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32,000 take free ride on $105 million line

Streetcar named Spadina a hit

By Nicholas Keung
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Welcome back on board the Spadina streetcar.

Some 32,000 enthusiastic riders turned out yesterday to do just that, lining up patiently to take a free ride on the Toronto Transit Commission’s brand new $105 million baby.

“It’s a great sightseeing trip,” enthused 55-year-old Ronald Vanstone, who took four rides just to videotape the scenery along the route.

“You can taste different cultural flavors all at once.”

And, he added, there’s a plus for smog-weary Torontonians.

“The streetcars are run by electricity. It’s far better than the diesel buses.”

Right on, agreed Metro Chairman Alan Tonks.

“This is one of the most important additions to our transit system, and the people using it are the beneficiaries,” he said after the line’s official opening yesterday.

It was the first time streetcars had run on Spadina since they ground to a halt in October, 1948, after running continuously on the street for 56 years. And Spadina is the first new streetcar line to open since the Harbourfront line was launched in 1990.

Ken Wong figures he got here just in time.

“Our family just moved to Toronto from Ottawa three days ago,” said Wong, 45, who came with his wife Vivian, their three children and 10 friends - all from Hong Kong - to get a feel for the new line.

“When we heard of all the festivities going on today, we told ourselves, `Wow, we just moved here at the right time,’ ” said Wong, who lives nearby, at Spadina Ave. and Dundas St.

The 510 Spadina streetcar got its official launch at 5 a.m. yesterday with an inaugural run from the Spadina station on the Bloor St. subway line to Union Station, via Queen’s Quay.

A little later in the day, the street was transformed into one big party zone by area residents who were anxious to celebrate what one termed the “renewal of the grand avenue.”

“We are here today to show our support to the Spadina LRT,” said Darcy Merka, 27, as he hopped off after his first ride on the line with friend Libby Kilpatrick.

“They’ve done a great job.”

Both praised the speed and efficiency of the streetcars, compared with the snail’s pace of buses that served the route from 1966 until their last trip Saturday.

“The streetcars have their right of way and don’t need to compete with other vehicles on the roads like the buses,” said Merka, who lives conveniently nearby in the Spadina Ave. and Queen St. W. area.

And, he added, “the ride is smooth and fast.”

But not fast enough - just yet - to suit one TTC streetcar driver.

Many drivers still don’t know streetcars have the right-of-way along the new route, and he predicted worse to come with today’s rush hour.

“The traffic is a bit chaotic now,” said the 12-year TTC veteran, who would only identify himself as Bill.

“I think it’s going to take these drivers at least a couple months to adjust to the new rules.”

The chaos wasn’t just out on the street - inside the streetcars, which ran every five minutes to help accommodate the crowds, many riders were packed in like sardines.

In fact, during peak hours - from noon to 5 p.m. - some people couldn’t even get on board.

“The car is so crowded,” complained Tak Eng, 57. “I can’t really see the view from here.”

And there was plenty to see.

The activities marking the new line’s inaugural day included street festivals and entertainment on Bloor and Harbord St., dragon dancing in Chinatown, and a children’s puppet show and crafts workshop in the Cecil Community Centre.

The crowds delighted Masoud Abedin, who opened his Cafe Elise, at the corner of Sussex St. and Spadina Ave., to welcome the crush.

“This is the first time we have our cafe open on Sunday,” he said.

“I know it’s going to be a busy day. We hope the streetcar can bring in more customers.”

The 3.7-kilometre streetcar route cuts through the heart of a culturally diverse Toronto hub, connecting the Kensington Market area, Chinatown and Spadina’s fashion district.

A unique feature of the line is its public art, designed to express Spadina’s character by celebrating its rich history and cultural heritage.

Highlights include allegorical gateways on the streetcar islands at Spadina Ave. and Dundas St., where four venerable mythological symbols - phoenix, dragon, monkey king and unicorn - weave in and out around the poles.

In the fashion district, a sculpted 23-centimetre-high stack of large colored buttons, capped by a bronze thimble, reflects on the contributions of workers in garment manufacture.

Despite the wide publicity heralding the line’s official opening, some passengers remained unaware of the new service and waited for ae bus that would never show up.

“I’d been waiting here for 15 minutes,” said Crystal Evans, 15, as she stood on the Spadina station platform looking for a now-cancelled Route 77 bus.

“I didn’t know that the bus isn’t running anymore,” she confessed.

At least one rider came from afar to take in the new line - and wasn’t disappointed.

“I’m really impressed,” said Richard Kunz, editor-in-chief of the New Electronic Railway Journal, who travelled all the way from Chicago just for the historic opening.

“It is surely one of the best transit systems in North America.”