Sunday, February 17, 2013

past pieces of toronto: spadina's moving walkways

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the "Past Pieces of Toronto" column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally posted on February 5, 2012.

Spadina moving walkway. Photo by Eva Amsen.
With eyes closed, imagine yourself at an airport ready to embark on a jet-age journey to an exotic destination. As you and your backpack, briefcase, or luggage glide along the moving walkway, dreams of adventure or relaxation fill your head. The faint odour of rodents barely distracts you from your visions. Suddenly, there’s a lurch at the end of the walkway that jolts you back into the reality of standing at either end of the Spadina subway station.

We may be exaggerating the experience one could have had using the moving walkways that carried TTC passengers between subway lines for 25 years. Whether you saw the moving walkway as a novelty item, a useful connector or, as a cranky early user told the Star, believed they were "slower than walking," the walkways were a unique feature that was never used elsewhere in the city's transit system.

When the Spadina line was under development, its Spadina station was originally known as Lowther and was not intended to connect to the Bloor-Danforth line. The decision to join the two lines together was made to allow passengers to access the Spadina line from Bloor Street and to save the TTC a few dollars by eliminating the need for a fare collector at the new station. Moving walkways would allow users to walk at a faster clip or take a slow, foot-relaxing ride along the near-platform length of the corridor between the two Spadina stations.

When the walkways opened in January 1978, users were advised by the Star that they would provide both entertainment and shocks. The elderly were warned not to get too comfortable with the slow flow, as the walkways would “spurt at the end, sending riders stumbling into the mezzanines at either end.” School kids treated it a toy, with some “plunking their knapsacks down and sitting on them,” while others rode the rails or attempted to run against the flow.

After a quarter of a century transporting commuters, the walkways were shut down for a thorough inspection in November 2003, which determined that the drive system and other major components required immediate replacement. The TTC considered three options: repair (which would have extended its life by 10 years, cost $1.1 million, and required $100,000 per year in upkeep), replacement (25 year lifespan, $4 million cost, $84,000 per year in upkeep) or retirement (no cost, as annual upkeep cost would be used for removal). Caught in a budget squeeze, the TTC chose the retirement option. Hoarding went up in June 2004, which left a metre-and-a-half wide passage for commuters to use during the removal process. As John Lorinc noted in the Globe and Mail, the tight space provided “a rare opportunity to find out what it’s like to be temporarily buried alive.”

Some hints of the walkways’ existence remain. The replacement tiles look different than the originals that still line the corridor. Etched into the old tiles are reminders to “please hold handrail,” but the only ones anyone can grasp are figments of their imagination.

Additional material from the September 4, 2004 edition of the Globe and Mail and the January 31, 1978 edition of the Toronto Star

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