Daring to Dream

Subway Map of 2050?

This is what the subway could look like if I had my way. The Sheppard subway would be extended to the Airport via the 401, Vaughan would get its connection, and the Downtown Relief Line would provide rapid service downtown.

Text by James Bow

(Originally published on December 1, 2000)

Dreams are satisfying, even if they don't come true. Dreams are often unrealistic, apparently unrealizable, but if they didn't envision a world better than the one we have, people wouldn't bother dreaming them, and they might never become reality.

Transit Toronto reader David Aldinger requested that I share with you my dreams. Transit Toronto has primarily been involved with covering the history of the TTC and public transit in Toronto. Although it has advocated greater support for the TTC and expanded public transit throughout the GTA, I have never gone into what I would like to see happen in the next 20, 30 or 40 years. So, because it is fun to dream, I thought I'd share these visions with you.

Expand the Streetcar Network

Toronto's streetcars are often unfairly overlooked as possible technology to be used in establishing intermediate capacity rapid transit networks. I would aim to change that. There are numerous corridors in Toronto that can benefit from streetcar or LRT construction, and these projects would assure the streetcar's place in Toronto's transit picture for decades to come.

To start with, I would build all of the proposals being actively considered. This includes bridging the gap between Exhibition Loop and Dufferin Loop, extending the St. Clair streetcar to Jane Street and reinstating the Junction streetcar. Bridging the gap between the two loops along the north of the C.N.E. grounds opens up the possibility of a Waterfront streetcar operating over good street conditions or private right-of-way from southern Etobicoke to Union Station. This significantly improves the transit picture for the residents of southern Etobicoke, who either take a bus up to the subway or contend with slow conditions along Queen Street.

The extension of the St. Clair streetcar to Jane simplifies the transit structure within the redeveloping Slaugherhouse lands. The Junction streetcar provides an additional connection between the St. Clair tracks and the rest of the streetcar network. It would be hard slogging getting streetcars past the Dundas/Keele intersection, but it couldn't be much worse than what the buses currently face.

Next, as a first stab at bringing streetcars into the suburbs, I would convert the Jane bus to streetcar operation. This route has the ridership to justify streetcar use and, with the extension to the St. Clair streetcar, it is the easiest to connect to the rest of the streetcar network.

At the east end, I would convert the Coxwell bus to streetcar operation. I'm doing this primarily for sentimental reasons but, since I'm the King of Toronto, here, who shall dare question me? Coxwell might also be a good option to connect with a Queens Quay East/Port Lands streetcar running through the proposed Olympic village site. It may also be a good idea to extend the Kingston Road streetcars east into Scarborough. As for the Scarborough RT, when the time comes for us to replace the ICTS cars, I'd modify the line for streetcar operation and consider extending it to Centennial College and the Sheppard/Markham Road intersection.

I would not recommend creating a streetcar subway along Queen Street. The Waterfront LRT and a Downtown Relief Line (discussed later in this article) would reduce the need for it.

Build All the Subways Under Plan, Except...

The City of Toronto already has a reasonable plan for subway expansion. The question is finding the money to get the necessary lines built. I support extending the Sheppard subway east from Don Mills to Kennedy and then southeast to connect with the Scarborough RT at the Scarborough Town Centre. I also support extending the Spadina subway northwest to York University and beyond into the City of Vaughan.

One thing I wouldn't do, however, is resurrect the Eglinton West subway, at least not immediately. Although it could still prove useful at a later date, I think another line should have higher priority for the northwestern part of the city...

Subway 401

One of the greatest deficiencies within the Toronto transit network is the lack of a northern crosstown rapid transit line. The TTC and GO Transit both do great jobs in routing suburban commuters downtown, but any trip from suburb to suburb is hard pressed to compete with the flexibility of the automobile.

Addressing this issue is not easy, but it has already been started with the Sheppard subway. To the west, the aborted Eglinton West subway would have improved travel times for commuters from Etobicoke and Peel Region. These stubs, on their own, do not live up to the potential of the lines once completed, however, and commutes from Scarborough to northern Etobicoke are still frustrated as long as the Sheppard subway doesn't connect with the Spadina line.

There have been a number of proposals for a crosstown rapid transit line across the north of the city, from the GO-ALRT along the Hydro right-of-way corridor north of Finch Avenue to the proposal for a subway along the median of Highway 401. Now that the Sheppard subway is being built, it would be foolish to build a crosstown subway without incorporating this line into the plan.

As I said, I would push the Sheppard subway west to Downsview station, as in the original plans, but I would not stop there. I would then route the Sheppard subway southwest, through the remains of the Downsview air base. The next stop would be at Keele and Wilson (not coincidentally, close to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation headquarters -- one of the least transit-friendly ministry headquarters in the Ontario government) and then the subway would continue southwest, before emerging onto a bridge over the westbound lanes of the 401, and then descending to ground level on a newly constructed median. The subway would proceed at grade, or on an elevated structure, along the median of the 401, to Pearson Airport.

I thought of a number of ways to connect a 401 subway with the Sheppard subway at Yonge Street, and I came to the conclusion that the only feasible way to do this is to extend the Sheppard subway beneath Sheppard Avenue to Downsview. At Sheppard and Yonge, the subway does not have far to go in order to reach the 401, but it has to travel directly beneath a number of residential neighbourhoods to get there. Running through undeveloped Downsview would mean few residents to annoy. And although a subway station at Wilson and Bathurst would serve more people than a stop at Sheppard and Bathurst, there is an issue with a connection with the Spadina subway. The 401 crosses the subway halfway between Yorkdale and Wilson stations, making a connection between a 401 line and either station long and tedious. Providing a connection between the Yonge and Spadina subways at their north ends is important for channelling commuters off of the overused Yonge subway and onto the Spadina line where spare capacity exists. Such a connection would be more convenient at Downsview.

There is also a concern that locating a subway in the middle of a very wide highway could depress ridership. The Spadina subway is less than pedestrian friendly because it is located at the centre of a four lane expressway -- how are people going to like walking over a 26 lane superhighway to get to their subway stops?

But the 401 Subway would have one advantage over Spadina: greater station spacing. Station stops would be almost two kilometres apart on average (Keele, Jane, Weston, Islington, Martin Grove, Carlingview, Airport). Spadina's stations are grouped more closely together than those of the Yonge line north of Eglinton. The prospect of getting from the western boundary to Yonge Street in under 20 minutes and to the Scarborough Centre in under 40 minutes is going to pull a lot of people out of their cars -- especially if parking was made available at the westernmost stations. Steps can also be taken to improve the sidewalks and traffic lights on the bridges over the 401 where the stations are located. Glass in the sidewalks, perhaps?

I would only rough-in one station, at Wendell Road, to serve the redeveloping residential neighbourhood of North Weston.

Build the Downtown Relief Line

Despite my fears over what this subway would do to Toronto's streetcar network, I have become a convert to the Downtown Relief Line. The improvement it would give to downtown commuters (giving them a five-stop trip from Pape and Danforth to Union Station instead of ten via the Bloor and Yonge lines) and the support it gives to the Port Lands and West Don Lands developments makes this subway make a lot of sense.

I would not stop with a Pape and Danforth-Union-Spadina and Front alignment, however. I would extend the subway west to the C.N.E. and I would extend the subway north up Pape, Overlea and Don Mills to the Sheppard subway. This eastern extension brings the subway right through the middle of a large area that is far from any rapid transit route. The connection with the Sheppard subway at Don Mills station provides additional relief for the Yonge subway and may convince more Markham residents to ditch their cars for their commutes downtown.

I would also extend the line west from the C.N.E. along the right-of-way of the CN Weston Sub to the 401. Such an extension would be fairly inexpensive to build (being at grade, except for within Weston, where it might be prudent to put the thing underground), would improve downtown commutes for northwestern residents, and provide the Downtown-Airport rapid transit link that is so fashionable these days.

Stations would be located at Sheppard, York Mills, Lawrence, Eglinton, Thorncliffe Park, Cosburn, Danforth, Gerrard, Queen, the Don River, Sherbourne (the St. Lawrence neighbourhood), Union Station, Peter Street (connection to the Convention Centre and the Skydome), the C.N.E., Queen Street (Parkdale), Dundas West station, St. Clair, Eglinton and Lawrence. It would join the 401 subway past Islington and would operate express to the airport. Travellers boarding trains at the airport could be downtown in less than 30 minutes and could be at the Olympic village a few minutes later.

Extend the Yonge Subway North

Why am I adding all of this relief to the Yonge subway? Because it is time for the Yonge subway to be extended further north -- at least to Steeles Avenue, and possibly into York Region itself. Although it isn't TTC buses which are contributing to the congestion along Yonge north of Steeles, from a regional perspective, there is enough traffic to justify such construction. The shortening of the connecting bus trips to the subway would improve transit trips to such a degree that many would be convinced to get out of their cars on their way into Toronto.

GO Train Extensions

In some ways, some of the GO Train extensions I propose here are consolation prizes should my subway extensions not be built. If the Downtown Relief Line is extended all the way north to Sheppard Avenue, the need for full service on the Richmond Hill GO train diminishes -- although running a single GO shuttle between Richmond Hill and Oriole GO station outside of rush hours could make a lot of sense. Likewise, if the Downtown Relief Line is extended northwest to the airport, the need for full service on the Georgetown line diminishes, except maybe running as an express from Union to Malton and then serving all stations through Brampton and Georgetown.

But we can do with increased GO service everywhere. The Lakeshore GO line should be extended east and west to Bowmanville and Hamilton and service increased to half-hourly intervals. The Milton GO Train should be given full service and extended to Cambridge. The Bradford GO Train, the Stouffville GO Train, Richmond Hill and Georgetown all could use additional service. GO Transit is the subway for the Greater Toronto Area, and if the above subway extensions for the City of Toronto proper aren't built, the need for this service grows.

Busways in the Outer Suburbs

Ottawa has proven the success of busways as a mode of rapid transit. In cases of ridership demand up to 10000 passengers per hour, buses operating at 80 km/hr on bus-only roadways are more than up to the task. They are cheaper to build than subways or LRTs as well. Proposals are already being considered to bring busways into our very car-friendly suburbs. I would support these initiatives and integrate these into my proposed network.

Peter Drost writes about Mississauga's proposal for a busway spanning its city. I would modify the proposal slightly to terminate the busway at the Airport subway station. Another busway would follow Highway 407 from central Mississauga across the top of Toronto and into Durham Region. I would also build a busway east from the Scarborough Town Centre (and the eastern terminus of the Sheppard-401 subway) into Pickering to link up with the 407 busway. This way, commuters in Mississauga not only have good, rapid access to downtown Toronto, North York and Scarborough, but they have the choice to bypass Toronto entirely and commute all the way to Pickering

Such busways may not have the glamour of a subway or an LRT, but it will get the job done.

The Airport Hub

Under my rapid transit expansion plan, the Airport becomes a significant transit hub, especially with the connection to the Mississauga transitway. It would make sense to at least run all western inter-city buses through this hub as well, so that passengers entering the city from the west are presented with more options to get through the city. A people-mover would connect this transit hub with the terminals of the airport, and a new Woodbine GO station for connections with Georgetown GO Trains and VIA trains from Kitchener and London. Options are key to getting commuters out of their cars, and the Airport makes for an obvious gateway.

The Costs

Now we allow reality to come in and cloud our dreams. It's one thing to talk about expanding Toronto's subway network, but it is another to pay for it. And the proposals made here come with hefty price tags:

  • The Downtown Relief Line from Pape and Danforth to Union Station was estimated at over $500 million in 1985 dollars. Extending the line to Don Mills and Sheppard would cost at least that much more. The western extension along the railway tracks would be cheaper for being on the surface, but depending on the length of the extension, it would probably run to an additional $500 million.
  • Environmentalists Plan Transportation proposed a rapid transit link running along the median of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Pickering Town Centre. They estimated the cost at $4 Billion. The Sheppard subway is already built from Yonge to Don Mills, but extending it to the Scarborough Town Centre is likely to cost about $1 Billion. Add $500 million to extend the subway to Downsview, and then underground tunnelling to Keele and Wilson, and you easily have a $2.5 Billion project with my 401 Subway proposal. Creating a median in the 401 doesn't come cheap.
  • Extensions to York University and beyond into Vaughan are likely to cost in the $750 million range, although Vaughan will likely pay for a portion of that and is encouraging the provincial and federal governments for help.
  • Extending the Yonge subway to Highway 7 will probably cost at least $1 Billion
  • The streetcar extensions don't come cheap as well. The Waterfront connector will likely cost $15 million. The St. Clair extension, plus Junction reinstatement, would probably cost $60 million. A Jane streetcar from Bloor to Steeles would probably cost $240 million.
  • All of this costing doesn't include the costs of purchasing new equipment to handle the increased demands on the fleet. Also, such an increase likely pushes the TTC's streetcar and subway facilities well beyond capacity, requiring space for new yards, at significant cost. You're probably looking at an additional $1 Billion.

But at least dreams are free.

However, at some point, somebody's dreams are going to have to become a reality. By 2020, the Greater Toronto Area is going to grow by 2 million people. The City of Toronto hopes to house 1 million of those people. Our roads can not handle this increased demand, and increasing our road network is not an option.

My dreams, though pie in the sky costing at least $13 Billion, still create an extensive subway network offering a one seat ride from the western boundary of Toronto to the Scarborough Town Centre, via Downtown North York. It pushes subways deep into Southern York Region and opens up more of the city to rapid transit, or its streetcar feeder network. It would give commuters considerable incentive to get out of their cars. Failure to make headway in our battle against autodependency is going to cost us as well, probably several times more than the $12.25 Billion price tag quoted above.

Perhaps this realization will spark political will to make the necessary changes. With sufficient political will, all dreams can come true.


Our Readers Dream Too...

Martin Abela writes: James Bow has appointed me Emperor of Toronto! A great opportunity to use my years of field research on transit in Toronto to design a system that will make Toronto a great place to work, live, and play. My guiding principal will be that every location in Toronto must be within a 15 minute bus ride from a RT station. To make this happen, our existing subway lines must be completed. Sheppard will stretch across the north end of our city from Scarborough Town Centre all the way to Downsview, then on to stations at Keele and Jane. Both the Yonge and Spadina lines should go north of Steeles - at least to massive commuter parking lots at the 407.

The Scarborough RT must also be extended, to provide transit access to both east-west subway lines, and to a new high density, low parking redevelopment of the Scarborough Town Centre area - complete with expanded green space! The SRT would branch at Scarborough Station. One branch northeast to Centennial College at Markham, north to Shephard, and east to Neilson. Another branch would go straight up McCowan, with stops at Finch, Steeles, 407, Highway 7 and 16th Ave. Those lines would pull transit riders in from the suburbs - but everyone must be able to travel around Toronto as well.

The Downtown Relief line should start at Don Mills Station at Shephard, head straight down Don Mills, past Pape station, right to Union past the Ex, and north again via Roncesvalles, up to Bloor. The Bloor/Danforth line would be pushed one more stop in each direction - to Sherway Gardens in the west, and Eglinton GO station in the east. As for surface routes - all wide suburban roads will have streetcar routes with private right of way. Steeles, Finch, Lawrence, Warden, Victoria Park, Wilson, Jane, Keele will see next generation low-floor, air conditioned electric rail vehicles. Eglinton's streetcar will run from Kennedy Station right across to Martin Grove Rd. Between Leslie and Keele, in the high density areas, it will be a streetcar-subway, but (with one or two exceptions) rising to surface stations. The subway portions would be express - so stops only at Bayview, Mount Pleasant, Yonge/Eglinton, Avenue, Bathurst, Eglinton West, Dufferin, Caledonia and Keele.

I will also overhaul GO transit. We will expropriate all track used by GO in the GTA. We will double-track the Richmond Hill, Stoufville, Georgetown and Milton Lines. Service on all lines will be hourly, 7 days a week, as it currently is on the Lakeshore line. The TTC and GO will be merged - taken over by the GTSB. No shakeup to operation - but the subway and RT will be taken out of the current TTC fare structure, and moved to GO zone fares. To travel two or three subway stations will cost $1.50 - but Subway from Scarborough to York University will be $4, and the longest trip - 407 to Union will be $5. That will be the same cost as the toll to bring a private auto on to the DVP or Gardiner. The bus system will use smart cards to implement a timed transfer system. One hour for a buck. If you ride the bus for 15 minutes to a subway station, a swipe inside the fare-paid zone of the subway turns off the timer, then back on when you leave, so after the subway portion you can resume your bus ride.

This will result in the most transit-friendly city in North America. Our current problems with congestion will seem like turn of the century nostalgia.


Joyce writes:Re-vamp the fare system to include a reduced-rate metropass to those not driving to parking facilities on TTC property.

Make streetcar routes ROW wherever streets are wide enough to accommodate cars on 2 other lanes each way. Revive the Eglinton subway line and extend it out to Pearson Airport. Extend BD to Sherway Gardens.


Christopher Livett writes: I believe that the greatest thing for Toronto would be a convenient, integrated transport system. Although I would question the merit of combining all the GTA transit systems together, I would merge the local ones for each region (York Transit, Peel Transit, Durham Transit, etc...), with each of the being run by a larger GTA transit commission. This would help insure both individuality and reliability as well as integration and cooperation.

I would then look into improving the GO system into more of a European S-Bahn System. High frequencies, quick smooth electrified trains, and reliable service. With express tracks, so that areas as far out as Kitchener, Peterbourough, Hamilton, etc wouldn't have to suffer from a 30-stop ride into the city, but more stations within Toronto to provide more of a subway level service.

I would then look into some different ideas for more local areas. Bus Lanes, Busways, and Light rail for communities like Brampton/Mississauga, K-W, Hamilton, Durham, etc.. would make local trips more attractive. Over all, I would make sure to create an integrated ticketing system, with 'Zones' insuring cheap local trips, but still economical trips of longer distances.