Front Street and the Waterfront West LRT Scheme

Acronyms for the unwary:

  • WWLRT:  Waterfront West Light Rapid Transit
  • FSE:  Front Street Extension 

My friend Hamish Wilson, long active in the fight against the Front Street Extension, writes:

Thanks for putting a lot of time, thought, energy and figures into a mostly sensible plan – at first scan. But I have opposition to the West Waterfront line being ineffective and costly, and you’ve had some negative comments too that I have somewhere.

I know you know that I urge the Front St. transitway instead of the FSE – which is somewhat mothballed at the moment or lurking in the sewers – but there is an incredible opportunity to provide effective and cheaper rapid transit instead of the Gardiner trips and it would also supplement the GO system and provide a needed back-up in case of GO going down (brittle system).

[and in a later note]

I think with a Front St. transitway or variation we could improve the service from the west end into the core if we had the political will and say two-thirds of the money of the FSE.  As you’ve said Steve, the Harbourfront is too much of a milk run and the West Waterfront line merely goes into that loop – so it’s not offering speed into the core.

First off, I heartily agree that the Front Street Extension is a huge waste of money, a last gasp of the downtown expressway advocates.  It belongs on the scrap heap with the Island Airport.

What’s really puzzling about it is this:  if we assume that the project is backed by dark forces hoping to make land in the Liberty Village area more valuable, wouldn’t a local road through the south end of the village do that a lot better than an expressway ramp?  Even rapacious developers can be thick as a brick about what will make their property values soar.

Next comes the question of what a WWLRT’s purpose really is.  Planning to date is, to say the least, confused, and ignores several key questions:

  • What is the long-term plan for the western end of the CNE grounds?  One scheme involved housing, but if the CNE morphs into Casino-Rama-South, we can forget that idea.  Any new line that does not provide convenient service for new housing (or conversely any new housing built far from transit) would perpetuate the suburban planning midset afflicting our waterfront.
  • How will a WWLRT serve south Parkdale?  For which trips into the core from, say, Jameson Avenue will it be competitive with the King car?
  • Why would anyone attempt to compete with or supplement GO Transit?  The closest suburban stop to downtown is at Royal York Road, and it’s far enough north of Lake Shore to serve a different market.  WWLRT as proposed goes only to a new loop at Park Lawn and Lake Shore (on the SW corner).
  • What is the role of a WWLRT and/or improved service on Queensway and Lake Shore in handling demand from the growing condo market in that area and the long-term redevelopment of Lake Shore between Mimico and Brown’s Line?

The current scheme has the WWLRT integrated with the railway corridor west of the CNE, and there doesn’t appear to be any provision for serving new development along the corridor.  All they want to do is get to Sunnyside. 

In A Grand Plan I have proposed two additional routes that need to find their way through the railway corridor.  One is a Weston/Airport service and the other is a Don Mills/Downtown service.  I am not convinced that either of these should run over the existing or planned streetcar network.  Indeed, a Weston service would be tricky to integrate with the existing trackage because it would cross Bathurst in the area of Front Street. 

The trackage from Exhibition Loop, east along the soon-to-be-rebuilt Fleet Street and Queen’s Quay to Union, plus the planned eastern waterfront line are or will be designed to serve local markets.  A Weston or Don Mills route, as well as a WWLRT, may be better sited on a separate route through the railway lands.  Whether one exists or not, I don’t know.  A topic for study.

There is some irony in the fact that we seem to be better at redesigning the road network — look at Fort York Boulevard, Bremner Boulevard (extended to Bathurst) and the proposed FSE — than we are at redesigning transit.  Transit lines get sandwiched into whatever leftover space we can wrangle, they put up with traffic signals that make the term transit priority a joke, and they piddle along with crossings at every lamppost where conflicting traffic holds up the streetcars.