Viewpoint: FSE death blow costly

By Hamish Wilson –

The city’s planning committee has just urged a significant shift in the horrendously complex waterfront transport tangle by excising the very costly, controversial, and nearly dead Front St. Extension (FSE) project from the Official Plan during a meeting on Nov. 13.

Although this seems like great news, this shift away from very costly roadworks retains the $50 million local road component and attendant environmental assessment (EA) for Front St. from Dufferin to Strachan.

Most Downtown councillors were surprisingly hypocritical in supporting this big road project, and did not ensure that more obvious transit options to the $255 million road—like the GO trains immediately parallel—were analyzed. All told there were about a dozen unofficial transit options to the FSE but the only one the city bothered with was the Waterfront West LRT (WWLRT), now a big part of Transit City.

The cost of the planned WWLRT is expected to be about $550 million, and there’s at least another $150 million needed to adjust the Union Station loop for more use. One might think that with a $700 million price tag, those in charge and paid for their time, could read the 1993 WWLRT EA. Although it is 15 years out of date, some content is still explosive.

The WWLRT’s own EA says it’s “not considered cost-effective” to build what’s essentially being proposed and  recommended a more direct route into the core, perhaps via Front St. They modeled a direct trip in from Etobicoke to Union as only 22 minutes vs. 33 with the Queen St. streetcar, and urged a further detailed analysis be done in an additional EA study.

This was never done. Instead we’ve pursued the costliest road project in Canada and have spent a further $12 million on land—and we still are remaining blind to truly giving priority to transit in our thinking and our budgets.

There’s no doubt we have serious transport issues in this corridor and to be clear, I am fully in favour of spending a large amount of money—but it has to be for effective transit, and we are in great danger of losing a unique route option in this greenhouse century that could help fix multiple problems.

In 1985, a Front St. subway was planned as part of the Downtown Relief  Line and it was likely to go over much of what the local Front St. may occupy. This relief line was also to use some of the Weston rail tracks for transit. Could we now provide a quick-to-core option for some of the Queen (and maybe King) streetcars by adapting some of this route to surface Front St. transit right-of-ways? Much of the land seems to be public already.

We need to do something for the King/Queen corridors, and restoring Front St. transit is even more sensible with all the newer destinations. Increasingly, we could contemplate extending a Front St. transitway east past Yonge St to connect up with Eastern Ave., and have a faster near-Queen transit out to Kingston Rd.

Expedited transit is very attractive, but it would be a bigger shift to have a Front St. transitway in the very core, though streetcars once served Front. While Front St. is wider than either King or Queen, it would be still stretching to have two lanes for transit. Wellington St. could take one direction, perhaps westbound, to ease that situation. While it may be unorthdox to think of splitting up a new major route like this, I think many people would be happy to trade a couple of minutes walk to save 7 to 15 minutes (as a guess) on a trip, often with some waiting.

But new ideas aren’t embraced by officials and while the Metrolinx has a lot of hype to do transit, it’s all to benefit more suburban riders and interests.

The core will be getting little beyond bills, less service and more crowding, despite how many politicians are claiming that we are going “green” with transit.

What we really need is a thorough corridor analysis south of the 1949 Queen St. subway routing, and a firm prevention of blocking by buildings of this one transit possibility to have better east-west transit in our core. This requires firm public interest actions, but given how resistant most politicians and transit bodies have been, they prefer to waste millions while not giving good service.

We need to squeeze these millions much better and rather than exploring costly asphalt in an EA we must explore the Front St. transitway urged 15 years ago in the WWLRT EA.