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Scarborough or York?

Nov. 12, 2005. 09:25 AM

As 300 Scarborough residents jammed into the former city’s council chamber for two hours to discuss the area’s transit future Thursday evening, Nellie-Joe MacDonald crystallized the sentiment for all of them in one short sentence.

“I often think I spend one third of my life sleeping, and another third waiting for buses,” said MacDonald, who lives in the Warden-Finch area, as a ripple of laughter and agreement spread through the crowd.

Sporting stickers proclaiming “I’m on track,” the newly feisty Scarborough citizens served notice that they want a full-fledged subway to the city’s eastern edge � and if the proposed Spadina subway extension to York University and York Region gets in the way, well, too bad for York.

Take Jocelyn Thompson. A member of the Manse Valley Ratepayers Association in southeastern Scarborough, Thompson takes transit everywhere � and feels her part of the city is neglected.

“We aren’t being served in Scarborough,” she said in an interview before Thursday night’s meeting. “We are being left behind.”

She thinks Scarborough was already short-changed when the Sheppard line was built rather than a Scarborough subway. And now she thinks Scarborough should slide in ahead of the proposed Spadina extension.

“I don’t really care about that,” she says of the line to York University and York Region. “I think that should be put on the back burner, and this (Scarborough) given Number One priority.”

The growing lobby for a subway through the heart of Scarborough is being pushed by Scarborough councillors.

And a dozen or more members of Universal Workers Union Local 183 � who would work on any new line � were visibly backing the project from the audience.

Scarborough and the Toronto Transit Commission are feeling pressure from two sides. Firstly, the existing Scarborough Rapid Transit line (RT) is bursting at the seams, with more riders than it can handle. Secondly, it’s aging: By 2015 the RT cars will be worn out. Since no one makes the small-scale subway-type cars any more, a new technology will probably have to replace it.

Consultant Richard Soberman, who has been hired to weigh the options and consult the public, will present a recommended solution � or more likely a short list of the most realistic options � in the spring.

They include replacing the RT with a dedicated busway; replacing it with new electric-powered surface rail cars that are faster than the current RT; or extending the subway east and north from the current terminus at Kennedy and Eglinton.

A subway might even run beyond the spot where the RT now ends just east of Scarborough Civic Centre, extending north of Highway 401 to serve the Malvern area.

None of the costs are known yet. But the subway option is clearly the most expensive; Soberman guesstimates a range of $1.6 billion to $2 billion. By contrast, you could buy 40 express buses for about $30 million, plus the cost of paving over the RT tracks for a dedicated roadway.

The subway is also the most powerful people mover. It can carry up to 30,000 people an hour, against 10,000 to 12,000 for the fastest of the alternatives.

Proponents of the Spadina extension try to dampen the idea that it’s competing with Scarborough.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be building more than one subway line at the same time,” says Ted Spence, who has spearheaded York University’s lobbying for a subway.

Premier Dalton McGuinty is now in China, he noted: “He’s going to see a country building hundreds of kilometres of subways all at the same time.”

York Region Chairman Bill Fisch notes that the terminus of the new line will be on land north of Steeles Ave. in York Region. He says it’s a mistake to think of only one line at a time.

On the other hand, he points out that the environmental assessment for the York line has been done, and planning is much further advanced than for Scarborough.

“They already have a service that’s good for 10 more years if not longer,” he said in an interview. “That’s the reason I would say that that’s a project on the horizon, not next year.”

Rick Ducharme, chief general manager of the TTC, said in an interview the commission could handle building two lines at once.

“From 1995 to 2003 when we opened the Sheppard line, in those eight years we built six kilometres � six,” he said. “Madrid by coincidence, from 1995 to 2003, built 110. So you can build all you want. Once you put the machine in there, it just keeps churning. All it takes is money.”

City planner Rod McPhail took a similarly optimistic line: “It’s not one versus the other,” he told the Scarborough crowd. “I think the money will come … I think there’s a demand for both of those lines, for sure.”

But Soberman poured some cold water on the idea of proceeding with two lines simultaneously.

“At the end of the day you can only build what you can afford to build,” he told the crowd in Scarborough.

“I quite frankly think it is unrealistic to build more than one subway at a time.”

The prospect of thrusting a powerful, new transportation machine through Scarborough raises unease in some established neighbourhoods. A subway line can’t trace the RT route exactly, because the turns are too tight.

So the route will have to be modified, and construction methods and timetables aren’t yet known.

Marko Oinonen, who lives in the Brimley Rd.-Eglinton Ave. E. area, told the meeting that residents aren’t yet fully aware of the potential disruption, and the possibility of expropriation. Nor do they know about possible noise and vibration of subways passing beneath their homes.

But on Thursday, Jocelyn Thompson best captured the mood of a crowd that clearly wants top-level service, the sooner the better.

“Here we have an overcrowded RT,” she said. “And in the winter it doesn’t even run because the lines are frozen. Let’s get with the program here.”