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Subway in Scarborough's future

Mayor Ford’s end to Sheppard LRT plan gets mostly positive reviews

by Mike Adler

On Wednesday, Dec. 1, afternoon, Devin Horne sat alone in a large, silent Scarborough office of the Sheppard East Light-Rail Project.

Metrolinx and the TTC had planned to keep Horne, a community liaison, here running meetings and receiving the odd curious visitor until the Sheppard East Light Rail Line, already under construction, was finished in late 2014.

Now, with Mayor Rob Ford’s announcement that the Transit City LRT plan “is over,” that future is suddenly in doubt. And some Scarborough residents, including city councillors who dreamed of Scarborough subway lines long before Transit City came together, are elated.

The news is fantastic, said Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson, who sees Ford’s campaign pledge of a Sheppard subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre and a subway conversion for the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line, completing a loop to Kennedy Station, as a way to unlock Scarborough’s huge growth potential.

It’s also the right way for the rest of Toronto to welcome Scarborough’s people as “fully-vested partners in an amalgamated city,” he said on Wednesday.

Named the city’s new economic development chairperson by Ford, Thompson didn’t sound bothered by challenges in getting the much greater ridership subways require to pay for themselves, and called the billions in added costs for subways a gamble worth taking.

“If you build it, they will come,” he said. “Even if they’re not crowded, that’s not a bad thing.”

The new mayor’s plan must still pass the TTC board and find favour with the province, which put up the bulk of the money for the Sheppard LRT and light-rail on the Scarborough RT route, as well as a light-rail line under Eglinton Avenue and another on Finch Avenue West.

Norm Kelly, who like others on Scarborough Community Council voted years ago to accept Transit City, said he preferred a subway all along and support for a line to Scarborough Town Centre remains strong in the Agincourt area he represents.

“The LRT is not, in the eyes of many residents, a long-term investment,” the Scarborough-Agincourt councillor said, adding a subway, though it would take longer, may be worth the wait.

Not everybody agrees.

Scarborough Centre Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, another re-elected councillor and a Transit City supporter, argued Ford’s subway plan “will actually rob a lot of people of mass transit” and result in some being “stuck in buses forever.”

Though the public saw little of it, the years of planning and raising money were “90 per cent” of work the Transit City plan needs and the city should not lightly throw that away, he said.

“In the end, Scarborough may get nothing,” De Baeremaeker said, warning residents would not want the much-higher densities - including high-rise condominium towers - that go with subways.

Resident Patricia Sinclair called such arguments “fearmongering,” and said subways are important for Scarborough because they can “uplift communities” by bringing them prosperity and helping people get to work.

An LRT network cannot do this, insisted Sinclair, part of a group, Save Our Sheppard, which has protested the light-rail line for two years.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” she added Wednesday.

“I don’t want to pat myself on the back until we can name the subway stations.”

Even a resident of Rougeville, a subdivision at the eastern end of the Sheppard LRT line, said he would approve cancelling the project, though a Sheppard subway extension would turn south far from his community.

The LRT “would result in a traffic jam” and become “become obsolete very quickly” said Shamoon Poonawala, a member of a small ratepayer group.

Poonawala said many in his neighbourhood look forward to seeing the LRT reach Conlins Road, but most of those “are unaware of the flaws that system would have.”

Some residents also want to avoid having a “noisy” light-rail vehicle storage and maintenance yard at Conlins “close to our kids” at a future community school, Poonawala said.

Mark Bozian, chairperson of the Sheppard East Village Business Improvement Area, said the 500 merchants and professionals it represents are in a holding pattern. The group drafted and sent an email to Ford on Tuesday, hours after hearing the Sheppard LRT may be cancelled.

“We want to know where this thing is going,” Bozian said.

“We were told it’s an LRT; we’re prepared for it. If it changes to a subway, we’ll prepare for that.”