Here's my wish for Toronto: Stop Building Subways.
Okay, continue with the only one that's actually being built – the TYSSE, which has been near completion for quite some time now. But stop building all of the other ones that we keep talking about building. No Scarborough extension. No Downtown Relief Line. No extending the Yonge line into Richmond Hill. Stop all of it.
Instead of building subways – Building Subways – let's actually build transit instead.
What I want to see is a network of LRT routes that span the city. It must be comprehensive and expansive, equitable and accessible. It must be a complete system in its own right that overlays on top of the subway system, and not just segmented stubs of feeder routes. It's good enough that people choose to use it on its own merits, and capable of getting them to their varied destinations with a minimum of delays and transfers.
Subways are the old network. They're great, if they can be reached easily and if there's enough room left to squeeze onto a train, but only a small portion of the city can manage that. The rest are stuck with long commutes on slow buses that are only meant to get people to and from the subways, which are themselves only meant to move people to and from the city core. We need something new.
Don't build the Scarborough extension. Use the three billion dollars that one stop would cost to bring rapid and comfortable transit farther across Eglinton, along Kennedy and Markham, and on Finch from Ajax to Mississauga. Other east-west lines can run along Sheppard, co-opting the lightly used subway tunnel, Wilson-York Mills-Ellsemere, and along Lawrence to Don Mills from the east and from the airport via Dixon to Yonge from the west.
Don't build the Downtown Relief Line. Build an LRT that will run along the same base Danforth-to-Queen route, but extend it all the way to Steeles along Don Mills, creating another north-south spine. In the west it extends to Roncesvales, where it would also meet the LRT line that runs along King through the core and along Queen to the beaches. Either of these lines could be extended to provide seamless service farther west along Lakeshore.
Don't extend the Yonge subway. Start an LRT at Harbourfront and just keep building it north beyond the city limits. This gives the Yonge line some much-needed redundancy, and it will let the underground trains skip Summerhill, Rosedale, and Wellesley stations during peak times. Which is pretty much all of the time, really. Other north-south links in the west end would be a natural fit for Kipling or Islington, Jane, and Dufferin.
But this is just a broad ouline, really, to get the scale of the idea across. I'll leave drawing the actual lines on the map to those more qualified to do it – politicians – but the key is that it shouldn't be more than a medium walk, or a short bus trip, to a fast and reliable network. We had that once, back when the city was smaller, and can get back to it again.
Neither the TTC nor the city planners are adverse to changing their minds, but we collectively need to lose our tenacious commitment to increasingly bad options. Subway extensions are increasingly bad options. They're massively expensive, and despite their tremendous ribbon-cutting potential, they don't work for the sparser areas of the city that need better service now.
Imagine a new network of fast short trains that can serve the entire city, corner to corner. It's comprehensive, expansive, equitable, and accessible. Hour-long bus trips that feed the subways are a thing of the past; the new network is so good that it's pulling riders out of the strained subway system as well as taking drivers out of their cars.
We could build this. It would be quick and inexpensive, compared to the crushing eternity of subway expansion, and serve vastly more people.
We could build this. We won't – but if we wanted to, we could.