Toronto's Leslieville residents band together to bury the Ontario Line

January 27, 2020 By David Nickle,
Almost a decade ago, in 2011, some Leslieville residents may have rolled their eyes when they heard former councillor Doug Ford and his brother, the late Mayor Rob Ford, chant “Subways, subways, subways,” as they pushed for underground mass transit instead of surface light rail lines in Scarborough. It is a chant that echoes with a certain irony now, as residents in that
same community are faced with a sentiment that is at least superficially similar. Doug Ford, now Premier of Ontario, is preparing to run a portion of the new Ontario rapid transit line overground, along rail lines between Eastern Avenue and Gerrard Street East in Leslieville.

“There is an irony,” said Leslieville resident Kate Hilton, standing outside the Jimmy Simpson Recreation Centre on a frigid Friday afternoon, “that this is a neighbourhood that is incredibly supportive of transit, incredibly supportive of subways, of all the larger goals of getting Toronto moving. It’s just that this particular stretch of the whole project makes no sense, and is destructive.”

Just two days earlier, Hilton had helped lead a meeting across Queen Street at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, to lay the groundwork for a Community Action Group to deal with the so-called 2K Corridor of the Ontario Line. The group’s purpose is to unambiguously represent community interests along that corridor, which could see significant local impacts from the new line running between Ontario Place on the lakefront to the Ontario Science Centre in Don Mills. Most of the route will see trains run underground — but in Leslieville, the trains will run alongside GO trains on the GO corridor, widening that corridor to six tracks from three. That’s in contrast to the Toronto Transit Commission’s defunct plans for a downtown relief line that would have not served as many communities but would have featured a tunnel through Leslieville and underneath the Don River. Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins noted that the decision to go above ground is a cost-saving measure to allow for the longer route and would also make the stations in Leslieville easier to access. Hilton argued that the six-track, above-ground line has potential to make other things more difficult for the community, raising safety and noise issues (the Ontario Line is expecting to run trains every 90 seconds in each direction, which means a train will pass through every 45 seconds or so). There's also the potential for large-scale property expropriations along the line; and questions about what the future will be for community assets such as the Jimmy Simpson Community Centre and park, which abuts the GO right of way. And it is all complicated by the fact that the GO right of way will also contain new tracks for Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail (RER) expansion which, once complete, will be running more frequent trains there as well. So far, the only community forum for raising concerns is a Metrolinx-operated Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which was originally established to deal with the RER plan and has members from along the entire route.
Darcie Garand is a member of the CAC, and is also working to establish the new Community Action Group with Hilton. She said that the action group is necessary — because the CAC, organized as it is through Metrolinx, is too much a one-way street of information.

“The process by which the CAC runs is organized by Metrolinx,” she said. “It’s almost a one-way means of communications from Metrolinx to the CAC ... They decide who is active at the meetings, when the meetings happen and what’s on the meeting agenda. It’s not a true consultative process. It only looks at the issues that Metrolinx wants to talk about.”

The 2K Corridor Community Action Group is aiming to shift that conversation. The group’s initial meeting — which had between 100 and 130 people in attendance — was attended by local political leaders Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, who urged residents to attend upcoming public open houses over the next few months and make their voices heard. But Tabuns said it’s important to make it clear that Leslieville doesn’t object to transit. “We have to constantly be clear to people how much we know we need transit ... but that we oppose things that do unnecessary damage,” he said. “This can be built underground.” Metrolinx spokesperson Aikins, meanwhile, said that consultation will be continuing and it is possible that the project could see modification as a result of that consultation. “There is the potential that we could modify elements of the plan based on what we hear from communities, pending further analysis and review by our planning and design teams. We document feedback and any actions we take as a result of that feedback in consultation summaries that are part of finalized environmental assessment reports,” she said in an emailed response. STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter David Nickle wanted to hear community concerns about the above-ground Ontario Line plans, and how Leslieville residents were planning to deal with them.

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