What is the plan for Scarborough Centre? This seems like a simple question, but it is one that has us confused. Very confused.
On the one hand, a one-stop subway extension is included as part of the proposed Scarborough Rapid Transit Network because it “Supports the development of Scarborough Centre as a vibrant regional urban centre.” Those of us using Scarborough Centre station on the RT today look out at the fields of parking surrounding the mall and Civic Centre can be excused for thinking that the plan is to re-purpose those lots into the type of place you would want to ride transit to, i.e., a vibrant urban centre.
Looking at the Secondary Plan for Scarborough Centre we learn that this is partially true: the plans do call for some changes that could give the area some street life. There is one other detail, though, and it is important: the area that City Planning is calling Scarborough Centre is HUGE!
The map below shows “Scarborough Centre” (as identified in the plan); an area that could actually become legit urban space one day. Stretching from past Brimley on one side, out to Bellamy on the other, this area is about 2km wide. On the north-south axis, it is about 1 km. According to City Planning, this area “has the potential to welcome upwards of 40,000 residents and attract upwards of 23,000 jobs” (pg 1).
Jobs. Homes. Rapid transit. All good stuff, right? So where is our confusion?
Our confusion is this: most of “Scarborough Centre” will not be within walking distance of the subway. And if the purpose of the subway is to serve Scarborough Centre – which one station will not do – then what is the purpose of the subway again?
To take a concrete example, let’s look at what the trip to the subway will look like for someone living in one of the 1,797 homes that is proposed north-west of the corner of Brimley and Progress (pg 23):
Now we will admit that if the subway is a few metres further north and there are better pedestrian connections, we might be able to shave 4-5 minutes off the walk. If so though, are we really expecting someone to walk nearly 20 minutes, every time they want to go somewhere?
We can talk about feeder service on the Brimley bus*, but if we get into that we are conceding that Scarborough Centre will not be served by the subway alone.
So instead of trying to service all of Scarborough Centre with just one station, what if there were multiple stations?
Funny you ask. That used to be the plan.
With the east-west LRT line there could be four stations serving Scarborough Centre instead of the one station offered by the Line 2 extension (i.e., what people are calling “the Scarborough subway”). With an east-west line and more stations, the people who move into the buildings west of Brimley see their time walking to the station drop dramatically. Imagine the difference for people who already live in the high-rises on Brimley, right next to the RT (where there is yet a station – but there could be one).
This is not an issue of “LRT vs subway” – City Planning is scheduled to report about the possibility of running the subway in the RT corridor (leaving open the possibility for more stations). By contrast, this is an issue of mismatching plans.
In Toronto we face a chronic situation of underfunding for transit. Here we have this window of hope, with all levels of government lining up to toss in $2B+ to improve the woeful state of transit in the far east end of the City. So what is proposed for this windfall? To run a subway 6km with no stops, for the purpose of serving a location that it does not fully serve.
City Planning has a chance to recommend better solutions. Tory, Wynne, Duguid, et al., you have a chance to get behind better solutions. Are you listening?
*21 Brimley: 2014 ridership = 10 000/weekday. June 2016 service: STC-Steeles, every 8 min at peak hours, 15-30 minutes on off-peak hours.