A downtown relief subway line has become something of an obsession among urbanists and transit fans in the last year.
Now international transportation consultant and Toronto transit historian Ed Levy, 80, has written a complete history of Toronto's transit plans, including a century of the political follies and foibles that have seen the downtown relief line rise and fall a dozen times.
Levy's ebook is eminently clickable with historical transit maps and photos. But the feature likely to incite the interest of Toronto transit watchers is the post-script called, "Completing the Regional Connection."
It makes the case for the DRL as the missing link connecting Toronto's suburbs and the region with the downtown in a way that amalgamation has failed to do.
Although he couldn't have predicted it when he started writing four years ago, the delicious timing of his book's release this week is inescapable.
Finally, Levy says, the DRL is about to be built.
"We're near a turning point. We've got a very fine subway system for a city of 1.5 million. Trouble is, there's four times that many people," he said.
Downtown development, regional population growth in the next 20 years and Metrolinx's decision last year to move the relief line up on its list of transit priorities, makes it a near certainty.
But Levy isn't just talking about a TTC subway running between the east end of the Danforth line and the downtown.
He sees it running as an above-ground subway from downtown northwest along the Georgetown GO tracks — the route of the new Union Pearson (UP) Express train.
"It's a wonderful route for a diagonal transit line. That's an ill-served corridor. It's an old, high-density corridor and they need something better," he said. The expanded rail corridor is wide enough for bypass tracks for the airport shuttle but there would have to be more stations than the two now planned for the UP Express, the track would need to be electrified and it would need different vehicles than the hulking GO locomotives.
"GO needs to morph itself in the next 20 years into an electrified multiple-unit system as you see in most major cities in Europe. They look almost like subway trains, they have high acceleration, they can stop more frequently and get away more quickly. You can get much shorter headways between trains," said Levy, who spent four years writing Rapid Transit in Toronto: A Century of Plans, Progress, Politics and Paralysis.
It is being published electronically by the Neptis Foundation, a charitable body dedicated to urban issues. The firm Levy co-founded, BA Consulting Group, will publish an abridged print edition later this year. As the title implies, the author is a man of many opinions. "The first draft was almost libellous," Levy said.
Among those opinions: the viability of the UP Express is questionable. "Every consultant in town has done over the last 10 or 20 years a study of airport rail on that route, including us . . . as far as I know you never got more than 17 per cent of the total airport users to patronize it at a premium fare."
He calls the Eglinton LRT "a wonderful network connector."
"But how much redevelopment it's going to generate is anybody's guess," he said.
"It's going to be very difficult to assemble lands along Eglinton. They're individual properties."
Unlike many plans that see the northern end of the U-shaped relief line as add-ons, Levy believes the stretch north of Danforth (from about Pape Station to Eglinton and Don Mills) is critical.
Just bringing it down from Danforth is not going to do much to relieve the crowding on the Yonge line all the way south of Eglinton.
South from the Danforth, Levy would run the relief line east-west along King, Adelaide or Wellington.
Many plans have envisioned Queen St. as the downtown east-west route for the line. But now the financial district has moved to the south and west, Queen probably doesn't make sense, said Levy.