hour/direction.

Why did the TTC choose LRT, over subways, at least for this plan? Mitch Stambler from TTC service planning identifies the following points:

* Much cheaper than subways, LRT is 4-5 times cheaper than subway which means
* More bang for buck- 4-5 times more rapid transit for the same money
* Class B ROW results in excellent quality service
* Satisfies projected demand required
* Environmental benefits (Toronto has much of its power come from Hydro sources)
* Toronto is not New York, Hong Kong or Berlin– LRT fits the demand required
and is realistic for the city.

Mitch’s Presentation:

What does this mean for Brisbane? Looking past the technology, this blog’s view is that further improvements to the BUZ network should be introduced along with more ambitious priority (full length bus lanes/T2 lanes) along major arterial roads and traffic light priority. This blog’s experience with Brisbane’s buses is that they are quite slow compared to other cities, such as say, Canberra. Rail lines and ferries should be boosted in frequency to knit a ’15-minute frequent’ network around Brisbane, and using the large suburban shopping centres as interchange points, slowly cut back non-BUZ routes to create a feeder-style network, which will provide high frequency in the suburbs, where the people are and also allow people to get from suburb-to-suburb without going to the CBD first. (Try getting from Tarragindi to Yeronga- it takes a whopping 48 minutes to do this using public transport, and up to three bus changes! In a car this might take 10-15 minutes!). Improvement of the orbital 599/598 Great Circle line will also be important to enable cross-town and meet local transport needs.


Canada Transit Special: Why Toronto’s streetcars are NOT Light Rail (Toronto)

Video: Adam Giambrone (City of Toronto councillor and former TTC Chair) in the City of Toronto council chambers talking about the extreme political difficulties in getting any sort of prioritisation to speed up streetcars on St. Clair Avenue.  (prdaoust, Youtube)

Before this blog features the TTC’s former Transit City LRT plan, a word about Toronto’s streetcars and the problems they face due to system design and lack of prioritised right of ways (ROW) Toronto’s streetcar system, like Melbourne’s, is a ‘legacy’ system designed well before car ownership took off.  Stops are spaced very close together (a stop about every 250 m) which means the service once you get to the stop is going to be slow. Operation in mixed traffic without dedicated lanes (Class C ROW) interferes with service reliability and limits streetcars speeds to be no faster than the congested traffic in front of it.

It’s obvious that such problems stem from the stop spacing, features of operation (such as front door only boarding) and level of priority given by the class of ROW and not so much because the vehicle has a trolley pole, steel wheels, makes chiming sounds, and is called a streetcar. Simply swapping a unprioritised streetcar stuck in congestion stopping everywhere for a unprioritised bus stuck in congestion stopping everywhere may well cost extra money, but is unlikely to improve service a great deal.

Graham Currie (Department of Civil Enginnering, Monash University) and Amer Shalaby (Department of Civil Enginnering, University of Toronto) in 2006 published a paper titled ‘Success and Challenges in Modernizing Streetcar Systems: Experiences in Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto, Canada‘ [paywall] comparing Melbourne’s Yarra Trams to the TTC’s Streetcar system and looking at the challenges that these ‘legacy’ systems face such as keeping reliability and speed at acceptable levels in the face of growing car congestion.

Indeed, one of the reasons why Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) modes were created was to get faster speed and more separation from car congestion by giving vehicles their own dedicated lanes, wider stop spacing, and prioritisation at intersections. So in this sense, BRT and LRT are an intrinsically different style of service to the local stop-everywhere bus and streetcar.

Removing stops to increase speed and giving transit vehicles their own lanes to increase speed, cut the number of vehicles used, and increase reliability is politically charged and difficult because a conscious, public decision to spend money on explicitly prioritising public transport over the car must be made. But if you don’t do it you can expect a much compromised quality of public transport service.

Canada Transit Special: Next stop Spadina subway (Toronto)

Video: Diving into the Spadina Streetcar station, Promagstyle (YouTube). For a sequel, click here.

Here’s something you won’t see a Melbourne tram do. Look at how much effort has gone into making this streetcar connect to the subway system. The closest Brisbane has to this is the busway at Roma St Station. We need more of this kind of thing in Brisbane, properly connecting buses to trains. Toowong and Indooroopilly spring to mind.

Toronto is the benchmark for rail-bus and rail-tram interchanges with ‘free-body’ transfers at most subway stations outside the CBD. Trams and buses are actually brought inside the ticket gates on special roadways and stop at the top of escalators serving the station platforms. Similar arrangements are provided at the main railway station in the German city of Freiburg, and at key stations on the new Southern Railway in Perth, Western Australia…

– Dr Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia, Planning a network, p173

The 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront streetcar combined carry around 48,000 passengers per day (source: TTC service improvements for 2008). That’s roughly 12.5 million passenger trips per year. To get a feel for this number, this is roughly the same number of trips carried by the entire Adelaide or Auckland train network in a year or roughly four times the patronage of Brisbane’s 199 BUZ. After midnight on Sunday (so early Monday morning) there is a streetcar every 6 minutes feeding into Spadina station. The off-peak frequency is a service roughly every two minutes all day.

Image: Toronto Streetcar map, E Pluribus Anthony (Wikipedia). Note how almost all streetcars serve as extensions of the subway system, starting, finishing, passing through or near subway stations.

With only eleven lines, Toronto has a much smaller streetcar system than Melbourne, and Toronto’s streetcars are mainly found in the downtown area. Despite this, the streetcar system carries around 285 600 trips per day or around 70 million passenger trips per year, which, for scale purposes, is roughly what the 200+ route Brisbane bus network carries in a year. Streetcars are not Light Rail because of stop spacing and there is much mixed traffic running. Toronto’s streetcars are also unusual since, unlike Melbourne’s trams, they use trolley poles rather than pantographs and can only be driven from one end, like a bus. They are also high-floor, however there are moves to modernise the vehicles.

If you don’t have connections, you don’t have a network; You have a bunch of lines.

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May 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

Canada Transit Special: Brisbane runs more bus routes than Toronto

Video: ‘TTC buses outside Kipling station’ by dyip90 (youtube).

A virtual busway operates out of Kipling Station; during peak hour there is about a bus a minute arriving at Kipling station. On average, 53,640 trips per day are made at this single station located about 10 km out from the city; To put this number into perspective, this is roughly equal to one third of the daily trips made on Brisbane’s South East Busway. (Source: TTC Subway Ridership 2009-2010).

Integrated transport systems where many, but not all, buses and trams feed trains may sound “academic” but this is what Toronto (and Perth) do. Brisbane doesn’t by and large feed its large train system, so an unusual situation happens where huge amounts of rail infrastructure all run very low-frequency service and many suburban bus routes also run at low-frequency or only during peak hour. And the proposed solution for this? Lump another 25 to 30 metro stations at multi-billion dollar cost into Brisbane, on top of the 22 busway stations and 85 QR citytrain stations that already exist. Why not fix up the current train system to run more like a metro (like what Melbourne is doing) and start operating bus rapid transit (BRT) from train stations?

Arguably ‘forced’ interchange is much less worse than low and no frequency (peak hour operation only), although proper facilities need to be provided. A transport system based on direct only trips that avoid transfers will be more complex, less easy to use and tends to fan out into a braid of low-frequency, less useful routes in the suburbs. Curiously, Brisbane runs many more bus routes than Toronto, but with low-frequency (see below, tram routes are included in the count for Toronto).

Toronto’s fewer bus routes form a strong, stable, all day frequent network which runs for longer with 98% of its buses connecting to a TTC subway station; Brisbane seems to be spreading itself very thinly running a weak ‘low frequency to everywhere’ spaghetti of routes and a lot of peak-hour only express buses which makes peak travel easy, but travel at all other hours of the day much more difficult (and you have to remember a whole heap of different bus numbers).

In recent years this has in part been alleviated by the introduction of the highly popular BUZ routes along arterials, but many people don’t live near a BUZ and so it seems that something needs to be done about the frequency of the other 200 or so non-BUZ routes which serve people who live in the suburbs and are facing rising petrol costs. Not every bus needs to go to a train station, within say 10 minutes of the CBD it might be faster to go directly (depending on traffic conditions), and perhaps other buses could also feed BUZ routes.

Many buses run past, but not into, train stations so in theory people may have the opportunity to transfer. In practice, this seems to be a mixed picture; some places such as Buranda, Roma Street, Park Road and Toowong this works, but in many other places such as Indooroopilly, lengthy walking distances, low or no infrastructure and the association of low-frequency and long waits with trains discourages this. And the result is still much the same- low-frequency and patronage on the trains, low frequency on the buses and great difficulty in getting to a train station if you don’t literally live next to the station office. All this makes it extremely difficult to live in suburban Brisbane without a car.

In the next post, the BrisUrbane blog will look at interchange infrastructure.


A comparison between bus routes in Brisbane and Toronto: for comparison trams have been added to the Toronto side. ‘Community buses’ have been excluded where recognized.

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April 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Do not confuse propulsion with mode: Electric buses do exist!

One of the things that gets this Blog’s puzzled is the idea that ‘rail is clean’ and that ‘bus is dirty’. One example is on page 47 of the Draft Connecting SEQ 2031 report where it says this:

  • Reduced reliance on oil-based fuels; passenger rail in SEQ is fully electrified there are no equivalent forms of bus power.

(Bold emphasis has been added by the BrisUrbane blog). This confusion between propulsion and mode might be a rather unfortunate misunderstanding. The Lord Mayor’s Mass Transit report 2007 (page 58) also purports to compare greenhouse emissions from ‘Light Rail versus Bus’ and compared an electric LRT vehicle and a diesel bus, concluding that only at higher passenger occupancy does Light Rail outperform the bus. The BrisUrbane blog feels that this is perhaps a bit unfair, as it is quite possible to get Light Rail that operates on diesel. Ottawa, Canada, the same city that Brisbane took the busways concept from, also runs a diesel Light Rail service called O-train. And it is also quite possible to get an electric bus, as the video in this post shows. The cleanliness of any mode depends not on just how much energy the vehicle is using, but also how ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ the underlying energy source is. Power stations will have to become cleaner so that the transport that runs off them is also clean; until then greenpower or carbon offsets could be used.

Brisbane '1963 TRAM & TROLLEY BUS', copyright by Flickr user Lindsaybridge. Reproduced with permission. Click for URL.

Apart from the fact that any medium to large city requires a family of transport modes to handle the transportation task, Brisbane in 1960’s actually ran electric buses (trolleybuses), here is a photo of a Brisbane electric tram side-by-side with an electric bus, with the Mater Hospital in the background. So electric buses are nothing new, in fact they have been around for donkey’s years. Perhaps it is because a collective fog of amnesia seems to have settled on all cities which have vandalised ripped out their tram and electric bus systems that we now seem surprised that electric trams and electric buses are real options.

Trolleybuses are great because they are virtually silent, no exhaust pollution and have excellent hill climbing abilities. The downsides are the need for wires (although newer technologies like fast charging may eliminate this). Electric buses could be useful around the hilly parts of Brisbane where trams or Light Rail are not justified yet- Mt Co-tha, Bardon, Spring Hill and parts of St Lucia in the future.

Acknowledgement: The BrisUrbane Blog acknowledges Flickr user Lindsaybridge for providing copyright permission to reproduce the tram/trolleybus photograph.

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March 24, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Is density destiny? Transport for Suburbia (book review)

Dr Paul Mees latest book, Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile age. Image credit: Earthscan.

My central argument is that the public transport problem is easier to solve than people think. We don’t need to demolish our suburbs and rebuild them at many times their current densities; nor do we need a fundamental transformation of human consciousness …

-Preface, Transport for Suburbia, P. Mees

Is density destiny? Dr Paul Mees latest book Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile age explores this question. It’s a very readable book, written for the ordinary person to understand. It walks the reader through the rise of car dominance ‘autopia’ and the decline of private rail, tram and bus operations. It argues that citywide density figures have been used for arguing against public transport improvements. For those who wonder just how all-pervasive this density-population-transit mode share idea is,  there is a ‘density’ comparison table in the Northern Link EIS documents on page 2-39 (italic emphasis added, link here). To be fair, it was written before the release of Transport for Suburbia.

The convenience and flexibility provided by private motor vehicle travel appears to override other
considerations, such as personal finances, for the majority of suburban residents in Australian capital cities. The demand for this mode of travel can be expected to continue in the future.

Furthermore, the form and density of most Australian cities, including Brisbane and the other major centres in South East Queensland, demand a degree of reliance on private motor vehicle travel, at least to a public transport node.

Table 2-7 illustrates the low density of settlement in the Brisbane urban area compared with other Australian cities and international cities with arguably better public transport systems and a lower reliance on private motor vehicle travel.

– Northern Link Environmental Impact Statement,

Volume 1, Chapter 2 “project rationale” page 2-39, by SKM Connell Wagner.

The table from the NorthernLink EIS shows Brisbane with the lowest density and lowest population out of the cities of London, Paris, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. The BrisUrbane Blog intends to revisit this issue in later posts.

The book has a detailed look at ‘greener cars’ and accompanying claims that electric cars or more fuel efficient cars will make ‘autopia’ sustainable.  Mees argues that the fuel efficiency of the Australian car fleet from 1963-2006 has remained virtually the same over that period and thus fuel efficient cars won’t overall do much and also, depending on how clean the power plants are, electric cars are likely to simply transfer emissions from the exhaust pipe to the power station.

A detailed table of citywide densities are provided on pages 60-61; Los Angeles, the poster child of freeways and sprawl turns out to be one of the most dense and highly populated cities in the list (out of a set of US, Canadian and Australian cities). It also shows that LA has terrible transport mode share of just 4.7%. In contrast, Brisbane with a density far below that of LA and a far lower population has a much better transport mode share of 13.8%.

The thorny issue of private versus public is dealt with in chapter 5, with the book recommending that strategic functions such as network planning and ticketing should rest with a public authority, rather than just be left to individual operators. Chapter six examines the case of public transport in Melbourne and Toronto, and why, despite their similarities, public transport patronage collapsed in Melbourne but held up in Toronto, despite Toronto having far less train infrastructure than Melbourne.

Usefully, it takes all of these examples and proposes a general working model of what a successful public transport system looks like. It proposes a public agency in control of network planning, fares and ticketing, and a focus on network planning rather than huge density increases to improve public transport, so things like getting the different modes connecting with each other through interchanges, simple line structures, pulse timing and decent frequency.

The BrisUrbane blog feels that some parts of the book perhaps overstated some things like the timing of SmartBus at Huntingdale station (if the bus connects multiple railway lines, which train do you time for?), it is all in all a valuable book for transit and community advocates who might want something easier to read than very technical engineering textbooks. This isn’t likely to be the only transit book review for this year- The BrisUrbane blog looks forward to reviewing another transit advocacy book, Human Transit, by Jarrett Walker of the Human Transit Blog when it is released.

Acknowledgment: EarthScan publishers for allowing copyright permission to republish the book’s cover image for the purposes of this blog post. Transport for Suburbia may be purchased here. The BrisUrbane blog is not associated with EarthScan and receives no benefit or inducement for the publication of this book review.

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March 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

What influences public transport patronage? (1)

Perth skyline as viewed from Mt Eliza. Image credits: chip_2904 (flickr user/CC)

What influences public transport patronage? It’s a simple enough question. The first ideas that spring to mind is ‘Citywide density’ and ‘city population’. The BrisUrbane Blog is currently reviewing Dr Paul Mees’ book Transport for Suburbia, beyond the Automobile age which argues that while density has influence, a whole heap of other things like proper integrated ticketing, free transfers between services and an inter-meshing network is required as well. In other words, to corrupt a popular saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’, we should not fall into the trap of ‘can’t see the public transport network for the bus, train or ferry’. This blog hopes to publish a book review next week about Transport for Suburbia, but in the meantime a Google Books preview is available here.

To gain some insight on the question, this blog revisited Peter Martinovich’s slide presentation titled ‘Application of a commuter railway to low density settlement‘. The ‘comparable Australian City’ in the graph (slide 2) is Perth rail patronage versus Adelaide’s. It shows Perth and Adelaide starting at almost identical patronage in 1990/1991 and then shows Perth’s patronage skyrocketing as the Joondalup and Manduah lines are built. This blog found Adelaide’s train patronage statistics from TransAdelaide and the South Australia’s Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure’s annual reports here and here.

Perth’s rail patronage (around 56 million/year) is now a full five times the levels of patronage on the Adelaide rail system (~11 million/year).

It can’t be citywide average density as this only changes very slowly, and both cities started out from the same situation in the 1990s. Perth is not five times more dense than Adelaide, nor does it have five times as many people; Demographia puts Adelaide (1400 persons/km2) as slightly more dense than Perth (1200 persons/km2). The populations of Perth (1.3 million) and Adelaide (1 million) are similar, and even more interestingly, the when one looks at bus boarding statistics for both cities in 2007/2008 sourced from The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Perth had 65.7 million boardings reported on buses, while Adelaide had 52 million boardings. If you ‘scale down’ Perth’s bus boardings to adjust for Perth’s slightly larger population (divide Perth’s 65.7 million boardings by 1.3 million) you get 50 million boardings per 1 million people, a figure almost identical to that of Adelaide. If differences in city density or structure were really the answer, why are the bus boardings almost identical?

This similarity in bus boardings suggests to this blog that it can’t be that ‘car culture’ is stronger in one of the cities over the other, or that Adelaide people somehow intrinsically react differently to public transport than their Perth counterparts do. And it’s not that Adelaide somehow has a smaller rail network with fewer train stations either- Adelaide (83 train stations) has far more train stations than Perth does (70 stations).

Adelaide has a good bus system with their O-Bahn high speed guided busway and ‘GO Zones‘- roads where frequent ’15 minute or better’ bus services are offered. However, the improved bus system does not seem to have been a substitute for an improved rail system. Judging by the similarities in bus patronage between both cities perhaps those millions of potential rail trips are being done in Adelaide cars at the moment. There is a message for Brisbane here too- regardless of how good the Brisbane bus and busway system is (and it is world-class), the train system still really needs to be fixed up!

Adelaide still runs diesel trains on its rail network and 15 minute frequency at only a few train stations. Perth got rid of its diesel trains and its train patronage is now rivaling Brisbane’s 67 million trips (and South East Queensland has 149 train stations, over twice the number of Perth’s and links the three cities of Ipswich, Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast!) time will tell if Perth patronage manages to overtake Brisbane/South East Queensland’s patronage.

The good news is that much of Adelaide’s train network is now a construction site as it works hard to make major improvements to rail facilities, services, electrification and frequencies. There’s no hiding behind density figures for Adelaide now.

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March 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

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