The Waterfront Toronto Board met on February 6, 2013, and received a presentation on the transit options under consideration for Queens Quay east from Bay to Parliament.
Updated February 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm: The presentation materials from the February 6, 2013 Board Meeting are now available online.
When a transit line to the eastern waterfront was first proposed, the cost estimate was considerably lower than today. Waterfront Toronto has only $90-million left in the account for this project because some of the originally intended funds have been redirected to the Queens Quay West project now underway.
Coming into 2012, the project estimate had grown to $335m broken down as:
- $112m for changes to the Union Station loop
- $156 for the tunnel on Queens Quay from Bay east to Freeland
- $66m for the surface portion from Freeland to Parliament
This number is now felt to be low because, somehow, the TTC has acquired a new “mandate” to relocate all utilities under its rights-of-way and this will push up the cost of the surface segment. (As an aside, I cannot help wondering how much of this is gold-bricking by utilities who seek to renew/replace their existing plant at the transit project’s expense.)
Because Waterfront Toronto does not have full funding available for this project, they are looking for an interim solution that would improve transit in the area for the next 5-15 years. The criteria fall into four groups:
- quality and capacity,
- ability to be implemnted,
- costs and benefits, and
- operations and neighbourhood impacts including traffic.
The options under study are not screened out just because they exceed $90m as it could be worth finding additional funds for a better solution. Broadly speaking, the options fall in three groups: under $90m, about $150m and about $250m.
“Operational” evaluation will include consideration for effects on both the Ferry Docks and on the proposed new bus terminal (tentatively planned by Metrolinx as part of a development northeast of Bay & Lake Shore).
Alternative Options for Serving Queens Quay East
During the process of considering “solutions”, Waterfront Toronto has boiled down many possible routes over just about every street in the vicinity into a few that are worth looking at, and has grouped the technology options into four categories. The TTC’s view of the situation is that whatever is done should be better than the existing 6 Bay bus to justify the investment and effects of any road changes.
Category 1: Replace the streetcar tunnel with a walkway or people mover
During various discussions, some people have advocated simply running an east-west streetcar/LRT along Queens Quay and repurposing the Bay Street tunnel between Union and Queens Quay stations. This would involve a pedestrian pathway, a moving walkway or some sort of people-mover technology. These variants have all been rejected for a number of reasons including:
- A walkway or moving sidewalk (necessary for accessibility reasons if nothing else) would be 500m long. This would be a significant downgrade for current users of the 509/510 streetcar services who would be forced to transfer at Bay & Queens Quay in addition to new users of an eastern waterfront service.
- Reliability of a moving walkway would be dubious given the TTC’s experience with the much shorter (200m) installation at Spadina Station, and the fact that this installation would be in a harsher climate.
- This would not present an appetizing gateway to the renewed waterfront.
- The range of costs is $165-195m and construction could take 2-3 years.
Category 2: Streetcar services
Two options were studied:
- A surface loop from Queens Quay via north on Yonge, west on Wellington and south on Bay.
- From the existing Bay Street tunnel via west on Queens Quay (the existing track), north on York, east on Harbour, south on Yonge.
The range of costs is estimated at $150-250m, and these options are thought to have no benefit over buses running in reserved lanes.
A surface streetcar option presents issues with pedestrian volumes especially at the major transfer point, Union Station.
Category 3: Bus options
- Using HOV lanes, buses would loop in the same manner as the first streetcar proposal via north on Yonge, west on Wellington and south on Bay.
- Using HOV lanes, buses would loop north on Bay, east on Front, north on Yonge, west on Wellington and south on Bay.
Both of these require only the investment needed to stripe the roadways and erect signage, but they are strongly dependent on enforcement which is unlikely in Toronto. Moreover, the probability of getting HOV lanes both ways on Bay is remote given competing demands for road capacity. The TTC prefers dedicated lanes if anything is going to be done to ensure predictability in service.
Although these options have short implementation times, they would provide little benefit in travel times over the existing bus service.
Category 4: Bus Rapid Transit
All of these schemes involve partial or complete dedication of lanes over the entire route including on Queens Quay from Bay to Parliament.
- North via Yonge and south via Bay as in schemes described above.
- Both ways on Bay using curb lanes as exclusive transit lanes.
- Use the two west lanes of Bay as a bus right-of-way and shift all other traffic to the east side of Bay. Buses would loop via west on Richmond, south on Sheppard, east on Adelaide.
The cost of these options ranges from $27-36m, but an Environmental Assessment may be required to review the effects of a major change in road space allocation. It was reported that City of Toronto staff think that this could be on a par with a “decent” streetcar system, but it depends on the traffic working in the new configuration. Although Bay Street has been restricted to one lane each way by construction at Front, this is not necessarily a long-term option, and certainly not a low-impact one.
For the projected population who could be dependent on transit in the East Bayfront (12k initially ramping up to 20-30k over a longer period), a simple surface operation is not considered viable for the long term.
A preliminary review of these options has the simplest one — dedicated lanes on Bay Street for the existing bus service — come out on top. There is little cost to implement it, but it is subject to an evaluation of traffic effects. Travel time to the East Bayfront would not improve substantially over the current arrangement once the effects of construction at Front & Bay are removed. Without a faster trip from East Bayfront into the core, the contribution of this scheme to better mobility for future residents is low.
Stakeholder Advisory Committee Option
At the recent Stakeholder meeting (as reported by Waterfront Toronto), the reaction to the proposals was not supportive.
- Category 1 options were rejected by people living to the west of Bay who now depend on the direct connection of their transit service to Union Station. The debate on this option was described as “acrimonious”.
- Category 2 options were seen as having a high “throwaway cost” for streetcar infrastructure for an “interim” solution.
- Bus options might be a short-term approach, but would the effort of getting the required transit lanes be worth the benefits in better service.
A new option arising from the meeting received general support: build the Queens Quay east streetscape, including streetcar tracks for future use, and run the Bay bus over the new right-of-way until demand and funding make conversion to an LRT into the Bay Street tunnel possible. This would continue the redesign of Queens Quay into the East Bayfront and would build permanent, not temporary infrastructure in that neighbourhood.
The estimated cost of this option is $100m including road improvements, although Waterfront Toronto hopes to reduce this through a value engineering review. This option will be added to the mix in the study.
Support for this option was strong among Waterfront Toronto Board members. Comments included:
- Disruption of “corporate Canada” by taking road space on Bay in the heart of the financial district is probably a non-starter.
- This would be a first step in advance of extension of transit into the Port Lands.
- The difference between LRT and BRT is shrinking, and whether streetcar tracks should be included at all needs discussion.
- Consultation should include people from a wider range of neighbourhoods out to the western waterfront (e.g. Palace Pier).
The comment about BRT vs LRT shows that some members of the Board are unaware of the basic constraint already faced in this study that buses cannot run through the Bay Street tunnel and there is no surplus road capacity for a surface connection. The general idea of starting with a lower order of transit (buses with some lane reservation) and working up to higher orders as demand requires was well-received.
The comment about Palace Pier begs the question of the Waterfront West LRT line (originally part of Transit City) and the related Bremner route between the CNE and Bay Street. There was no mention of the effect any potential new uses of the lands at Ontario Place or Exhibition Place might have on the transit and road network.
It was clear that some of the Board members are unfamiliar with existing and proposed transit services for the waterfront in general, and the discussion reflected this (including one member who did not know there was a tunnel under Bay Street that has been in operation since 1990). A refresher for the Board is definitely in order.
The “stakeholder” option will be added to the study. Waterfront Toronto will develop a preferred option from those available, and will take this to the public for comment.
My sense of the meeting is that there is strong support for the “stakeholder” option using the available money on Queens Quay East to match the west section now under construction. This will integrate the two parts of the waterfront and show how new developments and a transformed public realm can work together.
The debate about a future LRT line will depend both on the desire to make funding available and on the speed with which new developments are planned east of Parliament and into the Port Lands.
Disclosure: I am a member of a Stakeholder Advisory Committee for this project, and participated in a discussion of various options a few weeks ago along with about 30 other representatives of neighbourhood groups, businesses and other activists on central waterfront projects. Now that the options under study, including the results of that meeting, are now public, I can report on them here.