Density and Subway Construction

Two recent press items caught my eye:

  • In today’s Globe & Mail, we have an article about residents of Sheppard Avenue who are astounded to find that high density, high rise development is coming to their neighbourhoods.  This development is a direct consequence of the Sheppard Subway line and, indeed, that line’s existence was cited by the Ontario Municipal Board as a reason that the developments should be approved.  Click here.
  • In Thursday’s Metro, Ed Drass reports rather astounding, if sensible, statements attributed to Rick Ducharme, Chief General Manager of the TTC.  Ducharme feels that if the Spadina extension is going to be like Sheppard, without significant, high density development, then it should not be built.  Click here.

As I detailed in a separate post about the early days of the Bloor-Danforth subway, the initial demand on that subway came from an accumulation of existing riding on many feeder services and some parallel streetcar lines.  Development, such as it is, came later, including the building I am living in.  Many subway stations on the original B-D line from Woodbine to Keele have no significant high-density development nearby, or only a few buildings.  Feeder services into the B-D line especially at major terminals in Scarborough and Etobicoke are the source of most of the growth in demand.

Up on Sheppard, there is a strange built form near Bayview Station with a row of distinctive (if not distinguished) high-rises sitting far from the subway down at the 401, and a few buildings in various stages of development at the intersection itself.  According to the Globe article, this arrangement was brokered by Councillor David Shiner (formerly a transit Commissioner) so that the greatest density would be set back from the main street where only medium-rise (8-10 stories) would be the norm.

However, over near Don Mills Station, the developers have other ideas, and they want to put a 36-storey, 2,500 unit condo across from Fairview Mall.  The neighbours are incensed, betrayed and — wait for it — annoyed about the extra road traffic all of this development will encourage.  Already the area is packed with cars, they say, and this will only make things worse.

There are common threads running through this, and I’m only going to make a few points rather than writing an epic.

  • Development should be close to transit service.  If people have to walk a long way to the subway, they won’t.  Densities should fall the further away one is from a station.
  • Medium rise, linear development is more suited to transit with relatively closely spaced stops.  If you don’t want high-rises, don’t plan a subway network.
  • Development at a handful of stations will not, by itself, fund a subway extension.  Most of the projected riding on the Spadina extension comes from feeder services and parking at Steeles West Station (the terminus in the EA study before a further extension to Vaughan was proposed in the recent Ontario budget).  The subway will make high density nodes at stations possible and marketable, but they won’t pay for the cost of building and running the line.
  • Increasing density is coming to the “inner suburbs” like Don Mills, and with it increased traffic congestion.  Transit can only address this if there is lots of it, and it serves a wide variety of travel demands.  One line out into the fields of Vaughan does nothing for regional transit and traffic problems.