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Peter Allibone, project manager on the Eglinton LRT (Kevin Van Paassen//The Globe and Mail)
Peter Allibone, project manager on the Eglinton LRT (Kevin Van Paassen//The Globe and Mail)

PUBLIC TRANSIT

Scenes from the Eglinton LRT Add to ...

The American architect Daniel Burnham, father of modern Chicago, is reputed to have told colleagues to "make no small plans" - a muscular exhortation that has encouraged and bedevilled urban planners ever since. In a Toronto twist on Burnham's maxim, some critics argued that David Miller's proposed streetcar network, known as Transit City, failed to capture the public's imagination in the way that a subway-building program might have.

Those critics will spend the next ten years eating dust, and lots of it.

Anyone who doubts the plan's sheer humongousness should spend a humid afternoon driving Eglinton from Black Creek Drive to the slope east of Laird, a 10.5 km river of traffic. A decade hence, a twinned tunnel for light-rail vehicles, with 13 stations, will run below this busy arterial. That's equivalent to the Keele-to-Pape segment of the Bloor/Danforth subway line.

The route takes in Fairbank's working-class grittiness, upscale Forest Hill, congested mid-town and the new/old world of Leaside - in short, a social core sample of Toronto itself. Once the Eglinton LRT re-surfaces, near the saddle of Serena Gundy ParkÖ, it will press through Don Mills and Scarborough's Golden Mile on its way to the Kennedy subway station, which will be re-invented as a transportation super-hub.

Proponents argue that the Eglinton LRT will provide rapid transit to a huge part of the city and spur development to justify the expense. Opponents fret about disruptive construction, loss of business, and congestion on the narrowed road allowances. Love it or hate it, the $4.6-billion Eglinton LRT - which received the final go-ahead in June - will transform Toronto in ways not seen since the Bloor subway linked the city's east and west in the 1960s.

Even by Mr. Burnham's yardstick, it is a big plan.

The Buses

On a typical weekday, 1,300 buses pass along Eglinton just east of Yonge; that figure is even higher near the Eglinton West station. The arrival of the LRT will drastically reduce those volumes and create more space for cars, although the Toronto Transit Commission has yet to make final decisions about the Eglinton bus routes. "At this point, we've made no commitments one way or the other," says TTC planner Scott Haskill.

Less bus service raises the question of where the new LRT stops will be. The TTC modelled the optimal distance between stops and concluded it was about 400 to 500 metres, about twice the gap between bus stops. The trade-off, says Mr. Haskill, is between how far riders are willing to walk and the speed of the service. The TTC opted against spacing the LRT stops as if they were subway stations. "We've heard that loud and clear."

The Streetscape

The Eglinton Crosstown will unfold in two acts.

The tunnel boring begins in 2012. But construction on the surface sections - from Black Creek to Jane and Laird to Kennedy - will take place between 2014 and 2018. After carving out space for the LRT right-of-way, the TTC says there will be "at least" two lanes in either direction, three if space allows. Unlike St. Clair West, much of the route is not lined by retail stores, so the city has more room to manoeuvre.

On the tunnelled section, the street itself won't look dramatically different, but Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) wants the city to take advantage of the reduced bus traffic and examine the "exciting" possibility of narrowing the road on some parts of Eglinton in order to widen the sidewalks. "It opens up the opportunity for a pedestrian scramble at Yonge and Eglinton," she adds, referring to the all-direction crossings where Yonge meets Bloor and Dundas.

The Boss

Peter Allibone is standing on a scrubby slope overlooking a point on Eglinton where it drops down toward the Serena Gundy Park. "The launch pit is going to be around here," he says, gesturing at a spot in the middle of the road, "and the soccer field" - his pet term for a staging area for heavy equipment - "will be about here."

Dressed in a white shirt so crisp it looks as if it could crack, Mr. Allibone is a veteran engineer who exudes self-assurance and wouldn't look out of place on a British legal drama. He's spent 40 years building transit projects, including the London Underground, New York City's subway system, and a connecting rail terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport.

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