Updated July 5: I have added new links to the list at the start of the post, and commentary on them down at the end.
A few posts back, I wrote about the two main options proposed by the TTC for the Waterfront West LRT (WWLRT) route between Bathurst Street and Exhibition Loop. This post stirred up a good deal of email as the implications of the plans for Fort York became apparent.
Recent events and actions by the TTC regarding the WWLRT and its proposed alignment are rather strange. This route has suddenly jumped from the bottom of the barrel among future Transit City routes, to a high priority project for which the TTC seeks funding. Have they finally discovered that there is a large and growing population living just west of downtown which threatens to become a car-oriented “suburb” without substantially improved transit? Better late than never, I suppose.
However, the process is leapfrogging ahead with a major new “preferred option” that has not been subject to public review. Indeed, the report itself appeared at the last minute on the Supplementary Agenda for the June TTC meeting. At least one Commissioner had not read it before the meeting, and there was only perfunctory debate. There were no deputations or critical voices because nobody expected the report.
Meanwhile, various aspects of the entire WWLRT EA are supposed to be on hold at the request of local Councillors pending integration of the EA with other planning work underway for waterfront districts.
If this is an indication of how the TTC plans to use or abuse the new, streamlined EA process for transit projects, then we are in for some major battles on Transit City and on Metrolinx’ Regional Plan. The more people distrust an agency’s intentions and expect that it will ignore their concerns, the more combative and obstructionist they will be. This is not the setting we need for widespread expansion of transit services, and the TTC would do well to be more sensitive to community input.
Rather than sprinkling links to various reports and sites through this post, I have collected them all here:
City of Toronto — Fort York Neighbourhood Master Plan (February 2004)
Fort York and Garrison Common Plan (2001) (9.8 MB)
Bathurst/Strachan Secondary Plan (June 2006)
Map of Heritage Features for Secondary Plan (June 2006)
Original Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessment (August 1993)
WWLRT EA Modification for Fleet Street Right-of-way (August 2005)
WWLRT EA Website (Last updated February 13, 2008)
Additional Links July 5:
Fort York and Railway Lands West Infrastructure EA (September 2006)
Design Review Submission for Bathurst Bridge (June 2008)
A Short History of the Waterfront West LRT
The WWLRT was originally proposed as a way to move passengers into the developing central waterfront and core area via a new route from southeastern Etobicoke. The route would have started at a new loop near Legion Road (in Mimico), run east via The Queensway and King Street to Dufferin, then south to the Exhibition Place. The route would have looped south and east past Ontario Place, then east into downtown along what eventually became the 509 Harbourfront route.
A second stage involved a separate east-west line in the Front/Bremner corridor from Union Station to Sunnyside (Queen and Roncesvalles).
Very little of the original proposal was actually built, and we have proceeded by “amendments” to the approved scheme to the point that almost nothing of the original remains. Ontario Place refused to allow its parking lot to be converted as a major transit station (a decision they came to regret years later as the isolation of their site worsened), and the National Trade Centre was built on the old Exhibition Loop property just inside the Princes’ Gates. Both of these decisions relegated transit access to the space under the Gardiner Expressway behind the Colliseum and the Horse Palace.
By 2005, the reconstruction of Fleet Street was about to occur, and out came a new design. This is substantially what was built and is only now in the final stages of construction. By this time, the original plan for “Bremner Boulevard” as it appeared in earlier reports had evolved into the Fort York Boulevard we know today. However, this road was not intended as a major transit route, and no provision for transit lanes appears on it in any of the designs from this period.
[For those who are confused by street names, Bremner Boulevard extends west to Spadina. At that point, it will become Fort York Boulevard even though the section from Spadina to Bathurst is not yet open.]
By late 2007, the WWLRT had been incorporated into Transit City and included all of the Lake Shore trackage right to the end of the former Long Branch line at the western edge of Etobicoke. The Legion Road loop plan had been abandoned due to technical difficulties, and it was replaced with a new scheme for a loop at Park Lawn. Also underway was the EA for the link from Sunnyside to Dufferin. In a November 2007 report, the TTC compared the seven Transit City routes to determine which three should be undertaken in the first round of studies and construction. The WWLRT was not among the top ranked projects.
In April 2008, the TTC reported that a further EA amendment was on the verge of completion covering the section through Parkdale (Exhibition to Roncesvalles). However, this work is on hold pending the outcome of a general study of the Parkdale Waterfront neighbourhood into which the WWLRT must fit.
The Bremner Boulevard project is not mentioned at all, nor is the EA for the Exhibition to Union portion of the WWLRT. This route, east of Bathurst, will run in the new right-of-way in the middle of Fort York Boulevard (see note about street names above) and then in the existing (and likely to be reconfigured) Bremner Boulevard to a portal near the new Lower Simcoe Street. From here the line will run underground through spaces reserved in developments south of Union Station into the Bay Street tunnel and Union Loop. A discussion of that loop is a subject for a future post.
Finally, in June 2008, the TTC brought out a last-minute report regarding the Fort York / Bremner alignment for the WWLRT. A few important points in the recommendations of this report:
- [Noting that] the number of riders who will travel via the Waterfront West LRT in the Railway Lands-Fort York Neighbourhood area is approximately 44,800 per day, or about 13.7 million per year, which is roughly equal to the ridership on the 501 QUEEN streetcar route;
- [Noting that] another east-west connecting link between Union Station and Exhibition Place will be essential if the Waterfront West LRT is to provide attractive, reliable, and fast service;
- [That the TTC] request Metrolinx to provide funding for this vital component of the Transit City Light Rail network, because it will provide a sustainable-transportation alternative for residents and workers in what will soon be one of the most densely-developed areas in the entire GTHA, and will lay the foundation for the Waterfront West Light Rail Line.
At last, the TTC is looking at the Harbourfront line not just as an occasional trolley wandering through the Bathurst Quay neighbourhood, but as a major connection from the developing Fort York neighbourhood into the core. Moreover, there is a push to get this report to Metrolinx asap so that it can be included in the forthcoming plans and funding announcements.
The projected demand is of particular interest when we consider that in November 2007, the maximum peak hour forecast for the WWLRT was 2,200. This and other numbers have subsequently been revised upwards, but still give no indication of the all-day demand cited above.
The Queen car is longer than the WWLRT and feeds into downtown from two directions. The 44,800 would-be riders of the WWLRT only represent the west side of the city, and will require substantially more frequent service than that now advertised (let alone operated) for the 501. This triggers a crisis in intersection capacity at Fleet and Bathurst and, to a lesser extent, at Fort York Boulevard and Fleet.
The solution? A new alignment branching north from Exhibition Loop into the rail corridor, through the abandoned GTR cut under Strachan Avenue and into Fort York Boulevard just west of Bathurst Street. Neat. Elegant. It even impressed me, until I found out that the land to be used was not quite as available as the TTC makes it out to be.
I will not attempt even a brief history of Fort York, but recommend several websites and reports linked above to those who want all the details. This fort is a hidden, almost forgotten part of Toronto’s history. If Fort York were like colonial-era buildings elsewhere that still actually stand on the water in their historical context protecting a harbour, it would be well known as a link to the city’s origins right on the waterfront. Instead, it is landlocked.
The original shoreline lies just south of the fort under the north side of the Gardiner Expressway. It was to this shore that the Americans sailed an invading fleet in the War of 1812, and on April 27, 1813, the invasion was met by the explosion of the fort’s arms magazine. The crater from this explosion remains at the site although it has been overgrown during the past centuries.
Over the years, the original fort was surrounded on both side by industry and railways. The lands south of the fort are all fill, and Lake Ontario is much further south today than it was in 1813. The Bathurst Quay lighthouse, which now stands in Fleet Loop, was originally a short distance away marking the south end of the quay at the foot of Bathurst Street (which itself was a bit west of its modern location). A fan of railway tracks lay roughly where the Gardiner, Fort York Boulevard and various condos now stand south to Fleet Street, and these tracks connected under Strachan Avenue via the “GTR Cut”, an abandoned Grand Trunk rail siding that is now part of the Fort York National Historic Site. (The “telltales” warning train crews on top of boxcars of an impending bridge still hang just west of Strachan.)
This part of our waterfront, unlike lands further east, was reclaimed as open space, but it has an industrial, and earlier a military past.
[A note of pronunciation for readers: “Quay” sounds like “key”, and comes from the French word “quai”, hence the spelling. We are in the season of many tourists most of whom talk about the “kway” by analogy to “queen”. “Strachan” has only one syllable, as in “strawn”.]
Fort York is protected from encroachment as a National Historic Site and by comparable designations at the Provincial and City levels. The bounds can be seen in several of the reports linked above, but roughly are:
- North: The CN rail corridor extending from a little east of Bathurst to a little west of Strachan where it meets the former GTR cut.
- West: A small triangle of land made up of the GTR cut west of Strachan, plus Strachan Avenue itself south to Fleet.
- South: Fleet from Strachan to Fort York Boulevard, then northeast along the sidewalk line of that street to a point just east of Bathurst.
- East: At the east end, there is a small piece of land east of the Bathurst Bridge.
The Bathurst/Strachan Secondary Plan (now known as the Fort York Neighbourhood Secondary Plan) contains a map of “heritage features”, and its view of the bounds of the Historic District correspond to an earlier, smaller protected area. This is odd considering that the bounds were expanded to their present scope before the Secondary Plan was published.
There are extensive plans for Fort York both in anticipation of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and for its role as part of the growing neighbourhood west of Bathurst Street including:
- Possible conversion of the Armoury on the north side of Fleet Street to a school.
- Conversion of the parking lot at Fleet and Strachan to parkland.
- Retention of the Garrison Road bridge over the GTR cut as a link from the school/Armoury lands to the parkland west of the fort.
- Regrading of the GTR cut as a location both for parking and for a visitor centre. This would allow parking now on the upper, historic plateau of the fort to be removed.
- Use of the triangle beyond the GTR cut as a new location for service buildings that now intrude on the historic portions of the fort.
- Improvement of the green area between the fort’s south ramparts and the north sidewalk of Fort York Boulevard to set off the fort itself.
- Reconstruction of buildings so that the main site is restored reasonably close to its post-invasion configuration. What the exploding magazine didn’t destroy, the Americans burned, and no pre-1812 building survives at the fort. However, several postwar buildings were lost over the years, and they will be rebuilt as part of the fort’s plan.
The TTC’s preferred alignment for the WWLRT runs right through the south end of the National Historic Site including the greens south of the ramparts, the GTR cut and the land west of Strachan. The master plan for the Fort which has been in place for many years is threatened by this design.
The Eternal Problem of Transit Priority
When the TTC started to look at the traffic volumes on the WWLRT, the 511 Bathurst and the 509 Harbourfront cars, I suspect there was a rather loud “Ooops!”. The Fleet Street EA amendment includes projections of traffic volumes at various intersections, and there is no hint of capacity problems. Times have changed, and the TTC now recognizes that the service planned for Fleet Street won’t fit through the Bathurst/Fleet intersection, especially if all of the WWLRT service goes to Union via Queen’s Quay. This would require a frequent service to cross Lake Shore Boulevard which has very long east-west green times with only infrequent breaks for transit.
Indeed, I have learned in correspondence with the TTC that there may even be problems with capacity at the just-completed intersection of Fort York Boulevard and Fleet Street.
The traffic problems lead the TTC to propose the “Under Gardiner via GTR Cut” alignment through the Fort York lands. This diverts all of the WWLRT service (and possibly others) completely off of Fleet Street. The projected saving in travel time due to a shorter route and fewer pesky traffic signals is about 20%, although this is only for the Exhibition to Union link as compared with the existing 509 Toonerville Trolley along Queen’s Quay.
If the WWLRT stays on Fort York Boulevard all the way south to Fleet Street, this will have various impacts including:
- reconfiguration of Fort York Boulevard to include a transit right-of-way
- multi-phase signals at Fleet to manage the large number of streetcars turning into and out of Fort York Boulevard
Traffic problems include:
- interference between eastbound “Fleet” and “Fort York” services each of which has its own signal phase. If the “wrong” car shows up, it will be delayed. This is based on a fixed signal sequence rather than true signal priority that would adapt to whatever traffic was present.
- Queueing problems westbound at Strachan where the farside stop can only hold one car. This begs the question of why this stop exists at all in the new design when there is a stop in front of the Armoury only half a block east.
What we have here is a confluence of piecemeal planning and a slavish adherence to the idea that we must serve auto traffic at all costs.
As I said earlier, the WWLRT has reached the point where, if this design is accepted, none of the final route will lie on the originally proposed alignment east of Dufferin Street. The route has been shuffled back and forth to suit various interests over the years, but has rarely been viewed as either an integral part of service to the Exhibition grounds or as an important part of the developing Fort York neighbourhood. Recent demand projections show it will be an important line, and yet after 15 years of study, this is only now part of the planning framework. Two major road links (Bremner east of Spadina, and Fort York west of Bathurst) were built with no provision for a transit right-of-way. So much for “transit first” planning. (Bremner was seen as a possible BRT corridor, although how this would be possible on so narrow a street is a mystery.)
On the road side, we are still obsessed with accommodating auto traffic, and transit schemes everywhere are skewed to ensure they don’t inconvenience motorists. That might be a valid approach in the car dominated suburbs, but at some point downtown we have to say “Enough!” and admit that cars will be limited in their space and freedom at intersections. If we can’t engage that battle in the heart of the city, how can we hope to change travel habits in the suburbs?
As I write this, the TTC’s view is that it has a “best” and “second best” proposal. They prefer the “GTR Cut” route, but can live with the route via Fort York and Fleet.
Supporters of Fort York are incensed that a major incursion in the Historic Site was proposed without consultation and in a manner that gives the appearance of slipping around the EA process. Yes, there will be another round of “public consultation” in the fall. Will the plan by then have achieved inevitability and Fort York’s supporters be reduced to a five-minute deputation, ignored by most Commissioners unwilling to challenge the staff position?
This is not the sort of issue to be settled in the contentious setting of the final days of an EA, but something that requires all parties to sit down and agree on the tradeoffs and come to a workable design proposal before the final, formal public meeting.
Years ago, the original Harbourfront line was to be on the surface of Bay Street, but at considerable cost (and construction difficulty) it was buried all the way to Queen’s Quay. Why? Because the then City Works Commissioner, Ray Bremner (yes, he of the Boulevard), wanted the transit right-of-way at Bay and Queen’s Quay for a left turn lane. It’s time for transit designs to stop making way for road capacity, and the WWLRT route serving Fort York is a good place to start.
Postscript: July 5 Update
I have added four links to this post today to show other aspects of the Fort York issue.
First is the proposal for a cycling and pedestrian bridge linking the northwest corner of the fort across the rail corridor to the south end of Stanley Park. This project is still under study.
The report shows the Fort York plan and the general layout of the area (see page 11). Note the circle under the Gardiner Expressway — this is the location of the proposed Visitor Centre and it sits astride the planned route of the WWLRT.
Fort York Road (the connection north from Fort York Boulevard up to Garrison Road) is actually at an elevation considerably above the surrounding “under Gardiner” area in the GTR cut. That lower area, west of the Visitor Centre on both sides of Fort York Road is intended for parking, primarily for tour buses. The upper level area now occupied by parking on Garrison Road reverts to green space.
Note also the extension of green space down into the land now occupied by CNE parking at the corner of Fleet and Strachan.
Second is the report on the study of infrastructure improvements for the Fort York and Railway Lands West neighbourhoods. This includes diagrams of the design for Bathurst Street south of the rail corridor.
Third is the Design Review submission for the Bathurst Bridge project which should be read together with the previous report. It shows in more detail the planned layout of the new bridge. At its meeting of June 26, the Design Review Panel sent this back for reworking specifically to improve the headroom under the south end of the new bridge. The reduction from old to new is triggered by the TTC’s desire for a flat expanse at the Bathurst and Fort York Boulevard intersection large enough to permit installation of curves between the north-south and east-west tracks.
The location of this intersection is determined by the existing Loblaws warehouse on the east side of Bathurst. The building shell will become the exterior of a new Superstore to be built there.
Finally, I have a drawing from du Toit Allsopp Hillier showing the lands within the Historic Site that would be taken by a TTC streetcar/LRT project as currently proposed.