As part of Tuesday, June 21st's GO Transit announcement, the Province of Ontario and City of Toronto revealed that a new SmartTrack / GO RER station is planned for Liberty Village. Of the eight potential new Toronto stations announced this week, the Liberty Village stop would serve the densest and—arguably—most transit-deprived area owing to its challenging location between rail corridors. While immediate transit improvements are already needed, local councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19) stressed that the neighbourhood's fast-paced growth should be a catalyst for an expanded transportation network.
Celebrating the community, Layton described Liberty Village as a commercial hub that employs "over 11,000 people," who are "working in sectors that any city would dream of." Liberty Village's "well paying, high-tech, creative cluster jobs" cater to the growing knowledge economy, the councillor noted, contextualizing the area's recent urban intensification as part of a long-term trend.
"In 2014, Liberty Village recorded the largest employment increase in all city districts, adding 1,800 jobs. Between 2009 and 2014, Liberty Village added 30% more jobs than all other 22 employment districts combined. In the past five years, Liberty Village has added 3,500 jobs," said Layton, adding that more office buildings are under construction and in development.
"There are also 10,000 people living in Liberty Village, and four [residential] buildings yet to be constructed," Layton explained. "This means that around 20,000 people are attempting to get in and out and around Liberty Village every day, and that number is only growing." Despite the incredible rate of growth, Liberty Village is "not well served for transit riders," he added, with the overburdened King streetcar taking on an overwhelming number of local transit users.
Currently the busiest surface route in the City, the King streetcar serves over 65,000 daily riders. "It's often so busy you have to wait for several cars to go by before you can lumber that 45-minute trek through traffic to St. Andrew station," said Layton, describing a commute all too familiar to many Liberty Village residents and workers.
Although two GO corridors shape the neighbourhood, Layton argued that the only nearby station—the Exhibition GO stop on the Lakeshore West line—is hindered by limited service and prohibitive ticket prices. Even though the intermittent GO service provides an "8-minute ride to Union Station," the councillor lamented that "the $5 premium" (compared to TTC prices) reduces the station's viability as a commute option for Liberty Village residents.
Layton was emphatic in pushing for improved transit access. Nonetheless, he also celebrated the potential SmartTrack station, along with evolving cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and the recently launched 514 Cherry streetcar, as meaningful improvements. Layton's comments were echoed by First Capital's Jordan Robins, who highlighted the proposed pedestrian/cycle bridge (part of the King HighLine project) as an important future link to surrounding communities.
As First Capital also owns much of the remaining available land in Liberty Village, the developer could be a key partner for the new transit infrastructure. Given Metrolinx's preference for a King Street SmartTrack stop, a new station could potentially be built on a plot along the rail tracks at King and Sudbury (above). Occupied by a former condo sales centre, the vacant First Capital site is located on the northern edge of the Liberty Village community. On the other side of the tracks (and in Liberty Village itself), the Shops at King Liberty and the adjoining plaza also form a 310,000 ft² First Capital property.
Since taking over the property, First Capital have expressed interest in ultimately introducing a more urban character to the retail plaza, which for the time being retains a car-oriented and somewhat suburban character. With a precise location for the station yet to be determined, it's still too early to determine if or how the site might be reconfigured, though the First Capital property is likely to play a key role if the SmartTrack station materializes.
Notwithstanding potential station locations, the viability of SmartTrack / GO RER as an intercity commute option will be determined in large part by fare structure and service frequency. As Layton points out, infrequent service and comparatively high fares already hinder use of the existing GO service. For SmartTrack / GO RER, neither issue is definitively resolved.
Making the consideration of the station location more dispiritingly hypothetical, the—arguably ill-conceived—Scarborough Subway Extension remains Toronto's only funded large-scale transit plan. As it stands, SmartTrack, the Eglinton LRT extensions, and the Relief Line, remain mostly unfinanced. In total, these projects are expected to cost approximately $11.7 billion. In terms of SmartTrack, the federal Liberals have pledged $2.6 billion, representing half of the projected cost, pending commitments from the Provincial and Municipal governments to provide the remaining 50%.
We will keep you updated as more information becomes available, and SmartTrack / GO RER plans continue to develop. In the meantime, more information is available on our Transportation and Infrastructure Forum. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or join in the ongoing conversations on our SmartTrack and GO Transit Forum threads.
|Related Companies:||First Capital Realty, Kasian, TACT Architecture, Urban Strategies Inc.|