Community

Assessing the impact and vision of the Yonge North Subway Extension project

By Connor Simonds, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

In the heart of the Greater Toronto Area, where bustling cityscapes meet serene suburban neighbourhoods, a transformative project is poised to reshape the landscape.

The Yonge North Subway Extension (YNSE) project will extend Toronto’s Yonge-line subway network northward into York Region, improving transit access for residents in the GTA. It aims to boost economic growth, reduce congestion, and promote environmental sustainability.

Markham Ward 1 Councillor Keith Irish is a vigilant advocate for the community, armed with insights and concerns about the eagerly awaited YNSE.

With a subway station set to sprout in their own backyard, residents in Ward 1 and neighbouring areas anticipate a revolution in transit accessibility. However, Irish’s voice rises as a crucial reminder that the journey towards progress may be far from a smooth ride. As we delve into the unfolding narrative of the Subway project, we’ll explore the hopes, fears, and intricate web of possibilities it weaves for commuters, local businesses, and the very essence of the area’s future.

In the mosaic of insights provided by Irish, scenarios come to life, painted with both direct and paraphrased quotes from the councillor himself. These possibilities offer a glimpse into the multifaceted landscape that may unfold during the execution of the Yonge North Subway Extension project.

Irish’s optimism for the Yonge North Subway Extension project stems from its potential to revolutionize the daily commute for residents in Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and neighbouring areas.

However, amidst his optimism, concerns loom large. Irish underscores the projected intensification in the Langstaff Gateway, Richmond Hill Centre, and the Yonge Street corridor, essential to the YNSE’s success. He foresees a daunting challenge: subway trains possibly reaching capacity before even reaching the Steeles Avenue station. While this growth may be music to the ears of project planners, it rings an alarm bell for commuters, particularly those who initially embraced public transit for its promise of convenience.

Irish’s reservations extend to a worrisome scenario: “Those with cars will find it an unpleasant experience and will then use them instead and negate … the promise and convenience of commuting by a subway or GO train to and from York Region.”

Delving into the economic landscape, Irish emphasizes the substantial intensification anticipated through fresh developments along the Yonge Street corridor within York Region. Here, he points to the unwavering commitment of both the Province of Ontario and York Region in constructing higher-density mixed-use communities centred around transit hubs. Their grand vision includes expanding housing and job opportunities, tightly linked with public transit accessibility, and reducing the reliance on personal vehicles.

Irish envisions prosperity for businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, which are poised to thrive. However, he issues a call to arms for planners to consider a broader spectrum of necessities. The creation of complete communities necessitates infrastructure like schools, community centres, libraries, and fire stations, all essential components that must not be overlooked.

Transitioning to the construction phase, Irish acknowledges that it’s still too early to gauge the tangible impact of subway construction along the Yonge corridor.

While modern tunnelling methods will dominate certain sections, Irish states that “there are portions along Yonge Street that will be constructed using the oldest method of tunnelling: ‘cut and cover’ (which) involves the digging of a trench from the road surface down, the construction of a tunnel, … then returning the road to its original state.” This technique will hold sway between Steeles and Clark stations.

His concern rests with the inevitable traffic disruptions that will ensue, with vehicles spilling onto neighbouring residential arteries in search of alternative routes.

The backbone of this colossal undertaking is collaboration. Irish underscores its paramount importance, given the project’s financing from federal, provincial, and municipal coffers. Every taxpayer, he asserts, deserves a voice and influence throughout the project’s lifecycle. The mounting pressure exerted by new transit-oriented development on local infrastructure—roads, schools, libraries, community centres, public transit, water, stormwater, and sewer capacity— demands meticulous planning and careful execution. Irish is unreserved in his concern for the impact on the quality of life for Thornhill residents and beyond.

Concluding on a visionary note, Irish has “long believed that the effectiveness of public transit depends on three things: convenience, speed, and affordability.”

He contends that public transit should present an alternative that is as convenient and swift as a personal vehicle while remaining affordable. It’s an approach reflective of the unique allure of communities within the Greater Toronto Area, chosen by residents who value a distinct quality of life—one that often necessitates the use of personal vehicles for everyday necessities.

Striking a harmonious balance between transit accessibility and the preservation of these communities’ unique characteristics stands as a pivotal goal in his vision for the future of transportation in the region.

As we navigate the complexities of the Yonge North Subway Extension project, Irish’s insights serve as a guiding beacon, highlighting both opportunities and challenges. In this transformative journey, we must heed his concerns to ensure that our vision of enhanced accessibility and economic growth aligns with the unique character of our communities.

Success hinges on collaboration, foresight, and adaptability, forging a transportation landscape that truly serves the Greater Toronto Area for generations to come. Irish’s unwavering dedication to the region’s well-being is a testament to his commitment to balanced progress.

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