Transit planners are courting residents’ take on the mega-projects designed to transform the way Toronto moves.
Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat calls it the “motherlode” of transit. She’s referring to plans that will add miles of rapid transit to the city and surrounding region in the next 15 years and beyond, connecting communities in ways that have been dreamed about for a generation.
The veil comes off the next phase of expansion at a series of meetings around the city and region starting Tuesday.
It’s an unprecedented public consultation incorporating seven provincial and city-led projects — from SmartTrack and electrified GO service, to a relief subway along Queen St. and a 17-stop eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT.
The scope of the meetings reflects the mega-expansion going on in transit in Toronto and the surrounding municipalities, said Keesmaat.
But a new network-based approach to planning is also finally come to the fore. It will transform the way we live and move in the Toronto region, she said.
“Historically the city advances one project at a time, and the thinking is, when that project is built then we’ll start planning for the next project,” said Keesmaat.
But it was clear that approach wouldn’t allow Toronto to catch up on the 20-plus years in which there was no transit investment.
There was a realization, she said, “That to address the backlog in transit infrastructure we need to be advancing a whole series of projects at one time in parallel.”
The result is a series of maps that show how the spine of Toronto transit — subways, GO tracks and streetcar rights-of-way — will steadily fill in with new rapid routes including trains, LRTs and busways.
“Because we’re taking a network-based approach, it means we want to be aligning all the projects and bringing them together and considering one in relation to the other,” said Keesmaat.
The 18 open houses, including seven in Toronto, are meant to inform and invite discussion, said Anne Marie Aikins of Metrolinx, the provincial agency that is jointly hosting the events and splitting the $80,000 related costs.
In some cases, such as the regional transportation plan review, the focus will be on informing residents that Metrolinx’s original Big Move transit plan is up for revision. But when it comes to where to build new lines and stations, options are being refined and, in some cases, eliminated. The province and the municipalities need to know how the public is on board with the plans or respond to objections.
These consultations will be done about twice a year going forward, said Aikins. Different communities will inevitably focus on different projects among the seven being presented in this round.
“We’ve never done this big of a public consultation, but then we’ve never done this big a transit expansion,” she said.
Now that a heavy rail spur along Eglinton has been scrapped from the plan, the public is being asked to weigh in on the extension of the Crosstown LRT west of Mount Dennis instead. Planners are looking at potential station locations and how the LRT would connect to the airport jobs hub.
City planners are unveiling their preferred route from Pape station down to Queen St. to a potential new hub at Nathan Phillips Square. This is the route that best reduces crowding at the TTC’s Yonge-Bloor station and the south end of the Yonge subway. It doesn’t add to congestion at Union Station and supports foot and transit connections in the downtown, including the financial district and Regent Park.
Scarborough subway extension
The public can weigh in on the most recent plan to extend the Danforth subway a single stop to the Scarborough City Centre to encourage job growth there. The preferred route would be along McCowan Rd. The plan also includes an eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT up Morningside Ave. to the U of T campus.
Electrified GO service
The province wants to electrify five of the seven GO lines to create all-day, two-way service at 15-minute frequencies in key sections. In addition to powering 262 km of track, the project involves building six substations and 11 switching stations, and installing barriers or building 78 overhead bridges.
New GO/SmartTrack stations
Provincial agency Metrolinx is looking at a “short list” of 50 station locations as part of its electrified GO expansion. Some of the most likely immediate locations are in the city to connect SmartTrack riders. They include stops at St. Clair, Liberty Village, Bathurst-Spadina, Unilever, Gerrard-Carlaw, Ellesmere, Lawrence and Finch.
A zoned or fare-by-distance system are among the options being considered to make it easier to cross municipal borders on transit. It’s considered a critical piece of making SmartTrack succeed. “There is excellent data, if the fare isn’t integrated, people won’t pay twice,” said Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. “As a result you have a bizarre situation where there’s a GO train going by that is half empty and a subway or a bus that is absolutely crammed full of people.”
Regional transportation plan review
Metrolinx is updating its 2008 regional transportation plan, the Big Move. All the priorities set out in that document are being reviewed. New information and changes that have already occurred, such as the plan for Scarborough transit, will be incorporated.