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There’s no light rail in Toronto

Next City published an interesting article this morning on the politics behind Rob Ford’s subway obsession. I encourage you to have a read if you’re interested in politics, transit and/or the increasing polarization of North American cities (core vs. suburbs). It’s called Canada’s Strangest Straphanger.

There are a number of great take-aways from the article, but I’d like to highlight one that I’m not sure many Torontonians realize: There’s currently no light rail (LRT) in the city. We have streetcars, of course. But no light rail. There’s a difference.

Here’s an exert from Next City:

“It is true that most people in Scarborough don’t want a light rail. They want a subway, and the reason they want it is that there is no light rail in Toronto,” says Jay Young, SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “We just have streetcars and subways and they think light rail is a streetcar, when actually it’s very close to a subway in terms of having its own right of way.”

This may seem like semantics, but it’s not. Again, one difference is that light rail has its own right of way and streetcars compete with vehicular traffic. The other significant difference is station spacing. Streetcars stops are spaced similar to bus stops, which let’s say averages around 250m. LRT stations on the other hand are often in the range of 400-600m. This makes them similar to subways.

It’s for this reason that even though the St Clair streetcar has its own right of way, I would not personally consider it a true LRT. As someone who lived in midtown for over 3 years, I can tell you that the stations are way too close together and that it’s highly inefficient during peak times – much like the rest of our streetcar network.

Given the constant debates going on this city about light rail vs. subways, I think it’s important that we’re clear on definitions. Light rail has the potential to be an effective (read: cheaper and faster) way of delivering rapid transit to a greater number of people in the city. Before we dismiss that proposition, let’s please understand what it is.

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