My Subway Fantasy

I'm a planner. I like to fantasize about planning things. And as a former Torontonian, my fantasies have a lot to do with this city.

I want Toronto to be free of its autodependency. I want more public transit. And I have to admit that we will have a hard time getting people out of their cars until the crosstown commute situation is significantly improved. GO Transit is starting to step up, with buses operating between Scarborough Centre, York University and points west via Highway 407, but it's a subway or an LRT that really attracts business, not express buses, though they help considerably.

The TTC doesn't want to think about subway expansion until the various levels of government put up the money to maintain the system we already have. This I understand. Politicians continue to dream about extending the Spadina subway north or the Sheppard subway (Opening November 24th, this year) east. But as Toronto sprawls, public transit will always be at a disadvantage to the automobile, unless bold measures are taken.

What I would like to see isn't on the political radar, but I think we need a subway or some other rapid transit route across the top of Toronto, from the western boundary to deep in the heart of Scarborough. While Highway 401 exists, clogged though it may be, it will only make sense for somebody living in Mississauga and working in Scarborough (and vice versa) to take the car to get where he needs to go.

The Hydro right-of-way north of Finch Avenue has potential as a cheap transit corridor, although the density of the corridor (unlike Finch Avenue) isn't sufficient to sustain a major rapid transit route. More to the point, we've spent money building the Sheppard subway, and we should include it in any plan to improve the northern crosstown commutes.

I personally would like to see the Sheppard line extended to its originally conceived length: from Downsview station in the west to Scarborough Centre in the east. Right there, two major trip generators (downtown Scarborough and downtown North York) are connected with a line that's competitive with Highway 401. But we mustn't stop there.

West of Downsview, I'd like to see the Sheppard line veer southwest, travelling underground through the former Downsview base, to a stop at the Keele/Wilson area (close to the Ministry of Transportation headquarters -- the least public transit friendly ministry headquarters in the Ontario government). Then it would continue underground until it got to the 401. There, it would travel either elevated or on a newly constructed median (remove the two inner lanes; replace with two outer lanes, if necessary) from here to the western border. It would terminate at the Airport.

It is true that the Spadina subway is underused because it is located in the median of an expressway. Major trip generators are set back from the line, and the approach to the station entrances are uncomfortable for pedestrians. However, Spadina is now an important component to Toronto's subway network; when it goes offline, commuters feel it. Design can improve the pedestrian approaches to a 401 subway, and the rerouting of many of the crossing buses into the 401 stations will ensure a steady flow of traffic.

Most importantly, whereas Spadina only offered one more method of getting downtown, the 401-Sheppard subway will offer passengers a 20 minute ride from the western boundary to downtown North York, and a 40 minute ride to Scarborough Centre (less time if the trains are allowed to go at top speed). This kind of ride, free from the stress of the 401, would convince a number of commuters to get out of their cars at the western boundary. It would be a major blow to the autodependency of northern Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, and extensions west, either by subway or busway along along the 401 and the 403, would put rapid transit within striking distance of Square One Mall.

This would be a major investment. It will cost a billion and a half to complete the Sheppard subway from Downsview to the Scarborough Centre. It would cost at least a billion more (possibly two) to take it out along the 401. But it would be a bold statement that would change the shape of Toronto for years to come.

Update (June 11, 2003): This post is getting a little top-heavy with comments, so I'm bringing this thread to a close. Besides, this is all just a fantasy; it's not an official post from a TTC planner or anything like that -- it's what I think should be done. It's not like this has much weight.

For more serious discussions about what's possible in the transit picture, please feel free to view these other posts and make comments there:

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