On Sunday, July 27, 1997, the new 510 Spadina streetcar route replaced the venerable 77 Spadina bus. This conversion was over two decades in the making.
Back in 1973, fresh from the political victory of saving the streetcar system from its planned retirement in 1980 [when the Queen subway would open (!)], the Streetcars for Toronto Committee (SFTC) proposed that the Spadina route be converted back to streetcar operation.
The Spadina streetcar was abandoned in 1948 with the retirement of the small fleet of double-ended cars serving it (there were no loops, only crossovers at Bloor and south of King), although track between Harbord and Dundas remained in use until 1966 by the Harbord car.
It is intriguing to look back at the rationale we of the SFTC had for this conversion at the time:
- Provide the basis for future rapid transit needs between Metro Centre and the Bloor and Spadina subways.
- Provide more comfortable transit service now with increased interior vehicle space, elimination of lane changing, and reduction of vibration, noise and air pollution within vehicles.
- Provide a basis for comparing the light rapid transit mode of intermediate capacity rapid transit with a test “guideway” mode being constructed at the Canadian National Exhibition.
- Release needed buses for suburban service by replacing them with currently surplus streetcars.
We were rather optimistic, and hoped that service could be operating by 1974. Of course this assumed that a lot of the existing infrastructure would be recycled, the loop at Bloor would be on the surface, not underground.
At the time, there was a proposal for a large commercial development on the Railway Lands known as “Metro Centre”, although it never came to be in the form originally planned. The area is now full of condos (and the Dome), but they came much later.
As for “intermediate capacity rapid transit”, the guideway under construction at the CNE grounds never amounted to more than a few foundations for support pillars and the loss of some trees. The development project for what would eventually become the Scarborough RT technology was killed off before the test track could be built. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park had mused about using their technology on streets like Spadina, but were careful to provide illustrations showing the guideway from a distance in front of open space, not the massive infrastructure that would be needed at stations for tracks, platforms and vertical access. There was another problem: the province’s recommended design would have stations no closer than about 1 km apart, a huge difference from the bus service with many local stops.
The idea received approval in principle, but quickly ran aground for various reasons including the unsuitability of Clarence Square for the south end loop (SFTC had proposed looping at Adelaide via Charlotte and King with buses continuing to serve the then-industrial port area). The TTC wanted the streetcars to match the existing bus route which looped around the square. At the north end, a surface loop was not practical because of land constraints.
A decade later, the scheme resurfaced as part of the Harbourfront redevelopment, although only the Queens Quay service was built initially opening in 1990. This created the track connection from King to Queens Quay as well as a loop at the foot of Spadina that the original western end of the Harbourfront line. (Track was added on Queens Quay from Spadina to Bathurst in 2000.)
Further north, some merchants objected to the road changes a streetcar would bring including the reduction of parking (changing from angle to parallel parking), and the barrier effect of a streetcar right-of-way that would, it was claimed, prevent garment racks from being moved across the street between businesses. (This was a fictional recreation of New York’s garment district as the City demonstrated by conducting a survey to count this “traffic”. There was none.)
Thanks to the TTC’s presentation of the streetcar as a rapid transit line to the pending development south of King, there were fewer stops on their proposed route than were eventually built. (For the record, the SFTC proposal included all of the stops that were in the final version.) Combined with a curbed right-of-way, this was seen as a move creating a “Berlin Wall” down the middle of the street. As a result the original design had no curbs in some locations leading to many collisions with errant motorists, and the curbs appeared as a retrofit. Today, ironically, the streetcar right-of-way acts as a refuge for jaywalking across Spadina, a dubious and dangerous practice before the streetcar’s return.
This article is a photo gallery of the line’s construction. In a second installment, I will present a gallery of the line in operation.
In these photos, what is so striking is how little many parts of Spadina have changed and the low-rise street character is much the same today as it was in the 1990s, although change is spreading north from the condo district at King.
For more on the history of streetcars on Spadina, see Transit Toronto.