TTC missing opportunity to grow Toronto’s heritage

1966 TTC subway-smThe Toronto Transit Commission is set to approve a new naming system for our subways at their next board meeting on October 23rd. Gone will be the clunky “Young-University-Spadina Line” and “Bloor-Danforth Line”, to be replaced with dispassionate number designations for each of the four subway lines following the bureaucratic lingo that is used internally by the TTC.

While it will certainly be an improvement in clarity and concision for transit users seeking directions, the TTC’s proposed naming system is devoid of any character or relation to the city whatsoever. This has to be a concern that the board takes seriously. The naming of infrastructure with such a substantial presence in public conscience is a rare opportunity to shape the language and culture of the TTC, and the city, for generations.

This impact is easily demonstrated by considering the subways of New York and how their own alphanumeric designations are used in popular lyrics and storylines as references to various neighbourhoods throughout the city. Closer to home, we also use renowned infrastructure names to represent our values, such as the Highway of Heroes, the “905” vs. “416” divide, and of course companies paying millions for the right to rename landmarks after themselves, not least of which is the world famous CN tower.

Instead of mindlessly labeling our subway lines 1-2-3…, let’s take this precious opportunity to ascribe character to our city through the judicious application of names that hold meaning to us. This is a process that should involve public consultation and careful deliberation by knowledgeable history buffs, but that hasn’t stopped me from coming up with a few ideas of my own, just to help illustrate my point.

Subway map illustrating proposed name changesAs shown in my subway map, I would propose to rename the Bloor-Danforth Line the ‘Harris Line’ after R.C. Harris, the Pubic Works Commissioner who built the Bloor Viaduct in 1918. Conveniently, this is the very structure that just happens to contain the subway running between Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue! Harris was a highly respected visionary who contributed an important legacy of projects to Toronto.

Apart from a fresh name, the Yonge-University-Spadina Line would also benefit from being re-imagined as two conceptual lines which each “terminate” at Union station. In principle it is generally accepted that transit lines that run in straight lines are preferable to those that double back over themselves from the perspective of ease of use and accessibility. For example, identifying two separate lines at Union station would provide additional clarity to riders trying to distinguish between the two northerly directions of departure from the platform.

I imagine that the western segment could be called the ‘Jacobs Line’ after Jane Jacobs, the internationally renowned urbanist who had a profound impact on the shape of the city through the construction of the Allen expressway, where this portion of the subway runs. The eastern line should probably retain the Yonge name, given the importance of the street as central spine in the city, its mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, and the contributions of its namesake, Sir George Yonge.

The Sheppard subway-to-nowhere could stand to be named after former Mayor Mel Lastman, seen as how it was his baby when he was mayor of North York before amalgamation. The much ridiculed “stubway” seems to nicely represent Lastman’s short stature and crazy antics. He did play an important role in the history of the city, it has to be said.

Renaming the Scarborough RT system can be left until after it’s fate is finally sealed, assuming it ever happens. Perhaps the ‘Purgatory Line’? The less said on this subject, the better.

The point here is that the names given to the subways should be based on substance, a tangible element of Toronto’s heritage that people can relate to.

Yet, in my example the proposed names to not preclude in any way the ability for the TTC to create infographics and pamphlets that are just as clear and concise as the ones they propose. Each line can always be referred to by just the first letter of its name, exactly like 1s 2s and 3s. The subways would probably end up being named by the first letter of their names in casual conversation anyways; “Y train”, “L line”, and so on. But the substance behind those labels would always be there for Torontonians of the future to discover and connect with. In any case, the full names of the subways could always be used by the TTC in contexts where information does not need to be pared down to it’s bare minimum.

I hope that on the 23rd, the TTC board considers the significance of the proposed name changes under their review and choose to take advantage of this opportunity to better define ourselves through our infrastructure.