If you rely on pubic transit in Toronto, you know we're approaching crisis mode as our existing transit framework becomes mired its own form of gridlock. Which is why we're applauding the 'it-can't-be-soon-enough' arrival of the Eglinton Crosstown - a light rail transit line that will run along Eglinton Avenue between Mount Dennis (Weston Road) and Kennedy station. Extending about 19 kilometres (including portions which are underground between Keele Street and Laird Drive) this engineering marvel will have 25 stations that link to 54 bus routes and numerous GO Transit lines. In fact, it's the largest public transit expansion in Canadian history, costing the government of Ontario approximately $5.3 Billion when it's completed in 2021!
It's true that the once-exciting project has been losing fans as construction drags on - in part for the disruption that's impacted Eglinton Avenue - one of the city's main east west arteries. However, the creation of the Eglinton Crosstown has been fairly true to both its projected timeline and cost. Once the construction is completed, Torontonians will be able to navigate our city with greater efficiency and ease!
Here's a computer-generated peek at what the completed project is imagined to look like:
Why Is LRT Better?
The Crosstown will provide fast, reliable, and convenient transit by carrying passengers in dedicated right-of-way transit lanes separate from regular traffic. While slower than subways, LRT vehicles can carry more passengers than other types of above-ground transit. The capacity is pretty impressive. The vehicles can carry 15,000 passengers per hour per direction, but projections place ridership at about 5,500 passengers per hour per direction by 2031. So they are evidently building to allow for significant growth! And these numbers are based on "ideal scenarios", which often differ from the reality of day-to-day transit performance.
Secondly, LRT is faster than streetcars or buses; light rail vehicles can travel as fast as 80km/hr, though actual speed is governed by the distance between as well as the flow of surrounding traffic.
This smart infographic offers a bit more:
Baseline Benefits And Opportunities For Growth
This project has very positive implications for the economy and employment rates. Throughout the construction phases through to completion and beyond, Metrolinx will partner with local companies and community groups to provide jobs, training, and other opportunities. Groups like the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), is connecting people with jobs in the trades and administration along the Crosstown line.
“There’s a demographic shift in construction workers,” says Pedro Barata, senior vice-president of strategic initiatives and public affairs at United Way Toronto and York Region, a funder of the network. “My dad was one and he’s retired now. There’s 19 kilometres of this Metrolinx project and it’s a perfect storm: They need the labour and there’s a population that needs work.” Refreshing the workforce, bringing new people into the skilled trades, and utilizing recent transit and construction retirees who live in proximity to the line, is critical right now. -TorontoStar Once the Crosstown opens, Torontonians will ride a transit line built by the very communities it passes through.
Then of course there's the $10M in annual revenue the line is projected to bring in. But as the numbers fluctuate with every new report that is written, we'll reserve judgement unitl the money is counted.
There are also many benefits to the Crosstown in regards to quality of lfe and the environment. Obviously, faster transit means less time spent commuting; not only is the Crosstown supposed to cut travel times, but it's also supposed to improve the reliability of existing TTC lines and consequently their travel times as well. And while the project couldn't be called "green", it will reduce traffic congestion, green house gases, and fuel consumption - that's pretty eco-friendly, right? In fact, it is the first transit project to receive funding through 'green bonds' which are tax exempt bonds reserved for environmentally-friendly infrastructure.
Originally city planners proposed that grass, sedum, and other plants be introduced along portions of the track, as they have been in other cities like Paris and Hamburg. Green trackways are both pleasant to look at and useful: they reduce noise and help offset the “heat island effect.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be 22 per cent more expensive than options like gravel. Boo!
Regardless, Crosstown will allow thousands of commuters to take a convenient, low-emissions transit option every day. If it fucntions as it should, it will not only help preserve the state of the environment, but will improve quality of like for daily commuters.
Speaking of commuters, if you travel the area frequently, it may be prudent to get periodic construction updates!
The Eglinton Crossover And Real Estate
So: the big question. Once complete, what impact will the new LRT route have on real estate in the city? First, I think it's pretty fair to say that it invites massive redevelopment along Eglinton, where higher densities and land use intensification will accommodate Toronto's ever-growing population, with a transit line ready to serve. This project will extend the Midtown hub of Yonge and Eglinton further east and west - potentially turning it into a second Bloor Street. Which we desperately need. After all, if you live in downtown Toronto, there are certain amenities considered the staple of the urban dweller, and convenient access to public transportation is usually found at the top of that list.
Right now, neighbourhoods like The Danforth, Bloorcourt Village and High Park, etc. are highly coveted - and suffering from high-price syndrome - because they are within walking distance of the Bloor-Danforth subway line, which is one of our two subway lines. Once the Crosstown is completed, it's going to make any property within walking distance (both north and south) of Eglinton extremely attractive and more valuable. More importantly, this new transit artery invites the opportunity to intensify our urban fabric, so anticipate the rezoning of existing low density sites on Eglinton into high density commercial residential condominiums and rental buildings. In a city suffering for its insufficient supply of housing (despite the massive condo boom the downtown core has witnessed over the past two decades) - having an transit infrastructure in place will spurn redevelopment.
The biggest changes will occur in the demographic make-up and infrasturcture of outlying city neighbourhoods. Take, for example, the Eglinton and Keele neighbourhood of 'Keelesdale'. This area has many of the prerequisite amenities to be considered a thriving family-friendly community, but because of its distance from the core and troublesome commute on public transit, it's long been considered a "launch pad" neighbourhood by residents. According to census data, the community experiences a 50% population turnover every 5 years, as residents migrate to more convenient locations. However, when the Crosstown trains start running - able to speed residents from these outlying neighbourhoods into the city centre in under 10 minutes - pundits predict extensive gentrification and a demographic shift within the decade. Keelesdale and neighbourhoods like Mt. Dennis can leave the "launch pad" reputation behind. These areas will emerge into their own amenity-laden urban villages.
For anyone with a long term view, buying in locations which are undergoing transit redevelopment can reap financial rewards. Herein lies the window of opportunity. If you can secure a dwelling in any of the fringe Eglinton-adjacent neighbourhoods before it hits the collective consciousness, you'll not only see your investment escalate in value faster than suburban locations, but you'll see your transit commute time reduced significantly in the next three years.
So, look closely at the Eglinton Crossover stops below, and their adjacent communities, because these will inevitably become coveted once the LRT line becomes established!
However, when I mention this is a long term hold, I mean the financial gains will take around ten years, and possibly longer depending how far east or west you're located from Yonge Street. After all, the process of revitalization takes decades, so an emerging neighbourhood can be in a state of flux for awhile. You only have to look at Leslieville, West Queen West, and The Junction to see Toronto neighbourhoods which have been transitioning for 20 to 30 years. But for those who are willing to wait, you are making a calculated risk which will bear financial reward.
The pace of a neighbourhood's revitalization has been a topic of fascination by Canadian urban academics for the past sixty years. I know this from my own contribution to the research in the late 80s when I wrote an Urban Studies Thesis funded by The Ministry Of Municipal Affairs called "Gentrification: Yuppie Porn In South Riverdale". The thesis, which included a comprehensive review of past research exploring the movement of middle class households into this working class neighbourhood, also explored my early fascination with housing as a symbol of self. Here's a brief synopsis of my research - along with my own tale of buying my first house on DeGrassi Street in South Riverdale in 1986 for $87,000 and subsequently selling it three weeks later (plus a photo of yours truly in my bloom of youth) - in A Nose For Leslieville.
In the meantime, the Crossover - at this stage of construction - really means only one thing to Torontonians: congestion and traffic. Construction sites are impeding the flow of transportation and threatening safety of those - drivers and pedestrians alike - who are trying to navigate them. Helpfully, you can find instructions on doing so - for various intersections - on this Metrolinx website. There's also a safety video:
So how was your commute today? For most of us commuting is a daily fact. Yet the financial and emotional implications of commuting are rarely considered in the forefront in the decision to buy a dwelling. Sometimes we are lured by the prospect of cheaper property, or more property for the same price point. In addition to the mental and emotional toll of this daily grind, it prompts the query about the actual financial cost? This begged the question - what is the true cost of commuting? Want to know? Here's my post called What Are The Real Financial, Emotional And Health Costs Of Commuting?
Are You Considering A Move Centrally To Ease Your Commute?
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