Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.
With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.
There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.
This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.
Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:
“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]
This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.
The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.
A few illustrations in the announcement show the guideways in various environments where they are claimed to be unobtrusive, but this was the first of many times the government would always show the elevated system in a way that minimized the visual impact. Street running is shown in the middle of Spadina at Harbord (even though this location was not part of the proposed network) and in Thorncliffe Park, as well as a single track guideway in the Exhibition grounds. Never do we see a station with its extra width for platforms, stairs, escalators and landing structures on nearby sidewalks.
This was the grand plan of almost fifty years ago. Imagine where Toronto would be if the focus had been on building with technology the world already had rather than pursuing a boondoggle that cost momentum at a key time when new transit lines could have shaped suburban growth.