During many of the debates over the north-of-Steeles portion of the Hurontario-Main light rail transit proposal, naysayers towards the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) approved alignment have brought various proposals to redirect.
While staff have released a report that basically says that most of the re-alignments are terrible, the anti-surface on Main group keeps pushing back.
One of the major proposals that keeps being brought up is a diversion that would head east on Steeles at Main, then go north on Kennedy to the CN rail/Kitchener GO corridor rail tracks, and then use an alignment along the rail line to bring the LRT to the downtown GO station.
Proponents of this alignment point to the general "depressed" nature of Kennedy, arguing that if LRTs do indeed raise property value and make places better, why wouldn't you place it in an area like Kennedy? Why not use existing rail corridors to build transit?
There are several major problems with the Kennedy alignment. Actually, these problems are present in some form or another with most of the alternate alignment proposals, but they create a perfect storm of just irresponsibility.
This problem is present in all the alternates. The reality is that the TPAP and environmental assessment (EA) was for an alternative that was based mainly along Main Street. Any of the alignments will involve a new EA and TPAP. Just starting the idea for a new alignment costs money.
The rough cost for surface LRT is $60 million per kilometre. All of the new alignments require extra money, because they're longer. Kennedy is longer by roughy 1.5 kilometres. That's an extra $90 million.
Plus, the Kennedy alignment would require an elevated portion to transition the surface line to either north or south of the rail corridor. The south end would be cheaper, as an elevated portion wouldn't have to go over and curve back down to the rail line, but there is more space for an actual LRT terminus on the north side of the tracks in the GO station. Elevating is cheaper than tunnelling, but more expensive than a surface route.
Problems with the rail corridor:
Diverting along the rail corridor sounds like an incredibly attractive idea. Except the major problem is this isn't an unused rail corridor. This is the CN Mainline. CN freight trains with massive consists, VIA rail intercity trains to Toronto and Sarnia ply the route at least twice a day. Currently, GO runs commuter trains during rush hour, but will eventually expand to all-day electrified service (GO RER). And then there's the tantalizing promise of high (er) speed rail (HSR) that Liberal party dangled in the last provincial election.
Currently, there are two tracks, barely fitting in the area. Another one is required for all day GO and better VIA service. HSR is likely to require two dedicated tracks. That's FIVE tracks already.
One might ask: why can't the light rail vehicles use the existing tracks, especially as they will be standard gauge? After all, Ottawa's existing Trillium line, and other European systems, use track that's occasionally used for heavier rail traffic.
Except North American freight regulations currently, and are likely for the future, to not allow light rail vehicles to share space with heavy commuter or freight trains. Ottawa's Trillium (previously O-Train) line vehicles, even though it's classified as light rail, uses vehicles that are more used for commuter or intercity passenger service in Europe.
Kitchener-Waterloo's ION LRT will share space with freight tracks, but under heavy restrictions. The north portion of their under construction LRT line will share space with a chemical freight train that does deliveries to Elmira in the wee hours of the morning, twice a week. Their LRT will be unable to operate between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. , to allow freight service to continue operations.
So there would need to be SEVEN tracks along the rail corridor to accommodate existing and future rail services, plus an LRT line. That seems a bit unwieldy.
NOTE: the freight regulations is why using the rail line that intersects with McLaughlin is also infeasible. The town of Orangeville currently owns that line from the town to just before Streetsville in Mississauga. There are currently freight services in the daytime hours that service industry in Orangeville. The LRT would need extra tracks there, and may also be unable to operate during the day.
Is Brampton mature enough to handle the gentrification issue?
Putting a line on Kennedy will raise property values. Permanent fixture transit tends to raise property values. Raising values in a "depressed" area like Kennedy seems like a smart idea, right?
I don't think so.
Right now, many of the Kennedy road properties are rental, or house people of lower incomes. Meanwhile, most of the Main Street corridor is already a higher income area.
Peel Village is established and desirable. Main between the Etobicoke Creek and Wellington Street is lined with mansions and beautiful heritage homes that the owners are unlikely to give up, plus strong heritage rules wouldn't cause their destruction. We've all heard the stories that many of the DT storefront are shuttered not just because of a lack of customers, but because landlords have raised their rents for a business demographic that hasn't come.
In other words: the Main Street is already gentrified.
Kennedy is not. A gentrified Kennedy will likely lead to many of the rental towers and townhouse to become condos. New development will likely be condos, and not rental. Many of the residents of Kennedy will have to find new homes. For some, this might be the point that pushes them onto Peel's long affordable housing waiting list.
I would like to believes there's a way to gentrify without kicking out existing residents. I don't Brampton is ready for that conversation. I have precedent for that.
What precedent? Every single time a new townhouse, condo, etc, development is proposed in Brampton, it's shot down. Over concerns of traffic comes accusations that density leads to higher crime rates. That neighbours don't want "those" people living near them.
We've seen it with the Heart Lake high rises. With the Bramalea-Sandalwood townhouses. There's an undercurrent or pure classism that comes with this discussion in Brampton. Until we're ready as a community to tackle this issue properly, it would be socially irresponsible to promote gentrification on Kennedy.
Meanwhile, density in a few spots on Main? Development are likely to fit a gentrified Main. We will need some social mix, but I doubt higher income residents would opposed $500,000 residents, unless they want to become laughing stocks of Brampton like those in Toronto on the #densitycreep issue.
These arguments sum up my main issue with a surface alignment on Main Street. The fiscal irresponsibility, rail corridor restraints, and social responsibility to the existing residents of Brampton sum up my main arguments against a Kennedy alignment. A combination of these factors impact all of the alternates.
What could we do with $380 million?