Immediately after Toronto city council voted in favour of reverting to the at-grade LRT transit plan for Eglinton, Finch West and Sheppard East, I wrote a post saying that I felt that it was a vote to apply the most cost-effective solution to a transit problem (curiously, this was the post that crashed my old blog). I have always been of the opinion that both modes could provide the local service and development style we desire, so unless there was a need to go under narrow streets, needed capacity was the only justification for the added expense. Since developing Sheppard to the point where the capacity was needed would not be in keeping with our development vision, the right decision was made. However, there are proposed corridors where the capacity of an underground line is needed from day one.
The Downtown Relief Line (DRL), which will hopefully get a better and less politically toxic name, is a proposed U shaped line which has a bottom in the downtown core and arms that reach Bloor Street / Danforth Avenue or further north. The eastern arm would start at Don Mills and Eglinton, pass through Thorncliffe Park, then come down the Pape / Carlaw corridor to Leslieville before turning towards downtown. The western leg has several options, but they all end up near Bloor and Dundas or Keele. The traditional proposal is illustrated above.
What I like about this proposal is that it gives riders coming from the west and (particularly) the east a more direct route into the downtown core and central business district. The Bloor-Yonge interchange is currently a bottleneck that slows service, and it is only a matter of time before a train going south on Yonge cannot accept any more passengers transferring from the Bloor-Danforth line. The DRL will allow passengers to bypass this transfer, reduce crowding, keep Yonge trains on time, and serve new communities. What I don’t like about this proposal is that, to date, most iterations of the proposal show the subway running in the railway corridor. Since the objective of the line is to afford riders the opportunity to avoid using the Yonge line, going through Union Station undermines that objective by taking riders too far south. In addition, I feel that this line suffers from scope creep. When a project has too many objectives, which I feel this project may have, we risk building an expensive circuitous line that tries to hit every new development south of Queen Street.
I propose that the DRL begin at Don Mills and Eglinton, and travel south under Don Mills, Overlea and Pape to Pape Station. This essentially converts the southern portion of the Don Mills LRT to a full subway line, and is justified because Pape is too narrow for surface LRT and because Don Mills and Eglinton is a logical terminus due to the interchange with the Eglinton-Crosstown line. From there, the line should head south on Pape and Carlaw to Queen Street, then turn west under Eastern Avenue. Eastern is a corridor of lesser resistance than Queen, and this alignment allows for a straight run to the West Don Lands redevelopment. Continuing west, I propose that the line make its run through the core under a corridor close to King Street. This better serves the central business district than an alignment through Union Station, and ensures that the vast majority of riders bound for the financial district can walk to their destination instead of transferring to the Yonge Line for a two-stop ride. Going further west along King Street past Liberty Village, I propose that the line then run in the Kitchener (Georgetown) railway corridor to a terminus at Dundas West station. This stop is set to become a major interchange between subway and mainline railway and is logical terminus for the line.
While I feel this is the best alignment to serve the most pressing objectives, there are some concerns. First, this alignment does not serve Cityplace nor does it serve the attractions immediately west of Union Station. I feel that the Waterfront West LRT along Bremner and Fort York Boulevards will best serve this area, allowing the DRL to stay along a straight, lower-cost alignment. Second, this alignment makes the 504 KING streetcar redundant through the financial district. However, the route could be shifted onto Front Street, which is seeing a boom in construction after years of stagnating and is underserved by transit at present. A future eastbound KING car could turn south on Bathurst, east on Front, then south on Cherry Street into the West Don Lands and Portlands as is already planned by the TTC. Service lost on Broadview Street would be replaced by Waterfront Toronto’s vision of Broadview service going south onto a new road between Queen Street and the Portlands.
The downtown relief line is an example of a subway proposal where a fully underground line is justified from day one. Downtowners will appreciate better east-west service through the core and a subway serving areas south of Bloor, and Suburbanites will appreciate that they will get a seat on the Yonge line when they are heading to work. This is a great advantage, especially in this political climate. However, the project needs a new name to sound less “us versus them”, something that Spacing is diligently working on.