Toronto’s cautionary tale for Broadway rapid transit

In Toronto, Transit, Vancouver and Region by Lenore NewmanLeave a Comment

Plans for rapid transit along the Broadway corridor, and not a moment too soon;  the 99 B Line bus is the busiest bus route anywhere in Canada or the US. I flatly refuse to take the B Line. I drive to UBC when I need to go use the library there, and after a few abortive trips during which I got to watch three or four full buses pass me and then finally managed to squeeze on and stand for an hour, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I have on occasion walked for an hour rather than ride that horror. The volume is so great, and so constant, that nothing short of a subway will work.

The city, however, has not quite given up on the concept of a mode shift at Arbutus. Some form of tunnelled transit would take riders maddeningly close to the university, which is one of the province’s largest employers and one of the main transit destinations in the city. Under this plan, the bottleneck at Commercial Station would be moved to Arbutus. As an upside we would likely get light rail to Granville Island, but we will likely regret building two thirds of a subway. Transit planners know that mode shifts can be problematic, and fortunately we have a great example to learn from; the abortive subway line to York University in Toronto.

Getting to York from downtown Toronto has been a soul-sucking exercise since the university first broke ground, and it was generally understood that a subway line would be needed. The Spadina Line, however, was terminated at Wilson Station, and then later Downsview, which is 6.5 kilometers from York. Thus the commutes a long cold wait at Downsview, and packed busses that at times took 45 minutes to crawl those 6.5 kilometers. I could probably sketch every bleak tire lot, every tank farm, every sad strip club along that horrible route. The building of a busway likely helped, but there was no dodging waits at Downsview. Coming home from an evening out sometimes meant a half hour or more in subzero weather, pondering the empty lots surrounding the station. Sartre would have loved it. The mode shift was literally a barrier to York’s development, and the bane of students and professors alike. And it kept many a frustrated rider in their cars.

York is finally getting its subway; as I write this they are busily tunneling under the university. It took a generation, however, and if we don’t want to stick a generation of UBC students and workers with a wait in the rain at Arbutus, we should build the entire line, as soon as we possibly can. A needless mode shift at Arbutus will just give us another transit hurdle we need to fix down the line. Ask York. They know.


  1. Andrae Griffith (@gttavisions)

    Great article and great lessons for Vancouver. I will say this though – transfers can work if they are seamlessly designed and not “in the middle of nowhere”. Since Downsview is in the middle of nowhere, it’s difficult to justify the transfer. If it were at Yorkdale or some other place which is a destination in-and-of itself it wouldn’t feel so bad.

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