You’d be in good company if you’ve taken the opinion that governments are more interested in creating transit plans than they are in actually getting them built. Between delays on the Ellington Crosstown, the constant debate over how to replace the SRT in Scarborough, and even the responsibility for transit planning shifting from the City to the Province, there has been a lot of arguing, and not a lot to show for it. The result is confusion. And we’re about to pay a steep price in Willowdale for the lack of a concrete plan.
When the Province of Ontario uploaded responsibility for rapid-transit expansion in 2019, it came with a $30-billion announcement to fund four priority projects, including the extension of the Line 1 Yonge subway north to Richmond Hill, with stops in Willowdale at Drewry/Cummer and Steeles Avenue. Since then, the anticipated cost of the planned six-stop Yonge extension jumped from $5.6 billion to more than $9 billion.
This week, Metrolinx published an initial business case that proposes a number of possible changes to the project, including diverting the line slightly to the east in Markham to run a portion above ground, and dropping the number of stations. A three-station version of the line would now cost $5.2 billion, theoretically leaving just enough to add a fourth within the original budget.
But which of the three “neighbourhood” stations makes the cut? The analysis seems to come down to a choice between Drewry/Cummer or at Clark Ave., with no clear recommendation. But the way these things go, it’s highly likely that the price tag on the project will continue to move upwards, meaning by the time of a decision, there may be no funding for either of these stations.
The problem with that uncertainty is that developers have already leveraged a future Drewry/Cummer station as a rationale to have increased height and density granted through the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT). In other words, this Provincial quasi-judicial body, which has the final say on all development limits in Ontario, is allowing much bigger buildings in our neighbourhood than the City would approve, leaning on a transit station that the Province may decide not to build.
The new M2M development at Drewry/Cummer successfully used this strategy to exceed City planning limits. A nearby site at 5959 Yonge has an appeal hearing coming up and will be making similar arguments.
Bigger buildings without direct access to public transit means more cars coming to an already congested neighbourhood at a time we need to be focussing on alternate modes of travel. More people pouring into the community also puts additional strain on infrastructure from roads, water and hydro capacity to spaces in schools, child care centres and recreation programs.
Planning decisions for this corridor are being made in the present, and will affect us all for generations. It’s imperative that the Province coordinates its various decision-makers immediately so that they are properly aligned to carefully manage growth in quickly densifying areas.