Councillor Josh Matlow

National Post: Downtown Relief Line a ‘priority’ over Scarborough subway, TTC head Andy Byford says

September 25th, 2013

National Post

Natalie Alcoba


Toronto’s transit boss says that if he had to choose, he would pick building a Downtown Relief Line over the contentious Scarborough subway.


Andy Byford made the comment on Wednesday, after the TTC endorsed an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line that would run under McCowan Road, to Sheppard Avenue.


“If I had to pick one, I would choose the Downtown Relief Line,” said Mr. Byford when asked by a reporter.



But the TTC chief executive said it is not as simple as picking one project over the other, pointing out that the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line (SRT) needs to be replaced. “I don’t think it’s a perfect choice,” said Mr. Byford. However, he said building an underground line that connects the Danforth directly to the core remains “the priority” for him.


A Scarborough subway extension is likely to funnel more people to an already packed Yonge, so at the very least planning for the relief line should be done in parallel, he argued.


“The need for a Downtown Relief Line hasn’t gone away and, in fact, it becomes even more pressing if you add a subway extension,” he said.


He also emphasized that funding for the subway cannot be at the expense of repairs to the existing system.


“I will be reiterating those points, just to make sure that councillors remember that it’s not all about Scarborough,” said Mr. Byford following a TTC meeting.


For now, however, attention has indeed settled on extending the Bloor-Danforth line to Sheppard Avenue, where light rail will one day run.


City council first chose to replace the SRT with light rail, but then changed it to a subway. The federal government committed $660-million to a city-approved line under McCowan Road, and Queen’s Park has pledged $1.48-billion, albeit for another, shorter line.


The transit commission weighed in on the two plans at its meeting on Wednesday, with Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker saying it’s time for Scarborough to get its “fair share,” while other commissioners worried they did not have enough information. There was confusion when it came time to vote, with commissioners appearing to first reject the city proposal. The vote was taken again with the city plan approved by 6 to 4.


Councillor John Parker abstained because he prefers turning the SRT into an LRT.


The plan will go before city council for a vote in early October.


Mr. Byford said both an LRT and a subway would work in terms of ridership, but that a subway makes more sense for the future, and the city alignment is best.


The TTC also endorsed motions moved by Chair Karen Stintz reaffirming support for three other LRT lines, along Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard, perhaps a preemptive move to rumblings from Mayor Rob Ford that he wants to take another crack at turning the Sheppard East LRT into a subway.


The meeting also had a flash of drama, when Councillor Josh Matlow seemed to suggest the Scarborough subway effort was more about “courting votes” than evidence. “It just doesn’t make sense to me logically that we would be extending a pipe without dealing with what’s clogged in the middle,” he said, a reference to the DRL, which has no funding and is at least 15 years away.


Chair Stintz demanded he retract the vote courting comment.


Mr. Matlow refused and walked out.


Afterwards, Mr. Byford lamented Toronto’s “way less than optimal” approach to planning transit. “We should be having a calm debate whereby you look at all the data and you properly analyze what’s needed for the city — a network — rather than certainly appearing, how can I put it, to run from project to project based on what is the flavour of the day.”


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