Under a new plan, the Scarborough subway extension would run directly from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre freeing up money for 12-kilometre LRT.
Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star file photo. A new Scarborough subway extension proposal would result in $1 billion in savings, according to a city hall source.
A new proposal for transit in Scarborough is being hailed as defensible planning while brokering a “peace treaty” at city council and with the province.
A one-stop subway extension from the Bloor-Danforth line along McCowan Rd. to Scarborough’s city centre and the addition of a 17-stop LRT that will connect five underserved priority neighbourhoods all within the same $3.56-billion price tag will be officially announced Thursday ahead of executive committee next week.
After the Scarborough subway extension became one of the most polarizing issues at council in recent memory — with former mayor Rob Ford and Scarborough-area politicians arguing residents “deserve” a subway over a seven-stop, $1.48-billion LRT that was fully-funded by the province — council members from both sides agree the new plan is a vast improvement.
“My job here, I believe, is to get the best possible transit answer I can for Scarborough and I think we’ve really made huge strides forward in that regard by getting now both a subway to the centre of Scarborough and the LRT, and to build enough consensus to make sure it happens,” Mayor John Tory told the Star Wednesday.
“It’s going to develop a much broader base of support, it’s going to be much better from a transit perspective, it has the support of the chief planner ... and I think it’s going to be way better for Scarborough.”
The plan acknowledges Scarborough residents needs rapid transit in place of the aging SRT — not only to get downtown, but to get around Scarborough. The new configuration was developed after chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat approached the mayor’s office in October as criticism toward the controversial three-stop subway intensified.
Councillor Joe Mihevc, who at first backed the three-stop subway and ultimately voted against it in 2013, said the new plan “buys peace in the land.”
The province and federal government are on board with the plan, say city hall sources.
Still, Tory and staff can expect questions over the cost of that political compromise.
Councillor Josh Matlow, who has been the most vocal opponent of the three-stop subway — pointing to a lack of justification for the price tag — praised Tory for bringing councillors together to work on a solution.
“I respect the fact that Mayor Tory has recognized that the initial three-stop subway plan was not the right plan for Scarborough,” Matlow said. “The plan that the chief planner has proposed is something that we can put on the table. There’s still a number of questions that need to be asked.”
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaker, who Tory dubbed the Scarborough subway champion after he pushed the line onto the council agenda in 2013, said he was at first shocked to learn it was being revised.
“We moved heaven and earth to get the Scarborough subway on the map, to get it approved, to get it funded. So in my mind it was a done deal and it was finished,” he said. “Is this an improvement over the subway only plan? I have to say yes. I have to be honest.”
The new proposal cuts out stops at Lawrence East and Sheppard Ave. Senior sources say by removing them, and the need to tunnel north from Scarborough Town Centre to Sheppard Ave., the city can save more than $1 billion. It would be possible to continue the subway north in the future if the need and the funding were available.
The savings would be used towards a different LRT — one that is modified from a line first put forward in the early iterations of former mayor David Miller’s light rail plan called Transit City. That 12-kilometre LRT would be an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown line already under construction — dubbed Crosstown East.
It would connect to both Eglinton and Guildwood GO stations while travelling through the Eglinton East, Kennedy Park, Morningside, Scarborough Village and West Hill communities identified by the city as “neighbourhood improvement areas” — typically low-income areas that lack resources and city funding.
A new plan for transit in Scarborough includes a a one-stop subway extension from the Bloor-Danforth line along McCowan Rd. to Scarborough's city centre and the addition of a 17-stop LRT that will connect five underserved priority neighbourhoods.
The subway provides the express connection to downtown needed to kick-start the Scarborough City Centre, which has seen virtually no commercial development since 1991. The new transit connections would put nearly 5,000 additional jobs within 500 metres of rapid transit stations and 50,000 more people within 500 metres of a subway or LRT station.
The revised plan also prevents the subway from cannibalizing ridership from Tory’s SmartTrack plan. Running on the Stouffville GO line with new stops, SmartTrack would then become more of a local transit service, fed by buses, leaving the express trips to the subway.
There are no ridership projections attached to the plan yet after staff ran an initial study to show SmartTrack and the three-stop subway can’t run side-by-side. The new transit configuration will be run through the same kind of study that was used to provide ridership forecasts for SmartTrack, released earlier this week.
Ford and his supporters had also pushed for a Sheppard East subway extension, something that Star sources say would now cost about $5 billion without providing the same rider and development opportunities.
There is no timeline for completion of the proposed subway extension, but sources suggested 12 years might be a reasonable possibility. The revised one-stop subway could reduce that horizon by a couple of years, they said.
The LRT is already considered “shovel-ready.” Although 19 stops were approved, fewer stops would shorten trip times for users and concentrate ridership in the most needed stations. But LRT stops are relatively inexpensive and, if ridership justified a stop, it could likely be built, said the source.
Benefits of the new plan
The revised plan buys more transit for bus-reliant Scarborough for the same $3.56 billion that was approved for the original three-stop subway. Higher order transit would be within walking distance of about 64,000 people compared to 14,000 today who could access a single subway station and 17 LRT stops. Many of those would be residents in five priority neighbourhoods. Only 14 per cent of Scarborough trips involve transit now. It’s expected that the new LRT would attract many more riders.
Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan becomes complimentary rather than competitive with a subway extension. Riders who want to move north-south in Scarborough will have a fast, efficient route on the Stouffville GO tracks. At the same time, the new plan is seen as being a bridge across the long-standing LRT-subway divide on city council.
Providing a subway connection to the Scarborough City Centre would kick-start development in an area that hasn’t seen commercial expansion since 1991. The new transit connections would put nearly 5,000 additional jobs within 500 metres of rapid transit stations and 50,000 more people within 500 metres of a subway or LRT station.
The LRT would provide the first direct rapid transit connection to the expanding U of T Scarborough campus and the Pan-Am Aquatic Centre. It would not go directly to the Centennial College. However it would increase the number of people within a 45-minute transit trip of the campus by about 8 per cent over the current transit network and by about 10,000 over the three-stop Scarborough subway.
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