As the liberal government adjusts to leading the country, cities from coast to coast are scrambling to have shovel-ready infrastructure projects to pitch our new leaders. Prior to the 2015 election, the Liberals spent months in public consultations and identified transit and infrastructure expansion as a top priority. In Toronto this led to our highest priority – relief line – made it onto their policy platform.
Most, if not all, transit planning experts believe that the relief line is Toronto’s highest priority transit line, and with growing density predicted the it will be absolutely vital by 2030. The relief line is a subway route that would run east-west across the core and then turn north at both ends to meet up with the Bloor subway line. It was first introduced in 1910, and again in subsequent years ever since, with municipal politicians continually deferring the plan because of it’s cost and the time it will take to build.
I’ve spent over five years advocating, campaigning, and even singing for the relief line. I’ve ignored aging politicians who told me it was impossible, and media columnists who mocked my determination and campaign tactics. I’ve spoken to hundreds of planners, transit experts and historians and understand how easy it is for such an important subway line to be pushed aside by politicians wanting to garner immediate votes.
So when Mayor John Tory first announced his idea for SmartTrack, I was confused. Confused because I have grown to know and respect him over the years, and I know that he is a man of principle. He loves Toronto and he has given his life to this city. He isn’t a man who would simply cast aside the most vital transit line in Toronto just to garner a few votes. So, why would he suggest another plan that could risk delaying the relief line? The answer is simple. He isn’t deferring the relief line, but simply trying to provide a quick solution while we wait for the relief line to be built. He confirmed in a text message, “SmartTrack isn’t going to replace the relief line which will take over a decade to build, but by using existing transit corridors SmartTrack will provide a much quicker way to ease the overcrowding on the Yonge line.”
From planning studies, to land acquisitions, and environmental assessments the relief line will take almost a decade before shovels get in the ground, it could take 15 years or more to build. Now, consider the fact that the Eglinton Crosstown will add even more people onto the Yonge Street corridor. It’s easy to see why Mayor Tory must try to provide another form of relief to bridge the gap between our immediate need and the time that it will take to build the relief subway line. By using existing rail corridors SmartTrack will avoid the lengthy process of land acquisitions and environmental assessments that the relief subway line requires.
It should be noted that SmartTrack has forced the City, TTC, and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) to work together in collaboration — a procedural success that many didn’t think possible. The fact that Mayor Tory has insisted that SmartTrack does not have a defined route, gives planning experts an opportunity to create the best and quickest way to create an east-west line across the city.
As Mayor Tory mentioned, “there will be issues with SmartTrack, as there are with all big transit projects,” but the idea itself is good and like all good ideas it must stand up to rigorous analysis. However is must also stand up to the politics of city council. The mayor has to bring city council together around a unified transit plan that includes SmartTrack and the Yonge relief line. The plan must focus on the priority lines that our transit planning experts have identified. It will need to create connectivity between all modes of transit, and address the shortage of east-west transit routes while providing alternative ways to travel north — a North x East x West transit plan. Mayor Tory has promised to consult the experts when it comes to all the transit Toronto is planning. And I know that he will, because he is a man of his word — and that is why I will back him every step of the way.