Subway construction start planned for spring 2008

Imagine a Common without any of the 1,400 or more buses that currently circle York’s central open space every day. Instead, picture a pair of discreet entrances to the Spadina subway located at the new Archives of Ontario/York Research Tower and the Seymour Schulich Building, with pedestrians enjoying the peacefulness of an urban green space, free from the roar of engines.

It’s a nice thought to be sure, but to get there, be prepared for seven years of construction and a big hole in the ground in the middle of Ian Macdonald Boulevard for, as Bud Purves, president of York University Development Corporation says, “the subway is coming.”

Right: Sheppard subway tunnels and station under construction

At an information session held Nov. 6 in York Lanes, Purves and representatives of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and the City of Toronto spelled out in detail what impact the extension of the Spadina subway from Downsview Station will have on the Keele campus, both in terms of the subway itself and the new residential and commercial development it will generate along its corridor. The session also included a talk by the head of Archives Ontario, a key component of the many changes in store.

Charles Wheeler, TTC deputy chief project manger for the Spadina subway extension, said he expects work to begin in April 2008 and last until 2015, when the new line, which will pass through Keele campus on a diagonal from the southeast to the northwest, is completed at a cost of about $2.1 billion.

Charles WheelerLeft: The TTC’s Charles Wheeler explains subway construction methods

Although the federal government has yet to sign funding agreements confirming its $700-million contribution to the line, Wheeler said construction will begin next spring with work to move a sewer line running across the subway’s path at Steeles Avenue, where the second of two stations on the campus will be located. When tunnel construction at York begins, it will start near this same area and progress south at a rate of 15 metres a day – the approximate speed of the massive tunnel boring machine that will carve through the earth below the campus.

But, as Wheeler explained, construction of the two stations using the cut-and-cover method will result in two very large holes that will mean redirecting traffic around the centre of the campus and considerable disruption. “If you ask people, they’re always happy about the subway coming,” he told the audience. “but few people are happy during the construction.”

Above: Diagram of tunnel (in purple), station (in yellow) and special track (in green) construction areas on the Keele campus

A detailed timetable for the project, including more precise dates on the length of the disruption is under review, Wheeler said. When completed, the line will stretch from Downsview Station at Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road to the future Vaughan Corporate Centre, located two stops north of the Keele campus at Hwy. 7. The Steeles West Station will include a 15-bay terminal opposite York Stadium to accommodate local buses on connecting routes that now use the Common Road. A larger regional bus terminal and commuter parking lot will be located north of Steeles, fulfilling a commitment made to the University that there would be no commuter parking facilities located on campus.

Wheeler also described some of the practical implications of station construction and design using a series of photographs from the Sheppard Subway project, which he also led.

Left: Tunnel boring machine

One member of the audience expressed concerns about vibration, both from tunnel construction and trains once the line was completed. The tunnel will pass underneath the southwest corner of the Lumbers Building, which is home to sensitive research equipment and ongoing experiments. Wheeler offered reassurances that he and his team were studying carefully the effects of tunnel construction and described the track damping system that uses large rubber hockey-puck-shaped pads that virtually eliminate the vibration of train traffic. “I can guarantee you that you will be able to put your hand on the wall and not feel any vibration,” he said.

Allison Meistrich, a senior planner with the City of Toronto’s North District office, outlined some of the changes being contemplated for the Keele campus under a process to update the city’s secondary plan for York University lands. At a community workshop held Oct. 30 at a local school, participants made suggestions for new facilities such as better road and pedestrian connections between the Keele campus and a revitalized community to be known as University Heights.

Allison MeistrichLeft: Allison Meistrich explains secondary plan update process

Several options for development outside of York’s academic core – the area encircled by The Pond Road and Ian Macdonald Boulevard – are being considered, including new residential, commercial and University office development along with the roads linking them. As Meistrich explained, the city is also looking at options for improving traffic flow around the campus to the surrounding communities.

Meistrich said city planners are looking at changes to the plan that will support development around the subway and that are in keeping with the city’s overall policy of higher densities around transportation nodes. She said the community meeting produced several suggestions and city staff would be happy to receive any further suggestions or comments. One likely possibility, she said, was a new elementary school in the area southeast of The Pond Road, behind any retail-commercial development along the Keele Street frontage down to Finch Avenue.

Right: Potential location for a new elementary school (centre) south of The Pond Road, between the York University and Finch West stations

At this point in the secondary plan update, Meistrich said, city staff are developing assumptions about population density, building heights and design, and required infrastructure before drawing up any draft plans.

The session also included a talk by Miriam McTiernan, archivist of Ontario, about the new Ontario Archives building currently under construction at the east end of York Lanes (see stories in the Jan. 3 and May 1 issues of YFile). In addition to being the first public-service facility in the Archives’ 100-year plus history, the building will be home also to a 10-storey University research tower. The York University Station’s main entrance will be located at the south end of the Archives but will be built later, once the Archives building and subway station are both finished.

For more information on the Spadina subway project, visit the TTC Web site.

A PDF copy of the current draft of the York University Secondary Plan Update is available at the City of Toronto’s Web site.