Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Toronto's Bloor-Danforth line turning 50

TORONTO  - The Bloor-Danforth subway line started rolling 50 years ago Thursday.

Back in the mid-1960s, Hogtown was a city of contrast from the counter-culture of Yorkville to the respectable Toronto the Good with anti-gaming legislation and near prohibition-level liquor laws.

One thing that was common to all in Toronto during the sixties was traffic congestion.

On Feb. 25, 1966, a 24-km stretch of subway was opened from Keele St. to Woodbine Ave. — the Bloor line was opened to the public a day later.

At the time, Bloor streetcars were at capacity carrying 9,000 passengers per hour, but with the opening of what TTC brass now call “Line 2” ridership increased to 40,000 per hour each way.

“The TTC had hit a wall for transit capacity into the city because the suburbs were exploding. Back then there was a smaller population but everyone was going to the same place because all the jobs were in central Toronto,” said transit advocate Steve Munro.

“Back then, Bloor had as many street cars on it that serves the entire city today. The only thing that was more important at the time was the construction of the Yonge Line 12 years earlier.”

Although the creation of Line 2 was an expensive endeavour, there were some financial breaks.

Some of the line was above ground and in other areas the construction didn’t need to bore that deeply.

The viaduct between Bloor and Danforth was already constructed in a way that could accommodate street cars to run underneath and because it could also handle subways a new bridge didn’t need to be built.

The line was built north of Bloor St. and Danforth Ave., so street traffic and businesses weren’t disrupted during construction.

“You have to remember that the demolition of a whole string of houses (north of Bloor) in those days was politically acceptable,” Munro said.

The easy access to Bloor turned the area into a cultural hub, said Robert Lubinski with the Toronto Transportation Society.

“Going to see hippies in Yorkville was a spectator sport,” he said.

The new line was a boost for business in central Toronto.

”There was a depression in businesses on Bloor/Danforth because of the loss of some foot traffic. It was negative business-wise because people were no longer getting off the street car to shop. (Business) came back in the 80s when Greektown and Bloor West (Village) were created,” Lubinski said.

TTC chair Josh Colle called Line 2 a vital spine for the transit system that showed great foresight.

“The city couldn’t function without it, but it doesn’t get the same prominence as the Yonge Line,” said Colle, adding back in the day discussions on having the Bloor Line were as important as the issue of the Scarborough subway extension today.

“(Bloor/Danforth) built on the foundation of the network and became a vital cog in the network.”

There are critics who today see Line 2 is an eyesore compared to the Montreal Metro system, which in the 70s started hiring various artists turn each station into a different art gallery.

“Some people are critical of the tiles (on Line 2) and say they look like bathrooms, but at the time they were the most modern stations in North America,” Lubinski said.

But will Line 2 ever get the slick Toronto Rocket trains that now run up and down Line 1? The TTC says the new trains won’t be on Line 2 until around 2026 — when the current Bloor-Danforth subways are expected to be ready to be replaced.
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