Creating feasible options for Davenport will be a true test of urbanist creativity

It’d be great if there were a way to make a north-south tunnel work for Metrolinx’s Bradford/Barrie corridor in the Junction, but it appears as if it’s time to move on and make the most of the infrastructure and train traffic from the inevitable and largely supportable Regional Express Rail proposals

STEPHEN WICKENS

Residents of the Junction are like cousins to us here on the East Danforth; we experience many of the same conditions. There may be much less grime, odour and noise since industry moved out to the sprawl lands in the second half of the 20th century, but our secondary mixes of land use never really recovered from the loss of jobs.

You can see the unintended consequences on our main streets – too many empty storefronts, too many commercial tenants that aren’t a great fit for a hood that seeks better. Neither area was ever a really pretty, but when lots people could walk to work, or when many people came from other parts of town to work in our areas, the shopping and the services and the opportunities for socializing and play just kind of happened. Local merchants and restaurateurs got many more reliably productive hours out of each day.

That’s when urbanity’s beauty is tough to ignore. Our future may now rest heavily on office jobs, but we shouldn’t forget ancestors who gladly made homes next to the smokestacks.

The Junction and the East Danforth were both healthy blue-collar neighbourhoods back when rails lured factories. Now, the tracks are mostly barriers to pedestrian-scale connectivity, fenced off for our safety but undercutting local economic activity. They don’t carry much freight any more and GO’s unnecessarily loud diesel locomotives pull or push trains through without stopping (or when they do stop the fares aren’t competitive).

Metrolinx now owns these tracks and they are slated, rightly, to make possible GO’s Regional Express Rail plan, complete with quieter, cleaner electrified trains that make many more stations possible without slowing the service. The former industrial neighbourhoods of this city would be wise to find ways to make the best of this situation, and smart politicians and bureaucrats will find ways to help us.

Options for Davenport (@Opt4Davenport) and Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao (@anabailaoTO), have led the charge to convince city council that we should study a tunnel option on GO’s Barrie corridor rather than meekly accede to plans for 1.4 kilometres of elevated track to get the line past a dangerous and constrictive rail-on-rail level crossing with CP’s east-west corridor.

I get it and I’m sympathetic for a couple of reasons.

1) RER will also bring huge amounts of rail traffic to areas along the East Danforth, upwards of 300 East Lakeshore, Unionville and SmartTrack trains a day along an embankment that divides our communities. That’s more than twice the traffic the Junction will face and it’s about a block from my house (GO trains sometimes rattle the picture frames on my bedroom walls);

2)  I remember the shock and passion from talking with Junction residents when I wrote about the GO’s Barrie corridor plans for The Globe and Mail in September, 2003.

Twelve years and three months later, politicians, bureaucrats, residents and planners seem to be acting as if this proposal is something new. Suddenly, its an emergency and we apparently don’t have time to consider our options.

The tunnel that city council voted to study on Dec. 10, 2015, probably doesn’t stand a chance, though I’d love to be wrong.

Two of the GTA’s most respected transportation engineers examined the The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report (dated March of 2002) for me in 2003 and they agreed with Delcan’s conclusion that the tunnel option wasn’t feasible. Not only would the underground portion have to start south of Bloor to get the GO trains under the Bloor-Danforth subway, rising topography due to the old Lake Iroquois shoreline would mean the tunnel would have to be very long and costly north of Bloor.

One of the engineers suggested that co-ordinating the West Toronto Diamond work with Davenport Diamond might be the best solution (for everybody but Canadian Pacific Railway). But West Toronto Diamond, which was still in the planning stages then, has now been built and the potential opportunity has been lost.

But maybe we can find solutions to make this inevitable elevated line much more than palatable. Maybe, with GO’s electrified trains encased in some funky overground tubes there might be room for porous and lively spaces below — places that can lure pedestrians for many reasons at different times of the day to what is at present a community-deadening barrier.

Maybe it’s an opportunity for an international design competition. In the digital age launching a global brainstorming initiative should be easier than ever, and  it’s not as if creative people aren’t right under our noses here in the Junction and on the East Danforth.

Let’s make sure politicians and bureaucrats help us out.

 

GO Transit plan jolts Junction residents

Huge rail overpass in west-central area would carve strip out of many backyards

This story first appeared in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, September 20, 2003

By STEPHEN WICKENS
Residents of some west-central Toronto neighbourhoods are on a collision course with GO Transit if plans are approved for a huge project involving construction of an elevated railway bridge.

A report produced for GO —  which has not been made public — calls for a bridge of up to two kilometres in length and the expropriation of property to make room for additional and reconfigured track from Wallace Avenue (north of Bloor Street) to Innes Avenue (south of Rogers Road)

The project would form part of a plan to bring all-day GO service to towns north of the city.

The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report, dated March of 2002, came to light at an Ontario Municipal Board prehearing session last week. The Globe and Mail had an opportunity to examine the document after it was turned over to representatives of a developer appealing the city’s rejection of plans to construct residential buildings near the tracks, south of Dupont Street.

Residents of the affected neighbourhoods expressed shock about the existence of the plans.

“Nobody consulted us, but that’s the way these guys work,” said Carey Rookwod of Prescott Avenue, before going to get a neighbour to view a copy of plans that would carve a strip out of their back yards.

Neither of the city councillors who represent the affected areas is familiar with the plans either.

“I heard about a report, but I never saw anything,” Ward 17 Councillor Fred Dominelli said.

Ward 18 Councillor Mario Silva said he has heard nothing about the existence of such a report or any talk about a railway bridge or expropriation. “I’m supportive of GO Transit, but this sounds outrageous. I’ll be asking the city planners what they know.”

GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil denies there has been any attempt to suppress the report. “I’m not sure if this report has been made, quote, public. It’s more a study of how you can physically get to all-day service in the corridor, so if we get infrastructure money to build some of this stuff we know roughly the money we’re looking at for what we’re required to do. It’s probably a crossing that’s in the 15- to 20-year time frame. There’s no need to get people’s concern up when it might not even happen.”

Mr. Rookwod expressed concern about noise. “High-speed trains right in my back yard – that’s going to be loud,” he said.

Some barely finished townhomes on Rankin Crescent and a 10-metre-wide strip of the Campbell Avenue Playground are recommended for expropriation – prompting an Antler Street resident, who would give his name only as Mike, to say, “This neighbourhood has changed a lot since the Holly Jones murder. These guys sound like they want to pick a fight with the wrong people.”

The plan recommends expropriations and a bridge near Steeles Avenue and in York Region as well as in the west-central area.

The big problem in the inner city is a railway-level crossing near Dupont Street that reduces capacity and forces trains to slow on both the north-south Canadian National and east-west Canadian Pacific tracks.

Delcan Corp., an international engineering and consulting firm that produced the report, lists two options for the elevation of the north-south tracks used by GO trains, but acknowledges in one case that “the height and length of the structure will be a significant visual intrusion for approximately two kilometres [beginning south of Bloor].”

The other elevated option calls for a shorter, steeper bridge that would “significantly increase locomotive noise,” according to a transit planner and engineer who viewed the documents at The Globe’s request.

The Delcan report also lists two options involving tunnels but says each appears impractical.

“They want to tear down the Gardiner Expressway in one part of town, and put up essentially the same thing up here,” said Ted Davidson, a consultant for Ridgevest Developments Ltd., the appellant in the OMB case. “You don’t think they would try to ram something like this through in a wealthier neighbourhood, do you?”

Mr. McNeil, of GO Transit, called the Gardiner comparison unfair. “It’s like a scare tactic,” he said. “This would be the width of a two-lane road. There are lots of things we can do — we can put in pedestrian connections.”

Lawyer Alan Heisey, who represents GO Transit and CN in the OMB case, cautioned last week that the GO expansion might not happen for several years. “The planning horizon is 30 years,” he said. “The important thing is that we protect the rail corridors for the public good. It’s part of the city’s official plan.”