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Scarborough LRT would attract more development than subway: Study
A subway along McCowan Rd. doesn’t come close to having the potential for intensification as building an LRT on Sheppard, says a U of T study.
March 11, 2015
By Tess Kalinowski

More kilometres, more stops and more transit within walking distance of homes and jobs - the advantages of LRT over the subway the city plans to build in Scarborough have been well documented.

But the urban geography and development potential of the routes has been largely ignored, says the co-author of a University of Toronto study released Wednesday.

The research suggests that the $1-billion Sheppard LRT - already designed, approved and provincially funded - has the greatest development prospects among the various east-end transit proposals that have been floated in the past decade.

“It could be in operation before either SmartTrack or the subway break ground,” said Andre Sorensen, a professor in the department of human geography, who wrote the report with geography and planning professor Paul Hess.

“By far the worst-case scenario,” they write, would be to build the Scarborough subway on the city’s initially approved route up McCowan Rd., within two kilometres of Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard)’s SmartTrack.

“It would be irresponsible to build this line as currently configured,” says the report, titled Choices for Scarborough, Transit, Walking and Intensification in Toronto’s Inner Suburbs.

Moving it farther east, away from the Stouffville GO tracks where SmartTrack trains would run, would probably add to the estimated $3.6 billion cost of the Scarborough subway, said Sorensen.

Much of Scarborough is small residential lots fronting onto streets behind the main arteries. That gives the area limited opportunity for change. But Sheppard East, with its blocks of strip malls, has some of the best opportunity for development, he said.

“If we did build LRT along those big east-west corridors, I think it would be a very significant contribution to the quality of life to people in Scarborough, particularly those who don’t have cars,” said Sorensen.

“They would have more mobility, they would have a higher intensity of uses, and it would also focus the new investment and intensification along those big streets, which are now mostly parking,” he said.

The study looked at the prospects for redevelopment along LRT routes on Eglinton-Morningside and Malvern, as well as Sheppard. Combined, they had 18.4 hectares per kilometre that could be available for redevelopment. That was more than the 12 hectares per kilometre on SmartTrack and 11.1 hectares per kilometre on the McCowan subway route, which is supposed to replace the aging Scarborough RT.

“It looked like the subway didn’t offer much potential for redevelopment, particularly the stop at Lawrence and McCowan - there’s virtually no potential,” said Sorensen.

While the study didn’t measure potential ridership, it did examine the proximity of the proposed transit lines to homes and jobs. It found there were 18,000 jobs within walking distance of the LRT lines and less than 3,000 for the subway extension up McCowan. Combined, the three LRT lines would be accessible on foot to a land area of 3,147 hectares - about 10 times larger than that of the subway, which would serve only 332 hectares.

The Eglinton-Morningside LRT referred to in the report would run from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Ave. at Morningside. The Malvern LRT would run northeast from Ellesmere Rd. to the Malvern Town Centre, at Nielsen Rd. north of Sheppard Ave.