Could the Scarborough RT really become a High Line–style elevated park?

Could the Scarborough RT really become a High Line–style elevated park?


Last Friday at city hall, TTC CEO Andy Byford surprised city councillors by reminding them that his staff are still looking into the possibility of transforming the Scarborough RT into an elevated linear park, in the vein of Manhattan’s High Line. (Council voted in favour of studying the seemingly far-fetched proposal back in October 2013.) The details still have to be worked out, but the idea is to wait until 2023, when the RT is supposed to be replaced by a subway, then cover the disused elevated tracks with biking paths, benches and greenery.



Some variation of the idea already has worked, albeit in a much different context. Since its creation, New York City’s High Line, a reclaimed elevated railway on the west side of Manhattan, has attracted millions of tourists, stimulated economic activity and inspired imitators in scads of cities, from San Francisco to Seoul. But can the Big Apple’s winning formula be applied somewhere like suburban Scarborough and produce the same result?

Assuming the city goes ahead with the Scarborough subway (and maybe that’s too much to assume), the bare bones of the project—the disused RT railways—are already in place. It would cost $70 million to tear them down, according to Byford. The question, then, is whether an elevated park would be a wiser—cheaper, even—option.

“In the first instance, all you need to do is put up guardrails and put down a surface once you take out the track bed,” says Ken Greenberg, Toronto’s former director of urban design and architecture. “Any of that would be miniscule compared to the costs of demolition.” Beyond that, the park’s price tag would depend on its specifics: the addition of amenities, the ambition of the design and the creation of access points between existing stations. Together, the three stages of the 2.4-kilometre-long High Line cost about $185 million, a combination of city, state, federal and charity money. By comparison, the RT runs for 6.4 kilometres—a full four kilometres longer.

Operating costs are tough to estimate. The High Line eats up almost $5 million annually. Because it’s not in a high-density area like its New York counterpart, the RT would probably have significantly less traffic, which might decrease maintenance costs but would pose other problems. The park would be in a relatively sparsely populated area, cut off from the city, which could leave it prone to vandalism and crime. At best, the place would feel lonely much of the time.

Greenberg contends that a Scarborough High Line would spur development in the area, which would eventually fill the park and turn the project into a net financial boon. “The High Line has literally spawned billions and billions of dollars of investment,” he says. “Here, you’re not right in the heart of Manhattan, but on the other hand, it would be a real attraction to Scarborough.”

“If you did the economic analysis,” Greenberg says, “I’m pretty convinced this would be a winning proposition.”