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E-BLAST: What does new transit mean for Don Valley North?

I know many of us aren’t taking transit the way we used to. TTC ridership has plummeted over the past year as regular commuters started working from home or switched to other modes. Transit might not be top of mind for you right now, but it’s crucial that we continue to work towards our transit goals. We desperately need an expanded and properly-funded transit system, and that work can’t happen overnight.

Last week, there was much fanfare about an infusion of federal dollars into major transit projects across the GTA. The bulk of this $12 billion commitment is focused on four very specific projects, none of which will run directly through Don Valley North. At first, it was disappointing to see that none of these projects connect directly to our neighbourhoods. However, after several days of mulling over the announcement and taking stock of other transit projects already underway, I came to the conclusion that our rides will be improved by these new projects. They will create more options for getting where you need to go.

When I was growing up in Don Mills, getting yourself to Eglinton Station was everything. We would beg our parents to drive us down to Eglinton Avenue so we could catch a more frequent bus. I remember pleading, “Please, mom! We won’t have to pay a second zone fare if you just take us down to Eglinton and Leslie. Please!”

Decades later, when my daughter started going to high school downtown, she would say, “Just drop me anywhere on Don Mills Road. It’s way less crowded if I take a bus down to Pape.” That rocked my world. It was never an option in my youth, when the Don Mills bus came so infrequently that you would freeze to death in the winter before you got on.

Thankfully, transit options in our suburbs evolve as ridership patterns change. These days, the Don Mills bus arrives every two minutes. Bus service also changes when new subway and LRT lines are built, connecting existing routes to the new bus terminals in their stations. So while these upcoming projects won’t run directly through Don Valley North, they will provide new connections to the rest of the City. Let’s take a look at them.

The four transit lines that Federal Minister McKenna announced last week are not new. What is new is the commitment from the Federal Government to fund 40% of their cost, while Provincial/Municipal agreements will cover the rest. This federal investment will see these four transit projects prioritized:

  1. The Yonge Subway Extension which continues Line One up into Richmond Hill

  2. The Scarborough Subway Extension which extends the Bloor-Danforth subway through Scarborough Town Centre and up to Sheppard Avenue

  3. The Ontario Line which will run from Ontario Place downtown to the Science Centre at Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue

  4. The Eglinton Crosstown West LRT Extension which takes the crosstown all the way to Mississauga, where it can connect to the MiWay transit system

I do have some concerns about aspects of this plan. For instance, the agreement to prioritize the Yonge Subway Extension to Richmond Hill will add passengers to an already overloaded Line One. Thankfully, the TTC Commission has received funding commitments over the last few years that will be used to massively increase capacity on the Yonge Line. The TTC has used the reduced ridership during the pandemic to massively expedite installing an automated control signal system that will allow us to safely run more trains on the line and increase passenger capacity by almost 30%. However, we’ll need to continue this work to accommodate increased ridership from this new extension.

The biggest disappointment, of course, is that the Sheppard subway extension isn’t included and will thus be pushed even further into the future. However, I still believe these projects and others already underway will deliver new options for transit riders in Don Valley North.

The new station at Eglinton and Don Mills is going to provide a major connection to the rest of the City. If you haven’t been through that intersection in a while, you may not recognize it. Not only is the old IBM plant flattened and a massive new residential development under construction, but a large new bus terminal sits waiting for when the Eglinton Crosstown opens. Think of the number of journeys we might make by taking a Don Mills express bus to Don Mills and Eglinton, where we can then get on the Ontario Line to head downtown or the Eglinton Crosstown which will stretch all the way from the Airport to U of T’s Scarborough campus.

Outside of these new TTC projects, there will also be new and improved options for our GO users in the coming years. Both Oriole GO Station and Agincourt GO Station are going through major transformations. Agincourt Station is being improved and prepared for increased ridership, including all day, two-way service. It will also have better pedestrian connections for those getting off the Sheppard bus to take a fast GO train downtown. Plans have also been submitted to connect Oriole Station, located at Leslie and the 401, to the Leslie subway station, which I started advocating for as soon as Leslie Station became part of my ward. These station improvements will make it easier to access express rail service to Union Station and slightly lessen the load on the Yonge subway line.

Finally, I want to remind you that while new transit projects are exciting, we need to take care of the system we have. As a TTC Commissioner, this is my chief responsibility. My fellow board members and I are tasked with maintaining and upgrading our existing system so that it can continue to serve you as best as possible.

Since I returned as Commissioner at the beginning of this term, I have been lobbying at every level of government for new vehicles to be ordered. I have been as repetitive as a broken record on this subject. Our TTC senior staff took inventory of our existing fleet and informed us that we would run woefully short of buses, subway cars and streetcars by the end of this decade. That would impact every Torontonian. Unreliable transit vehicles and reduced service drives people off the system and puts more cars on the road. Thankfully, along with the new lines, we have a multi-government funding commitment to order the new vehicles we need.

Every new transit project announced will help us, but it’s important to remember that what will help us most isn’t even a new line on the map. It’s brand new vehicles for the ride you take every day.

It’ll be many years until we can all enjoy our new, expanded transit lines. Until that day comes, I’m going to keep working hard to maintain and improve our existing system to continue serving Toronto residents. Now, all we need is for the pandemic to end so we can hop back on the bus and go to work.


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