This is a companion article to one of the same name on the Torontoist website in which I argue that Toronto should have a subway line from Front & Spadina to Eglinton & Don Mills. Formerly known as the “Downtown Relief Line”, this should be called the “Don Mills Subway” and there should be no pretensions about it stopping at Danforth.
Drawing subway lines on maps, especially for the DRL, has been a cottage industry among transit advocates and city watchers for several years, and everyone has their preferences. I have stayed away from that territory most of the time because the torrent of comments (including a long thread on this side) is more than I care to moderate.
However, the Don Mills line needs advocacy and a good indication of what it might look like to counter the “downtown has enough subways” drivel dished out by Mayor Ford.
My proposed alignment is not intended to be definitive although parts of it are locked down to make specific connections and to take into account physical constraints on the route’s placement. Other alignments are possible in places, but I don’t want to revisit that discussion in excruciating detail when the basic purpose is to show what a new line could achieve.
Spadina & Front Station: This station would be part of a proposed Metrolinx/GO western Union Station to be used by services originating in the northwest corridor so that capacity at Union can be released for remaining routes. An extension west from this location to serve new development at Exhibition Place, for example, would be possible.
Note that I, like Ed Levy in his own proposal, treat the Weston corridor as a separate “DRL West” service to be operated as part of the rail network, not as an extension of the subway which for technical and regulatory reasons is extremely unlikely. We are far more likely to see the Union Pearson Express trackage repurposed for this than we will see a subway line in the corridor.
Northeast from the intersection, there is an open patch of land between existing buildings that once was the freight lead from Spadina Yard into the freight terminal where Metro Hall and Roy Thomson Hall now stand. This alignment can provide a path for the subway to travel diagonally northeast to Wellington Street.
Front Street through downtown is no longer available for an east-west subway as was once proposed because of the expansion of Union Station. Wellington is far enough south to allow a connection to the proposed Union West station at Spadina without requiring (as a map in a Metrolinx report proposed) a diagonal alignment from Queen southwest to Front through the footings of several new towers.
Wellington makes comparatively easy connections with the existing subway at:
St. Andrew Station: The station is nominally at King, but the structure extends somewhat to the south. A parking garage sits on top of the subway structure, and a pathway through it could link a station at Wellington into the existing St. Andrew Station.
King Station: The box making up King Station extends well south of King Street and includes the Melinda Street exit on the west side of Yonge as a reference point. A station at Wellington would be only a short distance south of King Station.
Continuing east on Wellington, the street merges with Front at Church Street. This is the middle of a large and growing concentration of residential buildings. Stops could be placed at:
Jarvis Street (St. Lawrence Market): This location is a major centre for the community and far enough east of Yonge to serve a distinct set of demands.
Continuing east on Front the alignment from Parliament to the Don River could be via Eastern Avenue or Front, although the latter may be difficult given plans for the West Don Lands already under construction.
Distillery District: There are two possible locations for this station at either Parliament or Cherry Street. Cherry has the advantage that it would be a connection point for the north-south streetcar service that will eventually serve the eastern waterfront and port lands developments. The stumbling block for such a connection is expansion of the underpass at the rail corridor, but that is a question of will, money and the timing of future development.
Continuing east across the Don, the line would be close to the former Lever Brothers site now owned by Great Gulf. A major commercial development will be announced for this property. An important design issue for the subway would be flood control to prevent the tunnel from being an alternate path for river floods against which Waterfront Toronto has build substantial berms in the West Don Lands.
Broadview & Eastern: This station would serve the Great Gulf development and improve access to this corner of the waterfront in general.
At this point, older plans for the DRL varied with the first versions following the rail corridor and later ones going straight along Eastern to Pape. The reason for the Eastern Avenue route was to access property in what is now the Studio District for a yard that would house trains with the same technology as the Scarborough RT.
The rail corridor, formerly owned by CNR, is now GO Transit’s who, one would hope, will be more amenable to a subway tunneled beneath their tracks. The line would curve northeast with possible stations at Queen & Degrassi and at Gerrard & Carlaw (aka Gerrard Square). The real question here is whether the line should simply blitz up to the Danforth or provide connections in Riverdale and Leslieville.
Before writers in the east end descend on me as a destroyer of their neighbourhoods, please remember (a) that I am not saying a station must be at these locations and (b) I live not far away and know the potential effects of a subway here quite well. Indeed that is why I chose the rail corridor rather than a north-south street such as Pape. People will propose stations wherever the line crosses Queen and Gerrard Streets.
For many years, the TTC has shown the DRL as ending at Pape and Danforth. Recent reports on a DRL study mentioned the need for a wye junction with the Danforth subway so that trains could reach Greenwood Yard. Building such a structure would have severe effects on existing buildings at Pape and Danforth.
That is why my proposed alignment continues east (as some of the early TTC schemes did) to the west side of Greenwood Subway Yard. This would provide a link to the existing network without the need to build a new junction somewhere under the Danforth. At the yard, the route would turn north mainly under what is now parkland and cross Danforth at Donlands Station where it would connect to the Danforth subway.
Continuing north on Donlands, there could be stations at Mortimer and at O’Connor. North of O’Connor, the line would cross the Don Valley on a medium height bridge. The exact nature of the bridge would be a trade-off between cost, the depth of the subway at each portal, and the aesthetics of the valley crossing.
On the north side of the valley, the subway could travel under Thorncliffe Park. The alignment shown on the map is a placeholder and should not be read as definitive “dig here” instructions. It must dodge between apartment towers, a school and commercial buildings, but there is still considerable open space where construction would be comparatively easy.
Thorncliffe Park is a major concentration for housing with a lot of underutilized commercial space. The exact location of a station here would depend on the alignment that proves workable. In the map, it is at Overlea & Thorncliffe Park East as a placeholder.
It would not be possible for the line to run straight east to Don Mills and then turn north for various reasons including curve radius constraints, the location of a school on the north-west corner of the intersection, and potential conflict with the road bridge on Overlea west of Don Mills. Instead, the line could turn north through the park lands behind the school and enter Don Mills well north of Overlea.
Flemingdon Park is another major housing concentration, but it is fairly spread out and will require a bus feeder to connect most potential riders to the subway. In this proposal, I have sited the station at the north branch of Gateway Blvd. (the south branch is directly opposite Overlea at Don Mills) and near enough to the Science Centre that it could also serve as its local stop.
Finally, there would be a station at Don Mills & Eglinton where the line would connect with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Future extension could take the subway further north including a possible link to a future GO service on the CPR corridor south of Barber Greene Road. That is years from happening, but so is this plan.
Whether this is the point to end the subway line and switch simply to buses or a future LRT is beyond anyone’s ability to say this far in advance. However, models of the Don Mills line showed riding in the 16,000 per peak hour/direction range decades ago putting the line beyond LRT territory. Moreover, there is no surface right-of-way or arterial road wide enough to host such a line. With 100% grade separation and strong demand, subway is the appropriate choice.