Anyone who lived through the updating of the St. Clair Avenue West streetcar tracks will understand the frustration that comes with the current transit construction to put in place the long awaited Eglinton Avenue cross-town light rapid transit line (LRT). In view of that, the question of how much unavoidable inconvenience being experienced daily along Eglinton West – which will continue over the next two years – requires sound thinking from Metrolinx managers in order to minimize the pain for motorists, business owners and residents. One thing this city does not need is another transit construction ‘fiasco’.
Much of the Eglinton LRT will be underground, unlike the surface route St. Clair construction, nevertheless Metrolinx will need to go forward with a sensible, practical action plan that accommodates the public need to continue to use the surface route during this time.
Flexibility in any plan is a good thing, but it appears that with some aspects of this construction exercise the decision-makers do not yet have a fully detailed plan for how to proceed. So, given all the lessons learned from the St. Clair construction, we have to wonder why, despite recommendations to the contrary as far back as January last year, Metrolinx is leaning toward closing northbound Allen Road from Eglinton to Lawrence to use it as a staging area for trucks and other equipment for the Eglinton cross-town tunnel construction.
This kind of decision-making is yet another example of how consideration for the public seems to be given the lowest priority. So, the strong opposition to this boneheaded plan should not come as a surprise since shutting that access for two years would be a significant disruption.
The movement along Eglinton is bad enough now, and traffic congestion had long been a source of frustration for motorists even before this construction work began. That is thanks in part to the fight the province got 40 years ago from residents in Forest Hill and other civic concerns who did not want the Allen extension for the Spadina Expressway running through the Cedervale Ravine behind their million-dollar properties.
The alternates being suggested during the proposed Allen Road closure, Avenue Road and Bathurst Street, are meeting with skepticism from the area councillor, Josh Matlow, backed by resistance from residents in proximity to those north-south corridors.
Traffic delays and disruptions are inevitable as a result of the LRT construction over the next few years, but do planners have to make this aspect of construction more difficult, especially where there are alternatives such as using the park next to the Eglinton West station or the parkland next to 13 Division police station as staging areas?
If it a case of needing access to haul the excavated dirt away from the tunnels, as has been reported, there is always the alternative of giving one lane to public traffic along the northbound Allen which would allow the construction trucks to do what they have to do while using the other.
We know the Eglinton line is important; we have been calling for it for decades and decried the provincial Progressive Conservative government’s decision in 1995 to stop construction that had already begun. But, when Metrolinx decision-makers act as if consideration for the public is not a factor, then it’s time to call them on it. This is the same approach that our local transit service employs when supervisors take vehicles out of service even when those buses and streetcars are packed with commuters, as if what matters more is keeping to their planned schedule, regardless of the crowd conditions.
The issue, therefore, is not to overlook inconveniences; they are to be expected. Rather, it is how best to allow all sectors affected to be accommodated within reason, because to prioritize construction activities as if area residents and motorists don’t matter is not acceptable. We hope that recommendations coming before council in June about how to go forward will take into consideration all the stakeholders.
We all understand short-term pain for long-term gain as the LRT is expected to be. We also understand that learning from past mistakes, such as not consulting properly with all the parties involved, can be costly. We would like to be assured that the Eglinton LRT project would not in any way become a replay of how the track construction on St. Clair Avenue West unfolded.