In my opinion, my opinion is better than yours.

What’s In A Name?

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That which we call a Downtown Relief Line; by any other name would provide relief.

Yesterday I was sucked into a twitter conversation about the future of Toronto’s rapid transit and potential system expansion, I assume spawned at least in part by this Toronto Star article.  It is somewhat reminiscent of my last post, though I also posited a way for a defeated mayor to still achieve a legacy of subway expansion, and as a suburban saviour, and so it spurred my interest.

The conversation was mostly between myself, Richard Murray and Corey Caplan and we all floated some name ideas and then picked apart their positives and negatives.  We all agreed from the outset that “Downtown Relief Line” was not the right choice.  Caplan was floating the name “Toronto Relief Line” because it is specific to its purpose but inclusive of the whole city – avoiding the downtown/suburb divide which has plagued this term of council. We all agreed with the sentiment, but issues with the word “relief” were raised: It is dry and technical.  Not particularly attractive to commuters, or tourists, and while it describes the function of the line perfectly, it doesnt really roll of the tongue, nor does it match the naming system we’ve traditionally used in Toronto. The use of the name Toronto also seems forced. It reminds me of Vancouver’s “Canada Line” which is a gimmicky name as well. 

My early suggestions included “Commuter Subway Corridor” which unfortunately falls victim to some of the same concerns.  Its too technical, and not in the tradition of Toronto’s subway nomenclature.  I also suggested the “Yonge-Bloor Bypass Line” but again, it’s clunky in its technicality, and this time it also doesn’t accurately describe the line – while it does bypass Yonge-Bloor Station, and for that matter the YUS line altogether, Bypass implies some sort of express service, which the DRL isn’t explicitly intended to be, but rather an alternative route – and as Mr Caplan eventually mentioned: Bypass sounds too much like heart surgery.

After considering the names of the currently existing rapid transit lines, and the suggested names of the future LRT lines planned for the city, I realized that the city’s street and neighbourhood names play an important role in naming our transit system.  I then proposed the “Keele-Union-Eglinton Loop”. It isn’t an ideal name just in the fact that its a mouthful, but it did seem to be in keeping with the tradition of how we name our lines.  Then my girlfriend pointed out to me that those are the terminus points on the line, and the TTCs route names are actually for the streets they travel. 

That brought Richard’s suggestion of something such as “Bayview-Gardiner Loop” depending on exactly what streets it travelled.  Personally I like the sound of that one, though I’m not sure it would travel up bayview.  It may be tough to sell it like that when its in the early planning stage and its uncertain exactly what route it might take. Though something Like the “Don Valley-Gardiner Loop” might be workable given that those are surface routes that are landmarks in the city and although the final subway line may not follow them exactly, they would be in that vein.

Richard also suggested a few words that would work well in a route name given Metrolinx’s intention to build a regional transit network: GTA, East-West, Connector, Express, or Commute. These also all have their pluses and detractors. Ultimately we reached no consensus other than that the name needs work, because the line needs to be built, and it needs to be supported by everyone in the city – and quite possibly the rest of the GTA if not the whole province.

The moniker currently used suggests that the line is a perk for downtowners.  It’ll offer them relief.  You suburbanites just have to deal with your commuting pains.  But in reality, it is a very literal and utilitarian name.  The line is intended to offer relief to the downtown subway system – not the downtown its self.  The subway being a funnel that is largely carrying suburban and exurban passengers needing to get into the core of the city, or of course, back out again, means that in actuality the benefit will be reaped most by those outside of the old city. But that’s a tough sell when the superficial and obvious meaning seems to be the exact opposite.

So now the discussion is shifting to a name change.

A new name doesn’t change the function, but it may tell the story better.  To illustrate this, I’ll combine the Shakespeare quote that I bastardized above, with the Simpson’s quote that relates directly to it and then relate that to the subway situation.  Shakespeare says “That which we call a rose; by any other name would smell as sweet.” Bart Simpson’s smart-aleck response is “Not if you called ’em stench blossoms.”

This is of course, untrue.  The smell of the flower would not change.  But if you call them stench blossoms you’ll have a hard time convincing people to smell them, or even to allow you to plant them in your garden.  After all, why would we want stench blossoms in our city?  The name rose of course is only appealing to us because we know they’re lovely smelling flowers.  If we didn’t know that, calling something a rose may not make any more appealing either.  But to be entirely fair, “pleasant odour efflorescence” isn’t the most attractive name for a flower either.  Its accurate, telling us exactly what it is and why we want it in our lives, but there’s something harsh about being asked to stop and smell the pleasant odour efflorescence.

So that gets us here:  The name needs to be honest and clear, certainly not claiming to be anything its not, but not allowing for anyone to confuse it for something its not either.  It also needs to be appealing on its own merits. Furthermore, it should also keep in the vague tradition of how our subway lines have been named.  Yong-University-Spadina or Bloor-Danforth are not entirely spectacular names in their own right, but they have a long history in the city.  It would make sense to stick to this tradition as much as is reasonable so as to maintain a sense of continuity in the system, but it would also be wise to heed the opportunity to avoid the naming mistakes we’ve made in the past.

Ok.  It sounds so simple when you suggest reframing the idea of building a Downtown Relief Line so as to appeal to everyone, but actual consideration turns it into a pretty complex task. No matter how you try to sell the idea, the ultimate point is that since its inception, the “Downtown Relief Line” subway is a bad name – there’s no way to dance around it – and one that is ultimately self-defeating in the current climate of politicking in Toronto.


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