Metrolinx’ Eglinton Crosstown project disrupts businesses in the area

When construction of the line began, nobody was sure how it would impact their businesses, homes, or commutes. Metrolinx hoped to limit the impact on people in the area by creating the Disruption Management Plan which was put in action to help businesses cope with a loss of customers in their store. But businesses are beginning to wonder if the plan is actually working.

“The project was approved in 2010 and had its environmental assessment passed. We began construction with tunnelling of the underground section in 2013,” explains Jamie Robinson, director of community relations and communications at Metrolinx. “The tunnelling is all complete and we're now doing station construction and ultimately the line will be open for revenue service in 2021.”

Construction of the Eglinton Crosstown began in October 2011, and will consist of 25 stations connecting to 54 bus routes, three subway stations and three GO Transit lines. The line will run 10 kilometres underground from the future Mount Dennis station in York to Brentcliffe Road, before coming above ground for the remaining nine kilometres to Kennedy station in Scarborough. When construction of the light rail line is completed in 2021 it will help move thousands of people across the city.

“Dealing with local communities is a huge thing for us, and because we're impacting not just people who live near the stations but transit users, pedestrians, residents, businesses — all sorts of people are impacted by our work — we spent a lot of time communicating with people as early and as often as we can. We're telling them what to expect, when to expect it and what the impacts are going to be.”

Representatives from Metrolinx also meet regularly with stakeholders in the project including the Toronto Transit Commission, parking enforcement, police, local MPPs and councillors to hear their concerns in regards to the construction. Oddly enough, however, there are no businesses present in this meeting so they must jump through hoops to make their issues heard.

2000 & 1 Hair Studio is one of these businesses who has seen some of the worse of the construction. They recently had their sewage pipes become backed up into their basement, which became flooded. As a result of the flooding, they were forced to close their business for the day. Crosslinx, the group of companies responsible for building the Eglinton Crosstown, came and fixed the issue for them, but did not provide compensation for the loss of customers. Still, the employees are optimistic about the construction and its promise of bringing thousands of commuters and residents to the area.

On-street parking has been a historic and ongoing issue throughout Eglinton. There are some small parking lots located throughout the corridor, but some of these are on the land where stations for the Crosstown are being built and as a result, have had to be removed.

“There's a real lack of parking along there and a lack of parking lots along the entire corridor. It's all being exacerbated by our construction because there's been occasions that we'll take up that parking. What we've been able to do is work with the stakeholders including local councillors and parking enforcement to relax existing off-street parking. Typically you'd only be able to park on residential streets for maybe a hour but what we've been able to do is relax those parking limits and extend them to three hours which frees up time to do shopping or run errands.”

The construction is especially hard on the people with younger children and the elderly or those with mobility issues, explains Aadila Valiallah, Coordinator of the York-Eglinton Business Improvement Area. “They've moved crosswalks so then people are jaywalking across sometimes three or four lanes of traffic.”

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There is also a major lack of visibility for businesses who are near the station construction. Tall, loud machines and fences blocking the storefronts of the businesses are scaring customers, many of whom aren't aware that the businesses are still open.

“For any of the businesses here [in the construction zone], not only is the sidewalk now going to be a little narrow path, it's going to be a little narrow path behind some fencing. As far as their entire visibility, people on the street basically won't see the store.”

Nick Alampi, the manager at Anthony’s Formal Wear, is worried about pedestrian traffic as well. He says the business has started an online store and door-to-door delivery in wake of the construction, but the business is still seeing a decline in customers.

“When people aren't able to shop at or access our store easily, it’s going to break their habits and loyalty. They’ll go somewhere else that’s always accessible to them.”

Nick reminds me that the Bloor-Danforth subway line hurt businesses initially, but overall has since improved the corridor and business along its route. He hopes the same thing will happen here.