By: Tess Kalinowski Transportation reporter, Published on Fri Apr 05 2013
It’s Thursday leading into a long weekend. Folks are lined up out the door of Randy’s, waiting to buy some of the best Jamaican patties in the city.
This stretch of Eglinton Ave., near Oakwood, is where Rasta meets pasta in Toronto.
It’s also where a new transit line is about to blow decades of dust off the city’s long-neglected mid-town avenue. This month, giant tunnel boring machines are expected to begin crawling from Black Creek Dr. on the first part of a journey scheduled to end at Eglinton West Station by fall 2014.
It’s the first phase of making the long-awaited $6.7 billion Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT a reality. The Crosstown alone will cost $4.9 billion and the conversion of the Scarborough RT to light rail, an additional $1.8 billion.
Sleek new double-ended light rail vehicles (LRVs) that can be linked into three-car trains will run under the road for about 10 kilometres. For now, the plan is to have them surface east of Brentcliffe Rd., although the east end of the tunnel is still under discussion and it could potentially go as far east as Don Mills.
From there, the LRT will run on an exclusive right-of-way on the road to Kennedy Station, where it will travel seamlessly up the SRT route.
Metrolinx projects that 53 million riders will use the Crosstown in 2021. By 2031, as many as 5,000 to 5,400 people per hour will board the LRT in a single direction at its busiest point, according to the projection.
By comparison, the southbound Yonge subway at Bloor station sees 28,000 riders per peak hour; the Bloor-Danforth subway, 23,000. Sheppard attracts about 4,000 to 4,200 riders in a single direction at its busiest point.
Crosstown riders can expect to travel between the Mount Dennis and Kennedy stations in about 40 minutes. Many, of course, will connect with the subway at Eglinton West, Yonge St. and Kennedy, GO trains at Mount Dennis, Kennedy and Caledonia and with 54 intersecting bus routes.
But how the LRT transforms Eglinton Ave. will be as important as the transportation it provides.
By the time the line opens in 2020, the businesses and residents along the avenue will have been waiting 25 years for the urban renewal that was stopped when former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris ordered crews to fill in the hole of the first Eglinton subway. It was supposed to run from Eglinton West Station to the airport.
“I don’t care if they flood Eglinton and run gondolas on it, I’ve been waiting 30 years,” says Liberal MPP Mike Colle, who remembers the anger when the subway was stopped.
Businesses had already died where construction crews had torn up the road to begin pile driving and preparing track.
Paul Christie, who was TTC chair in 1995, heard the news of the cancellation on the golf course, while listening to a provincial budget update on his Walkman. “This was pretty dramatic stuff,” he said.
When the subway was cancelled, “they cut the pilings, effectively destroying any chance of picking up the work where it was left,” he said.
Next week, construction crews will begin removing those piles to make way for the LRT.
“Did the failure of a subway to emerge there contribute to any of the industrial decline in York? I suspect that’s probably a factor,” said Christie.
Ultimately, the provincial government opted to build the Sheppard subway.
That decision effectively froze Eglinton in time, says Colle, who also served as TTC chair from 1992 to 1994.
By daylight, the dinner crowd at Randy’s is a scarce sign of prosperity on the west end of Eglinton. But don’t be fooled, says Colle. In the early hours of the morning, “this part of Eglinton is a destination.”
You can smell the chicken grilling and the avenue takes on a lively night market atmosphere, he said.
“There’s a disconnect between gentrified residential streets and the main street,” says Colle’s son, Josh, the city councillor for Eglinton-Lawrence Ward 15, and a member of the TTC board.
Many Eglinton property owners haven’t had a reason to invest in the area. “There’s been very little for a generation,” the younger Colle said. “It seems like we now have incentive.”
Josh Colle says he’s already been approached about development over LRT stations.
Across from the patty store on the north side of Eglinton, the Oakwood LRT station will replace the fading facades of Josie’s apparel shop and Gus’s Tropical Foods. A pizza shop that occupies the old bank building on the south side will be wrapped in a new condo development.
That doesn’t mean the west end of Eglinton will boom the way the north end of Yonge St. did with the subway to North York, says transit consultant and historian Ed Levy .
Unlike the eastern portion of Eglinton, which had bigger parcels of land, the west end has shallower properties, many of them independently owned, he said.
“It’s a devil’s job to assemble these storefronts. It’s coming but it’s going to be a slow process, even with the coming of the LRT underground,” said Levy.
Businesses and residents aren’t the only ones invested in the Crosstown. It’s the largest capital transit project yet to be managed by the Toronto region transportation agency Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario, the provincial department in charge of public-private partnerships that will build the LRT stations and other elements.
Officials insist the over-arching deadline to open the line in 2020 hasn’t been affected by early glitches. The tunnel-boring machines were originally supposed to launch last summer but utility relocations on Eglinton delayed the start.
If the project fails to come in on time and on budget there will be no shortage of finger pointing at city hall and Queen’s Park.
Success, however, breeds its own challenges, warns Mike Colle. He is anxious that the character and colour of neighbourhoods like Oakwood survive as the storefronts climb from one and two-storeys to four or six.
“You have got to respect what’s here and not reshape this into some Starbucks planner downtown. I don’t want this to be cookie-cutter,” he says.
Josh Colle agrees. “I’d like to see a stretch where people are sitting on a patio, walking, shopping, where I can take my kids, my wife for dinner.”
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