St. Clair West's New Three Thousand–Metre Dash
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St. Clair West’s New Three Thousand–Metre Dash

TTC Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) is waiting for a streetcar from the past to take him along the St. Clair West of the future.
“This was a dying street before the construction started,” he says, standing by the right-of-way streetcar shelter on St. Clair West at Christie on Saturday. “People have said we have to save St. Clair—well, there wasn’t much to save. There were a lot of dollar stores. Now we still have our dollar stores, I’m not against dollar stores, but you don’t need seven of them every block. So now it’s coming back, and it’s great to see.”
The streetcar that’s supposed to come is one of two special Presidents’ Conference Committee cars picking passengers up for free between St. Clair West Station and Lansdowne. One day later, on Sunday, that expanse of track was to be the latest open for streetcar service along St. Clair West; the final expanse, extending furthest to the west to the Gunns Road Loop, should open on June 20, 2010 if all goes according to plan. So far, all hasn’t.

Mihevc tallies up the time lost: “one and a half years for the lawsuit, one year for Enbridge, one year for hydro, half-year for water.” The entire right-of-way was originally supposed to have been completed more than three years ago. Construction “does hurt the businesses more than you think,” says Mihevc. “And these businesses, they don’t have deep pockets….we have to get in and get out.”
But while construction may have hurt businesses, Mihevc maintains that the new line will only help them. He points to development of residential buildings in the east and west, the new patio licenses applied for, and the way that the street has changed in the face of what he calls “monumental” criticism: there is, he says, more parking than before, with five new off-street parking lots; sidewalks now occupy more space than before; and there are four times as many trees as before (though the new ones have some growing to do). “Now that [construction’s] over,” Mihevc says of tenants in the apartments further east, in Forest Hill, “they love it. Not only no complaints, but every time I see them they say, ‘this is great, wonderful.’ Even some folks that said ‘I don’t know why I was opposed to that.'”
One of the main benefits, Mihevc says, is “the look of the street, the feel of the street. What I’m noticing [is that] you’re starting to see people now walking again on the street….they’re starting to feel they really own the street again, and that it’s theirs, and that they feel comfortable on it. And it’s beautiful; Torontonians want to walk, but they want to walk in beautiful spaces.” Before, “St. Clair was not as beautiful as it should have been, as it could be. Now it’s very attractive.”
Mihevc’s universalizing might have seemed more hyperbolic were it not for his being continuously interrupted mid-sentence by congratulatory car-horn honks and thumbs-up from drivers, and pedestrians passing on the sidewalk parallel to the streetcar stopping to yell out kudos to Mihevc. If that expressed emotion is not happiness, it’s at least relief. Inside two businesses which could hardly be more different from one another, Torontoist found more of the same.

CocoaLatte, just east of Christie, is the sort of store whose existence usually serves as a small but very real marker of change in neighbourhoods like St. Clair’s: it’s a meticulously designed café, almost sterile in its deliberateness, with aesthetic sensibilities that would seem to firmly align with those of a certain kind of middle- and upper-middle-class customer. Its façade is painted in a lighter, paler shade of the same aqua blue inside the vintage streetcars going by in front of it. It has a Facebook fan page.
Owner Carlos Flores says that CocaoLatte moved into the location just five weeks ago, and it’s been open for just one week. So far, “it’s excellent,” he says. “Really nice neighborhood, great people.”
And the right-of-way? “I think that the actual length of time it took to construct wasn’t good for business,” Flores says, “but now that it’s finished, it will be good for business.”

A few doors down, just west of Christie, is the Lucky Dollar Food Centre. Like most convenience stores, it’s messy both inside and out, a little claustrophobic even when it’s empty. It seems to be one of those businesses that Mihevc mentioned earlier, one of those without particularly deep pockets.
Young Yi (above) stands behind the counter, a bit unsure as to how he felt about the St. Clair right-of-way’s construction. But “now it’s okay,” he says, smiling, as though he’s reading from Mihevc’s script. His store has been open for about twenty years longer than CocoaLatte; now with the right-of-way, he says, the street is “more, more, more beautiful.”
A few minutes before, Mihevc had told us that he is running for his seat in St. Paul’s again in next year’s municipal elections. (“I think there are two of us [councillors] who are not running for mayor,” he jokes. “I’m one of them.”) And then we asked about how he thinks council will work out after the next elections.
“Well I’m worried. I’m worried, of course. We all are during election times, that the yahoos [will] win. And everyone has a different list of who the yahoos are and who the good guys and gals are. But I worry about the yahoos taking over. We worry about the future of Toronto. We know that if we don’t have good councillors, wrong decisions can cost the city a lot. I think we’ve done some good things in the last little while. Sometimes not so elegantly, but we’ve made some good decisions, and I want the city to grow. And I’m in.”
By the time he has said this, it’s close to 4 p.m.—when the vintage streetcars are supposed to stop running for the day. After fifteen minutes of waiting, the westbound streetcar hasn’t yet come; it might have made its last run of the day already, though no one’s sure. (Torontoist’s trip on one of the cars was earlier in the afternoon.) Someone jokes to Mihevc, “I’m going to write a letter to the TTC telling them the service isn’t good enough. We’ve been waiting here how long?” In a good mood if a bit exasperated, Mihevc and everyone else laughs. When someone points out the obvious—that leaving the TTC’s vice-chair stranded waiting for a streetcar, in the ward he represents, all while being interviewed, isn’t so great—Mihevc keeps repeating “that’d be terrible.” Like the rest of St. Clair West, Joe Mihevc is tired of waiting.
All photos by Remi Carreiro/Torontoist.