This is an article I wrote for the Spring 2020 issue of On the Danforth magazine (originally published March 2020).
With commuting in Toronto becoming increasingly difficult, it’s a surprise the city runs as smoothly as it does.
As of 2018, Metrolinx and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) planned to construct a new Downtown Relief Line that would address the concerns of overcrowded platforms and commuting delays. If completed, it would have connected Osgoode station on Line 1 to Pape station on Line 2.
All planning for the Relief Line stopped in April 2019, when the Ford government announced the new Ontario Line. The Ontario Line’s 15-kilometre route will extend beyond the scope of the now abandoned Relief Line, and connect the Science Centre to Ontario Place. Unlike the Relief Line, the Ontario Line will see Pape station become a cross-transfer point like Bloor-Yonge station. This means construction will now occur both north and south of Danforth Avenue.
Toronto lacks a well-connected underground network, and city council has long debated the plan to pursue subways. While the Ontario Line may look like progress, the fact that it will be partly
above-ground is raising a lot of concerns amongst residents.
This new line will have an impact on green spaces, community centres, local businesses, the health and safety of residents, and the general culture the east end has worked so hard to produce. It is projected to see daylight south of Gerrard Street and across the Don Valley, and will not return underground until it reaches the downtown core.
The east end’s landscape is starting to become one with downtown Toronto’s ubiquitous concrete jungle and the Don Valley acts as a physical green barrier, separating the bustling downtown from the east end’s residential neighbourhoods. Over the years, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has overseen the revitalization of the valley’s landscape, which offers walking and cycling trails. They have also reported a large growth in wildlife populations.
The Ontario Line is set to cross the Don Valley on an elevated platform. Increased noise levels from this construction will displace both wildlife and residents who frequent this green space. Once the Ontario Line is running, the frequency and noise of trains passing overhead will ensure the area sees fewer visitors.
How Loud Is Too loud?
Due to these increased noise levels, concerns over health and safety are also being raised. The plan estimates that a train will pass by every 45 seconds to two-and-a-half minutes, and assessments have cited the decibel level generated by passing trains to be approximately 90dB. If you’re wondering how loud that is, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends hearing protection for noise levels above 85dB, and requires that workers not be exposed to continuous volumes for more than eight hours, otherwise risking hearing damage.
Residential areas and nearby parks that are close to the line will be constantly bombarded by damaging noise levels. Because of this, some parks may no longer be safe places for children to play.
A Community or a Construction Zone (Why Leslieville is Up in Arms)
The most outspoken neighbourhood on the Ontario Line is Leslieville. Among their principal concerns is the possible destruction of Jimmie Simpson Park and Recreation Centre. As the heart of the Leslieville community, residents may lose one of the few community gathering
spaces they have.
Specifically, the line calls for the demolition of a tennis court, hockey rink, baseball diamond, basketball court, and a children’s playground.
If the community centre, in addition to the park, is demolished, or no longer usable due to noise pollution, those who are enrolled in programs have few alternatives.
The growing population of the area means there are no spaces available at other nearby community centres. Due to the displacement of Leslieville residents, other neighbourhoods will most likely see an increase in attendance at their own community locations, resulting in a higher and more competitive demand for the spaces.
Subways, Subways, and more Subways
The Downtown Relief Line passed all environmental assessments and was given a green light. Given the Ontario Line’s proposed 2027 completion date, there is concern over whether it will require new environmental assessments or simply proceed onward from the Relief Line’s green light, despite fundamental design differences with the above-ground portions of the line. With concerns over unanswered questions and implied impacts, it doesn’t look like the Ontario Line will ever have the same community approval that the Relief Line once did.
Below is how the piece appeared in On the Danforth, Spring 2020.