City

Is Smart Track on the Right Track?

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Downtown residents who wonder if anything is being done to untie traffic knots in their neighbourhoods will be glad to know things are being done. An existing stretch of Bremner and Fort York Boulevard running parallel to Front Street and south of the GO tracks has been designed to handle a Light Rail Transit (LRT) service. In addition, Mayor John Tory’s Smart Track plan will take riders across greater Downtown in quick fashion.

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The LRT

Bremner and Fort York Boulevards were built with a median down the centre, not for decoration but to set aside space for a future LRT. All that’s needed is the funding to get the service up and running. For history on the LRT, let’s go back to a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) meeting in June 2008. That’s when the commission received a report called the Waterfront West LRT Connection to Union Station: Fort York-Bremner Boulevard.

Constructing an LRT right-of-way alignment along the Bremner-Fort York corridor to connect Union Station and Exhibition Place is a necessary component of the future Waterfront West Light Rail Line and, says the TTC report, an important service to meet the needs of the rapidly and densely developing Railway Lands and Fort York neighbourhood. It would serve as a dedicated transit right-of-way linking Mississauga, southern Etobicoke, The Queensway and Parkdale with Toronto’s central business district.

The TTC report looked at a couple of options to take the LRT west past Bathurst Street to Exhibition Place. It settled on what’s called the Under the Gardiner Alignment. As the name suggests, the line would pass under the expressway along an abandoned railway path.

Smart Track

The 53-km, Smart Track will have electric multiple unit vehicles (meaning self-propelled cars) rather than diesel locomotives, 22 new station stops (including one each for Liberty Village and Spadina Avenue) and five interchanges with the TTC’s rapid transit network. It’s hoped the seven-year construction phase will have the line in service by 2021.

The estimated 200,000 passengers who will ride Smart Track daily means that as population grows there will be less pressure on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway. Smart Track will be a regional line delivered by Metrolinx, extending beyond Toronto’s borders.

“Smart Track is a bold plan that will connect Liberty Village and the Spadina/Fort York corridor with two-way, 15-minute all-day service across our city. Currently, Liberty Village, CityPlace and the Fort York corridor is under-served with transit options, and Smart Track will make up for lost time and provide the infrastructure needed for this part of the city to thrive. The new transit line will also connect people to jobs and jobs to people while alleviating congestion on the Yonge-University-Spadina Line,” says Toronto Mayor John Tory.

The $8 billion project would be funded by the city, the province and the federal government. The city’s one-third share would come from the provincially-legislated Tax Increment Financing that would let the city dedicate a portion of taxes from development along the Smart Track line to fund its construction.

King West

Traffic on King Street West presents another problem for downtown commuters. It’s common for anxious downtown-destined workers to let streetcar after streetcar pass as they wait for one that has enough room to even squeeze onto. Not a particularly pleasant wait on a cold winter’s day or on a rainy summer’s day.

In an attempt to make things easier for King Street travelers, in January the TTC introduced back door boarding between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for those with Metropasses and transfers.

Mayor Tory has another way to improve commuting time with his announcement that Toronto needs to update its traffic measuring equipment. He wants staff to stop using clipboards and clickers and enter the age of computer software to do the job. Tech companies have been asked to explain how software could track traffic slowdowns via GPS and Bluetooth to warn motorists away from congested areas.

South-Centre Development

Improved transit is a necessity for Downtown’s south-centre. With Diamondcorp’s The Well development in the wings for Front and Spadina and the Mirvish+Gehry Toronto towers slated for King near Simcoe, thousands more people — new residents and workers — are going to need more efficient, frequent and comfortable public transit.

The Mirvish+Gehry condos will have more than 1,940 units, 85,000 sq. ft. of retail space and approximately 115,000 sq. ft. of office space. The project’s website calls it “perfect for financial institutions, public and private sector enterprises, non-profits and other business organizations looking to open a corporate office in a premier downtown neighbourhood.”

The Well is another residential-retail-office complex with lots of open space for pedestrians to wander freely without being bothered by moving vehicles. The word “Well” is developer RioCan REIT/Allied Properties REIT’s way of saying the project is designed to enhance the well-being of those who will live and work there. Within its 7½ acres will be close to 500,000 sq. ft. of retail space, more than one million sq. ft. for commercial use and the same amount of space for rental and condominium units.

With these two projects, along with CityPlace built by Concord Adex Developments, the concentration of office workers, high-rise dwellers and even visitors who make their way to the sights and sounds of downtown Toronto places ever-increasing pressure on the need for more public transit.

“Transit and traffic congestion are among the top concerns I hear in our community. It is important that we invest in those arteries that keep our city and province moving forward. Without these investments, congestion will continue to swell due to the increasing number of offices, condos, and visitors. The significant strains we experience today will continue to grow and aggravate the already delicate transit system. The Government of Ontario is addressing these concerns by dedicating approximately $16 billion to public transit infrastructure for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA),” says Han Dong, MPP for Trinity-Spadina.

It’s interesting to note that on a broader overview, Metrolinx is predicting that the population of the Greater Toronto Hamilton area will reach 8.6 million by 2031. If travelers are left to depend on cars rather than public transit to get around, then congestion will only get worse. That means more social and economic costs: reduced workplace output, more out-of-pocket expense for personal vehicle upkeep and more pollution.

Cyclists and Pedestrians

Toronto politicians and planners are requiring new developments to be pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Wider sidewalks and more public realm spaces are two ways city stewards are trying to accomplish that. They’re also encouraging more travelers to bike to work and play. Separated bike lanes have been installed on major east-west downtown streets such as Richmond and Adelaide. More people on foot and on bikes brings social benefits as people’s daily lives become more active and interactive with others. More pedestrians on the streets tend to create safer neighbourhoods — those with crime on their minds tend not to like crowds.

“We need to re-think how people get around the city. Everything has changed and will only change more. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the priority we place on cars. We need to shift. Pedestrian flow and transit need to be new priorities,” says Adam Vaughan, MP for Trinity-Spadina

With increased public transit and fewer cars, rushing around today’s commuter struggles might just be remembered by tomorrow’s seniors as the good old days.

Dedicated reporter/photographer with expertise in covering daily news, politics, business, lifestyle and human interest features for print and online editions for 5 publications.

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