Text by James Bow
Picture today's subway network.
Now add a subway line from Downsview Station along Sheppard Avenue, past Yonge, to the Scarborough Town Centre.
Now add a downtown subway line stretching south from Donlands Station to the CN railway tracks and southwest, past Union Station to the corner of Front and Spadina.
Now add a subway on Eglinton Avenue from Eglinton West Station all the way to Renforth Drive, where connections could be made with the Airport, and a Mississauga busway.
Imagine the last segments of this proposed network opening for service in the year 2011.
Sound far-fetched? Today, it is. In the early 1980s, however, planners expected that by the year 2000, we would have been riding a Sheppard Subway between Victoria Park and Yonge for the past six years, and would be celebrating the opening of the Downtown Relief Line. This network was thought by some to be the minimum required to keep Toronto streets moving into the 21st century. At the time, there were fears that Toronto's growth was outpacing the rapid transit network supporting it, so TTC planners and consultants drew up this rapid transit plan, and a thirty year timetable in which to build it. The plan was called Network 2011. Unfortunately, politics interfered, and since then, only a bare fraction of this plan is under construction.
The ICTS stall
From the opening of the Yonge subway in 1954, Toronto experienced a subway construction boom. With the opening of the University and Bloor-Danforth lines throughout the 1960s, there was no question of if there would be new subway construction, but where. This continued into the 1970s with the North Yonge extensions and the Spadina line. In 1980, however, when the Kipling and Kennedy extensions to the Bloor-Danforth subway were opened, the TTC reported that these would be the last subway extensions Toronto would see for some time.
Why was the TTC so eager to get out of subway construction? The problem was cost. The per-mile cost of subway construction was rising, and proving difficult to meet, particularly during the onset of the 1982 recession. Planners had also determined that the areas within the city that had the population density required to support a subway line was, at this point, being adequately served by the current network. The TTC, the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario went in search for a new mode of transport that would rapidly move people through the mid-to-low density suburbs on the edge of Metro.
The TTC quickly came up with that mode - a streetcar on private right of way -- but this was not popular with the politicians who wanted a modern mega-project to take to the voting public. The Province focused its effort on building a high-tech Intermediate Capacity Transit System vehicle, and had the TTC modify the Scarborough RT to act as its showcase. At the time, it was thought that ICTS lines could serve as the rapid transit lines of the suburbs, and a major cross-town line from Scarborough to Etobicoke along the Hydro right-of-way north of Finch Avenue was seen as the next project.
A Plan is Drafted.
Between the opening of the Kipling/Kennedy extensions of the Bloor-Danforth subway, and the opening of the Scarborough RT, plans for further rapid transit development stalled, perhaps because the various agencies were waiting to see how the new ICTS system fared. By 1985, some felt that Toronto had fallen behind on its system, and developed a radical plan to catch up.
Network 2011 proposed that construction begin on a new line beneath Sheppard Avenue, initially from Yonge Street to Victoria Park Avenue. Eventually extending from an extension of the Spadina Subway to the Scarborough Town Centre, this route would provide a trunk route between two developing suburban downtowns, relieve dependence upon the Bloor-Danforth subway for crosstown commutes, and offer a strong transit alternative to the growing suburbs north of Toronto.
The Sheppard Subway would be followed by the construction of a Downtown Relief Line. This subway, operating between Donlands Station and Union Station, would relieve pressure on the Bloor-Yonge interchange, and support the Skydome and the Railway Lands development.
Finally, an Eglinton rapid transit line would start operations as a busway between Eglinton West Station and the Mississauga border before being converted to a full-fledged subway. This line would provide a strong transportation alternative to Peel Region, as well as connections to the Airport, and relief to the western end of the Bloor-Danforth subway.
The whole network was supposed to be built by the year 2011, with the first segment of the Sheppard Subway opening in 1994. The ICTS technology was not considered for these lines, as it had proven itself to be too expensive and incapable of handling the loads that some thought these lines would experience. The total cost of the new network was $5 billion.
Subways Become a Political Hot Potato.
`North York Mayor Mel Lastman says the (Sheppard) route should be rejected because it would spell an end to many of the quiet, residential neighbourhoods lining Sheppard Avenue. Instead, he says, Metro should ease traffic congestion for commuters heading downtown by building a transit line next to the Don Valley Parkway.'
- Ross Laver
Even before the TTC released its Network 2011 plan in 1985, these rapid-transit proposals were at the centre of significant political controversy. The Sheppard and Downtown proposals actually started appearing in 1982. The Downtown line was criticized for "focusing development pressure on the core (which) would violate Metro's strategy of decentralizing office growth and throw a wrench into North York's plan for a satellite downtown of office towers and high-rise housing in the Yonge Street-Sheppard Avenue Area". Even the technology caused controversy. With initial plans calling for the Sheppard and Downtown lines to be handled by ICTS vehicles, early reports of ICTS technical problems prompted suggestions that the proposals be delayed until after the Scarborough RT was opened and an assessment made of its strengths and weaknesses.
The Network 2011 proposal represented, in many ways, the end of a two-year long process within the TTC and Metropolitan Toronto establishing the city's rapid transit priorities for the future. At this time, they were able to present the document to the province. Unfortunately, this delay would prove costly.
Had the Bill Davis Conservatives remained in Queens Park a year longer, this plan might have become reality. Ever since the opening of the Yonge Subway in 1954, Conservative governments of the day had provided strong support to the TTC and its major capital projects. However, the release of Network 2011 coincided with the defeat of the Conservatives and the formation of the first Liberal government in 42 years. The Liberals, wary of the $5 billion price tag attached to Network 2011, put the plan under review. Infuriatingly, it was at this time that Highway 407 received provincial funds and took the first steps towards construction.
It wasn't until near the end of the Liberals 1987-90 mandate that they put forward their own proposals. In an obvious attempt to sway the voters of Toronto and the outer suburbs, $400 million was put up for GO Transit expansion, and the following rapid transit projects were proposed:
- A Spadina-Yonge Loop ($600-750 million) running from Finch Station along Hydro right-of-way north of Finch and down Dufferin Street to connect with the already approved Spadina Subway extension at Sheppard Avenue. Having the line run along Steeles Avenue instead, and expanding the loop to include York University were also more expensive possibilities.
- A Sheppard Subway ($2 billion) running from Yonge to Victoria Park -- assuming that North York was successful in raising half of the line's construction funds from private interests.
- A Scarborough RT Extension to Sheppard and Markham Road
- An Eglinton West LRT Line ($450-700 million) running from Eglinton West Station to Black Creek Drive. Bus lanes would extend west from this terminal and connect with a Mississauga Busway along Highway 403.
- A Bloor-Danforth Extension to Sherway Gardens ($250-450 million), quoted as "the easiest proposal to implement
There were also funds set aside for the Spadina LRT and extensions to the Harbourfront LRT, east and west. The total cost of their program was estimated at $5 billion. After three years of lots of study but no action, they entitled the project "Let's Move".
These proposals were delayed again when the Liberals fell to the NDP government of Bob Rae. With the change of power, and a fiscal crisis brought on by a severe recession, plans lagged again, until the NDP announced a $2 billion version of the "Lets Move" plan near the end of their mandate. The NDP proposals included truncated versions of the Sheppard and Eglinton West subways, an extension of the Scarborough RT, and an extension of the Spadina Subway to York University. Metropolitan Toronto agreed to a scaled down version of this plan, only to have the Eglinton West subway line cut when the leaner and meaner Conservatives won the 1995 election and formed the government.
`My biggest fear is that it's going to be built too slowly, and we're just going to get bogged down. We could use all of these (new subway lines) right now.'
- Dennis Callan
The Pittance From The Plan
The Spadina subway extension to Downsview opened on March 30, 1996. In the years that followed, no Sheppard subway came out to meet it and make it an interchange. The Spadina line's extension to York University wouldn't start construction for another 16 years. As a result, for the past two decades, the extension's only benefit has been to reduce the travel times of feeder bus routes which had before operated into Wilson Station. The truncated Sheppard subway, operating from Yonge Street to Don Mills, opened on November 24, 2002, eight years behind schedule.
But this article does not have to end on a pessimistic note. It must be said that the TTC appears to be faring well without this major expansion of its network. The current subways continue to carry people to their jobs, and the system is recovering from the ridership hit it took during the early part of this decade. Part of the success can be attributed to TTC chief David Gunn, who concentrated on the nuts and bolts of moving passengers rather than grandiose plans to expand the network. He caused quite a stir when he questioned the wisdom of funding the current Sheppard Subway when funds weren't available for maintaining the current system.
And while a need exists to rapidly move passengers from and to the outer reaches of Toronto's suburbs, subways may not be the best answer for this. With the density of these areas much lower than is currently serviced by the Toronto subway network, plans may come forward to serve the outlying areas with lower capacity but equally rapid modes of transport as LRTs and busways. Toronto would have been greatly served had politicians gotten down to actually building Network 2011, but without it, Toronto remains greatly served by today's TTC.
Still, it is a little sad to look at what we are getting now, and consider what might have been.
- Howell, Peter. "NDP puts transit expansion on hold." The Toronto Star 13 Oct 1990: pA?.
- James, Royson. "Politicians vying for the first crack at transit 'dough'." The Toronto Star 7 Apr 1990: pA?.
- Laver, Ross. "Rapid Transit: an issue so hot that politicians are putting it on ice." The Globe and Mail 7 Sep 1982: pA?.
- Toronto Transit Commission, Network 2011: A Rapid Transit Plan for Metropolitan Toronto, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), May 1985.