Waterfront West LRT Plans

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.

14 thoughts on “Waterfront West LRT Plans

  1. Steve – why not both? Push for the existing 509 to go along the waterfront and south to Ontario Place while a new service comes in from the northwest but instead heads down Front to Union via an adjusted Bremner/Navy Wharf junction and Blue Jays Way or via Spadina+Front – but continues down Front to Parliament where it joins the rest of the system and can terminate somewhere east or north. Like an express bus it need not stop every 10 yards since it’s a new route.

    My fear is that the streetcar terminus at Union is always going to hobble the addition of capacity there unless extended and extended at enormous cost – instead the Spadina line could also proceed along Front and drop off on-street. This would leave the Waterfront lines for actual waterfront services such as Queens Quay East.

    Otherwise you could of course find a way of sinking the Bay Tunnel under Union and the subway to head up Bay to Bloor to relieve pressure from the Yonge line’s passengers en route to the B-D but that’s real fantasy 🙂


  2. This whole WWLRT EA process is a joke.  The stated goal of the EA is to “review options and select alternatives for improving rapid transit service from downtown Toronto to south Etobicoke (Legion Road)”.  Somehow the study has morphed into a review of the options connecting

    A) Exhibition Place to Dufferin Street, and
    B) Dufferin Street to Roncesvalles/Queen.

    The Roncesvalles/Queen is a valid starting point for the study, since it serves as a unifying point for service on routes 501/504/508 plus a potential Queensway LRT to Sherway.

    What boggles the mind, though, is why Exhibition Place is the end point of the study.  The assumption is obviously that streetcars will travel along Harbourfront to Union, but unless there are major changes to the Harbourfront route this will not be competitive with existing routes on King & Queen.  Even if service is fast and regular, I would wager that the destinations of most riders from Queen/Roncesvalles are directly along King or Queen, so this WWLRT won’t help them at all.  The TTC really needs to look at where their riders are going before they decide the routing of any new service.

    If the current process continues as-is, we’ll get a near-useless connection that will be as slow as existing options, and doesn’t even serve needed destinations.

    To me, the solution is fairly obvious – an LRT-sized tunnel under King from Roncesvalles to the West Donlands, with stops every 500 metres or so. Route as many streetcars through the tunnel as possible (including all 502/503/504/508 cars), while still maintaining regular service on Queen. If you really want it to go to Union, have the tunnel go under Front for a portion, and build a new platform directly below the existing subway platform, preferably with 4 tracks so different routes can have separate platforms. Of course, this would never get past the budgeting committee, but it would make east-west transit much more useful than it is presently.


  3. I live on the Queensway, so I’m very interested in this plan.

    Here are my ideas starting from the west.

    Between Sunnyside and Dufferin there are two options.  Follow the railway or King Street.

    The railway would be faster, but following King St would serve more of south Parkdale and Liberty village.

    Things could be tried to speed up service on King St.  They could make a ROW by moving the tracks to the south side of King st, making King into a two lane road.  It would work between Roncesvalles and Dowling, because there are no roads south of King in that area.

    Between Dufferin and Strachan, I think we should stick with the north side of the Ex.  Follow the Lake Shore just for Ontario Place is not worth the cost or the distance from development north of the railway tracks, just for a place that is only busy on summer weekends.

    Between Strachan and Union, one option would be follow the railway to the Bay St. tunnel, if room could be found.  This would create a route completely free of traffic and still serve City place with stops and Bathurst, Spadina and maybe in between.

    The other option would be to improve the speed of the Queen Quay route.  I believe a lot can be done.  Fleet St. is going to get a ROW.  The lights from Bathurst to Spadina can be change to improve streetcar priority.

    East of Spadina the southern two lanes are going to closed, which will dramatically reduce the amount of traffic that needs to cross the ROW.  Perhaps lights could be emlinated at some or all the intersections, and replaced with a railway style flashing lights to warn cars and people when a streetcar is crossing intersection.

    Another idea is to create crossovers on Queens Quay so express cars could pass locals.

    Obviously, the Union station loop need to be expanded.


  4. I do have a large issue with the city calling it a ‘Streetcars Environmental Assessment’ – complete with a picture of a red rocket.  I believe it leads to people having false impressions of exactly what the service will entail.  Are we looking for properly done LRT with traffic priority (read Calgary (outside downtown), Edmonton, Denver, San Diego, various other global cities, et al), or a glorified streetcar service slaving to the whims of car traffic (a la Spadina which is currently neither Light nor Rapid)

    At some point citizens have to be educated that streetcars in a Toronto sense do not equal LRT (the private ROW on Queensway excepted).  The fact that Torontonians are not seeing what new LRT technology could look like, shows to me at least, that the TTC is half-assing it’s way in this regard in addition to the EAs.


  5. Steve:

    I can see the benefit to running the service via Ontario place and the south side of the Lakeshore Rd. for summer events but I do not have a handle on what it would do to running times from west of the Exhibition.  I think that it would be advantageous to run throught Parkdale to increase ridership and seeing what the TTC and Toronto can do to St. Clair I am sure that they can find some way of butchering King St. from Dufferin to Sunnyside to get a right of way.

    While going along the railway ROW or Lakeshore Rd. to Sunnyside might be less expensive and faster how would ridership compare?  Again given the mess on St Clair why can’t they extend the ROW on Lakeshore west of Park Lawn to Long Branch.  Are we giving priority to the automoble or transit?

    It is interesting to see a proposal to go on Front St.  I thought that the former Metro Roads commisioner wanted Front St. left street car free as it was the only major east west road with out street cars.  I agree that a route north of Queen’s Quay is preferable than going in as another toonerville trolley.  In addition could they not build a line south from the existing Exhibition loop to Ontario place using either the Bathurst and/or Queen’s Quay cars to serve it?

    What ever they decide to do I doubt that it will be quick.  Look how long it took to get a street car on Spadina.


  6. When the University subway was built, the space between the tunnel and the roof was not filled in and is currently used as an underground parking garage.  The south end of the garage could be a good location for an inexpensive alternate streetcar loop in the Union station area.  It could also be used to offload existing traffic from the Bay loop, and thus provide additional capacity for an eastern LRT.  Such a station could have pedestrian tunnels to both Union and St. Andrew stations similar to those at Spadina station.  A line south of the tracks could travel north on the Spadina bridge, then turn left along Front street to access the loop.

    Steve:  There are already two proposals for new loops at Union. 

    The first involves a new approach via York Street and a large loop in the basement of the railway Station.  The platform would run east to west parallel to the new third platform in the subway station.

    The second, the one that seems to be in favour now, involves building an extra set of tracks under Bay Street outside of the existing ones, and moving the platform so that it runs north-south beside the new outer track.  This would be roughly underneath the west sidewalk of Bay Street.  This scheme would not eliminate the extremely tight curve at the north end of the loop.


  7. I agree a connection at or near Sunnyside presents problems because of the elevation difference if nothing else.  I question why the line needs to be connected at all at that point.  It seems to make more sense to continue the line in a center ROW of Lake Shore Rd. through Sunnyside, then connect up with the Long Branch line west of the Humber.

    Steve:  The real debate here is whether the “LRT” is supposed to serve south Parkdale, or be an express service for southern Etobicoke and the new housing in Swansea.  Which markets we are trying to serve determines where the line should veer off onto an express route south of The Queensway and King Street.


  8. I would love to see a streetcar route serve Ontario Place, however the routing along Lake Shore may pose a problem during the Molson Grand Prix/Indy.  The race course runs along the same part of Lake Shore that the LRT route would serve.  Unless the LRT runs along Rememberance Dr. the way the old 121 buses used to or the race course is rerouted we could have a problem in trying to get the area served during the Grand Prix.  I don’t think that the race would be able to go on with streetcar tracks running along a portion of the race course.   It’d be a liablity with those cars speeding so fast.  If the cars took the tracks the wrong way there’d definitely be an accident of some sort.

    Steve:  The proposal for the south route runs north of Rememberance Drive and through the Ontario Place parking lot.  A grade separated crossing with Lake Shore would be needed and probably desirable.

    Having said that, I have to ask when we are going to boot the Indy out of Toronto.  It is huge source of noice pollution throughout Parkdale and surrounding areas.  For a city that claims to be pro-neighbourhood and pro-environment, this is a huge insult.


  9. The Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessment gets underway soon with the first public meeting next Monday. By “next Monday”, did you really mean “Monday”? The web site says the first meeting is November 27:

    Monday, November 27, 2006
    Open House: 6:30pm to 9:00pm
    Presentation (followed by Q&A): 7:30pm
    Church of the Holy Family
    1372 King Street West (map)


    Steve:  Yes “next Monday” when I wrote this post was November 27.


  10. As mentioned there are two processes in play here regarding the EA.

    I can understand why there has to be an EA for the segment from the CNE to the existing Queensway ROW.

    However, why do we have to go through the EA process to simply extend the tracks westward through the CNE grounds from the existing loop (for 509/511 cars) to Dufferin Street?  It is not like St. Clair or Spadina where there were alterations to the existing streetscape.

    Steve:  Because there is an existing approved EA for the line connecting via Ontario Place rather than beside the railway corridor.  In this case, it’s an amendment to the EA rather than a totally new one.


  11. I attended the Waterfront West LRT Park Lawn Loop meeting last week.  What was told to me by City people & TTC engineers was that the Park Lawn loop would cost about $6M, and will double service along Lakeshore’s Condo (formerly Motel) Row.  Humber Loop’s eastern loop’ll become an emergency loop only, and the western loop (for the old 507 Lakeshore cars)’ll be eliminated.  No proposals for what’ll replace it.  Possibly sell the land.  There was a proposal in thh 93 EA that a small TTC parking lot be built there.  Would only hold 20 cars max imo.

    Currently the peak service to Humber Loop is 6 streetcars/hour, or 10 min frequency.  This’ll be extended to Park Lawn if this loop’s built.  In the future, once the remaining motels are developed into Condos, the city’ll demand some street frontage, to make the Park Lawn to Humber Loop stretch, almost a km, a private ROW. There’ll be 2 traffic lanes in each direction, plus the streetcar lanes.

    According to the city, Lakeshore Blvd’s not wide enough west of Park Lawn to accomodate a similar PROW.  Plus the expense of a new bridge over Humber Creek, ~30 m west of Park Lawn, would have to be built, at great expense. To me this seems baloney.

    Steve:  I agree.  The bridge is six lanes wide.  Four for cars, two for the TTC.

    The main criticism I had is that the Park Lawn loop is 100m east of the Marina Del Rey & Palace Pier condos, as well as the new townhouses on Legion Road.

    Steve:  Yes.  Park Lawn is a decent place to put in as a replacement for Humber, but the frequent, reliable service should be extended at least to Kipling Loop.

    The city 3 years ago changed its preference for the loop from Legion Rd to Park Lawn, so as to not annoy these townhome owners, and for the Conservation Authority to develop a wetlands.  All a fait accompli, with no EA.

    Really, this whole process isn’t about options, it’s about people accepting what the City & TTC have already decided.

    There was one display at the public meeting that I could not figure out.  The TTC engineer tried to explain service levels C thru F, which weren’t in a legend.  This guy was hopeless, even tho I myself am an engineer & very familiar with transit planning terminology.  Hopefully this guy’ll get better.

    Steve:  The letters refer to quality of service for cars.  Level A is free flowing, and level F is stopped.  Everything in between is various degrees of interference between vehicles, and you don’t really want to go below level D.  When new road and intersections are designed and modelled, the projected traffic flow (including turn requirements) is converted to a service level, and that’s what they’re talking about. 

    There isn’t ridership west of Legion Road currently for streetcar ROW, and won’t be for many decades.  I live at Kipling & Lakeshore & often take the 501 car into town.  Reliability’s an issue: you’re never sure anywhere on Lakeshore whether your streetcar’s ever gonna come.

    Ideally this WaterFront West ROW will give Lakeshore residents streetcar service should there be streetcar service stopped somewhere on Queen or Queensway.  I asked this a few times but didn’t hear the resounded “YES Of Course” reassurance.

    Even tho Queensway bus garage is only 2km north on Kipling, replacement buses on Lakeshore take at minimum 40 min to arrive on Lakeshore in event of no streetcar service.

    There seemed a real disconnect with the east terminus of the Waterfront West line, as Steve pointed out.  What future ridership estimates at Union Station streetcar terminus?

    While I commend the TTC for making streetcar ROW’s wherever they can, esp Fleet St, lower Bathurst, I don’t get the impression at all of a well conceived & designed overall study.

    Furthermore the Waterfront West displays at these public meetings are not available online, even tho I’d asked David Nagler, City contact person, who said they were or would be.

    I can’t make the public meetings this week & so am in the dark about the Roncies to Ex part of the proposal.

    How many thousands of people will also be in the dark?

    Have the TTC & City learned nothing from the St Clair ROW mess?

    Overall I agree with the policy of making as much of the streetcar network in PROW as possible, but there are many bigger picture question, as Steve and others have commented here, that really need to be asked of the TTC.

    I hope everyone that’s commented here online can submit their comments to the City/TTC as well.

    Steve: I agree that this has all the hallmarks of the standard piecemeal TTC approach to surface infrastructure planning, and the lack of online documentation is appalling.  At least there’s a direct link from the main TTC site, something not even the St. Clair project ever managed.  (It’s hidden inside “Construction”.) 


  12. I’m appreciating the varied comments on all of this, as we could be making a major mistake by not looking at ALL the options, most specifically doing the link to Etobicoke via part of this route now in the EA process, but more “roadically” converting the proposed Front St. Extension road folly to just a transitway, no cars. 

    Front St. is very wide, it doesn’t have any transit service on it anymore, it has a huge array of good destinations on it, and I would include getting within walking distance to the Nat’l Trade Centre and the Ex via a ped bridge.

    But our transit-friendly council can’t think that we could have transit instead of a 1/4-billion buck gift to cars that would foul up GO a bit by the moving of the tracks for the tunnel and the TTC, by letting cars get off at Bathurst St. to go up into the City fouling up transit even more.

    Yes, the FSE has been under appeal to the Min of Env for 3.75 years but no official action, just Joe pushing along for his road and the NDP going along with it 21-19 Feb. 21/05.  So we’re not only missing what I see as the best chance for quick travel in and out of Etobicoke by TTC-based service, but we’re spending a quarter-billion on a road folly and then what another quarter-bill at least on streetcar stuff that will never really give quick service into existing places because the Harbourfront is too much of milk run.

    I’m glad we’re getting some review of the Ronc. to Duff segment but we need a proper corridor study of everything south of Queen as part of a transit options to the FSE study, and we need to both snag the quarter-billion of the FSE for good transit while beating up the NDP for not seeing that even two more GO trains would be a better way of going and more congestion relief while saving about $180 million.

    And if that takes too long, and the service on King and Queen too bad, how about expediting the King car in a ROW to the railtracks, then coming down to Front St. via these railtracks on the east side and then blasting in to the core?

    We must tackle our transport emissions as we are climate cariminals but we can’t embrace any transit as good just because it’s transit.

    Thanks for the read/oppty.

    Steve:  The idea of “blasting into the core” via the railway corridor from King has one big problem:  it’s fine for people coming from Roncesvalles or Queensway/Lakeshore, but it does nothing for the people in the developing area on King itself both near Dufferin and in the Niagara/Bathurst area.  We have to avoid the TTC’s mistake of thinking that everyone comes from far away and wants to end up at King and Bay while ignoring everyone in between.


  13. This “exercise” by the local transit monopoly continues tonight and tomorrow in South-South Parkdale. Monopoly staff will conduct another “exercise” with the local population of South-South Parkdale. The monopoly has generated additional options for examination and consideration.

    It is beneficial to read the comments above. It follows that there is hope that questions put to the monopoly register, the proof being a rational reply from monopoly staff. Is there a legal requirement for a rational reply to questions put to monopoly staff (and its agents)?

    Also: The question of visitors from beyond this EA area. Monopoly staff have said that comments from non-EA respondents are legitimate. One assumes that they have an equal weight to comments from EA area property owners. So when the monopoly proposes a noise, vibration, etc generator on a 24/7 basis aligned immediately along my property line, non- EA area can attend to promote this as, inter alia, something really “pro-transit”. Hmmm? Oh, and these pro-transit hypers immediately leave the EA to again, inter alia, snooze peacefully far, far away from the proposed noise, vibration, etc. generator.

    Where is the O’Henry of this urban area publishing?

    Happy participation tonight/tomorrow!

    Steve: As one of those folks who live in far away Riverdale, my concern is that the WWLRT be a good design overall including for the neighbourhoods through which it will pass. There is no point in pissing off the locals and giving the design process a bad name going into other projects. We are still working through the effects of the St. Clair mess on that account.


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