Getting ready for the subway


Above: Map of York’s Keele campus, showing final proposed subway route and nine initiatives named in the secondary plan review, which are: 1. Steeles Ave. subway station, 2. Interim rapid bus lane, 3. City master plan areas, 4. South Lands commercial-residential area, 5. Arboretum/Stong Pond, 6. The Pond Road, 7. Pond-Sentinel mixed use area, 8. Athletic precinct, 9. Potential research precinct

The York University Development Corporation (YUDC) is always planning for the future but it’s not often that it needs to rethink the entire layout of Canada’s most populous university campus. In fact, the campus master plan has only been altered once since it was drawn up in 1965 and that was in 1988. Now, with the final route of the proposed Spadina subway extension determined – albeit still subject to final environmental approval from the provincial government – the University, through YUDC, has that opportunity to look into the future with a clear idea of what it will look like.

Right: Illustration of York University subway station alignment

In conjunction with the City of Toronto, which is undertaking a secondary plan review of the larger area in which the Keele campus sits, York must plan for the future growth that will come with the subway. “There’s a lot to consider,” said Bud Purves, YUDC president, at a briefing entitled Campus Transformation, held at the Keele campus in conjunction with an open house on Feb 8. The briefing, which included representatives from York, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission, was designed to outline the opportunities and priorities for change that will come with a transit line entering from the south-east off Keele St. and running through to the Northwest Gate at Steeles Ave.

Purves said there were several goals of the secondary and master plan reviews, which were being undertaken within a framework of legislation and consultation that has been underway for many years. First among them is the recognition, protection and enhancement of the campus’s academic core as an institutional district. Another is to respect and reinforce York’s decision in 1988, that campus lands south of The Pond Road and along Steeles Ave. were contemplated for commercialization through non-academic development. Another key goal is to promote strong physical and social connections with the City of Toronto and surrounding communities.

“We need a plan that integrates the University, not only physically, but commercially and socially, with its surroundings,” Purves said. “In fact, commercialization helps York by providing money for endowment and capital to create much needed services such as shopping and administrative space.”

“Transit will be key to achieving this goal,” said Chris Wong, YUDC director of transportation and master planning. “It will help integrate the Keele campus with the surrounding neighbourhoods. As well, transit will improve access to Toronto’s many facilities and services.” A large part of this effort involves the major transportation node planned for the subway’s end point at Steeles Ave.

There are several immediate priorities for changes to the campus, some of which will involve the start of construction as early as May this year:

  • Ongoing development of Tribute Communities’ Village at York University development
  • Stong Pond and Arboretum Storm Water Management Pond
  • The Pond Road upgrading

Right: Illustration of potential Shoreham Gate-The Pond Road redevelopment

The most immediate item on the list is work on The Pond Road and Shoreham Drive between Murray Ross Parkway and Sentinel Road, which will be upgraded to municipal standards in preparation for its deeding to the City of Toronto sometime this year. These improvements will complete a public thoroughfare through the campus, between Jane and Keele streets. The new thoroughfare will improve community traffic flow and access to the new subway stations, two of which are slated to be built on campus. Improvements will include some widening and realignment of the roadway, sidewalks, lighting and a redesigned intersection at Shoreham Drive that will allow improved and safer pedestrian access to the Keele campus from the west.

Andrew Wilson, York’s campus planer, said changes to The Pond Road will also provide an opportunity to make much-needed modifications to the Stong Pond storm water management facility and the Arboretum. Although a final design for the entire area has not been drawn up yet, one proposal shown at the briefing involves construction of a second, smaller pond to the north of the Arboretum that could eliminate the need for more intrusive changes to the landscape. Wilson also described some of the options being discussed with the City, such as sidewalk placement and regrading for storm water management, that will maintain the natural frontage onto Black Creek Ravine.

Right: Route of planned interim rapid bus lane

Other aspects of the plan that are up for review include:

  • Development along the Steeles Ave. and Keele St. frontages
  • Interim rapid bus lanes planned for completion in 2009
  • Pond-Sentinel mixed-use development
  • Athletic precinct
  • Potential research precinct

Two important areas that require plan review include the subway corridors along the Keele and Steeles frontages on campus. Wong explained how these areas along the proposed subway route through campus would be reviewed for the kind of intensified use that comes with improved transit, such as higher density residential buildings, offices and commercial and mixed uses.

The section of the subway line that crosses The Pond Road west of Keele is one area being looked at for new development. The other is the area surrounding the Steeles Ave. station and its connection to a transit hub in Vaughan. Wong said development is not only inevitable along a transit line but in keeping with provincial and municipal planning requirements for intensified development around transit nodes. The recommended alignment, Wong explained, meets all of the public goals for a project of this size and importance.

Left: Illustration of planned Steeles Ave. W. subway station on the Keele campus with Vaughan transit hub to the north

“The Spadina subway line supports the Ontario government’s growth and transportation strategies,” Wong said. “It’s an essential public facility that will stimulate intensified development in the city’s northwest and create an economic benefit.” The subway will also alleviate bus traffic onto the Keele campus and restore the Harry Arthurs Common as the heart of the campus, Wong explained.

Building a station at Steeles Ave. W. on the proposed line will require a relocation of York stadium, which was already being contemplated in proposals for a new regional sports facility. Purves said the area surrounding the station would include a pedestrian plaza and, on the north side of Steeles Ave., bus bays and commuter parking. The playing field and stadium would likely be relocated on land now occupied by the East Office Building.

The University has already approved, in principle, redevelopment of land at the south-east corner of The Pond and Sentinel roads. Purves said requests for proposals for a retail-office centre opposite The Pond Road Residence have been issued and have already generated some good ideas for that site. He said the project would respond to some identified demands for services, such as a grocery store and additional University administrative office space, and enhance the southern gateway to the Keele campus.

Right: Artist’s concept of mixed-use development at The Pond Road and Sentinel Road

Guidelines in the request for proposals included considerations such as:

  • a high-quality streetscape
  • a pedestrian-supportive environment
  • screened parking lots
  • leading edge environmental design

Purves said the University had already received a proposal for a LEEDS-certified project (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that would be one of the first on a university campus in Canada.

The final area of the campus that will be looked at, Purves said, is the northeast quadrant, which is being considered as a potential research precinct that could be home to both commercial and York-sponsored research and technology businesses. Purves made it clear, however, that plans for the former Tennis Canada site, which now contains the YUDC offices, and for Stong Farm House, a parking lot and some of the York Physical Resources buildings, are at a very early stage and no decisions have been made about its use.

The City of Toronto is holding an introductory meeting and open house on its secondary plan update process on Feb. 27 at York Woods Library, 1785 Finch Ave. W., from 3 to 5:30pm, followed by a presentation and question-and-answer session at 7pm in the library’s theatre.