The first of the Don Mills LRT Environmental Assessment open houses came to my neighbourhood at Rosedale Heights School, and I dropped by to see where the project is headed. The crowd was modest compared to the well-attended music and arts fair the school was holding just down the hall.
The Don Mills study is an odd duck having evolved out of the Don Valley Corridor study that, in turn, was triggered by a hare-brained scheme to widen the Don Valley Parkway for BRT. Some of the alignment options are leftovers from the earlier study.
Update: The presentation materials are now available on the project website.
The Route and Alignment Options
The study covers the area between Steeles and the Bloor/Danforth Subway. One minor alignment question is how to get around the Don Mills “peanut” between Sheppard and Finch, but the big debate will come at the south end of the line.
Like the Don Mills bus, the LRT route turns west through Thorncliffe Park to Overlea and Millwood, the north end of the Leaside bridge. At this point, there are three major options, two of which have sub-options.
- South across the Leaside bridge, then down Pape Avenue to Pape Station
- South across the Leaside bridge, then down Pape to O’Connor, then west and south via Broadview to Broadview Station
- North on Millwood to Redway Road (just below the CPR overpass), then west to Bayview (this alignment does not exist today as a continuous road), south via Bayview to the DVP interchange and then by some magical route to Castle Frank Station. (This option, as BRT, was the original inspiration for the Swan Boat proposal.)
Both southern options have surface, shallow tunnel and deep tunnel variants.
The surface options are laughable because there is simply no room on either Pape or Broadview, both 4-lane streets with no room for expansion. A drawing superimposing an LRT right-of-way on a typical street shows auto traffic where there are now sidewalks. As the presentation drolly puts it, there would be some property requirement impacts to build this. Yes, destroy a neighbourhood to save it with improved transit. Just imagine the standard TTC LRT layout shoehorned into Queen Street West.
The shallow tunnel (cut and cover) has the most impact during construction because it would basically close the road while the tunnel was built very much like scenes on Yonge Street in the early 1950s. The deep tunnel (bore) has less impact, but it costs a lot more, and makes stations more expensive.
Speaking of stations, the proposals include stops at O’Connor, Cosburn, Mortimer and Danforth. That’s a stop spacing matching the original Yonge subway between St. Clair and Bloor. Needless to say, there are “property impacts” at stop locations because there must be street access.
The Broadview option has big problems at the O’Connor/Broadview corner due to curve radius constraints, and also at Pape where there is a church and cemetery on the affected northwest corner. Some proponents of this alignment speak of continuing via the existing surface trackage down Broadview. This presents huge challenges because we would now have suburban, Transit City cars (or trains) trying to navigate the tight geometry of the city streetcar system.
Notably absent is any discussion of two important variants:
- Treat the line from O’Connor south as “rapid transit” and move the stops further apart. A good argument could be made for Cosburn rather than O’Connor as it is the most densely developed east-west street and the station would be more centrally located in this part of East York.
- Use Donlands Avenue to bring the line south to Danforth at a point where continuing south and west is simpler than at Pape or Broadview, and offers a connection to Greenwood Yard.
The existing built-up nature of East York means that any station will be very intrusive, and the locations must be chosen to minimize the impact. Once the line goes underground, via whatever alignment, closely-spaced stations will substantially raise construction costs and surface effects. My own preference is to leave a network of surface bus routes handling much of the demand in this area.
The Leaside Bridge
When this LRT line was first proposed, I was doubtful about the ability to route it over the Leaside bridge. Structurally, this bridge was originally intended to support a Leaside streetcar (in the 1920s when the early TTC was in an expansionary mood) and that extra strength allowed extra lanes to be hung off of the original bridge. (A similar design was used for the Bathurst bridge north of St. Clair.)
The LRT scheme involves using a lower-weight polymer trackbed to reduce the dead load on the bridge of the track structure, and the City’s engineers are confident that, with some strengthening, the Leaside bridge can carry an LRT line. In one way this is unfortunate because it constrains alignment choices to those passing over that bridge. However, the alternative, a new valley crossing, would be very expensive in its own right.
The Castle Frank Option
In this version, the line would run across the Don Valley parallel to the CPR corridor at Redway Road, then turn south via Bayview and ascend to Bloor at Castle Frank. There would be an intermediate stop at the Don Valley Brickworks, but otherwise this would be essentially an express route from Thonrcliffe Park to the subway.
The connection at Castle Frank is a major challenge due to the grade and existing building structures beside the Bayview/Bloor ramp. It was going to be a problem for the BRT proposal, let alone for LRT with a completely dedicated right-of-way.
From Thorncliffe Park to Steeles
Generally speaking, there are three stops every two kilometres (one concession in the Toronto street grid) for a typical spacing of about 660m. The “midblock” stops lie at major intersections so that, for example, between Eglinton and Lawrence there are stops at Barber Greene and The Donway.
Unlike Sheppard Avenue, parts of Don Mills have right-of-way limitations that will challenge designers to fit sidewalks, bike lanes, car and transit lanes into the space available.
Connections to Other Rapid Transit Routes
The Don Mills line connects with both the Eglinton and Sheppard LRT routes as well as the Sheppard Subway.
At Eglinton, the design will depend on the configuration of the Eglinton LRT which will proceed through its own EA process starting later in 2008.
At Sheppard, we already know the options under study for the LRT/subway interchange. Regardless of whether the subway is extended or the LRT comes to Don Mills, the connection to a north-south LRT would likely be from the existing mezzanine of Don Mills Station under the intersection with Sheppard. Whether this connnection would be to a surface station, or if the Don Mills LRT would dip underground, is a matter for detailed study.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The next round of public meetings will come in the fall with a preferred route selection and design concept for the route. The project’s challenge is to sensitively address the difficult parts of the alignment and show communities that a TTC LRT line can be a good neighbour rather than a bully pushing its way past objections in the name of better transit.