Sunday, 22 April 2012

Is the DRL the Answer?

It seems the prospect of a downtown relief line (DRL) is back on the table in the City of Toronto. But is it here to stay?

Since talk of connecting Toronto’s west, south, and east ends via subway began in the early 1900s supporters of the DRL have had little success. The presence of a key ally could make this time around different. Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) CEO, Andy Byford, has come out in favour of the construction of a new DRL, referring to it as a “priority” for the City of Toronto. In defense of his position Byford has recruited Ed Levy, an independent transportation consultant and city planner in Toronto.

Levy advocates directing subway development to the city’s core, where there is a justifiable density. He has stated, “The downtown is starving, and it is being served by the oldest, most constricted stations in the city.” He dismisses arguments that downtowners can walk or utilize streetcars as, “ludicrous.” And he is correct. Advocate of the DRL; and former mayoral candidate, Sarah Thomson, explains: “Downtown Toronto is the heart of our city, but it is clogged with congestion that spreads out to the other main arteries. Building a relief line that takes people east and west under the congestion from Etobicoke to Scarborough will benefit the entire city – the other arteries won’t run smoothly if the heart is clogged.”

Given the transit plans of York Region and GO Transit, it would only be natural to construct an underground transit line east-west near to the water front and north-south back up to Bloor. Included in these developments was a 25-year plan put forward by Metrolinx, which suggests a DRL that runs southwest from Danforth Avenue past Union Station, concluding at a secondary station near Exhibition Place. However, I suggest we be far more ambitious. A DRL could go up into Scarborough and Etobicoke. This would be a way for people from Scarborough and Etobicoke to get downtown without having to venture all the way to Yonge Street.

It may be that the DRL is too downtown-focused and a name that reflects the inclusive nature of the line like the ‘City Loop’ might be a better way to convey the real benefits a line like this will bring to the entire city.

The only problem lies in the cost of the project. Estimated to be a minimum of $4 billion (an extremely conservative estimate); this was the predicted cost of the proposed Sheppard line. The fact of the matter is that this money is not available. The current administration will again need to demonstrate a willingness to impose new revenue tools as a means to pay for its subway dreams. However, following the abandonment of a previous attempt to do just that; the possibility seems unlikely. Worse; it does appear that the city will continue without a fully serviceable transit system that actually meets the future needs and density of a world class city. But with the partisan ‘no-tax’ attitudes limiting the agenda, the practical and long-term needs of Toronto will fall victim. A recent motion for a focused study on financing options (written in part by Sarah Thomson) was moved by Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and passed during the heated LRT debate with only one dissenting vote. Proving that even under fire, there is common ground and offering hope to a divided council.

This is where citizens of Toronto come in. If you live, work, or travel in Toronto; a DRL in to your benefit. Call or email your local councillor to ask them to work with the Mayor and TTC to make the DRL or ‘City Loop’ a reality. This can be done. Toronto needs an administration with the political will to make it happen.

[Originally posted at]

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