Talk has been gradually heating up over the last several years about the increasingly urgent need to relieve traffic congestion in Toronto, and especially in the city's burgeoning Downtown. In 2012 Metrolinx, the provincial body which oversees regional transit in the Greater Toronto Area, moved the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) to the top of its list of the next wave of transit infrastructure needed for Toronto. Karen Stintz, Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has declared that this is now the TTC's priority too, and most recently declared that the first application for funds from the Federal Government's renewed Infrastructure program would be made to build the DRL.

In the meantime, the TTC has not been wasting any time, and in advance of public consultations to determine exact station locations, has narrowed down the possible routes that the proposed Downtown Relief Line (DRL) could take through the city's core. UrbanToronto sat down with Andrew King, the TTC's DRL public relations officer to talk about the study so far.

Downtown Relief Life Study Corridors

Metrolinx drew a line on a map last fall for the DRL, and put it under King Street. Why have you looked at so many alternative corridors besides King?

Metrolinx's aim was to make the concept of the DRL understandable for Torontonians, and to let them know that the line was now a high priority. It will speed Torontonians to and around the Downtown, make rapidly growing areas of the city more accessible by rapid transit, and will relieve some pressure from the Yonge line too.

York Region is pushing for a northerly extension of the Yonge Line to Highway 7, but I understand that the line cannot handle the extra traffic that such an extension would bring?

That's correct. The new Toronto Rocket subway trains have a higher capacity, and in three years we expect automatic operation of the line to increase capacity again, but those improvements are expected to only be enough to handle the growing demands on the current line. Lengthening the line is expected to draw yet more passengers to the Yonge line, so the TTC needs to divert some traffic away from it. We believe that a DRL, meeting the Bloor-Danforth line at Pape, will allow passengers heading to the City's core to transfer with much more ease.

And the same will eventually be true in the west end of town?

We expect the second phase will extend the DRL to Dundas West or a nearby station.

So why study so many corridors through the core?

People talk about King, Queen, and sometimes the rail corridor as being the only alternatives. We see those as the three most problematic in fact. Constructing the subway under either King or Queen Streets will mean years worth of disruption to the streetcar services currently on those routes. King in particular is running virtually at capacity now. If there's a way to build the new subway line without inconveniencing those riders, then we think that needs to be considered.

Aren't the new lines being built with TBMs (Tunnel Boring Machines) these days, instead of being built by the more disruptive cut-and-cover method?

Stations are still done through cut-and-cover, which would disrupt streetcar service on those streets.

And the rail corridor you mentioned?

The full right-of-way is needed for GO Transit, VIA Rail, and the new Union Pearson Express train. There are freight trains through there at times too. There is no space there for the DRL.

Tell me about the corridors you've studied.

We are presenting the two best options at this time, and we have a preferred alternative in mind.

Downtown Relief Life Adelaide and Wellington Alternatives

What are the two, and how did you narrow it down to them?

Our preferred alternative is along Wellington Street through the core. A secondary option is along Adelaide.

Downtown Relief Life Wellington Alternative

Tell us about the preferred alternative. 

Wellington—or Wellington-Front really—accomplishes the most. It allows relatively easy connections at King and St. Andrew stations. By running the station at Yonge over to Bay, it would also allow for a fare-paid connection under Bay Street to Union Station if that is deemed necessary. By running the station at University over to Simcoe, it gets us within a block of the Convention Centre. It also allows us to slip down to Front again at Spadina to connect with a potential new GO station there, there are also plans for a large mixed-use redevelopent there. Finally, just to the east of the core it would allow for a station at the St. Lawrence Market at Front and Jarvis.

Downtown Relief Life Wellington Alternative

Why not just run the whole way under Front if it's under Front both to the east and west of the core?

Direct connections at Union Station would be possible if we ran the line under Front here, but would be extremely expensive to build owing to the complications caused by the Yonge-University line already being there; it would be a very tight squeeze!

As well, as I mentioned earlier, a pedestrian tunnel under Bay is an option to directly connect a Financial Core station under Wellington with Union Station if required, but there is a question as to how many people on this line would need to connect directly at Union, since the DRL connect may with a new GO station to the west at Spadina, or even more likely, with a new one at Cherry Street or the Don River to the east. Finally, we expect that the public would be reluctant to accept several more years of disruption at Union after all of the construction they are enduring there now.

Downtown Relief Life Adelaide Alternative

And Adelaide?

Adelaide does not accomplish as much as Wellington, but it's part way between King and Queen Streets, and would attract riders from both streetcar lines. It would still connect at King and St. Andrew stations, but the walk would be a little longer from both.

Are the station names on these maps final?

Not at all, these are just working names.

Downtown Relief Life Adelaide Alternative

How detailed have these studies gotten so far?

These represent transit service planning preferences only, they are not engineering studies. Local consultations and an EA (environmental assessment) is to come.

People talk about the station under Queen Street station on the Yonge line every once in a while. Should that not make a line under Queen a preferred alternative too?

The area a DRL station would occupy under the Yonge line stop there has already been compromised by years of alterations to the existing station, including widening the access stairs from the northbound to the southbound sides: the new stairs were built into one of the two tunnels. There are other impediments down there as well.

Lower Queen: likely never to be used for the Downtown Relief Line, image by Craig White

We went down under Queen Station for a look at the space which was created for an east-west line when the Yonge line was constructed in the early 50s. Cinder block walls do intrude into the tunnels through which a Queen subway line would have run, as seen above, as do conduits which carry electrical and communication cables that have been added since the space was built. We thanked Andrew King for his time.

We showed the plans to a few people on downtown sidewalks on the weekend to get their reaction. Avril Poisson, 73, of the Annex, was especially happy that the Wellington route might bring a station to the St. Lawrence Market. "There's no place in the city that I would more like to see a new subway station at than the market. What a great way to start my Saturdays that would be!" 

What's your take on the alternatives? Leave a comment below!