Scarborough Needs a Subway

Critics of the Scarborough Subway say it has fewer stops and a higher cost than alternative transit options – but that is precisely the point

Sixty years ago, a large sprawling tract of vegetable farms east of Toronto transformed seemingly overnight into a maze of tangled, winding residential streets in cookie-cutter housing subdivisions. What was once a farming township now contains 700,000 people, factories, malls and highways.

And sure, even as a farming township, Scarborough always its own urban flair, from the cheap motels and shops along Kingston Road (which was how you drove to Kingston before the 401 highway was built), to the shiny new shopping malls and car dealerships along the so-called Golden Mile on Eglinton Avenue.

Today, Scarborough is a city planner’s nightmare. The 190km² area includes an artificial “downtown” focused on the ageing Scarborough Town Centre shopping mall – all designed for the automobile. Pockets of high density apartment blocks are juxtaposed with bungalow-laden subdivisions. Manufacturing and employment districts are neatly and sternly separated from all residential communities. Most parks (except the notable Rouge and Scarborough Bluffs parks) are little more than patches of empty grass. Jane Jacobs likely shuddered at Scarborough’s overly-planned, land-use separated layout.

This is where I grew up. This is where I call home. And it needs to change.

Scarborough: By Talhamujahid, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There are no shortage of critics of the proposed Scarborough Subway, but it is truly needed. A new subway will provide a fast, direct link between central Scarborough and downtown Toronto’s employment district.  Compared to other rapid transit alternatives, including those with more stops along the way, a subway will move the most people the fastest, and create a much-needed lifeline for this aging suburb.

Here’s why a Scarborough Subway is needed:

Balanced growth and development in Scarborough Centre. Toronto is a city of numerous “nucleus” communities (affirmed by city planners), and a subway is the best option for supporting Scarborough’s growth potential. A subway has been criticized for having fewer stops than a light rail transit alternative – but that’s precisely the point. A new subway will move a large number of people from point A (downtown Scarborough) to point B (downtown Toronto) as fast and as seamlessly as possible.  The last thing we need is another disjointed streetcar route with multiple stops and transfer points.

Replace the obsolete “Scarborough RT”. In what will go down as one of the biggest infrastructure boondoggles of all time, the pride of Scarborough politicians got the best of them, and resulted in a weird looking, 6km monorail track. Commuters on the regular Bloor-Danforth subway are forced to disembark and re-board the futuristic Scarborough RT before proceeding further east (90% of RT riders continue-on at Kennedy Station to the TTC subway). To top it off, the trains that fit this track are discontinued. A continuous subway connection needs to replace this antiquated railway.

Economic development. Scarborough’s development pattern needs to change. From the perspective of transportation, the environment, and livability, future Scarborough cannot be a community of a million people evenly distributed over 190km². Just like along the Yonge subway line and Sheppard subway line in North York, growth has to be encouraged along high density corridors. This will create more walkable, car-free communities where people live and work.

Better public transit. Somehow (yes, partly due to decisions of past Scarborough politicians) Scarborough has been left out of Toronto’s integrated transit network. It’s absurd that, to travel from south or central Scarborough to downtown, a commuter has to take three different transit vehicles (the streetcar tracks literally stop dead at Victoria Park Ave, the old boundary). A connected Scarborough subway will ease crowding, reduce travel times and finally allow Scarborough residents an easy way to travel to jobs, education and amenities in Toronto.

The choice to build a new Scarborough is a choice to reshape our city. It’s a chance to finally create a true link between Scarborough and Toronto, to reduce commuting times and congestion. It’s a chance to make traveling across Toronto easier and more convenient, while supporting livable, walkable neighbourhoods. The $3 billion cost is a big investment, but the benefits will last generations – far longer than the so-called “transit-city” options.

When the first Yonge subway line was constructed in the 1950’s, it too was financially costly. Yet today Toronto would be unimaginable without it. Just like Toronto’s subway projects of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Scarborough subway will connect residents, improve their quality of life and build a better city for tomorrow.

 – Mike Chopowick – June 28, 2016 –


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