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York University

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Text by James Bow

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When it opens late in 2017, York University station will bring students north from downtown Toronto to one of the largest post secondary institutions in the country, serving 52,300 students and over 7,000 faculty and staff. This station, located in the heart of the University’s main “Keele” campus, will be one of the most intensively used local stations on the YONGE-UNIVERSITY line outside of the downtown. It will also mark a shift in how the immediate area is used, away from a regional terminal. York University’s regional activity will shift to a new terminal at neighbouring Pioneer Village station.

A History of Transit to York University

The area on which York University now sits was farmland well into the 20th century. However, in 1946, after two decades of depression and War, the City of Toronto and its surroundings entered into an unprecedented period of growth and sprawl. Not only were new residential and commercial developments going up all across Metropolitan Toronto, there was a demand for new municipal services, particularly schools. Returning soldiers were attending colleges and universities to a greater degree, and a baby boom meant that this demand was only going to increase. The space race at the beginning of the Cold War also increased government interest in higher education, especially in advanced scientific and technological research.

With the University of Toronto full, and with little room to expand its downtown campus, the provincial government responded to calls for the creation of a new University in the north of Metropolitan Toronto. The York University Act was passed and received Royal Assent on March 26, 1959, formally establishing the university. With no buildings built, yet, the first classes were held that September in Falconer Hall at the University of Toronto. Glendon College, located east of Bayview at Lawrence, opened in the fall of 1961, first as an affiliate of the University of Toronto, and then a fully independent campus for York University in 1965.

At the same time, land was purchased in the area bounded by Finch, Keele, Steeles and the Black Creek for York University’s main campus. The first buildings were built, and opened to students in September 1965. York University’s programs and course offerings increased, as did its attendance and number of buildings. By the 1969-70 academic year, over 21,500 students were enrolled at York, including over 7,700 full time undergraduates.

Located on the outskirts of Metropolitan Toronto, York University was initially a very car-oriented institution. The first TTC buses into the area were 83 TRETHEWEY (on Jane Street) on November 2, 1964, 41 KEELE in February 1965, and 36 FINCH, on November 29, 1965. When classes started in September 1965, the 41 KEELE bus was extended into the campus, but only during rush hours. Midday service would not come until September 1968.

But as the student population grew, so to did the demand for transit service. 41 KEELE buses expanded their loop through York University on July 23, 1973, and expanded their service into the University to seven days a week. Then, on January 28, 1978, the situation changed dramatically. The SPADINA SUBWAY opened between St. George station and Wilson Avenue, and the 106 YORK UNIVERSITY was established, connecting students directly with a much closer subway station.

York University as a Destination and Hub

The TTC’s 106 YORK UNIVERSITY bus service put the University on the map. Development and rising student enrolment increased service and made the University an enticing destination for rapid transit. Previously, calls for a northern crosstown rapid transit line, including the GO-ALRT proposal passed through the site without giving it much thought, but by 1984, the TTC was operating express buses to York University. Metropolitan Toronto’s Network 2011 proposal in 1985 called for subway service to run east from the SPADINA subway at Downsview, but when the provincial government counter-proposed a subway belt line connecting the YONGE and SPADINA subways along Finch Avenue and Dufferin Street, York University intervened. With the backing of the City of Vaughan, the University lobbied the Liberal and, later, NDP governments to broaden the loop, extending the SPADINA subway further west and north to pass through the York University campus.

There was one caveat, though: while York University was happy to see itself as a stop on Toronto’s subway, they did not want to be a terminal, and encouraged plans to run the subway line through the campus, to a bus terminal and parking lot at Steeles Avenue rather than within the University campus itself. York University was already having enough problems dealing with student parking, they didn’t want Vaughan commuters added to the mix.

As the 1990s progressed, York University increasingly became a transit terminal in its own right. The TTC broke off the York University express service into its own limited-stop route, eventually known as 196 YORK UNIVERSITY ROCKET. Vaughan Transit buses were already serving the campus and, in 2000, GO Transit set up a corridor of bus routes along Highway 407, with York University as a Hub, serving passengers from Oshawa, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, Oakville and Hamilton. In 2001, the TTC saw merit in installing a dedicated route running from York University to Westwood Mall in Malton, but did not proceed because of jurisdictional issues with Mississauga. By this time, the 196 YORK UNIVERSITY ROCKET, was operating as frequently as every two minutes, leading to the construction of a bus rapid transit line connecting Downsview station to York University, starting in November 20, 2009.

After the opening of the SHEPPARD subway in 2002, there was pressure from many fronts to continue subway construction in the Greater Toronto Area. The vote-rich southern York Region, particularly Vaughan, were able to swing political attention towards their call for an extension of the SPADINA subway. York University would provide a ready-made ridership of transit-friendly students, and the subway could continue north, past a stop serving a proposed regional transitway paralleling Highway 407, and a terminal anchoring a new downtown being built for Vaughan. In 2006-7, the provincial government, led by premier Dalton McGuinty, announced funding for the extension, and construction began in 2008.

Station Features

The new subway passes through York University after curving northwest from Finch West station. York University station is located beneath the intersection of York Boulevard and Ian Macdonald Boulevard, near the York Lanes complex, and the former location of a regional bus transit hub. The station features only a main entrance, and is to be served almost entirely by walk-up traffic from York University students, faculty, staff and visitors. There is no connected bus terminal (although TTC and Brampton Zum bus services will pass close to the stop) and no commuter parking.

Even so, York University station is built to handle crowds. It boasts a large structure at the west end of the York Lanes, with a swooping, wing-like roof. The building offers a number of environmental features, including a green roof, light wells to increase daylight levels within the station, LED lighting, water efficient plumbing fixtures, an energy efficient HVAC system, stormwater management systems, a short-term bicycle parking lot for 26 bikes, landscaping with native and drought-tolerant species, and a highly reflective metal roof designed to keep the station inside cool.

The station was designed by Foster & Parners and, according to their statement, their vision of York University station is, “one of crisp, clean lines accented by daylight which is harvested by the light scoop and shines into the fare-array concourse level and down to the platform level through large openings in the concourse slab. Realizing this aspiration required close integration of architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services, as well as performance requirements. This higher level of integration between architectural and engineering design has resulted in a beautiful and cost effective station, and is a good pairing of form and function.”

York University station’s art feature is designed by Jason Bruges Studio, based in London, England. This team of 14 artists created a piece entitled Piston Effect, based on the movement of people and vehicles through the environment. The art comprises of a series of glass panels on the east walls of the concourse level and the smoke duct above the east tramway. An array of liquid crystal displays changing in tone between black and white create a series of moving images that can be changed and updated.

Although construction delays throughout the Spadina-York extension pushed the opening of York University station beyond the initial December 2015 deadline, the station was complete enough to entertain visitors at the May 27, 2017 edition of Doors Open Toronto. There, hundreds of curious members of the public explored the station’s facilities to admire its architectural and artistic features.

York University station is expected to open with the rest of the Spadina-York subway extension in December 2017, and it is expected to be a major destination for users of the YONGE-UNIVERSITY line. York University’s importance here is partially reflected in the TTC’s decision to drop the name “SPADINA” from the “YONGE-UNIVERSITY-SPADINA” subway route name, since only a small portion of the line west of Union station serves Spadina Road, but two universities comprising over 100,000 students now have access to rapid transit along six stops enroute.

Service Notes (as of December 17, 2017):

  • Off-site Resources:
  • Address: 120 Ian Macdonald Boulevard, 4700 Keele Street
  • Opening: Late in 2017
  • Average Weekday Ridership: 34,130 (2018)
  • Hours of Operation:
    First Train to Union/Finch: 5:57 a.m. weekdays, 5:56 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 7:56 a.m. Sundays
    Last Train to Union/Finch: 1:10 a.m. weekdays, 1:11 a.m. weekends/holidays
    First Train to Vaughan: 5:59 a.m. weekdays, 6:01 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 7:51 a.m. Sundays
    Last Train to Vaughan: 2:30 a.m. weekdays, 2:25 a.m. weekends/holidays
  • Entrances:
    • Main entrance, at the north and south ends of the main entrance in Harry W. Arthurs Common, leading to stairs and escalators leading to the platform level. (Wheelchair accessible)
    • Emergency exits exist from the south and north ends of the subway platform.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Since: On Opening
  • Elevators (maintenance alerts):
    • Main entrance to concourse
    • Concourse to subway platform
  • Escalators (maintenance alerts):
    • Main entrance to concourse (2)
    • Concourse to subway platform (4, 2 pairs)
  • Washrooms: None
  • One centre platform

TTC Surface Route Connections:

Regional Transit Connections:

  • Brampton Zum (on street)
  • York Region Transit (on street)
  • VIVA PURPLE (on street)

Document Archive

York University Station Image Archive

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