The three-stop 'subways, Subways, SUBWAYS' expansion into Scarborough, that—through an illogically Fordian war of attrition—fought its way through City Councill to become the City's preferred option, could now be reduced to one stop. In its place, however, City Planning recommends that the reduced cost of a one-stop extension into Scarborough Centre could allow for an extension of the Eglinton LRT reaching as far as the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

The new Scarborough transit network, image courtesy of the City of TorontoThe new Scarborough transit network, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The new(est) plan comes as a compromise on one of the City's most contentious issues in recent years, ending what John Tory called "a civil war" over transit in Scarborough. Council voted against the proposed, fully-funded 7-stop LRT in favour of a three-stop subway extension in 2013. The new plan was opposed by many. Population densities along the corridor are likely too low to justify subway infrastructure, while the closer spacing of LRT stops could allow for more residents to be served by the new transit, making the proposed subway highly contentious.

A comparison of the new subway plan (right) and the three-stop extension, image A comparison of the new subway plan (right) and the three-stop extension, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The plan now presented by Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has been labelled as an "optimized" iteration of the three-stop subway proposal. The revised subway still maintains most of the length of the three-stop extension, however, since the same TTC Scarborough Centre station was initially planned as the second stop on the line. The cost savings would be such that a "shovel-ready" LRT extension—closely resembling David Miller's TransitCity plan—could be started simultaneously.

According to City Planning, the new transit strategy meets the dual goals of creating a more vibrant urban centre in the heart of Scarborough—with the subway—and building a stronger regional transportation network—with the LRT. The thinking behind the plan also evidences a paradigm shift for Toronto's transit planning, Keesmaat explains. "It's not just about building one line at a time, it's about building a transit network."

Although ridership numbers are not yet available, it's easy to see the appeal. A subway station at Scarborough Centre will help urbanize one of the five "growth centres" identified in the Official Plan. Part of a strategy to distribute growth more evenly across central nodes in the city, the creation of stronger 'centres' helps to ease the infrastructural strain on Downtown, particularly in terms of transit congestion. SmartTrack will better serve commuters heading Downtown, while the new LRT will provide improved local transit, with the Staff Report showing many local trips have destinations in Scarborough itself (below).

A map showing destinations of transit trips originating in Scarborough, image coA map showing destinations of transit trips originating in Scarborough, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The lack of hard ridership figures could prove a stumbling block for the new plan, though Keesmaat argues that building transit doesn't have to be based solely on where immediate demand is greatest. Instead, meeting broader goals such as providing increased social mobility for disadvantaged neighbourhoods, or creating a new urban growth centre, can also be strong justifications for building new infrastructure. 

The proposed network seems a product of far more thought-out and deft planning than the three-stop subway. Yet, after so many years of "civil war" and irrational squabbling on the issue of transit in Scarborough, it becomes harder to tell what's for the best, as the basis for any comparative analysis has become so skewed. After such choreography, who's still keeping score?

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The Staff Report will now be reviewed by the City's Executive Committee, and a more finalized plan is expected to be brought before Council by June. A full copy of the Report is available here. What do you think of the new Scarborough Transit network? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page, or contribute to the ongoing discussion on our associated Forum thread