The Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessment gets underway soon with the first public meeting next Monday. The project’s website is at this link.
There are two separate processes here, and you can read all of the details on the project site.
- There is already an approved EA for a link through the CNE grounds to the vicinity of Dufferin Loop (the bus/streetcar loop just north of the Western Gate). This study began in 1990, and by 1993 had approval for a line that would go around the south side of the CNE grounds. This would have provided an excellent service to Ontario Place and would probably have been superior for development of the CNE lands to what we have now under the Gardiner Expressway.
- The first part of the study is to amend the 1993 plan so that the route would continue straight west from the existing loop under the Gardiner over to Dufferin Street.
- The second part of the study is to conduct an EA for the section from Dufferin west to Sunnyside where the line would connect with the existing track on The Queensway.
The Executive Summary of the 1993 report is available at this link. [Note that this is a 5MB file for those of you with slow Internet service.]
The report contains many fascinating nuggets showing what might-have-been:
- A section called “The Technology” talks about replacement of the streetcar fleet with low-floor vehicles. We’re still waiting, 13 years later.
- There are two approved segments of the route: the line to the Dufferin Gate via Ontario Place, and upgrades on Lake Shore Blvd. from Humber Loop to a proposed terminus at Legion Road in Mimico.
- A future option is a new route along Front St. or Bremner Blvd. to take cars directly into Union Station bypassing the route along the lake and the existing Harbourfront trackage.
- The future route between Dufferin Gate and Sunnyside is via Dufferin and King Streets, or via the railway corridor.
- The route proposed between Spadina and Bathurst includes an optional loop to serve the Island Airport Ferry(!).
- The route past the Princes’ Gates included a new public square that would form both the main entrance to the CNE and the location of the LRT station, possibly below grade.
- The area now occupied by a parking lot east of Ontario Place would be the main transit connection for the south side of the CNE grounds.
- At the west end, the line would turn north running up Dufferin (extended) to a new loop in what is now the Liberty Village northeast of the Dufferin Gate.
Although this scheme has some problems, notably at the west end, it would have transformed the way we get to the CNE grounds and Ontario Place. Alas, nobody was interested, and the plan languished for the past 13 years.
Now the TTC and the City are reviving the scheme, but with changes to reflect the current state of affairs in the waterfront.
- The National Trade Centre did not exist when the original designs were made, and some changes would be needed to serve it from the original Princes’ Gates Square plan.
- Fort York and Bremner Boulevards now substantially exist, and there is an active scheme (not part of this EA) to route the WWLRT to Union Station via those roads rather than the existing Harbourfront line on Queen’s Quay.
- Redevelopment of southern Swansea, Mimico and Long Branch is now well underway, and potential demand in the Lake Shore corridor is now higher than in 1993.
- Plans for a Legion Road loop have been dropped in favour of a rather small proposed turnback at Park Lawn Road.
- Redevelopment of the Railway Lands will be substantially completed by the time the WWLRT is build. If anything we are playing catch-up for transit service through this area rather than looking to the future.
- The Union Station Loop originally provided for the Harbourfront car is now widely accepted to be far too small to accept additional service. Various plans for its modification or replacement exist, but again they are not part of this EA, nor are they integrated with planning for the eastern waterfront lines.
What strikes me about all of this is the piecemeal nature of the planning. Rather than looking at how the line as a whole would work, we are working on bits and pieces with the hope that one day we will have a continuous, reasonably fast route into downtown. This is no way to plan a transit system. (If the Spadina Extension were planned like this, we would still be wondering where to build Downsview Station.)
I am saddened that the EA looks to drop the Ontario Place option. For decades, right back to the debacle of the proposed “GO Urban” loop around the CNE grounds, we have waited for decent service to events on the lake side of the CNE ground. Delivering people to the back door of the Horse Palace may be great for the Royal Winter Fair, but it misses the most important part about the CNE site: it is on Lake Ontario. Why deliver people to a loop hiding under an expressway and behind a building?
Even if the line follows a southern alignment through the CNE, it will still swing north at the Princes’ Gates and can follow a Fleet/Queen’s Quay or Fort York/Bremner alignment into Union Station.
In 2006, nine years after the Spadina Line opened, I am still awestruck every time I ride south to the lake and find myself sitting at a traffic light facing across the water at Queen’s Quay. We have a waterfront, and we need to make our transit system serve it.
The question here is whether we should have a line that branches both to the north and to the south, and whether both of these branches should continue across the CNE as a potential through route to Parkdale and southern Etobicoke. If only one runs through, do we make it the Ontario Place route leaving a stub northern terminal to serve events at the Trade Centre and Colliseum. Alternately, should we build a branch to serve Ontario Place? My personal perference is obviously to run through via the originally planned Ontario Place route.
Once we reach Dufferin, the question is how we get to The Queensway and what we serve enroute:
- Do we follow the railway embankment west to Sunnyside?
- Go we go up Dufferin to King and run as a local service through Parkdale?
- Do we stay on the Lake Shore for an express route connecting with the Queensway somewhere south of High Park?
A King/Dufferin route might be an initial stage of operation, but it shouldn’t last long as it is not viable as a “rapid transit” service from Etobicoke whenever there is a special event at the CNE clogging traffic in Parkdale.
At Sunnyside, we have the option of coming through the King/Queen/Roncesvalles intersection or making a connection somewhere between Sunnyside Loop and High Park. Either way, getting from the railway embankment over/up to the existing trackage will be tricky. This deserves detailed study of options to see which works best including the benefit of maintaining a connection with the King streetcar service north to Dundas West Station.
Once the line reaches Etobicoke, the real issue is going to be service. Once upon a time, there was a separate Long Branch car that carried rather well considering its isolation from the rest of the system. Over the years, the combination of service cuts, conversion to ALRV operation and integration with the unreliable service on the 501 have substantially worsened service for would-be riders. If the WWLRT is going to be successful, the TTC must be prepared to run considerably better service than today.
East of the CNE, there are two possible routes to Union Station. One follows the existing Harbourfront car wandering along Queen’s Quay. The idea of a “rapid transit” line stopping at every other lamppost while riders enjoy the dubious benefits of “priority signalling” is very amusing.
More ambitious is a proposed route following Fort York Blvd and Bremner Blvd and entering the existing Bay Street tunnel by dodging along the north side of the Air Canada Centre. The planned reconstruction of the south approach to the Bathurst Street bridge includes provision for the “Fort York LRT” to cross the Bathurst streetcar tracks.
Union Station, as I mentioned earlier, needs major work to improve its capacity. When the third platform project was in its early days, I urged that work on the streetcar loop be included. The TTC chose to ignore this because of concerns that an already-overbudget project would be pushed beyond acceptable levels for the various funding partners.
Without question, bundling all of these projects together is going to cost a lot of money, but we must at least be prepared to consider the options. If the WWLRT is too slow, if it ends at a hopelessly undersized loop at Union, if the service is infrequent, we will have achieved nothing.
If we really believe in the future of waterfront transit, and of what LRT can do to improve it, then we must look the whole project in the face. An endless series of EAs, a few kilometers at a time, are a poor substitute for real planning.