Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

A TTC downtown relief line is 28 years overdue

By: Metro Toronto Published on Mon Oct 21 2013

With all the divisiveness and politics surrounding Toronto’s transit planning, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the TTC’s next priority for expansion has been obvious for decades.

It’s the downtown relief line.

Also known as the Commuter Relief Line, the City Subway Loop or simply Subway Number 5, the line is planned to route across the city south of Eglinton like a broad U, providing an alternate route to the city’s central business district and taking pressure off the overcrowded Yonge Line.

It’s been identified as a major priority for the TTC since at least 1985, when it was enshrined in an ambitious transit expansion plan called Network 2011. For context, 1985 was also the year Wham! topped the charts with Careless Whisper and movie-goers got all excited about seeing Rocky IV — the one where Rocky defeats the Soviet Union by punching a guy.

Yes, Toronto has been dithering about with other transit plans while decidedly not building this high priority subway line for 28 years.

Lately, though, there have been signs that we’re finally making progress — maybe.

On the positive side, recently-installed TTC CEO Andy Byford has been a strong advocate for the line. His voice has been joined by some key advocates on Toronto City Council, like Coun. Josh Matlow.

But that momentum has been slowed by those who want to first push forward with suburban transit expansion, even though most of those projects will only push more commuters onto the Yonge subway.

Take Mayor Rob Ford as an example. Earlier this month, Ford — probably the most ardent supporter of suburban subways — mostly dismissed the notion of the relief line, saying that he thinks downtown residents have enough subways already.

It’s not a good argument, but it’s a common one. Part of the problem is the name —“downtown relief line,” with its emphasis on downtown, makes people think this will be some kind of premium service for latte-sippers heading out to buy artisanal cheese.

In reality, the line would be most useful to those who need to get downtown, not those who already live there. But supporters need to do a better job of making those benefits clear.

The other issue preventing political momentum from building behind the relief line has to do with the politics of the situation. Toronto politicians have never had their feet held to the fire over the relief line, leaving them free to mostly ignore it.

After decades of inaction, the coming municipal election is an opportunity to change that. I’m making it clear right now — any candidate who wants my vote has got to lay out a credible plan for building the relief line. No excuses.

It’s been 28 years. Let’s get on with it.

This post was originally published at on 2013-10-21T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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