Are Bike Lanes, Trees, and Mid-Rise Development in Eglinton Avenue’s Future?

Originally published on Torontoist on October 8, 2013.

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Is this what a future Golden Mile could look like? Image: City of Toronto.

Scene: 5 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in the future. It’s time to wind up the workday at one of the firms calling the city’s latest “innovation cluster” home. After a short stretch in a park that used to be a Walmart, you wander to the neighbourhood’s main drag to run a few pre-dinner errands. You marvel at the streetscape before you: tall trees, mid-rise developments, wide sidewalks, and commuters whizzing by in the bike lane. Out in the middle of the road, an LRT glides by on a vegetation-filled track bed. To think this humming, green streetscape along Eglinton Avenue was once Scarborough’s grey “Golden Mile” of industry…

This scenario could come true if the long-term visions in the City’s Eglinton Connects planning study are implemented. Over the past year, the project has looked at landscape and infrastructure improvements to Eglinton Avenue to complement the Crosstown LRT, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. Officials involved in the project foresee Toronto’s “centre of gravity” moving north when the transit line is finished.

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Segment of a map of what Eglinton Avenue might look like in the future, with sticky notes.

A final round of consultations on Eglinton Avenue’s future will include three public sessions, the first of which occurred at George Harvey Collegiate Institute, near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue, Monday night. Attendees browsed a 40-foot-long map, which included the Eglinton Connects recommendations for reconfiguring Eglinton between Jane Street and Kennedy Road. A prominent feature was a bicycle lane running mostly at sidewalk level along the entire stretch, giving cyclists a straight route across the city. Sticky notes were provided, so people could place their concerns on the map. Those concerns ranged from fears about developers sneaking in too-tall buildings, to commentaries about the unused TTC property at Eglinton subway station. The map is expected to be posted online shortly.

The Eglinton Connects plan’s 20 recommendations were organized under three themes:

Building Eglinton: Rezone properties to allow construction of mid-rise buildings along most of the corridor, with high-rises permitted at major hubs and intersections. Entrances to underground LRT stations should be integrated into neighbourhood-appropriate developments above them. More rear laneways and landscaped areas should be built to ease the transition from taller buildings to existing residential areas. Create more public spaces like parks and plazas. Recognize heritage properties with conservation districts.

Greening Eglinton: Green up the corridor by planting large trees along the street to grow a shady canopy. Provide better links to existing recreational trails and the city’s ravines. On the surface portions of the LRT, plant vegetation along the tracks.

Travelling Eglinton: This is based on the “complete streets” theory, which calls for planners to provide enough room for cars, bicycles, transit, and pedestrians. Dedicated bus lanes would be removed, travel lanes realigned, and current on-street parking levels retained. Wider sidewalks and protected cycling lanes would be built. In neighbourhoods designated as “Main Street Character Areas,” streetscape elements could include street furniture, patios, and gateway markers.

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The study also includes six focus areas where the changes would ideally be more radical. Current big-box retail areas like Westside Mall and the Golden Mile would, City planners hope, be replaced by new developments made up of commercial, recreational, and residential properties. Smaller sites, like the Metro supermarket at Bayview and Eglinton avenues, could be chopped up with new streets, assuming the owners of the properties could somehow be brought on board.

Before and after a one-hour presentation, attendees at Monday’s consultation were free to quiz City and project officials. There was a brief general Q&A session, where concerns raised ranged from questions about funding sources, to whether the proposed 90-centimetre buffer between the street and the bike lane would be sufficient for piling snow during winter clearing.

There are two more sessions coming up: tonight (October 8) at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute (730 Eglinton Avenue West) and tomorrow night (October 9) at Jean Vanier Secondary School (959 Midland Avenue). Each will run from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. If you can’t make it, an online survey is available. The study report is supposed to be completed by the end of 2013, and a final presentation is expected to go before city council next spring.

A Hot Time in the Old Town Hall Meeting Last Night

Originally published on Torontoist on February 29, 2012.

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Left to right: John Parker, Anna Pace, Andre Sorenson, Karen Stintz, Josh Matlow.

“This is going to be a heated meeting,” an audience member confided to us before last night’s transit town hall meeting began at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre. That prediction was prompted by an angry woman at the opposite end of our row, who bemoaned the number of business bankruptcies tied to the construction of the St. Clair right-of-way and suggested that meeting organizers Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) and Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton–Lawrence) have disgracefully spread lies about the benefits of LRT.

The attendee’s rage was revealed to the rest of the overflowing room early in the question-and-answer period, when she asked if there was a plan to handle potential lawsuits from businesses affected by construction of the new transit lines. When Stintz attempted to respond, the questioner yelled over her, causing the rest of the audience to urge her to respect the TTC chair (“Let her talk!”). Stintz noted that planners had learned from mistakes made along St. Clair, and, as she would throughout the night, assured the audience that St. Clair–style construction issues would not recur: “I want to make sure people don’t leave the room with the notion that we’re building St. Clair all over the city. That is not the case.” As the audience cheered, the questioner yelled, “you’re a liar,” then repeatedly called Stintz a liar as she fled the room amid a chorus of boos.

Though that was the most dramatic incident, tensions were evident between supporters of the transit plan approved by City Council on February 8 and those backing Mayor Rob Ford’s call for subways and a fully underground Eglinton crosstown line. Most speakers from Scarborough fell in the latter camp, their questions couched in feelings that the eastern suburb deserved better than a transit system they perceived as second-rate. Matlow, responding to a question about why people keep coming back to the subway option asked by a man representing a LRT-friendly coalition of BIAs, said that Scarborough residents and their desire for improved service had been exploited by Mayor Ford, in the “the most cynical type of politics” he had ever witnessed.

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Former Scarborough councillor Kurt Christensen listens to the response to his question.

Among the voices from Scarborough, one of the most amusing was a doctor who surveyed his fellow east-end physicians and found that nearly all agreed subways were needed. Far more bellicose was former Scarborough city councillor Kurt Christensen, who believed high-rises built around Scarborough Town Centre justified a subway, traffic at busy intersections along Eglinton would be nightmarish, and LRT shouldn’t be built because both the Scarborough RT and St. Clair line have, in his mind, been disasters. Stintz’s response was blunt: there is no money to build an underground line to Scarborough Town Centre.

Using money wisely was a recurring theme for the organizers, as was examining the evidence backing city council’s plan. Throughout the meeting, Matlow urged the audience to forget promises or rhetoric they’d heard and carefully consider city council’s option, a fiscally responsible plan that he feels would “use every dollar to increase, enhance, and expand public transportation for every corner of the city.” Matlow also reiterated a message he posted on his website on Monday: that if anyone devised a sound, feasible plan for building a subway, he would support it (though he admitted his subway preference was a downtown relief line).

Stintz’s opening remarks were brief. She noted that when the town hall was being planned in December, she and Matlow had imagined they’d be updating their constituents on the Eglinton project and not hosting a forum on recent transit developments. She stressed that financial resources were limited, and emphasized the need to provide the most service to the most residents. “Modern cities have subways, buses, LRTs,” said Stintz. “That’s how modern cities work. That’s how our city works.”

Following the introductions, University of Toronto professor Andre Sorensen gave a presentation on “Transit and Density.” His slideshow depicted a gridlock-clogged future for Toronto, with potential productivity losses of $6 billion if current infrastructure isn’t improved by 2031. Maps showed areas of residential and job density better connected by the original Transit City plan than later, Fordian revisions. He noted that Eglinton was better suited for a rapid-transit line than Sheppard, due to its large chunks of mixed-use, low-density land that would be easier to redevelop. By contrast, existing residential neighbourhoods bordering Sheppard would be difficult to raze for higher-density developments, like condo towers, if the subway were extended west of Yonge.

The second presenter was Anna Pace from the TTC’s Transit Expansion Department, who gave updates on construction and design work on the Eglinton LRT. After her slideshow, Pace offered to show a video about LRT in Phoenix, but by this point the session had only an hour to go and the testy audience was eager to move on to the Q&A. Cries of “Enough!” settled the issue.

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Audience members raised concerns about emergency-response times, traffic flow, the type of vehicles being built for Eglinton by Bombardier, ease of converting the line to a subway, funding methods, suitability of LRT for winter conditions, implementation of “Shop Local” programs during construction, street beautification, and the timeline for a final decision. Despite occasional heckling, the responses from the councillors and presenters were treated respectfully—sometimes with loud cheers from the pro-LRT contingent.

Among the supportive audience members was Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), who told several reporters that he hoped the session cleared the confusion surrounding Toronto’s transit future. Parker noted that much misinformation had been spread, and said that David Miller’s close association with the original Transit City plan made any LRT line toxic in the eyes of those who despised the former mayor.

The next crucial dates for transit planning are March 5, when council will debate whether to change the composition of the TTC board (switching from the current nine councillors to a mix of five private citizens and four councillors), and March 15, when a special council meeting will be held to consider a blue-ribbon panel’s report on Sheppard Avenue transit. (The panel is widely expected to endorse light rail rather than a subway.) Until then, the conversation will remain a heated one. “Don’t go for the bumper-sticker rhetoric or false-promise rhetoric,” Matlow urged during his conclusion. “Look at the facts and you’ll come to your own conclusion.”

BEHIND THE SCENES

As of this writing (March 2018), council has supported a Scarborough subway extension, whose limited reach (one station) and high price tag are endlessly debated. Any link I might include will be useless tomorrow.

Put me on the record as not being a great fan of town halls where the loudmouths rule the floor, giving little room for nuanced thought or carefully considered questions. You won’t find too many more examples of covering such events.

O Eglinton Rapid Transit Service, Where Art Thou?

Originally published on Torontoist on May 7, 2010.

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A subway train heading to Warden station, 1968 (likely around the time the eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Woodbine to Warden opened). Photo by Eric Trussler. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 242, Item 7.

Public transit lines love leaving Eglinton Avenue at the altar. The courtship begins with a proposal to build a constructive relationship until a politician runs down the aisle to stop the wedding. The current controversy over whether the proposed Transit City LRT line along Eglinton will be delayed from its original target date, truncated, or built at all may sound like a broken record to longtime local-transit observers. Once upon a time, work started on an Eglinton subway line until it was axed by Mike Harris’s government in 1995. Among other proposals to build a service along Eglinton was one offered forty years ago that led a right-leaning daily to support the development of a “transit-oriented lifestyle” for Torontonians. The thoughts offered back then by the editors of the Telegram might be points to ponder for those now rushing to stop the ceremony.

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Buses at Eglinton terminal, 1967. Photo by Eric Trussler. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 218, Item 7.

October 1971 was a busy month for transit geeks. Ontario Premier William Davis unveiled grandiose plans for a series of never-realized pyramid-shaped residential and commercial complexes designed by Buckminster Fuller. They were to be constructed above a subway line in the “Spadina ditch” between Eglinton Avenue and Lawrence Avenue that was meant to house the cancelled Spadina Expressway. Over on Yonge Street, work delays on the northern extension of the subway from Eglinton to Sheppard mounted as labourers building the section around York Mills continued to strike when the contractor refused to provide an eighty-seven-cent-an-hour wage increase. Combined with community opposition, other labour issues, tunnelling errors, and indecisive management, the strike forced the TTC to reset the targeted completion date for the eighth time since work began in 1968 (the line opened in two stages during 1973 and 1974).

On October 25, North York council voted to ask the TTC to build its next rapid transit line on Eglinton Avenue instead of a proposed subway along Queen Street. Council also asked for feasibility studies into the use of railway lines for commuter services and into the possibility of providing an express bus service from the proposed Finch terminus of the Yonge subway extension to the airport. The chief selling point of an Eglinton line, at least to North York Controller Paul Godfrey, was that it would run through all six of the municipalities that made up Metropolitan Toronto.

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Headline of editorial, the Telegram, October 26, 1971.

The following day, the Telegram led off its editorial page with a piece about the Eglinton proposal, which it felt should be championed by Metro Council. That’s not to say that the Tely didn’t have some reservations:

We’re not impressed with Mr. Godfrey’s argument for an Eglinton subway on the grounds that Eglinton Ave. passes through every municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. It sounds too much like the kind of parochial politics that judges elected representatives by the number of public works they can win for their constituencies.

Subways and other transit facilities shouldn’t be located on any such basis. They should be planned to meet present and future need and to promote future growth in areas where it is most suitable and will be most beneficial.

Putting aside politics, the paper felt there was a strong case for building along Eglinton.

Eglinton Ave. is situated close to the centre line of Metropolitan Toronto. It has already been the focus for tremendous apartment and office building development both east and west of Yonge St. It will undoubtedly continue to attract more development in the centre and at both ends.

One rapid transit line, the Yonge St. subway, already crosses it. The projected Spadina line will, hopefully, soon do so. An Eglinton line could serve as a feeder from Scarbor[ough] and East York on the east and York and Etobicoke on the west to the Yonge and Spadina subways for transfers south to downtown or north to Yorkdale and Willowdale.

In its first stage, the Eglinton line should probably extend from Victoria Park Ave. on the east to at least Dufferin St. on the west. Plans should be made at the beginning, however, and right-of-right be acquired wherever possible for its eventual extension to the eastern boundary of Scarbor[ough] and to Highway 27 in Etobicoke.

As for the province’s role in building this line:

As part of its Toronto-Centred Regional Plan, the Ontario government intends to encourage development to the east of Metro Toronto. It can do this by heavily supporting the early extension of the Eglinton rapid transit line eastward to the Pickering boundary and eventually beyond it. Development follows transit and transit can be used as a useful tool to influence the direction and extent of development.

Recent projections give Metropolitan Toronto a population of 6 million by the year 2000. This figure can be questioned on many grounds and has been disputed by people who would limit growth of the city in favour of improving the quality of city life.

The two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Good planning can accommodate controlled growth while improving the city environment. Good planning favours an Eglinton subway as a facility suited to the transit-oriented lifestyle that we hope will develop during the next two decades in Midtown Toronto of the future.

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An earlier map of the TTC’s vision for rapid transit in Metropolitan Toronto. Note that extensions to the two existing subway lines are the only confirmed projects. Notice any other projects that are echoed in Transit City? The Telegram, February 4, 1969.

Outside of North York, reaction from other Metro Toronto leaders was cool. TTC Chairman Ralph Day felt an Eglinton line had merit but it was too early to make any decisions. Toronto Mayor William Dennison preferred a line along Queen or King to service anticipated developments along the waterfront. In East York, Mayor True Davidson didn’t roll out the welcome wagon in an interview with the Star:

Sure it would be good for East York and other boroughs, but for Metro as a whole, it wouldn’t help. The Eglinton line wouldn’t do anything at all for the CNE or the planned Metro Centre on the waterfront, or anyone in the southeast areas…Giving priority to it is all based on the assumption that people will gravitate north, and I would be really surprised if this really happened.

We’re still waiting for an Eglinton line, True. We’re still waiting.

Additional material from the October 13, 1971, October 26, 1971, and October 27, 1971 editions of the Toronto Star, and the October 26, 1971 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

tely 71-10-26 editorial on eglinton subway

The full version of the Telegram‘s editorial from October 26, 1971.

As for the Eglinton LRT, construction began in 2011. Now dubbed the Eglinton Crosstown (or Line 5), service is expected to begin in 2021.