A Future Ready Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto Region

By Lisa Salsberg

Lisa Salsberg is the Senior Manager of Transportation Systems Planning at Metrolinx. Most recently, she has led the review and update of the 25-year Regional Transportation Plan.

May 17, 2018 | Smart Cities | 1 comment

Transportation plans are typically developed by forecasting out current trends to later years. Planners focus on how to meet the needs of a fixed outlook. But given the scale change occurring within the transportation system – such as new mobility services and business models, autonomous vehicles and e-commerce planners – can no longer rely on past trends as an indicator of what will occur in the future. In the preparation of the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), Metrolinx tested recommended strategies against a range of possible future scenarios. The scenarios showcase what might happen if an existing trend was amplified. While the 2041 RTP has been developed in alignment with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017 (Growth Plan) population and employment forecasts, it was important to recommend strategies that would be resilient under a range of possible futures.

 

Transportation Challenges and Future Scenarios

  • The rapid adoption of emerging technologies, such as autonomous and electric vehicles, could quickly create a tolerance for longer commutes and increases in vehicle trips, adding to congestion. In this scenario, people may choose other modes over transit, in favour of the independence and comfort.
  • With extreme climate change, infrastructure costs and service interruptions could increase rapidly. In this scenario, people might take transit less, and conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians could increase with congestion. Climate refugees from other countries could impact immigration policies and mean higher population growth in the region.
  • The rise of the on-demand, casual or “gig economy” could create dispersed and lower density employment clusters, potentially making some fixed infrastructure and services less efficient and responsive. In this scenario, people could become more reliant on technology to make travel decisions and would be more likely to ride-share.
  • The entry of private companies into the transportation sector and the rise of a user-pay economy could potentially dilute the cost-recovery of conventional transportation systems, and increase travel costs for those who can least afford it. In this scenario, low- and medium-income people would be more likely to choose walking and cycling options over vehicle travel, and live closer to work when feasible.
  • With unpredicted rapid growth of core areas, infrastructure in the busiest urban centres, already having well-used and congested systems, could become increasingly stressed. In this scenario, suburban commuters could face longer travel times due to congestion, and parking supplies could shrink.
  • With economic decline, the convergence of domestic and global trends, such as a changing markets and decreasing levels of immigration, could threaten the region’s ability to continually invest in our transportation and other infrastructure and services. In this scenario, people may find driving longer distances an attractive option due to less congestion and transit service reductions.

These six scenarios were used to evaluate the resiliency the potential strategies for the Draft 2041Plan. For example, how would investing in more transit infrastructure perform in these scenarios versus investing in higher levels of transit service? Or strategies focussed on active transportation or travel demand management?

The conclusions found that the strategies that performed the best under all scenarios are those emphasizing transit operations rather than fixed infrastructure, transit-supportive land-use, and travel demand management. These findings shaped the approaches for the 2041 RTP to provide a plan for the region comprised of strategies that would continue to be relevant and necessary no matter what the future holds.

 

 

6 Key Learnings from the RTP

 

Moving People not Vehicles

For much of the twentieth century, transportation planning focused on moving cars as efficiently as possible. This resulted in streets that are designed for cars, with little room for transit vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Agencies in charge of roads, signals, parking, taxis and transit need to collaborate more closely to focus on moving people, not just vehicles, as efficiently as possible.

Focusing on all the elements that matters to people not just travel time – It is clear that people travelling across the region have high expectations and want to have consistent, reliable, convenient, clean and low-cost travel options regardless of their preferred mode and what municipal boundaries they cross. People care little about what system they are on or who operates it—they simply want to get where they are going as quickly, comfortably and reliably as possible.

Ensuring that transit is designed to be age-friendly, taking into consideration the needs of both younger and older travellers, is important to make the transit system usable for all. Emerging technologies and the quality of design for universal access are levers to optimize benefits for all transit users. Universal access principles will help the GTHA’s transportation system support and encourage travellers with diverse abilities.

 

High Capacity Rapid Transit for the Large Trip Markets

The Big Move set in motion a historic expansion of rapid transit infrastructure across the region. Today, $30+ billion in rapid transit investments has been committed. Nine projects have been completed, and fourteen others are under construction or in the engineering design stage. The 10-year GO RER program represents a fundamental transformation of GO rail system from a largely commuter system to a comprehensive regional rapid transit option. Infrastructure expansion, including new tracks, bridges, signals and fleet, will enable the doubling of peak period GO train service and quadrupling of off-peak service by 2024.  All seven corridors will see service improvements, with five corridors seeing electric trains running every 15 minutes or better in both directions throughout the day. Additional stations and line extensions will bring the GO rail network to new markets, and new connections to rapid and local transit will enable seamless travel across the region.

 

Network Thinking

The 2041 RTP focuses on extending the reach of frequent rapid transit, connecting various parts of the GTHA with a Frequent Rapid Transit Network. The network is a logical approach to the problem of moving people efficiently by transit in a region with multiple major population and employment concentrations, where travel demand patterns are increasingly dispersed and not simply focused on one central core. With GO RER and the subway acting as its spine, the Frequent Rapid Transit Network will connect urban centres, employment nodes and regional destinations with different types of services – Priority Bus, Frequent Regional Express Bus, LRT and BRT projects. This network will provide efficient transfers between routes, enabling a traveller to get anywhere in the GTHA easily and reliably without looking at a schedule.

 

Flexible Rapid Transit Services for Emerging Markets

The bulk of new projects on the Frequent Rapid Transit Network are proposed to be Priority Bus corridors (see Map 5). These are a practical and cost-effective, flexible way of providing fast, frequent and reliable transit service to more people without the need for a dedicated right-of-way. Priority Bus corridors allow buses to run quickly and reliably by providing protection from mixed traffic (e.g., HOV lanes on arterial roads, turn prohibitions or other traffic restrictions), wider spacing between stops (e.g., every 300 to 800 metres), and using other transit priority measures such as queue jump lanes and signal priority at intersections. Different Priority Bus features can be used in different corridors to achieve desired transit speed and reliability targets in varying conditions (e.g., ridership, congestion, right-of-way constraints).

Features such as all-door boarding and safe, comfortable stations can further improve service and enhance the customer experience. An advantage of Priority Bus corridors is the potential to implement additional priority measures (e.g., new queue jumps, more aggressive signal priority, or new turn prohibitions for mixed traffic) as conditions evolve (e.g., in response to population and employment growth, or an increase in congestion). In addition, buses can be used to provide multiple services in a single corridor, and flexibly routed on and off a priority corridor without requiring transfers.

Priority bus corridors can eventually be converted into BRT, LRT or even subway corridors as demand grows. They can also be adapted to new uses, such as carrying driverless shuttles when autonomous vehicle technologies arrive.

Many international cities have reinvented their bus networks to include high-performing bus services, and have attracted more riders. Closer to home, several GTHA transit agencies have started to introduce some Priority Bus corridor features along high-demand routes to provide enhanced bus services that are faster, more reliable and comfortable.

Brampton Transit’s five Züm bus routes; Durham Transit’s Pulse; York Region Transit’s six Viva routes; The TTC’s express bus routes, which have wider stop spacing along with some use of HOV lanes, and limited transit signal priority; and The City of Toronto and TTC’s King Street pilot project.

 

Focus on Walkability

Walking is the most cost effective, sustainable and healthiest transportation option. While 22 percent of trips in today’s GTHA are short enough to be made by walking, and 56 percent of trips are short enough to be cycled, only 11 percent of trips are actually made on foot or by bike. Many areas in the GTHA are not conducive to walking, particularly suburban employment areas and some post-war residential neighbourhoods. Many destinations and jobs are located within walking distance of frequent transit, but walking is deterred by the absence of sidewalks that are continuous, well maintained and well lit. These barriers are even more profound for elderly persons or those with mobility restrictions.

New rapid transit projects across the GTHA will bring quality transit services closer to many more people and jobs. Maximizing the use of these new services will require an emphasis on options for the first- and last-mile. It is not sustainable to rely primarily on travellers driving to stations, and more importantly, people cannot be expected to use the transit services to access jobs if they are not within an attractive walking distance of the station.

The 2041 RTP includes a number of actions to significantly increase walking and cycling trips. Investments to support active transportation are relatively small compared to those for rapid transit and highways, but their congestion, health and safety impacts can be significant. For example, better all- season maintenance of sidewalks near rapid transit stations can make walking a more viable option for transit users living nearby, and reduce the need for costly station parking. A Complete Streets approach that prioritizes walking and cycling in the design and operation of roads and new surface transit corridors will promote healthier and safer forms of travel.

 

Land Use Intensification and Integration with Transportation Investments

The scenario modelling found that the strategy with the greatest potential to shift more people to transit is not a transportation strategy after all. Rather, increased land use intensification around core transit hubs would shift a greater percentage of people to walking, cycling and transit use for trips throughout the day. No matter the specific scenario, creating more dense, complete and walkable communities will reduce automobile dependence, improve access to services and amenities, and support higher levels of active transportation.

The $30+ billion in transit investments underway, together with the region’s existing rapid transit spines, can provide an important focus for future development. The Growth Plan sets out density targets for Major Transit Station Areas on existing and In Delivery rapid transit projects.

Experience over the last decade has highlighted the need for greater consideration of development objectives in transit project planning and procurement, and for clearer delineation of the roles and responsibilities of public and private parties in optimizing the potential of critical station locations. The 2041 RTP sets out a range of actions, such as joint development at stations, to support intense land use development that is integrated with transit project development.

Discussion

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1 Comment

  1. Toronto needs a high speed grid of elevated guideway to move the coming masses. The grid map did not copy into this comment block but it has 10 north/south routes and 6 east/west routes around the downtown district along Lake Ontario. These directions are canted to match the existing street matrix and follow existing streets but along the edge of the existing roads where the power lines are. Trains and buses pollute far too much and go way too slow to be a modern transit solution. Walking and biking is not going to solve millions of couples trying to get to their separate work places.

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