Revival of the Queen Street Subway
In January 2016, plans for downtown Toronto’s first subway in decades were taking shape, with the city’s planning department urging that it run below Queen Street. After one hundred years of initial planning and ideas, it finally looked as though this subway would get built.
Details of the long-awaited downtown relief line – a route that had been discussed in various permutations for a century – emerged. Staff concluded that the best approach involved a connection from Pape Station near Danforth Avenue to the area around City Hall.
Although the plan was primarily about diverting passengers from the overcrowded Yonge subway line, a briefing for councillors made clear the value of the new line to the city centre as well. According to a draft staff presentation, the subway plan would “fill [a] rapid transit void in the core” and “recognizes that downtown is 24/7.”
The proposal pencilled in stations along Queen Street around Sherbourne Street, Sumach Street and Broadview Avenue, and one near Gerrard Square. These would allow access to Regent Park and Moss Park, and offer the chance of a connection to the Stouffville GO corridor, which was expected to get much more frequent service under provincial and city plans. No funding for any of it had been secured, and construction of even the first phase would likely take at least a decade.Surging ridership on the Yonge subway line in recent years had made clear the importance of a downtown relief line. Officials including Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford and the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, had repeatedly described the relief line as the city’s top transit priority. Mayor John Tory, who ran on a more immediate plan to relieve the subway by adding service on local GO rail corridors, has said the DRL would still be needed in the longer term.
The preferred alignment would still have to go through a public consultation process and be formally recommended to council – would avoid adding passengers to the increasingly crowded Union Station. By moving farther north than earlier proposed routes back to the originally-planned Queen route, it also would reduce potential conflict with plans for more service along the GO lines. And it would offer an east-west alternative through the downtown. City planning staff looked at six possible routes. These all started from Broadview or Pape stations and made their way by various routes downtown. The alternative laid out for Queen Street got top marks in the most categories, including affordability, public health and environment, choice and experience.
One key advantage the route planners said, was that it would create a station by Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall in “the geographic and psychological centre of the city.” This route also had what staff described as the lowest cost of the options, by providing a shorter crossing of the Don River and avoiding pricey soil stabilization required if passing under the river farther to the south.
After being dead for many years, the Queen Street Subway had come back to life, though the revived route would curve north up Pape Avenue instead of further east along Greenwood Avenue as originally proposed. East of the Don River, it would curve a bit further south and continue east under Eastern Avenue to Pape Avenue.
1911 proposal for a streetcar subway under Queen Street
In 1944, the TTC produced its plan “Rapid Transit for Toronto” calling for a full Yonge subway and a Queen Street streetcar subway. These plans were approved by the Board of Control and by the electorate in a referendum on January 1, 1946. The Yonge subway had priority and detailed engineering design was followed by construction with completion in 1954. An east-west station structure was provided under Queen station in anticipation of a future Queen Street streetcar subway, which never materialized.
An extract from 1944 TTC Rapid Transit Proposals for a Queen Street Route:
Plans and estimates of cost have been made covering two-track subway and open cut sections along Queen Street to be operated for a number of years as a trunk line for streetcar routes extending east, northeast, west and northwest beyond its portals. The open cut sections will be west of University Avenue and east of Church Street in the rear of the Queen Street frontage, connected by a subway under Queen Street between University Avenue and Church Street.
These open cut sections will extend through depreciated-value areas where there will be a pronounced economy in acquiring a private right-of-way a short distance north of Queen Street. The general features of the project conform to those described above for the subway on Yonge Street, the principal variation being the adoption of elevated construction across the Don River.
It is estimated that the maximum traffic on the Queen Street route, about 9,000 passengers per hour, could be carried with a combination of single cars and two-car trains operating on a headway of about 60 seconds, at speeds of about 15 m.p.h. (24 km/h) including stops. Capacity of this route, operated with trolley cars, will provide for substantial future increases in traffic, but with little sacrifice in speed. The Queen Street route, therefore, initially at least is being planned for streetcar operation.
An extension will be built in the west, partly in subway and partly in open cut, extending through Trinity Park to a connection with existing streetcar tracks on Dundas Street, a short distance east of Crawford Street. A similar extension will be made in the east along a right-of-way to be acquired adjacent to and just west of the Canadian National Railway to a connection with existing streetcar tracks at Gerrard Street and Carlaw Avenue.
This arrangement will result in benefit to every section of the east and west ends of the city. In the east, for example, will be routed not only Queen Street and Kingston Road cars. Special new direct routes from the Danforth districts, by which car riders can reach the downtown section, will be established instead of the present crosstown and transfer connections.
Similarly, in the west end, in addition to Queen cars and Dundas cars, other special new routes from the Dovercourt area, High Park and Runnymede districts will use the rapid transit line to get the greatest possible benefit of the new facilities.
The grades and alignments of both of these extensions will be such as to permit subsequent rapid transit extensions along Queen Street beyond the ends of the initial structures. The total length of route between connection to the Dundas Street tracks near Crawford Street to a connection to the tracks at Gerrard Street and Carlaw Avenue is 4.5 miles (7 km).
Subway structures are planned with sufficient vertical clearance to permit operation of cars using overhead trolleys.
Construction of stations 500 feet long, of which 300 feet will be finished and utilized initially, is advocated. Stations are planned at the following locations along Queen Street:
Public transportation routes are intersected at all these stations except at Trinity Park and Grange. These two stations will provide rapid transit transportation for important local centres. Terminal loops are proposed at each side of the downtown district as follows:
One passing under Queen Street subway west of University Avenue to provide for turning back extra service between the east end and the downtown district and,
One passing under the Queen Street subway just west of Church Street for turning back extra service between the west end and the downtown district.
This track layout will permit through route operation between the east and west sides of the city, and also the operation of such services from the outlying areas to the downtown district as may be desirable from the viewpoint of efficient operation.
An additional station may be built near the Don River providing access to the Don River Station for passengers from both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific Railways, if proved desirable by further studies.
The preliminary estimate of cost for this project is as follows:
Off-street Rights-of-way $5,200,000
Fixed Equipment $2,300,000
The plan above outlined for rapid transit on the Queen Street route is considered adequate for present necessities and is, of course, much more economical than subway construction throughout. It has been designed so that it can be readily modified, either in the light of future developments or having regard to other considerations.
For example, recent proposals of the City Planning Board provide for two major housing projects immediately north of Queen Street, one on the east and one on the west side of the city. Provisions can easily be made so that the Commission’s rapid transit proposals will not in any way affect these projects to their detriment.
At this time, subway financing was regarded as strictly a TTC responsibility using surplus funds generated during World War II, limited debenture issues and the fare box. The increasing cost of transit operation and decreasing patronage as automobiles became available placed transit financing in a difficult position, limiting the funds available for subway construction. When the City of Toronto became part of Metropolitan Toronto, the TTC’s responsibilities expanded accordingly and after considerable study, the first east-west subway was built on Bloor-Danforth. Bloor-Danforth was also a precedent-setting subway, initiating a cost-sharing formula between Metro and the TTC. A modest Provincial cost contribution was also received under the Highway Improvement Act.
The decision to build the first east-west subway along Bloor-Danforth may appear to have doomed any hope of a Queen Street subway, the two streets being only one and a quarter miles (2 kilometres) apart. However, in January 1960, the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board issued the ‘Draft Official Plan of the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Area” proposing a Queen subway form Sunnyside to Greenwood and a northern extension along Greenwood to O’Connor Drive, connecting with the Bloor-Danforth subway at Greenwood or Donlands station. In 1964, TTC Vice-Chairman Walton, resolved that the Commission reconsider placing the Queen streetcar service underground between Sherbourne and McCaul Streets. That same year, the City Commissioner for Public Works discussed a joint grade-separated facility parallel to or under Queen Street for streetcars and vehicular traffic. This lead to questions on whether a Queen Street facility or the North Yonge subway extension should have priority, and a decision was made in favour of the latter.
Downtown Relief Subway Line
After the deletion of the Queen Street Subway plan in 1974, the idea of building another subway through downtown Toronto was revived in 1985, but placed further south through Union Station as the Downtown Relief Subway line. This was a revived Queen Street line, though a bit further south in a new location. This proposal, to run an east-west downtown subway parallel to Front Street and through Union Station was part of the 'Network 2011' plan for subway expansion. This subway was not pursued at the time, but in 2009, it was announced that it would be considered for construction after 2020. Possibly placing it along Queen Street as originally proposed has not been ruled out as an option, and the Chair of Metrolinx even refers to it as the Queen Street line. There is a definite possibility that a downtown east-west subway near to the lake shore, either along Queen Street or Front Street, will finally come about more than 100 years after it was first proposed. The General Manager of the TTC brought forward the Downtown Relief Line as a priority in October 2012 due to over capacity crowding on the Yonge and Bloor lines. The line had now made a huge step closer to becoming reality.
1944 plan for a Queen Street Streetcar Subway
Click on this map to enlarge it
A revived Downtown Relief Line in 2012
At the end of 1964, the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board produced a major report on the “Metropolitan Toronto Transportation Plan” detailing the findings of several studies based on questions raised by the 1959 “Draft Official Plan for Metropolitan Toronto”. The section dealing with the Queen subway was concerned with the diversions of passengers from the then under-utilized Danforth subway; estimates were made that as many as 45% of passengers west of Greenwood Station would be diverted to the Queen subway. Volumes on the Queen subway would thus exceed 20,000 passengers per peak hour direction between Danforth and University, but estimates for the sections north of Danforth and west of University were very low. The report concluded:
“There is little doubt, that full-scale subway originally proposed for Queen Street is not warranted. However, while the projected transit volumes in the Queen corridor could be handled by surface transit, serious congestion would result in slow speeds making it desirable to provide an improved transit service. It is suggested that the most suitable facility would be an improved tram line on its own right-of-way, underground between Spadina and Jarvis and on the surface between Spadina and the Humber Loop, and between Jarvis and Broadview or Pape.
Such a facility already exists for the 2 miles from Roncesvalles to Spadina (2.5 miles) and from Jarvis to Broadview or Pape (2 miles) run through areas in which extensive redevelopment can be anticipated, and it would be possible to provide for a transit right-of-way in the course of such redevelopment. In fact, provision of an improved transit service might well be useful in stimulating desirable redevelopment. The tunnel through downtown would be a little over a mile in length, and provision has already been made for such a tunnel under the Yonge and University subways.
The suggested transit facility would be similar to the ‘subway-surface street car’ to be found in Boston and Cleveland and in some European cities. Such a facility would probably achieve a traveling speed of 12-14 miles per hour, and in its central section, it might carry up to 12,000 passengers in the main peak hour in each direction. Conceivably, it might be continued in two branches as a normal streetcar line beyond the proposed terminal points.”
The Metropolitan Toronto and Region Transportation Study (MTARTS) conducted in the mid-sixties made a brief examination of the Queen Subway, suggesting that the need for it was unclear at that time and that it should be reviewed at a later time. In 1966, TTC approved a $30,000 study of a ‘Transit Facility in the Downtown section of Queen Street’ which was carried out by the TTC’s subway Construction Branch and released on June 4, 1968. The report discussed a Downtown Streetcar Subway from Spadina to Sherbourne Street at an estimated cost of $37 million. Recommendations from the General Manager, subsequently modified by the Commission were that the streetcar tunnel alone would be unlikely to be adequate for future needs. It was suggested that a full subway would be needed eventually and that any facility should be designed and built to accommodate subway trains although initial operation with streetcars was not precluded.
The study then examined four alternate alignments for a Queen Street Rapid Transit Subway from Donlands Station on the Bloor-Danforth subway to the Roncesvalles area. An alignment south of Queen Street was deemed unfeasible due to excessive building underpinning or demolition and traffic complications with feeder buses. A second alignment directly under Queen Street could be either tunneled or cut and cover construction. Soil conditions did not favour tunneling and cut and cover would cause extensive disruption of traffic with particular difficulties in maintaining the streetcar operation. A cut and cover subway under a widened Queen Street would avoid the latter difficulties, but it appeared uncertain then and certainly would be more so now to contemplate such a major redevelopment project involving extensive building acquisition and demolition. The fourth alignment, parallel to Queen Street at the rear of properties on the north side of the street, appeared preferable but would still involve the ‘acquisition and demolition of a considerable number of buildings’.
The estimated cost of the 8 mile (13 kilometre) subway was $150 to $200 million. The report concluded that consideration should be given to a more detailed study of the Queen subway and the Commission approved transmittal to the Metropolitan Corporation. One outcome of this report was the decision to acquire land in Etobicoke for a subway storage yard west of the Islington station.
In 1966, the TTC made the decision to phase out all streetcar lines in Toronto by 1980 to coincide with the completion of the Queen Street Subway by then. The new subway would replace the transit capacity of the downtown streetcars. Downtown streets would then be made one-way after the removal of the streetcars to improve traffic flow.
In March 1968, the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board issued a “Report on Rapid Transit Priorities in Metropolitan Toronto”. Several alternatives for the Queen Street subway were examined.
1. A Queen Street subway following Queen Street from the Humber River to Victoria Park Avenue.
2. From an eastern terminal at Greenwood and O’Connor south to Queen Street, west on Queen to Dufferin, then north-west along the Weston Road railway corridor to a western terminal at Islington Avenue.
3. As in 2, but at Weston Road and Eglinton turning due west along Eglinton Avenue to Martin Grove Road.
4. A shortened version of 2 from Greenwood and Danforth to Weston Road and Eglinton.
Estimated Queen Street subway patronage would reduce maximum load on the Yonge-University line by 23% to 32% and on Bloor-Danforth by 8% to 20% plus the respective reduction of 15% and 2% estimated to result from the Spadina line. A more restrictive parking policy would substantially increase riding on the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth subways.
This 1968 report states that the Queen Subway west of Weston Road and Eglinton and between O’Connor Drive and Danforth would not generate enough patronage to justify their construction.
The report concluded that a rapid transit facility in the Queen Street corridor would eventually be needed and that qualifying footnotes in the 1966 Metropolitan Plan should be removed. It recommended that additional study be given as to the priority of either the Spadina or Queen line, but indicated, as in fact happened, that other factors may dictate that the Spadina line be built first. It also recommends that a detailed study be made of the Queen Street subway.
The TTC issued a major planning report in February 1969 “A Concept for Integrated Rapid Transit and Commuter Rail Systems in Metropolitan Toronto.” This conceptual plan stated that the Queen Street subway is considered vital through the downtown area to provide east-west access to the redeveloping core area, cope with the anticipated demands of the proposed Metro Centre development, and relieve the Bloor-Danforth line and the Yonge line immediately north and south of Bloor Street. This would provide spare capacity on the Danforth subway to accommodate the anticipated passenger growth when the intermediate rapid transit line is built into Scarborough from the eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth. The conceptual plan recommended that the Queen line should be extended north form Donlands and Danforth to serve the high density residential and commercial developments in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park. This extension would counteract the low volumes predicted by the 1968 Priorities report on such a northern extension from the Danforth to O’Connor Drive by not only serving a much greater population, but also by serving employment opportunities and intercepting the high volume bus service on Don Mills Road and Eglinton East. In addition, the terminal station of this northern extension would be ideal for interchange with possible commuter rail service and the proposed east-west Eglinton Rapid Transit. To the west, the Queen subway was shown terminating in the vicinity of Roncesvalles Avenue with a possible extension to the Humber River or even further.
The GO-Urban concept suggested by the Provincial Government in November 1972, showed a line running from Eglinton East and Kennedy down the Don Valley to Union Station, then west and north-west along the railway to Dundas West and Bloor. This line would serve much of the area that the proposed Queen subway would serve, and as such might be a logical substitute for the Queen subway. However, the revised TTC conceptual plan suggested that long term volumes on the Queen subway would exceed the carrying capacity of the GO Urban system. The TTC thus maintained that the Queen subway would be needed in the future, and in 1973, authorized the TTC staff to prepare more detailed reports on the Queen subway for further consideration.
Early proposals for a subway along Queen Street
In 1911, the Department of Railways and Bridges of the City of Toronto Engineers office produced a plan for “Rapid Transit Subways” which included a proposal for a Queen Street Subway, which would have put the streetcars underground in a tunnel.
Deletion of the Queen Subway plan
In 1972, a citizens' group called 'Streetcars for Toronto', in alliance with the 'Stop Spadina' movement which convinced the Provincial Government to cancel construction of the Allen (Spadina) Expressway, managed to convince the TTC to change its mind on removal of the streetcar lines. With the streetcar routes remaining in service (as they still are today), the TTC saw little need for construction of the Queen Street Subway, so therefore the TTC opted for new suburban subways instead. However, talk of putting the Queen streetcars underground between Spadina Avenue and Jarvis Street continued, but to no avail.
In 1975, the Metropolitan Toronto Transportation Plan Review issued its final report called “Choices For The Future” and it recommended against construction of the Queen Street subway in favour of subway construction further north in the suburbs in order to improve transit to car-oriented low density development there. The report was accepted by Metro Council and the Queen Street subway was shelved. It did not appear in the 1980 Official Plan, but Eglinton and Sheppard subways would be proposed instead. The east-west station structure that was provided under Queen station in anticipation of a future Queen Street streetcar subway still remains in place today and was renovated in the late 1990’s to keep the structure safe. It was fitted with new walls and lighting.
The Queen Street Subway station tunnel at Yonge today
A balanced and workable
new transportation plan
for the City of Toronto
A balanced and workable
new transportation plan
for the City of Toronto
Click on the map below for a detailed map of the proposed Queen-Greenwood Subway showing station locations
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