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TTC Backs Downtown Relief Line, Reopens Sheppard and Scarborough Subway Debates

A series of symbolic votes, not entirely consistent with one another, coming out of the TTC board.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/seango/8033888446/in/faves-30577037@N03/"}seango{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Plans for a new subway in Toronto are—as they ever were—still just lines on paper, but a renewed push to realize them is gaining steam at City Hall. Last week TTC staff released a report on what is being called (to the frustration of many) the Downtown Relief Line (DRL), a new subway loop that could, in its most ambitious version, start at Eglinton Avenue East, go down through Pape Station and south to Queen or King and the Financial District, and then extend as far west as Roncesvalles. That report recommends the TTC proceed with detailed studies of what it would take to get such a subway line built, and that both Toronto and Metrolinx make constructing it a high priority.

Today, the TTC board endorsed that report, which will now go to city council for further debate.

The subway line in question has a troubled history: generations of residents and planners have said it’s a good idea, but nobody has managed to come up with a plan to pay for it—at least, not one politician is willing to stake his or her re-election chances on. It’s further complicated by current political divides at City Hall, where the downtown-vs.-suburbs rhetoric continues to rage. This is why the proposed line’s name bothers some: “Downtown Relief Line” implies a nice cushy ride for those latte-sipping denizens south of Bloor, while the rest of the city suffers, without relief, in slow-moving buses.

As was made clear by TTC staff today, nothing could be further from the truth. Subways are the busiest south of Bloor, but that’s not because downtown residents are riding them—it’s the population from outside the core that needs higher-order transit, to get to work, school, and entertainment destinations downtown. The TTC’s manager of service planning, Bill Dawson, summarized it this way: staff are projecting that by 2031 there will be a 51 per cent growth of travel to downtown, and 83 per cent of that increase will be from outside Toronto. GO Rail–originating journeys, which currently make up 34 per cent of inbound TTC trips, are expected to increase to 49 per cent. The Yonge line is nearing its maximum capacity, and the DRL is meant to target our most urgent transit-infrastructure needs, as determined by projected growth in density, ridership, and employment patterns.

The TTC has larger issues than the optics of what it calls this proposed new line though, as it still doesn’t have a funding strategy to accompany those pretty lines on a map. City council will consider a list of possible revenue tools (ranging from property-tax increases to road tolls) shortly, and Metrolinx is set to release its own report on the subject next June. But even if the funding issue—a huge one—gets settled, Metrolinx intends to build the DRL but has no intention of doing so anytime soon: the project is currently slated for a later phase of development (in years 16–25, specifically).

Complicating all this—or at least the public’s perception thereof—is the fact that immediately after endorsing the new report and declaring the DRL a priority that needs our urgent attention, the TTC board also green lit two feasibility studies that would reopen the debates about whether or not to extend the Sheppard subway—an endeavour that was promised in Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign and moved today by Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore)—and whether to convert the Scarborough RT to a subway rather than to an LRT, moved by Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough-Centre). Council fought bitterly about similar proposals less than a year ago, and decided after heated debated to restore the original light-rail plans. The TTC is close to signing a master agreement governing those light-rail plans with the provincial government (which is picking up the tab), and once those agreements are signed—which might be as soon as the next few days, TTC CEO Andy Byford told reporters today—we are legally locked into the LRT plans.

Essentially, commissioners voted to study something there’s no reasonable prospect they’ll build, and which council as a whole rejected just a few months ago. (“Stupid, stupid,” declared councillor and TTC commissioner John Parker, who was out of the room for the vote.) This is sure to suck up headlines, and to reinforce the concerns that Toronto city councillors are unable to summon the fortitude to make a transit plan based on evidence (rather than political interests) and stick to it for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Really, though, the feasibility studies are almost certain to have no effect. TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), though she voted for the studies, said they were just requests for information, and told reporters that they will not change any plans the TTC already has for LRT on Sheppard or for the Scarborough RT replacement. Soon after, she tweeted, a bit more bluntly: “So we’re clear: the #TTC expert reports will say a Sheppard closed loop makes no sense and the Scarborough BD extension does. No changes.” The political spin will rage on, but for now there’s no reason to think actual plans will be revised in light of any of today’s decisions.

Comments

  • SS

    What’s shocking to me about all this is that there are councillors that aren’t sick and tired of arguing in circles about Sheppard yet (because I’m sure tired of hearing them argue about it, let me tell you)

    • http://twitter.com/Vidar_Hansen Vidar Hansen

      Start creating jobs, transit and more infrastructure in suburbs. Why should everything be focused downtown?

      • OgtheDim

        There is no indication that subways provide jobs. If that was so, Glencairn would be a beehive of activity.

      • Anonymous

        You do realize higher density areas support lower density. It is more costly to deliver services in the suburbs. Time to stop playing poor little me in the suburbs getting nothing while all the elitist downtown get everything.

      • Anonymous

        You keep saying this, but you’ve yet to outline who you want to do this, or how to enforce it. City Council certainly doesn’t have the authority.

      • vampchick21

        Because the purpose of suburbs in the first place was as a place for people to live with their large lawns and two car garages and swimming pools. They were never set up as a place to do business beyond the corner store/gas station/restaurants. Even in small towns you have business ‘downtown’ on the main drag away from residential streets and people who work and live in said small town still have to drive to downtown. The suburb was set up as an escape. To do what you request is to turn the suburb into a second downtown, and I don’t see most folks living there agreeing to that. Cause, you know, they moved to the suburbs for the larger house/bigger lawn/two car garage/swimming pool thing. Bottom line, if you live in the suburbs, you have to commute to work. Therefore there is the need for better infrastructure, roads and transit, for said commute. The downtown relief line (which btw, takes you to and from teh subrubs into downtown) is part of that and serves the suburbs. I’m surprised you can’t seem to figure that out.

        • John Duncan

          Maybe this is horrible to say, but too bad. That suburban form is simply not sustainable. It’s wasteful of infrastructure and damaging to people’s health. While subways in the suburbs aren’t justifiable, the creation of pleasantly accessible retail, employment and higher-order residential space along most suburban arterials is imperative.

          Despite your talk of choice, the way the suburbs are currently built don’t give people options.

          • Anonymous

            I agree with you, but that isn’t justification for building subways in the suburbs. Let the conversion to urban-style density and business/residential mix come first, and then build transit to serve it. The alternative is prescriptive planning that is bound to fail.

          • vampchick21

            I’m aware of that, which is why I chose to live downtown, not in the suburbs. Big lawns and two car garages are meaningless to me. And my ‘talk of choice’ is that people who moved to the suburbs chose to live in the suburbs for exactly the same reasons I chose not to. And the same reasons many of them would fight urbanization, while others would welcome it.

    • Anonymous

      Sheppard needs to be completed from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre to Malvern Town Centre. It’s not a question of if but when.
      The longer they debate whether to balkanize the one line into 4 separate lines a la Transfer Chitty the worse things will get and the higher the cost to extend the subway down the raod.

      • lol

        Oh hey look. Haven’t been banned from enough Toronto forums, blogs, and newspapers yet?

      • Anonymous

        Maybe in 40-50 years, when that stretch of the city has the population to support such a line – it doesn’t have the population to support the stubway it already has – this can be on the table. For now, we should be concentrating on something that should have been built 15 years ago.

      • Casey

        I believe it makes more sense to extend the BD line from Kennedy to STC initially. This would eliminate the need for any changes/updates to the existing RT line (a soul sucking and joyless ride right now). As STC is also a hub for GO, it would enable an easier and more fluid transition from that system to the TTC.

        • Anonymous

          Dumping more people on the Yonge line is really not going to improve things.

      • spoobnooble

        If anything, the Sheppard line should be extended not east, but WEST, to connect with Downsview station. Considering the fact that construction is underway to extend the University line up into Vaughan, it would be a good idea to give transit riders an option to divert onto Sheppard rather than go all the way downtown. Conversely, commuters going north-south would have a second option rather than the severely over-crowded Yonge line. And best of all, we’ll see more ridership on the existing Sheppard line, which is even now severely under-utilised.

  • Anonymous

    The lack of leadership, at city hall, from the mayor’s office down has created the most useless city government since incorporation. Once again, the citizens of Toronto suffer while the clowns they elected to manage the city, bicker with each other. Next election let’s fire the lot.

    • http://twitter.com/Vidar_Hansen Vidar Hansen

      lack of leadership is from downtown councillors who lack vision.

      Construction boom downtown = deserves a subway line
      Construction boom along Sheppard from Yonge to Midland = doesn’t deserve a subway line.

      • vampchick21

        And Ford and co have vision? Hardly. You seem to miss the point that the downtown relief line actually serves the sacred suburban population you’re so concerned about.

      • Anonymous

        Here is some of the ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’ from suburban councillors:
        • World’s tallest flagpole
        • Red light district on the Islands
        • Ferris wheels, mono rails and Nordstrom in the Portflands
        • A failed mandate of empty subways to nowhere
        • Reducing bus service in their own wards while complaining their wards are under-served by transit
        • Closing libraries
        • Alienating the press
        • Alienating half of council
        • Using city resources and personnel for personal and private benefit
        • Pushing for a casino nobody wants
        • Mugging a reporter
        • Interfering with the appointment process
        • Driving away experienced city staffers

  • http://twitter.com/Vidar_Hansen Vidar Hansen

    You could extend the DRL west branch to absorb the Air Rail Link, no more diesel trains.

    • Anonymous

      So we would throw out an express link between the nation’s biggest airport and the region’s biggest transit hub, in exchange for a heavy transit line that goes mostly through industrial lands and low-density neighborhoods.

      • Anonymous

        Union Station is the nation’s biggest transit hub, not just the region’s :-) Don’t undersell your point.

  • Leon

    I don’t understand, it seems like the transit issue has always been an intractable problem for Toronto since the dawn of time, regardless of who the mayor was or is. Why is that?

    • Anonymous

      Because it’s higher up governemnts that’s footing the bill. When the pool of funding is so small, that’s turns the issue into a perpetual pissing contest between rivaling routes and neighbourhoods across the City over where gets what built.

    • Anonymous

      Because Toronto doesn’t have enough political autonomy to control its own transit infrastructure and planning, and no dedicated funding streams for transit expansion.

  • Chris

    The Grid did an interesting infographic about a timeline on the DRL. pretty upsetting that in the 80s we could have built it for about 500 million and now it’ll be over 8 billion to do it! Useless politicians can never agree on anything and now look where we are.

  • Anonymous

    Glad the debate’s been reopened. LRT never sat right with me for Sheppard Avenue when a seamless one-seat ride from Downsview to Malvern would be possible with the subway.

    • Anonymous

      Your “seamless one-seat ride from Downsview to Malvern” would be a perpetual operating budget sinkhole, because there isn’t the ridership to support it. Sorry for the inconvenience!

      • http://circusesnotbread.wordpress.com/ Joe Blow VI

        NO! My “seamless one-seat ride from Downsview to Malvern” is Rob Ford fighting gravy, standing up for the common man, showing downtown liberal elites how it’s done by being ‘fismically responsibibly’ through the creation of a massive operating budget hole.

    • Anonymous

      Every time the ‘debate’ is reopened we lose 2-5 years of actual progress.

    • Anonymous

      Alternatively, we could covert the Sheppard subway to LRT… wouldn’t that be cheaper?

    • Winkee

      I think you’re missing the most important question in this equation, Who the hell is going to ride from Malvern to Downsview?!

    • John Duncan

      That seems like the kind of trip that would be better served by some kind of express service along the 401.

      Also, unlike the LRT which will serve Malvern, the Sheppard subway proposal just looped down to STC from Yonge. Hardly a seamless trip.

    • Anonymous

      Some info about LRT for you to think about before you open your mouth on public transit issues next time: The Toronto LRT Information Page

  • Casey

    I would love a subway extension into Scarborough, and think the DRL sound great, I would be really, really happy if right now, in present time, the TTC could get their GD buses to run on time, or at all in some cases.

    • Anonymous

      Better ask your Councillors why they voted to cut bus service in last year’s budget.

      • vampchick21

        Because Rob Ford still held some kind of actual sway at the begining of his term, when that vote happened, and it was one way of the TTC meeting his insane 10% budget cut demand. Remember all that? No one was happy about the service cuts though. That was just plain stupid.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeykolberg Michael Kolberg

    I know alignment and station locations are still in play for the DRL, but I would think that the High Park Blvd station shown on the west end phase should be at Howard Park Ave. instead. At Howard, you could transfer to the 504 AND the 506. I suppose the HPB station was chosen because it aligns with the High Park entrance gates two blocks away.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walter-Lis/571716919 Walter Lis

      I would have the DRL as an express line, with a limited number of widely spaced stations, the better to serve the suburbs. Leaving the streetcars to provide local service.

      • http://twitter.com/mikeykolberg Michael Kolberg

        I think we had this discussion already

        • Anonymous

          Is it Groundhog Day again?

  • http://www.facebook.com/britcanfem2 Jennifer Bruce

    The ‘wrangling’ will go on and people like me will be ‘sardined’ on the buses, all to keep going on the roundabout of the TTC expansion.
    Well here we go again.

    • Anonymous

      Stop whining about it, and vote for the parties that will do something about it, then.