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That time the subway had a moving sidewalk

Posted by Derek Flack / January 11, 2014

toronto spadina sidewalkThe Bloor-Danforth and Spadina line platforms of Spadina station really should be separate stations, such is the physical distance between the two. Everyone but the greenest of newcomers knows a change at St. George is vastly preferable to traversing the long underground walkway at the next stop.

When the Spadina line opened in the 1970s, the long walk was made easier by a lengthy moving sidewalk that simultaneously delighted and enraged subway users. It was one of the most interesting features of the subway system - and a hell of a lot of fun for kids - but it was also expensive to maintain, prone to break down, and ultimately went the way of the Dodo in 2004 when the TTC decided that it just wasn't worth the money to keep.

Many people remember the moving walkway as it was only removed about a decade ago, but the story behind it is an interesting one. When the Spadina Extension was built in 1978, the current north/south platforms were initially designed to be a separate station altogether, one which would go by the name Lowther, after the street which runs immediately to the south of the station. In the end, the TTC had a change of heart and decided to build the 150 metre long walkway to link the two stations under the the same designation.

spadina subway stationThere are a couple of reasons why they did this. Aside from the obvious savings on staffing costs (the north/portion of Spadina Station does not feature a fare collector), Transit Toronto explains that concerns about the financial viability of the University Line might have played a role.

"From 1969 to 1978, the University subway was closed Mondays to Saturdays at 9:45 p.m. and all day Sundays and holidays. If this arrangement had to continue, Spadina Station would have to be used as the southern terminal station of the Spadina line (although it would have been far more convenient for passengers to transfer to the Bloor-Danforth subway at St. George). This is why a crossover was installed just to the north of the station and "Spadina" installed on the subway rollsigns. Thus by naming the station 'Spadina' people would be able to connect the station in their minds with the Bloor-Danforth subway far more readily than a 'Lowther' terminal."

spadina subway moving sidewalkObviously ridership on the University Line increased to the point that there were no more early closures (it's almost funny to think that was ever necessary), and the moving walkway was a boon for folks using the Spadina Bus who wanted to head north upon arrival at the station (if going south, it makes more sense to head to St. George). As many as 11,000 people were using the walkway per day in the years leading up to its eventual demise, but faced with exorbitant costs to refurbish and maintain the walkway, the TTC closed it down before removing it altogether.

It's not difficult to spot where it once was, as the tiled laid down in its place doesn't match those that were originally installed in the tunnel. If you look closely, you can even see signs prompting riders to hold onto the handrail. The true tragedy in all of this is, of course, that there was nothing quite so fun as bombing down the moving walkway on a bike late at night when no one was around. Oh well.

Photos by Ben Mark Holzberg/Library and Archives Canada, Axel Luyckx, and Tom Cochrane.



Joes Freshness / January 11, 2014 at 01:56 am
I LOVED that walkway!
I have not transferred stations since that walk way was removed.
That walkway was a benefit of transferring at Spadina. I remember wizzing past the people walking on the side.
Wont be doing that connection anytime soon.
Maybe I will!?
John / January 11, 2014 at 07:34 am
Bikes should be allowed in that corridor.
McRib / January 11, 2014 at 07:51 am
good times, i used to skateboard along it. And as mentioned above, I honestly haven't transferred there since they took it out. It must be a decade at least.
W. K. Lis / January 11, 2014 at 08:00 am
Yet, there are transfer stations in other cities where the walkway is even longer.

Still it would still be better if there was still moving sidewalks. Preferably, double the number, cutting the lengths in half, so that problem platforms could worked on would be less convenient.
John / January 11, 2014 at 08:32 am
Nyc has tunnels 3x that length. Why not put stores and lease the space?
Doug Ford Sr. / January 11, 2014 at 08:33 am
The moving walkway was the best place for drug deals! Easy to rip people off as they whizzed by! Easy to take a whiz too!
Doug Ford Sr. / January 11, 2014 at 09:16 am
Easy to smoke up since the 'breeze' from the moving walkway meant you left 'that smell' behind. Told my kids all about it, especially Dougie, jr. and Randy. Didn't tell Robbie as he was too young a fat fuck.
Doug Ford Sr. / January 11, 2014 at 09:22 am
Can't believe my fat fuck son Rob is mayor! It's a State of Emergency! I turned over (get it? I'm in my grave!) When the little fat fuck was elected as Mayor - or that anyone would vote for Robbie! He was ALWAYS the dumbkopf of the family, NEVER REALLY LEARNED HOW TO READ AND WRITE!
jop / January 11, 2014 at 11:10 am
Now it would just be nice if they stopped the tunnel from leaking/sinking.
Gayle / January 11, 2014 at 11:21 am
Silly of them. They should have tried to put retail there. TTC is very low on things like that along the subway, making me long for a more sophisticated approach.

Given that it's possible to be on transit for 2 hours (eg. southwest Etobicoke to northeast Scarborough) or more, the system should have many places to do some basic shopping along the way home, without having to go above ground.

That walkway would have been an excellent spot for it, and it might have kept foot traffic going. I personally liked using it on longer trips as an excuse to stretch my legs.
NotThatDave / January 11, 2014 at 11:54 am
Wheres that transit parody map that calls it "long ass walk" no better way to put it honestly.
dan / January 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm
I was so confused when i went to Spadina stn a couple years ago(after not having been there since being really young) to see that there was no moving sidewalk....I actually convinced myself that the sidewalk had been a product of my overactive childhood imagination and that it never really existed, ha....thanks for letting me know I'm not crazy
hamish / January 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm
I think it was scrapped for maybe $100,000 a year of operating; sure makes that $85,000,000 in changeover costs for Scarborough subway look good hmm? Or the $500,000 severance to Mr. Webster a real savings to the taxpayer...

It'd also be nice to get details about how well varied parts of this Yonge/University/Spadina line perform for ridership/costs. I think the TTC likes lumping it all together to not look too hard at the ridership of Spadina/University, where we may not be doing so well on recouping costs. Not as bad as Sheppard stubway, apparently costing $17 per ride, but for all the sub-braying around, extensions into suburban areas may not be such a great deal for taxpayers and TTC users, but maybe that's really the idea! Make sure the TTC is broke! Broke good!
Critique / January 11, 2014 at 01:27 pm
What a douce bag the author is...riding the bike down the moving sidewalk likely contributed to its removal.
Giles / January 11, 2014 at 01:57 pm
Smart people transfer at Spadina , especially Eastbound during rush hour.

St. George's single center platform gets soooo busy in the mornings, and I will gladly walk 3 minutes in order to get a spot on a car before it becomes flooded with St. George.

You get to stretch your legs and let's be realistic, it's simply not that far.
Doug Ford Sr. / January 11, 2014 at 03:34 pm
That was Doug Ford Jr., you fat fuckson!
W. K. Lis / January 11, 2014 at 03:52 pm
It was probably a non-transit user who got rid of the moving sidewalk, instead of replacing it with new ones.
rioch / January 11, 2014 at 05:27 pm
Just like Pluto, Bi-way, Honest Ed, and the soon to be home-mail delivery services, this is part of the good-old days.
OohLaLa / January 11, 2014 at 05:38 pm
Citytv's OohLaLa shot a segment here 1998;
Anne / January 11, 2014 at 06:00 pm
Back in the 80s in high school, my friends and I would sit on the handrail and enjoy a cigarette as it crawled along. Remember smoking on the TTC?
Panda Eyes Naruk / January 11, 2014 at 07:43 pm
I remember this very well, good times! :)
Mike / January 11, 2014 at 08:45 pm
I've been living abroad for the past 5.5 years and had no idea that they had ever removed the moving sidewalk. What a sad day today is to have realized.
Krupo / January 11, 2014 at 09:41 pm
I remember being shocked to realize it was gone as little as a year ago. I used it much more in the 90s, a shame it's gone. Thanks for documenting history.
Ben Smith / January 11, 2014 at 10:22 pm
With St. George station reaching capacity, I wonder if they will consider putting it back in? Would be immensely cheaper to do that than to expand St. George.

As is, if I am going to from the Spadina line to Bloor West or vice versa I will transfer at Spadina station. It takes about the same amount of time as going to St. George , I don't feel silly backtracking, and it gives me an opportunity to get some much needed exercise.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Giles / January 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm
That's the spirit, and the way to think about it, Giles.

Also, it's not as if it's hard to walk for a few minutes down a walkway to another station.

@Gayle; Where would the TTC have built this space for shopping that you think should be there? Also, why have this when you have a ton of shops on the streets (Bloor & Spadina) themselves?
Teena / January 11, 2014 at 10:31 pm
I didn't realize it was gone ... shows you how long it's been since I've changed subway lines there.
the lemur / January 12, 2014 at 02:16 am
It's just as well that the moving sidewalk is gone. Even if it was meant to speed people along, the general idiocy/obliviousness of TTC users and Torontonians in general (see also: dealing with the concept of people who want to walk *up* the stairs on the TTC) meant that it was crammed with people standing for the whole ride and not aware of people wanting to use it as a form of accelerated walking.

I'd still rather change trains at St George, even if the platform gets crowded. / January 12, 2014 at 10:28 am
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Todd Toronto / January 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Speaking of things that closed in 2004, aren't we all grateful the TTC moved the Eglinton bus bays that year?
gggfffccccccx / January 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm
VS / January 12, 2014 at 01:43 pm
i also haven't transferred stations since the walkway was removed. I didn't even know it was removed. More evidence of the TTC's regression.

Have to agree with lemur that Torontonians are very stupid about the concept of STAND TO THE RIGHT. Left lane is for passing, always, everywhere in North America.
W. K. Lis / January 12, 2014 at 04:43 pm
That walkway is boring with the same old, same old tile work on both sides. Why don't they at least put a colourful mural along one side? Street scenes? Park trails? Beach? See for an example.
CW replying to a comment from VS / January 12, 2014 at 08:43 pm
> Have to agree with lemur that Torontonians are very stupid about the concept of STAND TO THE RIGHT. Left lane is for passing, always, everywhere in North America.

The TTC officially abandoned stand right, walk left.
chris / January 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm
I used to love that thing. It appears in BLaB's No Skin Off My Ass.
Steve / January 13, 2014 at 01:08 pm
Somehow both Bank and Waterloo stations are able to maintain their moving sidewalks, but we can't?
Whaaa...? replying to a comment from dan / January 13, 2014 at 04:46 pm
Yes, the walkway existed... but you're still crazy... LOL

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