St. Clair’s ‘sea of concrete’

It’s about two years behind schedule, has ballooned in cost by $10 million, and the construction has been interminable.

It’s about two years behind schedule, has ballooned in cost by $10 million, and the construction has been interminable.

A highly publicized court challenge by opposed residents delayed it, and everyone from motorists to merchants, cyclists to firefighters, has had their beefs.

But by this time next year the entire 6-kilometre dedicated St. Clair streetcar line, from Yonge to just west of Keele Street, should be finished. The TTC and the city have touted the right of way as the wave of the future — the answer to a cry for more reliable transit service along a busy midtown corridor.

But will those promised gains be worth the pain?

Mayor David Miller is aggressively pushing his multi-billion-dollar Transit City plan, which calls for a network of seven new light-rail routes similar to St. Clair’s, to roll out over the next several years.

The aim is transit that’s cheaper and quicker to build than subways and that, with raised curbs and limits on left turns, gets cars out of the way. The Sheppard East LRT, the first Transit City line, is to break ground within weeks.

So St. Clair has become a sort of litmus test.

Large sections are finished or near completion, but there’s still fierce debate about its usefulness.

Optician Patricia Raymond, who operates an eyewear business on St. Clair, east of Avenue Road, doesn’t believe the “devastating” construction work she endured was worth it. The section between Yonge and the St. Clair West subway station was completed in 2007 and runs in front of her store.

“The streets were so backed up (during construction) that it took an hour to drive here from a few blocks away. So people just didn’t bother to come, and my business hasn’t returned to normal yet,” says Raymond, who has been operating there for 21 years.

“If you ask me if it was better before, I say yes.” The right of way “is ugly and it just looks like a sea of concrete now,’’ Raymond says.

Too much was sacrificed for what boils down to slightly improved service during rush hour but virtually empty streetcars the rest of the time, Raymond argues.

The TTC has no data yet to indicate how that completed section is performing, TTC chair Adam Giambrone said last week. Studies won’t be available until sometime after the full line is operational.

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