Walk up to somebody in Toronto, any random person, and ask them their thoughts on public transit in the city. Then, prepare to listen, because odds are it isn’t going to be a short answer.
After decades of planning and re-planning, the current regime at city hall seem to be making headway with a real plan based on real reports from real planners. Mayor John Tory is the conductor, chugging full steam ahead with his SmartTrack transit plan.
Here are four Toronto neighbourhoods that could benefit from their proposed SmartTrack stations, starting in the west end and moving east. The list is based on the map published by the mayor and assumes that all stops will be fully accessible.
1. THE JUNCTION
The Junction has seen a revival in recent years. With real estate prices continually rising through the core of the city, this historic industrial hub formerly known as West Toronto Junction has become a destination for artists and small businesses.
The proposed SmartTrack station would be within walking distance for most in the neighbourhood and offer outsiders a much easier commute for a daily visit or night out.
Ironically, The Junction, which was still under a local prohibition law until 1997, is now home to two breweries: The Indie Ale House and Junction Craft Brewing. Over the past 10 years the area has also seen multiple bars, restaurants, and cafes sprout up, as well as popular live music venues such as the Junction City Music Hall. This, along with various mom and pop shops give The Junction a unique landscape for locals and visitors.
Junction Craft Brewing co-owner and brewmaster Doug Pengelly says the brewery would certainly welcome a transit station within walking distance, as well as one just two stops from a proposed station in Liberty Village.
“We’re getting a lot of people that live very close, that are just neighbours,” Pengelly said.
“They’re (Liberty Village residents) the right demographic of people that are interested in trying interesting stuff, so I think that’s great.”
Station name: St Clair/Weston
Neighbourhood highlights: Junction Craft Brewery, Indie Ale House, Junction City Music Hall, various mom and pop shops.
2. LIBERTY VILLAGE
South of King Street, tucked between Exhibition Place, Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue, is Liberty Village. If you can’t picture it, just look for the group of condominiums huddled together just west of the city while driving along the Gardiner Expressway.
With more than a dozen new condo buildings and multiple townhome complexes completed in the past decade, Liberty Village has become almost a city within a city. Home to mostly young professionals, there’s a 24-hour grocery store, bars, shops and offices. If you were to live and work there, you might never have to leave. Rumour has it is that the area is also home to Twitter’s Canadian headquarters.
However, this new city was built so quickly that transit couldn’t keep up. On page 4 of a recent report from Toronto’s City Planning Division, the 504 King streetcar route is listed as the busiest daily surface TTC route in the entire city.
Nearly 60,000 daily riders use it. The only other option into downtown from Liberty Village is the Exhibition GO train station, which only runs every 30 minutes and has no fare integration with the TTC. In other words, it will cost you a GO fare, then one stop later at Union Station, you’ll have to pay again to take the subway.
Coun. Mike Layton represents Liberty Village and has been pushing for better transit options and fare integration since 2012.
“People sometimes wait four or five streetcars (on King) because they’re already full of people coming from further west,” he said.
The proposed SmartTrack stop in Liberty Village would also be just two stops away from the one in The Junction. When asked about how such a short transit ride connecting the two growing neighbourhoods might impact Liberty Village residents, Layton said, “Well, it would definitely make it easier to get up to the Junction brewery … it’s kind of out of the way right now, so that would be good.”
Station name: Liberty Village
Neighbourhood highlights: Liberty Market Building, Lamport Stadium (soccer, ultimate frisbee), Brazen Head Irish Pub & Restaurant (with live music nights)
3. FORMER UNILEVER SITE
If you look at the SmartTrack map there is one proposed station that isn’t named after any recognizable street or neighbourhood. It’s simply called ‘Unilever Site.’
Beyond the name, what really stands out is its proximity to Union Station, Toronto’s transit capital. It’s just one stop to the east.
The site, at 21 Don Roadway, is the former production base for Unilever. If you’ve ever used Dove soap or Axe body wash then you’ve used a Unilever product. After more than 100 years of production, the site and surrounding land was sold in 2012 to First Gulf Corp, who have proposed a massive multi-purpose building project aimed to employ more than 5,000 people.
However, without a secured transit plan in and out of the district, the project remains more an idea than a reality. This is where SmartTrack comes in.
Station name: Unilever Site
Neighbourhood highlights: Future site of massive multi-purpose building proposal from First Gulf Corp, walking distance to the Distillery District, short drive or bike ride to the beach at Ashbridges Bay.
4. RIVERSIDE – LESLIEVILLE
Technically it’s two neighbourhoods but they are literally side by side and would both be served directly by the proposed Queen SmartTrack station.
Both are growing communities that are currently served by an aging Queen Street East streetcar system. If you have any kind of physical disability or are pushing around a baby carriage, good luck getting home on that streetcar.
Leslieville has long been home to some of the best vintage clothing and furniture shops in Toronto while Riverside has a great mix of historical buildings and entertainment, such as The Opera House live music hall.
“We have a number of buildings from the 1800s … there’s the Broadview Hotel which is currently being renovated into a boutique hotel right at Queen and Broadview, so that’s just a few blocks from the proposed SmartTrack station,” said Riverside BIA Director of Marketing and Programs Jennifer Lay.
“We’ve got a historic library at Queen and Saulter, so that would be just steps from it. And there’s tons of really high-end restaurants, places for brunch, style shops, just a really great mix and really a safe and attractive neighbourhood,” she said.
“It (SmartTrack station) could positively affect all businesses, bringing people from non-typical areas into the neighbourhood.”
One of Toronto’s oldest transit ideas is the Yonge relief line. It’s taken on many different looks and plans over the years, none of which have been put into action. The idea being that of a line running east-west out of downtown, somewhat parallel to the Bloor-Danforth line, and eventually linking up with it. The Queen station would allow Riverside and Leslieville residents a direct route home, meaning they wouldn’t be among those waiting at Union Station to ride the crowded Yonge line anymore.
Station name: Queen