Light Rail Transit: Not subways and not streetcars

Lessons learned?


In this paper Tim Lambrinos takes us through a journey along Finch Ave. decades ago, when the road and its surroundings bore little resemblance to the congested corridor we have today. In as little as two years from now, Finch Avenue will again go through a massive transformation that will bring changes to the adjacent neighbourhoods and businesses. This could be either good or bad, depending on your perspective of the coming changes. I’m referring to Metrolinx’s Finch West LRT that is to begin construction by 2016 with a completion date set for 2020.

The acronym, LRT, stands for Light Rail Transit. It is not a streetcar, nor is it a subway. It is a series of connected (light) vehicles to a maximum length of approximately 30 metres, that run on a rail line separated from the main roadway by either a raised curb or elevated tracks. Like St. Clair Ave, the roadway becomes divided by the tracks running down the centre of a raised bed. But St. Clair is not Finch and, we’re told, the lessons learned there will be applied to Finch.

Metrolinx is the provincial agency that has been given the responsibility, under the “Big Move” agenda to plan, design and oversee the construction of the LRT.

Once completed, it will be transferred to the TTC to operate.

The commercial properties along Finch West starting at Highway 400, and west to Milvan Drive past Weston Road are in the Emery Village BIA catchment. Their interests, along with other crucial employers, businesses and neighbourhoods drive the BIA’s initiatives towards seeking out the best solutions for our transit and transportation needs. In several public meetings the BIA has engaged stakeholders in order to identify their issues and concerns.

Further, the BIA has commissioned its own study in 2013 by Cole Engineering (Finch West LRT and Transportation Network Impact Assessment Study) to review the background studies in preparation for the LRT, and identify outstanding technical and transportation issues and constraints, and finally, put forward recommendations to the appropriate officials and decision makers.

The Cole Engineering study confirmed that truck turning, volumes and routing were issues that were never fully addressed in the initial Environmental Study done for the LRT. This is of major concern to many in our business community.

Emery Village BIA encompasses one of Toronto’s largest Employment Areas made up of commercial, industrial and retail businesses. Roughly 25,000 employees depend on the vitality of our business community. Finch Avenue is the major corridor that largely connects our businesses, goods and services to their destinations by way of highways and other arterials. Finch Avenue also connects our city designated Employment Area with other large industrial areas to the east of us (also newly incorporated as a BIA). According to Metrolinx, the bus passenger volume along Finch Ave. is the third highest in the city. By now, I believe the case is made that Finch Avenue matters, and not just for transit, but also to wage earners and the businesses that pay them. In the city of Toronto, industrial and commercial businesses continue to move away from the city eroding the employment base. While there are many reasons this is happening, key transportation considerations are integral to their decision to move out of the city. Paradoxically, workers must travel further away from the city for the type of jobs still found in our BIA. Simply, to preserve those jobs, we do need to focus on ensuring our commercial traffic, including trucks, are well accommodated in routing, turning and access.

Our information leads us to the conclusion that while we favour transit solutions along the corridor, Finch Avenue West’s role must be maintained as the main transportation corridor serving the BIA’s businesses along with other businesses in Toronto’s northwest.

Since last discussed (see Emery Village Voice , June 2014 edition) we are happy to report that Metrolinx has begun discussions with the EVBIA on the issues we have put before them. While they acknowledge the concerns shared by both businesses and residents, we’ll continue our efforts to see them adopt the recommendations along with the necessary investments in infrastructure. So far, Metrolinx has informed us that our key recommendation to bury portions of the LRT would carry significant costs exceeding their budget for the project. It is worth noting that the recommendations we put forward do not exceed the scope of work currently underway along Eglinton for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project.