Streetcar troubles

Public Consultations into the New Streetcar Yards at Leslie/Lakeshore
Thursday, 2010 April 8, 6:30-9pm
Fire Academy, 895 Eastern Ave

On Tuesday, March 9, I was invited to help out and listen in to a meeting where Leslieville residents got together to begin forming an association.  The issue that galvanized the community into action was the proposed new streetcar yards at Leslie and Lakeshore on the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant site.  It was a packed hall and strong opinions were voiced from many angles.

The plan is to have almost 100 streetcars leave the new site every morning between 5 and 7 am and slowly spread throughout the city, way up to St. Clair, downtown to King Street, and all along Queen, College/Carlton/Gerrard, Dundas, Spadina and so on.  The Connaught and Roncesvalles yards will also be maintained, though the Connaught yards will have to be changed to accommodate the new design.  The streetcars will be four times the length of the current non-articulated models, or double the length of the articulated designs on the street today.

There were concerns about potential noise issues.  There were concerns about access and danger on Leslie, Lakeshore, Eastern and Queen.  There were concerns about public safety on streetcars so long.  There were concerns about toxins that would be released when soil at the Ashbridges Bay site was disturbed.  There were other concerns.  And there were some residents who welcomed added TTC facilities and one resident who lives on Connaught who said that noise just isn’t a problem (though we’re talking about a new streetcar design that will hopefully run more silently still but may be noisier).

My sense of this project remains the same as it was when I first heard about it.  Like almost all the Leslieville residents, I like streetcars and welcome the arrival of new models with street-level access.  I understand that the yards required will inconvenience some neighbourhood and I’m willing to consider the possibility that our neighbourhood may be chosen.  But I do resent the fact that there was no consultation and no consideration of any other place.  The south end of this riding already hosts both the Connaught yards and the enormous Greenwood subway yards that seriously divide neighbourhoods.  It is not like our community isn’t doing its part for public transit.

Back when six potential sites were being discussed, it irked me that all of them to a one were in the south end of Toronto-Danforth and each would involve the conversion of land that would otherwise be used for a purpose I found more valuable.  Under consideration was prime Toronto harbour property, potential parkland and the property on Eastern which this community fought so hard for to maintain for high value employment, not primarily streetcar storage.  Meanwhile, the Wychwood Barns, located in a part of the city where residents seem to matter, have been turned into an arts showcase.  And proposals to put streetcar yards into the West Donlands community when it was being built have been ignored.

It is undeniably a challenging plan.  The Leslieville residents have calculated that a quadruple-length streetcar will have to go by every 84 seconds for two hours each morning.  And that rate will have to be maintained for two turns, one from the streetcar yards onto Leslie Street, the other for the turn from Leslie onto Queen Street.  And the streetcars will be crossing Lakeshore at that rate right into the beginnings of the morning rush.  I’m not a big car fan but it’s obvious to me that the impacts on local traffic will be enormous.  That’s less important on Queen Street proper, but the Leslie/Eastern area is already very challenging, with a number of fatalities recently.  The concerns are legitimate and should be addressed.

Now let’s assume that despite the toxic and traffic issues, the smartest location by far in the entire city to store some streetcars is on the corner of an already cramped water treatment facility.  Even then, wouldn’t the project have benefited from community consultation?  Residents are uniquely able to understand and communicate the potential impacts ahead of time.  And finally, if our community is going to give up another valuable piece of property for public infrastructure, shouldn’t there be some sort of compensation?  One glaringly obvious option is to build a streetcar line through the Portlands to the site.  That will bring added value to the Portlands, and it won’t even cost more in the long run, since the Portlands is supposed to have a public transit extension eventually anyway.

Perhaps as a result of the public outcry, we’re going to get another public meeting on April 8.  Apparently, alternative sites will not be discussed, just possible route alterations.  The route alteration I plan on proposing will go right through the Portlands and link up with the new West Don Lands and East Bay Front communities.  I know it has its own challenges, requiring a new crossing of the Don as well as a rail spur.  But it’s a lot smarter than what’s on the table now.

I know others aren’t willing to give in even to the site choice.

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