photo by Wylie Poon
In the last 100 years, there have been many subway proposals that have come and gone. One of the first serious proposals, in 1911, would have seen streetcar subways built under Yonge, Queen and Bloor streets to feed city and interurban cars downtown. Later proposals called for a Queen Street subway for streetcars or heavy rail, which remained on the books until about 1980. The Eglinton West subway even started construction, until filled in by order of the Harris Conservatives in 1995. Another serious subway proposal that never got anywhere was something called the Downtown Relief Line.
The Downtown Rapid Transit project, or Downtown Relief Line (DRL), was a proposed TTC rapid transit route, first studied in 1985 as part of the Network 2011 rapid transit expansion plan for the City of Toronto. When originally proposed, its primary purpose was to provide relief for the Yonge subway south of Bloor Station and the congested Bloor-Yonge interchange point. Both were becoming severely overcrowded in the lead up to the all-time ridership record in 1988 of 463 million riders.
The first phase of the DRL would have been built to relieve the Yonge line south of Bloor and at Bloor-Yonge Station, by encouraging downtown-bound passengers from the Danforth line to transfer at a point further east to avoid Yonge. Following the study of different route options, the alignment chosen would have met the Danforth subway at Pape Station, running under Pape to Eastern Avenue and across following the railway and Front Street to Union Station and on to Spadina Avenue on the west. A second phase would complete a â€˜U’-shaped line by continuing along the waterfront to the west of downtown and connecting with the Bloor line at Dundas West Station — running under Roncesvalles — providing further relief to both the Lower Yonge and University subway segments. In 1985 the expected cost of the first phase, Pape to Spadina, was $565 million. Early on, the route was intended to be serviced by UTDC (now Bombardier) ICTS trains (similar to those used on the Scarborough RT or Vancouver’s SkyTrain), but was later changed to conventional subway trains.
But the DRL was not to be, and the plan died for several reasons. There was no Mel Lastman-type political personality that pushed to see the subway built, and suburban politicians sought to see their subway projects built instead. In fact, there were no plans for high-density development along the route at the time. Also, after 1988, TTC ridership began to drop, and along with renovations to Bloor-Yonge Station on the Yonge line, this mitigated the overcrowding.
Today, however, we see ourselves back to where we were while the DRL was a serious plan. TTC ridership has climbed significantly in the last decade since the Rae and Harris era cutbacks to service (that also saw the trolley coaches and all but two PCC streetcars leave the streets). Transit City could strain the system more — particularly the Don Mills route dumping passengers at Pape, and to a lesser extent, the Eglinton-Crosstown route unloading more passengers at Yonge. As well, three new major office towers are being built downtown, which will increase the demand for both TTC and GO Transit service to the financial district.
Finally, since the 1980s, there have been considerable changes to the development scene in Toronto. The Distillery District, once a derelict industrial site, has been transformed into a centre for the arts and new bars and restaurants have moved in. Furthermore, new condos are being built in the middle of the historic district that will add more people. A similar process is happening in the Liberty Village area, where former industry is being replaced by medium and high density development. The DRL’s proposed alignment now appears to be even more attractive and, as such, a Downtown Relief Line today would follow a very similar path to the one proposed in the 1980s. Stations at Gerrard, Queen East, Cherry Street, near St. Lawrence Market, Union, Spadina (and on to Fort York, Exhibition, Dufferin/Queen, Dundas/Lansdowne and Dundas West) would be very useful today.
At Queen Street East, the new subway line would intercept the Queen streetcar, providing an opportunity for passengers to the east to complete their trip by subway if they desired. On the west end, a station at Queen and Dufferin would open up Parkdale to rapid transit and intercept the Queen car on the west side. The DRL would also address one of the gaps in the Transit City plan – where no new rapid transit routes are planned for central Toronto – while complementing its suburban network. Best of all, the plan would not put at risk any part of our existing legacy streetcar network, while providing an alternative for crosstown trips across the bottom of the city.
Map by C. Livett and adapted from Network 2011 DRL plan. Larger version can be found here.
While the DRL is currently off the TTC’s radar, it has been included in Metrolinx’s Transit Green Paper as part of a “bold” plan for regional transportation. It still has a place in the imagination of many, including a new Facebook group. With Transit City and subway extensions into York Region committed, should a DRL be the next priority for Toronto transit?