Monday, July 9, 2012

The Density Fallacy

Museum Station is adjacent to some of the most important destinations in the city, including the Royal Ontario Museum, Gardiner Museum, and part of the University of Toronto. It is also surrounded by dozens of office buildings, condo towers, hotels, shops and restaurants. Within 500 metres of York Mills station, you will find one office building, a golf course, a forest, a handful of small condominium buildings, and estate homes on large lots.
Which station is busier? It would be quite reasonable to assume Museum, but in fact York Mills sees more than three times as many riders per day. York Mills’ 27,260 riders make it one of the busier stations in the system. (Source) This isn’t an altogether fair comparison, since Museum’s is one of the least busy downtown stations (8,220 riders per day) and it shares much of its natural catchment area with other stations. Nevertheless, this clearly shows that surrounding density isn’t the only factor in determining how well used a subway station will be.
Our current planning process places an enormous amount of emphasis on the number of jobs and residents within 500 metres. That’s no doubt very important, and several subway stations are quite busy based entirely on their local walk-in traffic (i.e. North York Centre). It ignores the importance, however, of connecting bus routes. York Mills is well used because the 95 York Mills is a very busy bus route. Perhaps the greatest strengths of the TTC are the excellent connections between bus and subway and the relatively high quality of its suburban bus service. Riders can easily transfer between their local bus service that serves their home directly and faster subway service that allows them to make longer trips in a reasonable time. Good bus connections dramatically extend the catchment area of a subway line. Intense development around a station is good to have, but a station can be very busy without much in its immediate neighbourhood as long as it connects to a busy bus route.


  1. Good point, but don't forget that York Mills is also a GO bus terminal, so a lot of those transfers are from GO buses (not just the TTC route 95).

  2. Museum is adjacent to the ROM's *old* entrance. If you're going to the ROM, you want to get off at St. George!

    Also, York Mills doesn't just serve the things you mention - it also has one of GO Transit's busiest bus terminals. I imagine many users are transferring to/from GO's buses. So, it's a very poor comparison.

  3. Very true, and there are additional TTC routes at York Mills as well, though the 95 is the busiest. It hardly invalidates the comparison, though: York Mills is a busy station almost entirely based on its bus connections rather than on surrounding density. As for Museum, it was chosen because it's the only downtown station without a major surface transit connection (though the Wellesley bus is down the road).

  4. Great post and you completely understand what planners from 40 and 50 years ago understood when designing Toronto's transit system.
    York Mills is a great example and is the norm for Toronto's suburban subway stations.

    The following is a quote from the book Transport for Suburbia, which touches on the same subject as this post:

    "The TTC's bus network operated as an extension of the subway system, linking it to the whole of the city. This enabled the provision of a 'Paris Metro' style frequent rail service, running every five minutes or better until 1:45 am seven days a week. Frequencies like this would require extremely high densities if patrons walked to the station, but the TTC's rail-bus strategy circumvented the density problem in precisely the way Thomson suggested in Great Cities and Their Traffic.
    High passenger loads generated by the rail-feeder role - around half of all bus trips were made to and from subway stations -also supported high service levels on the TTC's bus routes.

  5. I remember when there was a push to build condos on the site of the planetarium. The developers talked up the density when the fact is 20 floors of luxury apartments downtown would only generate, at most, a couple of hundred trips a day. The transportation network and overlapping land use is what creates good traffic, not just big buildings.