Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Councillors and mayor must support a downtown relief line

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Oct 19 2012

The great litmus test of Toronto's 2014 municipal election is already here. Every candidate—for mayor or for council—must be asked a simple question: Do you support the downtown relief line?

A report released yesterday by the Toronto Transit Commission makes it clear that there's no more room for delay. If we don't build this new subway line—with a first phase linking downtown with Eglinton & Don Mills through the east side of Toronto—the city's core will find itself overwhelmed with gridlock and jammed-pack transit vehicles within the next two decades.

This isn't a time for equivocating or calling for further study. It's not a time for lamely fighting for vanity subway lines into other wards, all in the name of satisfying suburban angst. And I'm tired of suggestions that we simply wait around for the province to discover a new zeal for spending money on transit in Toronto.

The job now is building a vital piece of infrastructure that will ensure Toronto doesn't descend into transportation chaos. By 2031, the residential downtown population will swell by another 83 per cent. At the same time, another 100,000 people will find jobs in the downtown core. All told, the strain on our transit network is expected to increase by 55 per cent.

In other words, take your current commute and make it 55 per cent worse.

The TTC report warns that such an increase will cripple capacity on the Yonge subway line, eliminate any remaining room on some inbound GO Transit routes and overwhelm stations like Union, King and Bloor-Yonge. Downtown streetcars, even the shiny new ones currently being tested, won't be able to pick up the slack—especially when their ability to operate in mixed traffic is further curtailed by increased gridlock on city streets.

This isn't simply a downtown issue, despite the names the engineers have given the line. In a DRL-less future, it's the commuters coming from outside the core that would suffer the most.

Alternative strategies to the DRL, like longer trains or computerized operation, have been effectively ruled out as only stopgap measures. There's not a lot of wiggle room on this. It's DRL or bust.

So, come 2014, this has got to be our litmus test for serious candidates. If a politician can't understand why building this subway line must be the city's next transit priority, they should go find some other job. We don't need them here.

And it's not enough to just pay lip service to the idea. Build-out of a genuine phase one of the line — one that extends beyond the Bloor-Danforth line up Don Mills — will cost at least $5.5 billion. That's money that has to come from somewhere. And it's not going to fall from the sky, no matter how many times politicians like Coun. Doug Ford click their heels together and repeat the words “private sector.” This city needs elected officials brave enough to talk about taxes, tolls and fees without breaking into cold sweats.

This post was originally published at on 2012-10-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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