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Hey, TTC: This is How Our Subway Stations Should Look
We spoke to architect and urban designer, Eric Turcotte, about the importance of high quality architectural design within transit infrastructure


                 Rendering of York University station on the Spadina subway extension. Source: TTC

Toronto is changing, and it’s changing fast. Over the the next couple of years, a whole slew of stations will be erected thanks to the expansion of both the Spadina and Sheppard transit lines. But how should these stations look? And what lessons can we learn about transit architectural design from our existing stations? 

We talk to Urban Strategies architect, urban designer and planner, Eric Turcotte, about some of the design flaws that exist in our stations today and discuss his aspirations for the future of Toronto’s transit network. 

Why should we invest in high quality transit architecture?  

To me, investing in transit is crucial. I mean it’s part of the public realm; it’s an extension of our streets. I think high quality architecture is necessary because it enhances the experience of the station; people appreciate going into a building where there is access to natural light and where they can see public art.

Also, these structures will often be the first in a key piece that will set the tone for future re-investment,  for example when people decide to come forward and start fixing the building or start building a development adjacent to it. I think it’s quite important that the quality — the look and feel of it –  sets a positive image that will actually then set the standard for what is to come.

What would you consider to be the major design flaws with our existing subway stations?

I think that many of the stations in Toronto are a design of their time. For example, the stations along the Bloor and University lines, tend to look very similar. There may be subtle differences in the tiling and of course, the names are different but otherwise, everything looks the same.

Signage is also an issue in certain stations, for example, on the south west entrance to College subway station, there is no indication that it is a subway entrance. This is definitely an area where there is room for improvement. However, I do think the TTC has made a lot of effort recently, especially with the extension of both the Sheppard and Spadina lines. They are moving forward and trying to make the experience simpler for users.

How does Toronto’s transit architecture compare to other countries around the world? In your opinion, which country has got it right and why?

I think Toronto has done a pretty good job of integrating some of the transit into their urban fabric and trying to put it in fairly good locations. I do think that other cities like, Munich, Paris, New York, Montreal and London have pushed a lot further though. In these places,transit is part of the identity of the city and is often a source of  civic pride.For me, transit is an integral part of the way we experience and perceive a city. 

For example, Montreal is sometimes referred to as an underground art gallery because there is so much public art.  People are very proud of the system there. Also, Stockholm has got a very interesting system with good architecture. London is a 100 or more years in the making and it’s still fascinating to me. It’s very well branded; their underground logo is extremely recognizable.

I suppose they all generally have different qualities. I think Toronto is probably somewhere in the middle of the pack – we’re not yet at a point where we have a very mature expansive system, like London for example, but we’re definitely getting there. In terms of design, I believe Toronto is somewhat utilitarian compared to other cities.

What kind of an impact do you think the new Toronto — York – Spadina Subway line will have on the city?

I think bringing the subway to York is actually very important. There is an opportunity here to capture some major ridership and lead development. I think it will have a significant positive impact in the long run, but it’s going to take time. In my opinion, it always takes time for these things to fall into place.

What TTC station appeals to you most and why?

It’s hard to pick one; I like Union Station because it’s where everything comes together. It’s not just about the TTC here; it’s about all the intermodal connections, like Go Transit etc. Eglinton West by Arthur Erickson is another interesting building. It’s a very pristine looking building.  

Also, they’ve just redone Victoria Park and I think they’ve done a really good job. It’s a very simple building and they’ve managed to create an integrated public realm there.

What kind of a future do you envision for Toronto’s transit network? 

It should be a completely integrated system, one that is fully interconnected with the other modes of transportation including Subways, LRTs, Cycling routes etc. It will be fully accessible, easy to understand and to transfer from one mode to another. It is also a system where there will be a seamless integration between Transit agencies such as TTC, Metrolinx, YRT, etc. 

Congestion is only going to increase, and transit will be a key area to continue to invest in. The transit system of the future is an essential ingredient that will continue to help us shape our cities, make them more liveable and sustainable.

Rendering of Sheppard West/Downsview Park station on the Spadina subway extension. Source:TTC


Síle Cleary is a regular contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @silecleary.

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