Dust in the Wind

Editorial by Peter Drost

(Originally published July 1, 2001)

Have you noticed the haze in the air? It's from all the dust that's been blown off old transit reports lately.

According to the media a mega-transit project is just around the corner. From the sounds of it the shovels are already in the ground. In this climate anything seems possible if you ignore that fact that the TTC hasn't got the money.

So, what is hype and what is reality? The following is a list of oft touted projects, some general comments and a rating of their viability in the next ten years:

  1. Bloor Street Subway Extension (West) - The problem with any westward extension of the Bloor line is threefold. Firstly, there is very little justification to extend the line a few kilometers towards Mississauga, except that it might serve people going to Sherway Gardens. Lands west of Kipling station are very industrial and sparsely populated. Secondly, expansion outside of Toronto requires that stingy Mississauga shell out millions for the construction costs. Finally, people taking a subway from stops in Mississauga will be deterred by the length of the trip downtown. GO trains are a lot faster. So, unless the route comes with a bypass, it doesn't seem practical. A smaller line, like the Scarborough RT, connecting with Kipling Station seems more logical. Viability Rating: 3/10
  2. Busway in Finch Hydro Corridor - This corridor has long been seen as quick route "over" Toronto. There have also been several studies of the corridor. A bus route is feasible, with no alteration to the hydro towers along the route. According to a TTC study done in the early 1980's the only question about a busway route is how to illuminate it as the lights might be affected by the electrical fields. At any rate, the busway would serve as a link between the Spadina and Yonge subway lines. As well the busway would take a lot of pressure off busy Finch Avenue. Busways work well as has been proven many times over by Ottawa's Transitway example. Viability Rating: 3/10
  3. East Waterfront Light Rail Extension - More of an idea than a solid plan. In the short-term a transit line would be built along Queens Quay East towards the harbor lands (and possibly the site of the Olympics). Further in the east the plan calls for the extension of the Kingston Road streetcar eastward. Diagrams of this plan usually show an dotted line with an arrow showing that the line could possibly extend into Pickering. One major problem with this line would be the Union Station loop, which is already too small to accommodate the current number of streetcars. Viability Rating: 2/10 (better if Toronto gets the Olympics)
  4. Eglinton Subway - Was partially built, but filled in due to the cancellation of the project. A transit system along the length of Eglinton Avenue makes sense in many ways. However, would such a system have to be a full-fledge subway? Also, there has always been an opportunity to provide a major connection for busses travelling east from the planned Mississauga Transitway. An extension of the Eglinton West subway would have taken the line north-west to the Pearson airport. Hope for this project rests with politicians in Peel Region. Should there be interest in finally creating a Transitway in Mississauga, extending it into Toronto via Eglinton makes sense. Viability Rating: 4/10
  5. Etobicoke RT - Rarely seen on future project maps, the Etobicoke RT is dead and gone save for a platform at Kipling Station. A north-south corridor in Etobicoke would be beneficial to area residents, but there is no impetus to even get a plan in motion. Viability Rating: None
  6. GO Transit Rail Extensions - Ridership will continue to increase. Service will also increase to match. But plans to expand rail service outside the GTA are unlikely. Further extensions of rail lines are possible, but would require GO to be split between urban rail service and inter-city (interurban) service if it started serving points farther west, east or north. Viability Rating: 2/10
  7. Highway 407 Transitway - It is very rare for a major highway to get retrofitted with bus lanes. So the chances of Highway 407 getting dedicated bus lanes of any kind, are practically nil. Politicians take note, bus lanes should be added when the highway is being constructed, not after. GO Transit will continue to run busses along this highway. Viability Rating: 1/10
  8. Mississauga Transitway - Usually mentioned in the media in conjunction with a Highway 407 Transitway. The land for the Mississauga Transitway is there. Plans have been in place for the last 25 years. However, there's no glamour in a busway. Perhaps a change in leadership at Mississauga City Hall would get the shovels in the ground. Maybe the idea would fly better if the Transitway was built in conjunction with the Eglinton West Subway (as originally planned) where one type of vehicle would be used for the entire length of the line, like light rail. Anyway, this project is definitely not on the front-burner. Viability Rating: 4/10
  9. Pearson Airport Rail Link - The most promising major transit project on the horizon. Planning and assessments are now underway. What kind of vehicles will be used and if this project is indeed supposed to be "high-speed" are still open-ended questions. As well, reports suggest that the link won't be direct, but rather to a station where passengers will disembark only to get on an airport people mover. The trip from Pearson to Union is supposed to take 18 to 20 minutes. Still in its early stages the project is being bankrolled by Ottawa and private investors. Viability Rating: 10/10
  10. Queen Streetcar Tunnel - The increasing amount of passengers on the King Street Route is also reflected on the Queen Street line. Calls have been made over the years for a streetcar tunnel to run from the Moss Park area in the east to Trinity Bellwoods in the west. A logical idea, but an expensive one. This is not a serious plan at the moment, but may "surface" again, as the King and Queen lines become more crowded and slower with the volume of traffic. Viability Rating: None
  11. Scarborough RT Extension - This plan was killed in the early 90's but comes up again and again in the media as a possibility. Maps show a dotted line heading east from the line's current northern terminus, then north to corner of Markham Road and Sheppard Avenue and beyond. For a whole series of reasons too long to get into here, the chances of it being constructed are almost zero. Still, there is the possibility of minor changes, such as a new station on Brimley Road or a minor extension far in the future. Viability Rating: 1/10
  12. Sheppard Subway Extension - In terms of subway expansion, the next best bet. However, the direction of the expansion is in question. Reports suggest that extending it north-west (assuming the University line is extended to York U) to Finch Avenue and Dufferin Street makes sense because it would create an immediate cross-town link. However, it is widely thought that the line will be extended as far as Victoria Park Avenue or Kennedy Road. The overall plan calls for the line to be extended to Scarborough Town Centre. Realistically, this makes very little sense as it would be transit overkill for the area, despite the fact that a number of large condos have been built around Scarborough Town Centre. When the first phase of the line is finally operational next year, there will likely be strong calls to extend it immediately. Viability Rating: 6/10
  13. Spadina Subway Extension - Never mind the thousands of York University students who will use this link, Vaughan the so-called "City Above Toronto" wants an umbilical-like connection to mother-Toronto. The plan calls for an extension to run through the university grounds, terminating at Vaughan's "downtown" near highway 7. Problem is, there is no downtown there, yet. However, as with many transit projects in the past, the philosophy seems to be "if you build it, they will come". As the project will likely be bankrolled in part by York Region, it is a strong contender and will likely get built before a Yonge Street subway extension. Viability Rating: 7/10
  14. VIA Rail Expansion - VIA Rail was not allowed to die. In Southern Ontario it may in fact find a niche where it could complement GO service, in effect becoming an inter-city carrier (it is already, to some degree). At the moment the federal government is giving VIA a shot in the arm, so the expansion of service seems imminent. Viability Rating: 5/10 (Note: since this article was written, David Collenette announced a small expansion of VIA in southern Ontario, with new trains to Kitchener, Hamilton and Oshawa starting in October 2001)
  15. Yonge Street Subway Extension - Rapid expansion of Richmond Hill and Markham has increased calls for major transit in the area. There is a great deal of logic in this thinking, as busses from all over York Region connect to the "southerly" Finch subway station. Calls have been made to extend the subway line into the heart of Richmond Hill, which would be great for area residents. However, by the time a subway train reached downtown stations, it would be packed tighter than a can of sardines - bad news for downtown dwellers. With no bypass on the Yonge line, stretching the line north would create all kinds of problems. Some relief could be created if the Yonge and Spadina lines eventually looped and joined, possibly north of Steeles Ave. Any real hope for this project rests with York Region and its deep pockets. Viability Rating: 4/10
  16. 512 St. Clair Streetcar Extension - Plans called the extension of the St. Clair route west to Jane Street. As well, there have also been plans to extend the Dundas West Streetcar route up through the Junction to Runnymede (or Jane Street) where it would meet with an extended St. Clair route. An extension of the St. Clair route is more likely, but an extension through the Junction, doesn't seem possible unless the city wants to widen the road an include some kind of protected right-of-way. Dundas Street in this area is fairly narrow. Streetcars would surely get snarled in traffic, as on other unprotected routes. Development on the former stockyards is key to any extension in this area. Viability Rating: 3/10
  17. 504 Streetcar right-of-way - Currently, the TTC is asking for a transit only corridor on King Street to accommodate the rising tide of passengers on this busy route. This is a controversial experiment for now. Its permanence will hinge on whether the TTC get council to go ahead with its proposal. Viability Rating: 8/10