Thursday, February 26, 2015

Craven Railroad?

The TTC's Downtown Relief Line is in the news again, with a new poll calling it Toronto voters' highest priority, topping even the Scarborough subway and the Smart Track proposal that was John Tory's mayoral platform keystone last fall.

A series of public meetings will be held starting March 3 to explain a new Relief Line project assessment study and ask the public for feedback on potential station areas. More info at:

We've been here before – one hundred years ago.

After the widening of Erie Terrace (now Craven Road) in 1916, the street saw one more burst of newspaper coverage. Five articles between 1919 and 1921 mention a plan for a "Hydro radial," a railway radiating out along Ontario Hydro-owned rights-of-way from the city centre to the suburbs, one branch of which could have run right along Erie Terrace.

Who knows – perhaps one day it actually will! If the city needed to expropriate, Craven Road is still probably the least expensive real estate in eastern Toronto. [Edit: The March 3 Relief Line public meeting clarified that they'll be tunnelling rather than expropriating. And if I had to guess, the closest station we'd be likely to get is at Pape and Gerrard – you can still give input on potential station areas here.]

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In Unbuilt Toronto 2: More of the City That Might Have Been, Mark Osbaldeston tells of a special committee created by new Toronto mayor Tommy Church and chaired by R.C. Harris, Commissioner of Works, "to consider the issue of radial railway access to the city and rapid transit generally." The committee's 1915 report
concluded that Toronto didn't need the kind of true rapid transit a subway network would provide; it could achieve much the same benefit by bringing the suburban radial lines into the city on their own rights-of-way, where they could also offer service within the city. The report called this approach "semi-rapid transit". The engineers' plan identified three "focal points" at which radial railways could enter the city....
When the report was written, the future looked bright for radial railways generally. The provincial Hydro-Electric Railway Act of 1914 allowed [Hydro] to help municipalities finance inter-urban lines that Hydro would build and operate.... Since Hydro had the electricity to power the lines, as well as transmission rights-of-way on which to run them, the project was a perfect fit.
Alas, there was no "above map" printed with the article. (Toronto Star, October 2, 1919, p9)

(Toronto Star, November 14, 1919, p5)

(Toronto World, November 1 1920)

(Toronto Star, November 6, 1920)

(Toronto Star, April 15, 1921, p6)

This is a best guess to explain the mysterious "reserve" label along Erie Terrace in the 1913 Atlas of the City of Toronto:

Unbuilt Toronto 2 goes on to say that the radial railway entrance report was tabled until after the First World War,
but by then, the radial era had passed.... Across North America, radial railways, and railways generally for that matter, were in financial trouble. The automobile age had arrived, and the provincial government's transportation budget was being taken up by building highways to accommodate it. 
There's a wealth of fascinating history in Edward Levy's website Rapid Transit in Toronto: A Century of Plans, Progress, Politics and Paralysis and a 2013 presentation (PDF) he gave at City Hall's Inside the Planners' Studio.

Levy added info to the map below, to make it easier to identify red focal points like "the proposed (but never completed) Toronto Eastern Railway at the East Focal Point just north of Danforth Avenue and west of Coxwell Avenue":

The Toronto Public Library has scans of the full 1915 Report to the Civic Transportation Committee on Radial Railway Entrances and Rapid Transit for the City of Toronto, including its rather beautiful and informative maps, some of which are shown below:

Plan Showing Development of Property, 1915

Map Showing Limits of Built Up Area, 1915

Diagrams Showing Distribution of Population, 1915

Diagram Showing in Isometric Projection the 1914 Population Density Per Acre

Gobsmacking to think of all these illustrations being hand-drawn decades before the dawn of computer-assisted map-making!