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Toronto mayoral candidate announces regional express line

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Yesterday Toronto mayoral candidate, John Tory, proposed a transit line called SmartTrack. It’s part of his One Toronto transit plan. If you’re interested in watching the full 30 minute announcement, click here.

As somebody who came out of the gate as a strong proponent of the “Yonge Relief Subway Line” (and as somebody I immediately supported for that reason), this proposal first hit me yesterday as a disappointment. Not because I don’t think we need a regional express rail network in the region (we do), but because I feel that he is backing away from that initial commitment and depriving the core of the transit infrastructure it needs.

As soon as I found out about the plan, I immediately emailed one of my friends at Metrolinx. I told him I thought it was an “epic fail”. He pushed back and asked me to consider the merits of Tory’s plan. After having slept on it (and calmed down), I’m now prepared to talk about both the benefits of SmartTrack and why I was disappointed. 

SmartTrack is basically a regional rail plan, intended to move people from the outer and inner suburbs to and from downtown using an integrated fare system. That is, riders will not have to pay a separate fare to transfer from subway to SmartTrack. 90% of the track needed for the plan is already existing, which means it will be cheaper and quicker to build compared to the full relief subway line. It will also bring employment centers such as Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga into the transit network. For these reasons, the SmartTrack plan would certainly be beneficial for the region. 

But, there’s a densities mismatch.

If you look at the number of stops proposed in Scarborough and Markham, and compare it to the number of new stations proposed for downtown (1 – Spadina station) and the downtown shoulder neighborhoods (2 – Liberty Village and the Unilever site), the plan starts to look lopsided. SmartTrack would help residents of downtown get out to the suburbs, but it would do little to help them move in and around the core.

If you look at the way Toronto is intensifying on a map, it looks like an upside down letter T. Density now hugs the waterfront and then follows our subway lines up north. I believe that the SmartTrack plan would help to relieve the pressures on those subway lines, but I don’t think it adequately addresses the bar of the T that now runs parallel to the lake.

So while I do think that the Toronto region would be well served by regional express rail, I don’t think we can forget about the central part of the city. This shift in focus may have something to do with where Tory believes his voter base now sits, but let’s not forget that there’s a strong correlation between population density and transit ridership levels. 

Now, let’s hear from you. What do you think of Tory’s One Toronto plan and SmartTrack proposal?

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