North America

The Case For A DVP Relief Subway (and Gondola) in Toronto

Toronto’s subway plans contain a little problem and a big problem. The little problem is that over a third of the “preferred route” for the Downtown Relief Line subway (see map below) uses Pape, a street comprised almost entirely of houses rather than apartments or businesses. Pape is only 0.7-1.3 km east of the DVP, so it might become a bit redundant given that ride-sharing apps and eventually self-driving vehicles could turn the DVP into an efficient transit corridor. The far bigger problem, however, is that many of Toronto’s municipal councillors continue to vote in favour of extending subways into relatively sparsely populated areas like Scarborough, even as funding for transit construction remains scarce. Provincial policymakers too are loath to prioritize the Downtown Relief Line ahead of other, much less urgent subway projects within the GTA, like Yonge North. 

A compromise, it seems to me, might therefore be desirable. The Relief Line will finally receive top priority and funding, but in return it will will be reconfigured so as to become cheaper to build than the current preferred route, and more easily accessible to commuters from suburban and midtown Toronto who are ride-sharing on the DVP or Bayview Extension. It will be a DVP Relief Line.

I can envision two routes along which a DVP Relief subway might, just maybe, be worthwhile. In one, the subway would run under Queen to River Street, then under River Street to Gerrard. In the other, the subway would run under Queen to Parliament Street, then under Parliament to the Danforth. The Queen-River route would be just half the length of the preferred Queen-Pape route; the Queen-Parliament route would be roughly 58 percent the length of the Queen-Pape route. Also, unlike the Pape route, the Parliament and River routes would not involve crossing the Don Valley, which is one of the more costly necessities of the existing Downtown Relief Line plan.


 Above: Queen-River — Below: Queen-Parliament


The goal of either DVP Relief Line route would be threefold. One, to create ride-sharing transfer areas* for the DVP and Bayview Extension; areas that would be directly accessible to the Bloor-Danforth subway and the Relief Line subway. Two, to connect the Bloor-Danforth subway to the Relief Line subway. Three, to allow the DVP south of Gerrard or the Danforth to be gotten rid of in the long-run, so riverside parks and boardwalks could be put in its place and apartments built next to it.

*A ride-sharing transfer area is a place where anybody using a service like Car2Go, UberPool, or UberHop could disembark their vehicle and switch to a subway or to a different Car2Go, Uber vehicle, etc. A commuter in Markham, for example, could share an UberPool to the transfer area in Toronto with other people living in his or her neighbourhood, then travel from the transfer area to his or her office downtown by switching either to a Car2Go or to a different UberPool (one in which the other passengers are travelling to destinations near his or her office). Or, to give a different example, a commuter from Scarborough may take a Car2Go to the transfer area and then switch to a subway to reach his or her office, leaving the Car2Go car behind for others. Transfer areas of this sort would be especially useful if self-driving vehicles eventually become available.

A ride-sharing transfer area that would serve the DVP and Bayview Extension would need to be located within the Don Valley in order to prevent significant traffic bottlenecks from forming on the Parkway’s on/off-ramps. It would also need to be large enough to prevent significant traffic bottlenecks from forming at its own entrances and exits, and to leave a bit of room for parked vehicles like Car2Go. And it would need to be located next to the Bloor-Danforth and Relief Line subways. This leaves two possible locations: the area of the valley between Gerrard and the Danforth, or the area of the valley between the Danforth and Pottery Road. Both are 1.3 km in length.

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If the Queen-River route was chosen, the accompanying ride-sharing transfer area would have to be located in the valley between Gerrard and the Danforth. This is where the gondola that is mentioned in the title of this article comes into play. What I am proposing is that the ride-sharing areas be located in part of the track field next to the DVP and in part of the baseball field next to Bayview. These two fields, which are already linked to one another by the Riverdale Pedestrian Bridge, would then in addition be linked to one another by a 1.3 km aerial gondola that would in turn connect both of them to Broadview Station in the northeast and to the intersection of Gerrard and River Street — where a DVP Relief Line subway station would be located — in the southwest.

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Queen-River Subway plus Gondola extension

This would only be a temporary solution to the overcrowding on the Yonge subway line. Over the longer-term, a direct subway connection rather than an indirect gondola connection would be needed between the Bloor-Danforth subway and the Relief Line subway. The Relief Line subway would then need to be extended east along Gerrard to reach the future GO/SmartTrack station at Pape-and-Gerrard (see maps below) and then turn north to reach Pape Station on the Danforth.


  Source for Map Above: Toronto Star, June 2016

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 Long Term: Queen-River-Gerrard-Pape Subway plus Gondola extension

In the nearer-term, however, the gondola link might suffice to relieve the Yonge line, for three reasons. First, it would allow commuters who live along streets like Bayview, who might today take the Yonge subway, to instead ride-share down Bayview to the ride-sharing transfer areas and the Relief Line. Second, it would allow commuters who are not in a rush to transfer from the Bloor-Danforth subway to the Relief Line subway via the gondola, thereby avoiding the hectic mass of commuters at Yonge-and-Bloor station. (Ideally the gondola would even descend underground, into the subway stations, allowing transfers to be made from subway to gondola to subway without anybody needing to go up or down a flight of stairs, escalator, or elevator). Third, the Yonge line is likely to be relieved to a certain extent in the coming years by the fact that the Internet is increasingly allowing many people to work from home for a day or two a week, or at least to work from home in the morning sometimes, thereby avoiding the rush hour crush.

These three factors could buy time for the Yonge line, for the years in which the Queen-River portion of the Relief Line is complete but before the extension of the Relief Line to Pape Station is done.

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 Images above from

If, alternatively, the DVP Relief Line was to use the Queen-Parliament route, the ride-sharing transfer areas would instead have to be located north of the Danforth. One such area would be put in the parking lots of the Evergreen BrickWorks. A gondola would link these transfer areas to Castle Frank subway station, then go beyond it to reach a Relief Line station beneath St. James Cemetery.

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Above: BrickWorks-Castle Frank-Parliament Gondola — Below: Queen-Parliament Subway plus Gondola extension

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In the long-term, this subway line could be connected directly to Castle Frank or Sherbourne stations. Castle Frank is 0.25 km away but is across the Rosedale Valley Road and is relatively remote as subway stations go, whereas Sherbourne Station is 0.5 km away but otherwise may be the better option. It could also be extended to reach the future Unilever GO/SmartTrack station and high-rise developments south of Queen and east of the DVP, just like the ‘preferred’ Relief Line route does. And perhaps eventually it could even be extended to reach Rosedale Station on the Yonge subway line, in order to further reduce the severe overcrowding at Yonge-and-Bloor.

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Queen-Parliament Subway, plus extensions to Unilever, Sherbourne, and/or Rosedale stations, plus Gondola extension

Those who want the subway under Pape — Papists — might say it is unwise that all the transit corridors should be concentrated downtown. In this plan, the University, Yonge, and Parliament subways and the DVP/Bayview/gondola would all be within 2.8 km from east to west, while the Bloor and Queen subways, Gardiner Expressway and Front St. GO line would be within 3 km north to south. But such transit inequality might actually make sense, as it reflects the inequality between the weakness of human legs and strength of an internal combustion engine. Downtown Toronto will hopefully be built around pedestrians’ weak legs, and so require subways as an aid, whereas the rest of the city would be built around the strength of the internal combustion engine (whether car or bus; personal or ride-share; human-driven or self-driving), and so might not need the extra subway. Parliament, unlike Pape or River Street, already has a high population density.

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Ideally, this project will help to create the conditions to allow carpools or busses within the DVP and Bayview Extension to be used effectively, and to ease subway access and make the Valley simpler to cross over or into. Gondolas are very cheap and quick to build, relative to LRTs. They have decent capacities: up to 6000 people per direction per hour (ppdph) (by comparison, the Queen Street streetcar during rush hour has a capacity of 2000 ppdph, roughly speaking). That  said, without a DVP Relief Subway and a rise in ride-sharing on the DVP, Bayview, or in Toronto in general, any gondola would be frivolous. With ride-sharing, however, it could be an incredible boon.