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TTC outlines plans for dedicated bus lanes

Cheaper to build than subways

Miller says ideas are achievable

KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

The TTC unveiled a groundbreaking plan yesterday that takes the emphasis off subways and would put buses and streetcars in their own lanes in outlying areas of the city within five years.

Mayor David Miller called the study both “achievable and realistic,” and TTC commissioners ordered staff to return with specific costs for the streets identified for “higher order” transit.

“This plan gives people the ability to get around this city without having to use a car,” said Miller. “What this plan does in a frugal way is give us a chance to enhance our transit network.”

The study, called “Building A Transit City,” didn’t come with a price tag, but it was believed the 16 projects recommended would cost less than $1 billion, comparatively cheap to the cost of building a subway to York University, estimated at $1.5 billion. Ten of the projects had been costed previously in the city’s official plan, estimated at $500 million.

“It’s the right plan,” said Miller. “We can actually deliver a rapid transit network that every Torontonian can access. Compared to the cost of building subways, it’s a frugal cost.”

Some of the work is already under way, including plans to build busways to York University from Downsview subway station and up Yonge St. from Finch station to connect with York Region at Steeles Ave. And the city awaits word next month from the province to start building streetcar-only lanes down the centre of St. Clair Ave. W.

The study — co-written by TTC and city staff — also envisions “higher order” transit projects rolling out between now and 2008 on Eglinton Ave., Lawrence Ave., Sheppard Ave., Kingston Rd., King St., Queen St., Dundas Ave. W., Bremner Blvd., Don Mills Rd., Lake Shore Blvd. and Jane St.

The study also calls for developing waterfront streetcar lines, investigating use of hydro corridors for rapid transit, and deciding the future of the dilapidated, but popular, Scarborough Rapid Transit.

The York University subway and the completion of the Sheppard subway remain TTC longer-term priorities, but this network of “higher order” transit — which could be buses or streetcars or light rail — represents a shift away from a bus network feeding subways to a network feeding high-density, mixed-use neighbourhoods.

“There is a shift in this city,” said Rick Ducharme, chief general manager of the TTC. “We’re looking at avenues and see that the avenues are properly served by transit. We’re trying to shift to dedicated rights of way, shift roads to transit.”

Ducharme said he presented the proposal to get transit on the city’s agenda. “What I need is a plan in my budget that we can move on, otherwise we won’t move anywhere,” he said.

Most of the outlying roads identified are at least 36 metres wide, meaning they can support dedicated transit lanes down the centre while keeping at least four lanes for cars.

Some downtown roads, like King and Queen, are much narrower and would prove a difficult sell politically to have car restrictions.

While the study didn’t define “higher order” transit, some TTC officials want to start building light rail.

Staff will return with feasibility studies comparing the cost and efficiency of various transit modes on each of the roads, including buses, streetcars and light rail.

“The answer is not subways, it has to be some kind of rapid transit in dedicated rights of way,” said TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc.

“This is the pattern that is emerging globally. We’re looking at something that’s not going to cost in the billions of dollars but in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s an intermediate strategy called `rights of way.’”

The study showed the TTC is losing ground to the car in terms of market share because cars are more convenient. It’s not known whether the TTC has the money for any of this. It meets Monday to discuss ways to slash about $150 million from this year’s capital budget because the city simply can’t afford it. Miller was hopeful that this year’s budget could be met and the future properly planned for.

“This year’s TTC budget is tough, but we still have to plan for the future,” said Miller. “We’re working with the federal and provincial governments. Rapid transit doesn’t exist in this city for many commuters. We have to fix that.”

Each proposal would require one to two years of environmental study and two to three years to construct.

They’d cost between $30 million and $90 million each, depending on length.




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