Construction of a $500-million section of the Sheppard line east from Yonge Street to Victoria Park Avenue represents one piece in a Metro jig– saw puzzle on development and mass transit.
The first section of the Sheppard subway is given priority in the report of a two-year Metro Toronto- Toronto Transit Commission study, which ranks a north-south downtown subway second and an Eglinton Avenue West busway third in importance.
But the focus of the coming political debates on rapid transit priorities is likely to be the contest for second place between the downtown and Eglinton routes. It will pit the interests of politicians in East York and Toronto, who favor the downtown relief line, against those of Etobicoke and City of York politicians, who say the Eglinton busway deserves priority.
The first section of the Sheppard line is scheduled to open in 1993, 13 years after the TTC opened its last section of subway on the Bloor- Danforth line. The 7.6-kilometre section of the Sheppard line would have station stops at Bayview Avenue, Leslie Street, Don Mills Road, Consumer Road and Victoria Park.
In the year 2005, according to recommendations of the Metro-TTC study, work would begin on completion of the Sheppard subway line. It would have stations west of Yonge Street at Bathurst Street and Dufferin Street. East of Victoria Park Avenue in Scarborough, it would have stations at Warden Avenue, Kennedy Road, Brimley Road and McCowan Road.
The Metro-TTC study indicates that the current Sheppard and Finch Avenue bus routes are carrying more passengers in rush hour than most downtown street car lines. The Sheppard bus is carrying twice as many passengers as the Queen Street car.
Six of the 10 busiest surface transit routes are in the suburbs and none of the city’s street car lines is listed in the top 10 in rush-hour ridership, said Juri Pill, TTC director of planning.
Toronto councillor June Rowlands said it will be extremely difficult for Metro Council members to argue against the technical logic put forward in favor of the Sheppard subway line. The study indicates that without the subway, transit service on Sheppard and Finch would be unreliable, leading to an underdevelopment of both the North York and Scarborough city centres.
Meanwhile, the downtown subway line favored by some civic leaders, as outlined in the rapid transit development plan presented in May, would run underground, south from Pape Avenue station on the Bloor- Danforth subway line to Eastern Avenue, then west under Front Street to Spadina Avenue. There would be seven stations on the route. The line would be expected to relieve overcrowding on the Yonge subway.
The other contender for second place is a busway on Eglinton Avenue West, described as a transit bridge between Mississauga and Metro, which would extend easterly from Renforth Drive near Highway 427 to Jane Street on a surface level median strip similar to the street car line on the Queensway. East of Jane, it would enter a tunnel to the Eglinton West station on the Spadina subway line or in part follow the CN Rail Belt Line to the station.
Support for the Sheppard line is coming from a mixture of Toronto and suburban civic leaders who have diverse interests in seeing that Metro’s policy of decentralizing development is maintained.
North York and Scarborough members of Metro Council are almost solidly in favor of starting work on the line. They are supported by a majority of Metro councillors from the City of Toronto and Metro Chairman Dennis Flynn.
The Toronto politicians do not want to see disruption of stable residential neighborhoods within the city by transit or road construction and would like to slow the pace of downtown development. Suburban representatives are anxious to improve the level of transit service in their municipalities.
The Metro-TTC study will be considered by the councils of each of the six Metro municipalities, which are required to report to Metro next month. Public reaction to the study will be received at joint meetings of the Metro economic and development and transportation committees.
Scarborough Alderman Maureen Prinsloo, chairman of the transportation committee, said the worst thing that could happen would be for Metro to allow the recommendations to die. Both Mrs. Prinsloo and East York Alderman Peter Oyler, chairman of the economic and development committee, expect factionalism and parochialism to dominate the political debate over transit priorities.
There has been no debate on the question of whether there is a real need for a costly expansion of the transit system. Instead, the debate has been dominated by the question of which line should be built first and which should be built second.
The cities of Etobicoke and York are developing strong positions in favor of a $395-million Eglinton Avenue busway.
The mayors of both cities have taken the unprecedented step of enlisting the support of the neighboring City of Mississauga and the Regional Municipality of Peel for the Eglinton busway. In response, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications has formed a technical committee to review Metro’s new transit plan and in particular the role of an Eglinton busway.
Metro deputy planning commissioner Roman Winnicki acknowledged recently that neither Peel nor York regional municipalities had any direct participation in the new rapid-transit plan. The Metro- TTC team that drafted the scheme, he said, examined the growth pattern in Peel Region and concluded that development in Mississauga was not taking place fast enough to justify giving an Eglinton busway any higher than third priority.
East York representatives on Metro Council and some Toronto councillors support building the downtown line first. Such a north- south subway would reduce some of the overcrowding on the Yonge line and also serve the domed stadium and future development in the railway lands south of Front Street.
East York Mayor David Johnson said he does not know how the downtown line slipped from first place in priority. Two years ago, he said, the TTC was advocating top priority for the line because of the overcrowding on the Yonge subway.
Mr. Pill acknowledged that as early as 1981 the TTC favored the downtown line because the Yonge subway was reaching peak capacity. The volume of passengers declined, however, by 1982. At the same time, the TTC sensed that the City of Toronto was becoming more receptive to the idea of improved surface routes in the downtown area and less supportive of building a downtown line.
The Metro-TTC study, Mr. Pill said, persuaded him that if the downtown line was built before the first section of the Sheppard line, ”we could kiss Metroplan and its decentralization policy good-bye.”
Without a Sheppard line, the North York and Scarborough city centres will become local business centres rather than the hub of commercial activity in the two municipalities, he said.
Mr. Pill acknowledged there was a trade-off made between the continuing discomfort of downtown- bound transit riders and the long- term gain of retaining the metropolitan concept of decentralization.
Mr. Pill said improvements and expansion of the downtown surface transit system will permit Metro to postpone at least until 1993 any thought of building a downtown line. Metro Council has already approved construction of a Harborfront streetcar line down Bay Street and along Queens Quay and will shortly consider an extension north on Spadina Avenue to the Bloor-Danforth subway. The $93-million Harborfront-Spadina line is designed both to serve the central waterfront area and take passenger pressure off the Yonge subway.
Other downtown transit improvements will include operation of an express Sherbourne Street bus from the Castle Frank station on the Bloor- Danforth subway line and the widening of platforms at the Yonge- Bloor subway station.
Elected officials in both Etobicoke and York favor transit over roadway construction as the solution to mounting traffic congestion in northwest Metro. York also views the Eglinton section of the route as imperative to attracting urgently needed redevelopment in the city.
York Mayor Alan Tonks said the objective should be the simultaneous construction of the Sheppard subway and the Eglinton busway. The alternative, he said, would be granting the Eglinton busway second priority.
The Metro-TTC study team has estimated that the volume of transit and road traffic inbound from Peel Region has increased by 28 per cent since 1977, with more than 65 per cent of the increase being motor vehicles.
Etobicoke Mayor Bruce Sinclair said traffic from Mississauga on Etobicoke streets will double over the next 10 years and the bus service in northwest Etobicoke is deplorable.
Mr. Tonks said that unless there is an Eglinton busway, both Etobicoke and York may be forced to advocate an extension of Highway 400 south from Humber Boulevard to the Gardiner Expressway on the lakefront. The Metro- TTC study predicts that the road system across the Peel Region-Metro boundary will not be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of motor vehicles.
Mr. Pill said any debate over an Eglinton or downtown rapid transit line can wait until the year before the opening of the Sheppard Avenue subway line. He expressed concern that the decision to proceed with the Sheppard line could be clouded by political wrangling over the Eglinton and downtown routes.
A suggestion for the future is an extension of the Eglinton line to the Mississauga city centre and a branch to Pearson International Airport. Mississauga is prepared to develop a busway connection to the Eglinton line.
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Mississauga councillor Larry Taylor, chairman of the city’s transit committee, said the Eglinton busway, which would cross the Metro boundary into Peel Region, will be needed in the next five to 10 years. He said Mississauga is very upset that more support is not being shown by Metro politicians for an Eglinton line.