Transit forum debates merits of LRT and subways

Toronto city councillors Karen Stintz and Josh Matlow co-hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night as part of a campaign swirling around the future of light rail transit in the city.

Residents, representing both sides of the subway vs. LRT debate, packed a meeting hall at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre on 200 Eglinton Ave. W. At the forum, Stintz and Matlow were joined by University of Toronto urban geographer Andre Sorensen.

Sorensen believes an above ground light-rail line is better suited for the Laird Avenue to Kennedy Road portions of the project. He said the Scarborough section already has the population density to support LRT, and Eglinton Avenue offers ample room for rights of way.

Such is not the case for the proposed Sheppard Avenue subway extension, Sorensen said.

“We do not have enough density along the [proposed] route to justify any of these investments,” Sorensen said. “The people there do not want to see any block-busting or destroying of their neighbourhoods and residential areas.”

Sorensen says the proposed extension would run from Sheppard Avenue, from Yonge Street to Spadina Road, a mostly residential area.

He believes in order to justify the subway extension, which would support higher ridership compared to the light-rail option, the proposed route must undergo significant land redevelopment.

Subway and LRT supporters clashed in heated debate over issues ranging from road access for emergency vehicles, emergency response times, effects to local businesses, and actual ridership numbers.

Brandon Orr, an urban planning student at the University of Waterloo who supports the subway option, said carrying capacity is a key concern:

“They say that peak ridership for light rail transit is 5,400, which is reasonable. The thing is, a report from Metrolinx came out saying that if they converted (the LRT line) into subway, peak ridership would be 12,000,” he said.

“All the businesses along St. Clair [Avenue] are booming because that light-rail line encourages local trips,” he said. “Eglinton isn’t meant for local trips. People are going to use it to go downtown. Not to mention, light rail is slower than subway.

“Subways are quicker. It’ll get you further, faster.”

Anna Pace, director of strategic parterships at the TTC, also attended. A second meeting is scheduled for March 15, when city council debates the Sheppard Avenue extension.