Sign of the apocalypse #49,273: the Toronto Star, National Post and Spacing all agree on something—subways

Sign of the apocalypse #49,273: the Toronto Star, National Post and Spacing all agree on something—subways

Whimsical designs or “architectural wankfests”? Designs for two of Toronto’s new subway stations (Image: TTC) 

We’re not going to go so far as to call it an “editorial consensus,” but with the debate over subways that Toronto’s been having for at least a year (more like decades, when you think about it), it’s interesting that two of the city’s dailies and one prominent magazine’s blog all have pieces today that deal with the fact that, with few exceptions, even when Toronto builds subways (yay!) we do it terribly (boo!).

We particularly enjoyed the National Post running Stephen Wickens’ attack on “architectural wankfests”:

While we blow $857-million on stations for the $2.6-billion Spadina-York extension, many seemingly intelligent Torontonians debate the relative costs of LRTs and subways and puzzle about how some places on this planet make real rapid transit affordable and effective — even profitable on occasion.

Subways can pay for themselves in truly urban settings. We proved that a half-century ago along Yonge and Bloor streets and University and Danforth avenues. Present-day Hong Kong has turned subway building into a profitable business for all concerned.

The key is building density around stations themselves, something that’s difficult to do even when there are pro-transit councillors at city hall. Adam Vaughan is quoted today in the Globe and Mail as saying a proposed condo at King and Spadina—a short streetcar ride from St. Andrew subway station—is “a bit too tall.” We’re not saying Vaughan’s wrong in this case (that’s a different argument), but if transit-loving councillors sometimes get squeamish about towers, the suburban transit skeptics in council are often downright hostile.

So what’s the solution? According to former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford in the Star, the city needs to commit to building clusters of density around subway stations both present (the Sheppard line) and future (the Spadina expansion). One way to do it was suggested at the GTA Summit, where Spacing’s Dylan Reid reports that Hazel McCallion suggested Metrolinx be given power to regulate development in the GTA. She also lamented the fact that Toronto’s leaders, both past and present, haven’t done a great job of cooperating with GTA neighbours.

There are some good ideas here, but the political reality is that saying subways need density sounds a lot like telling the suburbs they need to be more like Yonge and Bloor. Hopefully someone can think of a better sales pitch than that.

• Ford’s critical 100-year decisions [Toronto Star]
• GTA Summit transportation notes: Radical McCallion, “Toronto’s Mohawk” and more [Spacing]
• Urban Scrawl: Steeles subway — ‘architectural wankfests’ a failure to plan [National Post]