Union-Pearson Express under construction. Image courtesy of Metrolinx.
Nobody reads about Toronto city planning to cure depression. Yet there’s a funny paradoxical sense that while Toronto is at once tragically inept at city building, we are in fact currently building very important things. Both are true. Let’s leave the gloomy Scarborough snafu behind us. I’d like to round up some positives to to clear up confusion about what’s happening in the city, to describe how it’s going and what it’ll look like. I’ll start with small and get bigger.
A range of improvements to about ten subway stations are either scheduled to start in 2014 or are currently underway, from greater wheelchair access, to better signage, to other general improvements of the type a house needs after decades of functional use. Nobody whoops in excitement over this type of stuff, but I’ve noticed that existing TTC improvements have had a surprisingly large effect on my experience, from electronic signs listing the arrival time of the next train to the aforementioned better signs. You may not feel the full weight of these changes if you commute regularly because they’re coming gradually and they creep up on you, like when you realize one day that a young kid you’ve seen regularly somehow has on his face a moustache.
Next is sidewalk widening along Bloor street west of Bathurst to Landsdowne. The street is also being repaved. In addition, the cumbersome tree planters are being replaced with sleeker ones, leaving more room for walking. The current trees will be replanted in other city parks. Whereas there are currently about 100 trees here, there will be 150 after the revamp. As Honest Ed’s turns into a condo (probably) and the density in this hub increases, this is pretty badly needed. Parking spots and cars turning in traffic won’t be affected, but I don’t see how cyclists can but feel squeezed onto narrowed roads. Maybe offsetting this is a cycle track in consideration on Harbord just south. Though biking on Harbord is currently wonderful, as threat free as bowling on a lane with bumpers.
One of the bigger-scale projects I look forward to is the Don East multi-use trail. They aim to create a large scenic trail in the valley, way separated from cars for pedestrians, cyclists, those in wheelchairs, those pushing strollers, dog walkers, and, if there are any still left, inline skaters. Months ago when looking for a story I waltzed into a planning meeting about this project, but it was in such a preliminary stage that no media were allowed in. I was kindly, kindly shown the door. They have progressed somewhat, as a couple weeks ago the second public hearing took place. Planners briefed the community about the plans and sought feedback. To be sure, construction doesn’t begin until 2014-16. But in that meeting I briefly saw enough to get my beak wet–it’s going to be a sexy trail. Here’s a link with a map showing the tentative trail route and more on the project [PDF].
One of the grand showpieces of new development is the Eglinton LRT. It’s currently hell for drivers to turn left onto Eglinton, and this won’t abate until…who knows exactly. The tunnel boring machines just east of the Allen expressway are there for two years, and digging from there to Yonge, will take approximately a year. That’s if everything goes right. The line won’t be entirely finished until 2020. Remember, it’s impossible for Toronto to build good transit without building it, and inconvenience is inevitable. In the earlier meeting about the Don East trail I attended, they mentioned the path must be accessible to the Eglinton LRT, and the merging of these two future visions confirmed for me that both are actually happening.
The Union-Pearson air-rail express is a biggie. The line itself and improved stations at Union and Pearson and Weston and Bloor have been under construction for a couple months now, and should be completed by the summer of 2015, in time for the Pan-Am Games. Good news and bad. It will take only 25 minutes to get from Pearson to Union and the longest you’ll wait for a train is 15 minutes. But the province has apparently been reluctant to release the price of a ticket yet, as some estimate it’ll cost as much as $20-$30 for a one-way ticket. The initial rate depends on ridership projections, and even a rosy estimate has their rate closer to $30. But it also depends on whether Metrolinx wants to make their money back right away. Such a prohibitive cost might frighten people off the bat, a poor strategy to gain new fans, so they may initially operate at a loss to entice people to try the much vaunted train. It will have wi-fi and washrooms, and I’m sure it’ll be sleek and comfortable, but that’s a pretty penny. It’s approaching the range of cabs, but cars sit in traffic and a cab will likely be more expensive still (but will go door for door). There is still a $3 bus you can take. It’d be sad if it came down to that. There are good pictures of the construction’s progress here.
Last is the York University-Spadina line extension. “Yorkie” and “Torkie” are not white fluffy dogs but the opposite, boring machines 90% finished their work. The other set of boring machines is “Holey” and “Moley.” The good, funny names were the result of a contest. I’d have entered “Andy” and “Dufresne.” The line is expected to be open and running by fall 2016. These completion dates are anything but guaranteed, though the air-rail is specifically set to open in time for the Pan Am Games. Jokes about government inefficiency aside, any construction job can be setback by unanticipated problems, let alone one this big. Godspeed to all the crews out there. And of course to Holey and Moley, and Yorkie and Torkie.
Once subways are expanded up north and to the east, our existing subway lines will be even more strained, but I will not address what needs to be done later here. Hopefully this article has encouraged those poor souls who read the city beat every day to take one step away from the building’s ledge.
Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.