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Subways Owe Big Debt to Streetcars

Toronto Star, Jun. 10, 08:20 EDT, By Joseph Hall

The TTC's original Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subway lines rank among the world's most successful rapid transit routes for one overriding reason.

The streetcar.

For decades before the tunnels were dug below, the original Red Rockets plied the surface of these roadways.

Popular and efficient, they first attracted the vibrant neighbourhoods and business areas that currently line large segments of Bloor St., Yonge St. and Danforth Ave.

A new TTC report, to be released this week, calls on the city to return to this subways-second strategy.

The report, a follow up to last year's Rapid Transit Expansion Study, says Toronto subway lines and extensions built after the original Yonge and Bloor-Danforth routes have failed to thrive because they went at it backwards. It's not, build a subway and they will come, the report says, but build it when they are already there.

"One of the reasons that the original Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subways were successful at the outset was that they were built on an already-existing solid base of high-volume ridership which had been established by the Yonge, Bloor and Danforth streetcar lines," the report says.

"The surface forerunners to the subways provided service frequencies equivalent to a streetcar every 45 seconds. The success of these subways was not dependent on the hope that future development would someday bring riders; the riders were already there." This strategy was abandoned as TTC's Spadina line was built and the Yonge and Bloor/Danforth lines expanded. What replaced it was an optimistic notion that high-density development and transit passengers would follow.

The Sheppard line, still several months away from opening, already seems destined to suffer a dearth of riders.

Sheppard, which was built with the political promise that development around the line would pay its $930 million price tag, has been sabotaged by city officials, the report says.

Through planning amendments and the designation of nearby neighbourhoods as untouchable, city politicians have halved the development potential on which Sheppard was originally predicated, the report says.

In order to avoid similar mistakes in the future, the report calls on the city to do two important things, both of which support Toronto's new official plan proposals.

First, the city should enact planning and taxation strategies that would help shift development toward Spadina, Sheppard and other segments of underused subway lines.

Second, the city, in co-operation with the surrounding regions, should develop a network of rapid transit bus routes that could be the pioneering precursors, like the defunct streetcar lines of yesteryear, to new subway routes.

The report recommends the city:

  • Strike land use, planning and zoning rules for high-density development near existing subway stations and as part of the approval process for new rapid transit lines.
  • Offer economic and tax incentives to make rapid transit-based development attractive to the development industry.
  • Push for new rapid transit bus routes, especially along corridors the TTC has identified as having the most potential for successful subway expansion.

These include, most importantly, the extension of the Spadina subway to York University and beyond and the lengthening of the new Sheppard line to the Scarborough City Centre.




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