All Over The Waterfront (Update 4)

Update 1, March 17, 5:50 pm:  More details have been added about the various alignment options for the Waterfront West line through Parkdale.

Update 2, March 24, 7:55 pm:  Feedback from the TTC about Parkdale alignment details.  Details of Queen’s Quay public meetings added.

Update 3, March 25, 6:00 am:  The preferred option for the Kingston Road line is BRT.

Update 4, March 28, 11:10 pm:  The presentation from the March 25 public meeting on the Queen’s Quay redesign is now available online.  Note that this file is almost 18MB for those of you with slow network links.  The document is quite extensive, and I will review it in a separate post.

Transit planning on Toronto’s waterfront leaves much to be desired thanks to the patchwork of overlapping studies and projects for two decades.  Options for the portion between Parkdale and Bathurst Street have changed with the recent cancellation of the Front Street Extension, but no planning based on ths possibility has ever been conducted.

Throughout its history, planning for the waterfront has been fragmented and compromised to fit around whatever other projects had real political clout.  To help focus discussion of the waterfront as a whole, this post gives an overview of all of the projects and schemes from Long Branch to West Hill.

The Central Waterfront and Queen’s Quay

The original Harbourfront line (originally route 604, now 509) opened in June 1990.  This included the Union Station Loop, a substandard arrangement for transfer to the subway that the TTC originally claimed had a capacity of 7,000 passengers per hour.  Needless to say, demands far lower than this quickly overwhelmed the station.  Plans are afoot to substantially modify this loop (see details later in this article) in anticipation of major new demands from both the western and eastern waterfront.

The Harbourfront line operates from Union south and west to a loop at Spadina and Queen’s Quay, although service trackage connecting north to King via Spadina was installed as part of the Harbourfront project.  All of the original track predates the current standard for track construction with welded rails and acoustic isolation between the track and its surroundings.  This track is scheduled for replacement sometime in 2010 according to the TTC’s 5-year plan for trackwork contained in the current capital budget.

This could co-incide with construction activities to reconfigure Queen’s Quay itself as planned by Waterfront Toronto (see below).

East of Bay, the proposed LRT route will initially operate to Parliament Street pending the connection of Cherry Street through to a re-aligned Lake Shore and Queen’s Quay.  I discussed this scheme in my previous post on Harbourfront transit, but since then, more details have emerged about the street design east of Bay.

At a recent stakeholders meeting for community representatives, Waterfront Toronto presented details of the revised configuration for Queen’s Quay and its transit service from Bathurst east to near Parliament.  The materials from this meeting are not yet available online, but I can report on a few major issues:

  • The preferred design for Queen’s Quay, based on the international design competition concluded last year, is for the streetcars to remain roughly where they are today west of Bay, although there will be some changes in stop locations.  Queen’s Quay traffic will be reduced to the northern half of the existing street with some selected widening.  An outstanding debate is over a two-way versus a one-way option for this road.
  • The new eastern portal will bring streetcars to the surface for a stop at Freeland Street (one block east of Yonge).  From this location, the line will run along the south side of a narrowed Queen’s Quay in a design not unlike what is proposed west of Bay.
  • The south side of Queen’s Quay including what are now the eastbound lanes plus the sidewalk will be reconfigured for pedestrian and cyclist use.  Special arrangements are needed at a few locations near Bay (access to the Harbour Square condos) and Yonge (access to the Harbour Castle hotel).

Two public meetings are planned for this project :

  • Wednesday, March 25 at 6:30 pm, Harbour Castle Hotel, Metro West Ballroom.  This will be a formal presentation and discussion between 7:00 and 9:00 pm.  (Updated March 24)
  • Saturday, March 28 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm in the Lakeside Terrace Room at Harbourfront Centre.  This will be an informal drop in centre where visitors will have a chance to review the plans and chat with staff.

Plans for Queen’s Quay have been evolving rapidly as Waterfront Toronto adapts to meet the needs of local property owners (access for servicing) and the tourism industry (provision for bus loading areas and parking).  Details of this work will be on display at the public meetings.

Gardiner Expressway EA

The proposed replacement of the Gardiner from Jarvis Street east to the Don River launches its Environmental Assessment with a series of public meetings in Etobicoke, Scarborough, Downtown and North York.

This will be a full-blown EA complete with an initial round for a Terms of Reference.  Typically, the ToR phase takes about a year and bores everyone to death.  However, it’s the only real “alternatives analysis” process we have in EA-land, and this is the stage where alternatives to be studied in detail are examined, included or rejected for the next stage.  The “do nothing” alternative is always there as a base case.

Cherry Street Redesign

The new design for Cherry Street has been settled for some time (link).  After considerable community discussion and design work, the layout will echo the new Queen’s Quay with a streetcar right-of-way on the east side of Cherry and road space on the west.  A good overview is in the TTC Report, or if you want all of the gory details, you can read through all of the background papers.

There will be a temporary loop on the east side of Cherry just north of the rail corridor pending a connection through to Queen’s Quay and the Portlands.

Lower Don Lands (Don Mouth / Cherry / Lake Shore / Queen’s Quay) & Port Lands

The many streets in this area will undergo major reshuffling to improve connections for transit and pedestrians in what is now a strongly car-oriented neighbourhood.  The plan includes:

  • A new underpass through the rail corridor embankment allowing enough capacity for road, transit, cycling and pedestrians between the Distillery District and the lakefront.
  • The Don itself will be freed from its industrial channelization as part of new parklands.
  • In the Port Lands, Cherry Street will be shifted west.

An overview of the plan from December 2008 pulls much of the information together in one place.  For more detail, review the project presentation.

A carhouse for the new streetcar fleet will likely be located in the Port Lands, and this project may accelerate construction of track through this area well ahead of what would occur if we had to await major new residential development and demand.  Connections to the streetcar system will likely be at Leslie and Cherry.  The TTC’s proposed map for the area includes a southerly extension of Broadview, but it is noticeably absent from the Lower Don Lands “preferred transit network”.

If all of the tracks shown on various maps were actually built, there would be many options for routes serving the lands from Bay east to Leslie, but the real question is how long it will take to actually develop the area.  Will the TTC (and the City/Province as funding agencies) make good on building transit in advance of development, or will we find ourselves with car-oriented suburbs in our last major downtown development?

I can’t help thinking of how Harbourfront has developed west from Yonge Street with a high density of residential and tourist land use, considerable servicing needs, and many demands for road space for traffic that will not be handled by even an ideal TTC service scheme.

Kingston Road

Almost forgotten among waterfront studies is the review of an LRT/streetcar service on Kingston Road in Scarborough.  This project got its start when Brian Ashton was on the TTC as a way of improving transit in southern Scarborough and stimulating redevelopment of the rather tired commercial areas on Kingston Road itself.

The proposal suffers from general neglect (it rarely appears on system maps such as “Transit City”), and there is the difficult question of a western terminus.  Should it follow Kingston Road to Bingham Loop and connect into the existing streetcar network there, or should it go to Victoria Park Station via Danforth and connect with the subway?  (A connection north on Victoria Park from Kingston Road is impractical due to road width.)

If the line connected at Bingham, what would the route into downtown be?  Via Queen all the way, or down Leslie, through the Port Lands and then west via Queen’s Quay to Union Station.  Whether the south route would be noticeably more attractive to riders is hard to say as the roundabout route could offset any benefit of transit priority on the new “LRT” network.

The project website was recently updated with announcements of three April meetings.

Updated March 25:

The current project newsletter reports that a BRT line running from Victoria Park Station east via Danforth and Kingston Road to Eglinton is the preferred alternative.  Mixed traffic running would occur only on Victoria Park.  The Danforth section would have a central bus lane, one traffic lane and one bicycle lane.  I find it quite astounding that the TTC thinks a single traffic lane is workable on Danforth.  This reminds me of the head-in-the-sand approach to LRT design for the Don Mills and Jane routes on narrow streets.

The technology choice is based on projected demand that, by implication, is not sufficient to sustain an LRT line.

Waterfront West / Union to CNE

The Waterfront West LRT (WWLRT) proposal has been around for nearly 20 years, but has suffered from incremental planning.  Originally [5MB] it would have served Ontario Place and new developments at the south side of the CNE lands, but this option was foreclosed by (a) Ontario Place’s short-sighted opposition to losing parking for a streetcar terminal and (b) the relocation of Exhibition Loop north under the Gardiner Expressway.  Once the line moved north, extension to the west by continuing the existing line became much easier, and the southern option was dropped.

This is only one of many anti-transit decisions taken over the years in the waterfront.  Put the streetcars where they are mostly out of the way even though, in the process, they also lose the potential benefit of actually going somewhere people want to travel.

There were several phases to the original proposal (see “The Longer Term Plan” on page ES-2 of the 1993 report linked above):

  • Construction of a new line skirting the south side of Exhibition Park to serve Ontario Place and then turning north to Dufferin Loop.
  • Improvement of the Queensway right-of-way including transit priority signalling, and extension of the reserved lane operation west to a new loop at Legion Road.  This was subsequently cut back to Park Lawn.
  • Implementation of new service between Dufferin Loop and Sunnyside either via Dufferin and King Streets, or via a new line in the rail corridor.
  • Implementation of a direct link from Dufferin to the core via Front and Bremner.

This shift to the north eliminated the purpose of serving redevelopment on the CNE grounds and Ontario Place, and left the route only as a new connection into Parkdale and southern Etobicoke.

East of the CNE, the line now runs in a reconfigured Fleet Street and turns south onto Queen’s Quay at Bathurst.  The intersection with Lake Shore at Bathurst (like its cousin at Spadina) is organized not for transit but for cars with extraordinarily long green times on Lake Shore.  Even when traffic is light, streetcars can wait a long time for a transit cycle to get through the intersection.  Will this be fixed?  I doubt it.

Planners decided that they needed a way to get WWLRT cars to Union Station without going through Bathurst/Fleet, and thus the Bremner Streetcar was bumped up in the priority list.

In one earlier version, the Bremner line was to begin east of Strachan and Fleet with cars turning north onto Fort York Boulevard (which becomes Bremner at Spadina), but this scheme was replaced with a branch north out of Exhibition Loop, down a ramp to the rail corridor, through the old Grand Trunk Cut under Strachan, along the south edge of Fort York and back onto the street just west of Bathurst.  This arrangement was announced with little notice and no public consultation in June 2008 by the TTC.  (It is described as the “Under the Gardiner” option in the linked report.)

This plan conflicts directly with the master plan for Fort York itself, but refinements are in the works to create a compromise that works for everyone.  The TTC’s dubious history at compromise leaves me waiting until I see a real plan before declaring that this problem is behind us.

East from Bathurst Street

Problems abound at the Bathurst Street bridge.  Although a replacement bridge project is already well advanced, it does not provide for GO Transit electrification that will require a higher clearance and, therefore, changes to the road profile.  This will affect the intersection of Fort York Boulevard and Bathurst.

The Bathurst Street Bridge project has also come in for criticism from the City’s Design Review Panel (see item 4).

Although there is a right-of-way included in Fort York Boulevard from Bathurst to Spadina, the problem remains of how a Bremner line can co-exist with the traffic south of Skydome.  Somewhere east of Spadina (or maybe even to the west), a Bremner line will have to dip underground to scoot around the Dome, the north side of the Air Canada Centre and into a connection with the expanded Union Station Loop.

At this point, I think it’s clear that much of this project is planned on a “make it up as you go along” basis given that the roads, as designed, do not generally provide for a transit right-of-way.

Front Street West

The Front Street Extension is now dead, and we can discuss transit through Liberty Village without the FSE’s “elephant in the room” effect.  Some have proposed that the WWLRT be shifted north of the rail corridor and follow Front (including a local road extension west from Bathurst).

This would have the advantage of removing the WWLRT completely from Fleet Street, but life gets difficult east from Bathurst.

The line could jog south over the new Bathurst Street bridge to Bremner, but this would add a pair of turns to the route and almost certainly major delays in service thanks to what passes for transit priority signalling in Toronto and the need for considerable transit green time for the turning movements (not to mention through service on Bathurst).

If the line continues east on Front from Bathurst, any transit right-of-way will take substantial road capacity from a street that acts as a ramp to the Gardiner much of the time.  Discussions about available road capacity downtown often treat existing road layouts as a given rather than considering the combined effects of new developments and transit additions to the streetscape.

Once a Front Street line reaches University, it meets a substantial problem at Union Station.  From York to Bay, Front will undergo a major transformation to be much more a street for pedestrians and taxis, not a through street for motor traffic.  The proposed new designs have no room for a transit right-of-way and loading platforms.

Finally, the new “city” streetcar fleet is planned to be single-ended cars, and a Front Street line could not simply end at a stub terminal.

Union Station

The TTC’s design for Union Loop has not changed much in the past year.  (A map of the design appears in recent notes from a Queen’s Quay Transit meeting at slide 48, right at the end of the document.)  The proposed changes would:

  • Add two tracks, one in each direction, outside of the existing structure.  Cars northbound in the Bay Street tunnel could choose whether to take the inner (existing) or outer (new) tracks.  These tracks would rejoin at the north end only to circle the tight loop, and cars could  pick either the inner or outer track southbound.
  • New platforms running much of the length of the new outer tracks will replace the very constrained loading space in the existing loop.  Cars will offload on the east (northbound) platform and load on the west (southbound) platform.
  • Crossovers will be provided so that cars on different routes can bypass each other, an arrangement similar to that now used at Exhibition Loop.

There will be a direct connection to the new northbound-Yonge platform of the subway which is at the same elevation as the streetcar loop.

The design proposes a connection into the GO concourse from the west platform, but this will require some change from the original scheme to allow for the new, lower concourse in the reconfigured Union railway station.  That concourse will be at the same elevation as the mezzanine level of the subway station.

Part of the new loop’s complexity arises from the connection to the Bremner streetcar tunnel.  The TTC has talked about undertaking the Union Loop project in stages, but it will be difficult to get the full benefit of the two new platforms without building much of the design in the first stage.

Parkdale & Sunnyside

The WWLRT heads west from the existing Exhibition Loop parallel to the rail corridor to Dufferin Street.  At some point close to Dufferin, the line swings to the north side of the corridor with the intention of running in or along the embankment.  The TTC’s preference has been to ramp up onto King Street some distance east of Roncesvalles through the Beatty Parkette.  This connection would route the WWLRT directly through Queen & Roncesvalles for connections with other routes as well as direct carhouse access.

Various designs for this leg of the WWLRT are available on the project’s public consultation site.

However, considerable opposition arose last year to the proposed alignment and how it would affect plans for revitalisation of the western waterfront.  That plan is now complete and it includes two options for the WWLRT:

  • Connect in to King Street as planned by the TTC.  This is described as the likely option given that the TTC seems unwilling to give up the alignment through Queen & Roncesvalles.
  • Continue west in the median of a realigned Lake Shore Boulevard to Colbourne Lodge Road (the main street through High Park, and the second stop on the Queensway right-of-way), then turn north to connect into the existing Queensway trackage.

The TTC talks about carhouse access on its preferred route, but this is a red herring because the carhouse is only a short trip east from Colbourne Lodge Road.  What will be more difficult would be transfers at Roncesvalles to and from the WWLRT.  There will be a tradeoff in simplifying operations at the intersection where a frequent new WWLRT service would have to compete for green time with the King and Queen cars, not to mention other traffic.

Plans are underway to add an east-to-north left turn lane at this intersection for autos, and that of course will bring a loss of through green time in the best tradition of “transit priority signalling”.  I am not convinced that the TTC has thought through just how this intersection would operate with all of the demands that will be placed on it.

At this point, the TTC has not published a response to the proposed Western Waterfront plan, and we don’t know which is their preferred way to get from Dufferin to Sunnyside.

Updated March 17:  The various schemes for the route between Dufferin and Sunnyside are shown in two sets of presentation drawings on the project site.  The first part (at pages 17 and 18) show major route options 1 and 2.  Options 1A and 1B differ only in the side of the rail corridor that the route will take west of Dufferin before it turns south to meet Lake Shore Boulevard.  Options 2A through 2C deal with various alignments between Dufferin and Jameson, while options 2i and 2ii show different ways of approaching the Queen/King/Roncesvalles intersection.

These options are evaluated in tables that actually appear in the second part along with major route options 3 and 4.  Option 3 contains many variations on routes including more substantial running in Lake Shore Boulevard.  Various sub-options include alternative places for crossings north to King or Queensway.  Option 4 is the most southerly of the combinations.

The tables on pages 3 to 10 of the second part show how these options were winnowed down to four.

  • Either the north or south alignment west of Dufferin is acceptable for group 1, and all three alignments are acceptable for group 2.
  • The Roncesvalles connection “ii” is preferred to running along King Street because this limits the effect on King itself and separates the connection with Queensway from the main intersection.  However, this would create a pair of closely spaced intersections that is bound to give traffic engineers nightmares.  Ironically, this alignment interferes with traffic in the proposed east-to-north left turn lane on Queensway.
  • Group 3 has a sub-sub-option of running parallel to King at the level of the rail corridor or at the level of King Street itself.  The latter option is preferred because this makes the route more accessible than if it is lower.
  • Group 4 (the southernmost aligment) option A (cross to Queensway at Roncesvalles) gets the nod because it, like other similar schemes, avoids building all the way to Colbourne Lodge Road.

Futher route selection work stopped last year to allow completion of the Western Waterfront plan.

(Update 2, March 24)

Recently, I received an update on the status of various alternatives.  The following text is from the TTC by way of the Project Co-ordinator.

The three alignments carried forward are all similar between Dufferin and Jamieson Avenue. They share the following traits:

South side of the Gardiner, crossing to the corridor between the Gardiner and CN Rail, with a stop at Spencer, crossing Dunn to stop at Jamieson.

To confirm, the following options beyond that point are all still under consideration:

3Bii – continues past Jamieson to Dowling where it crosses the Dowling Bridge and goes along the CN embankment to a station at Roncesvalles and joins the Queensway opposite the Roncesvalles Yard at a new signalized intersection

TTC has very recently developed a new option that will be called “3Bii modified”. This will be presented for feedback at the next round of consultations. It would continue past Dowling between the Gardiner and CN Rail corridor and rise up to cross the corridor east of Roncesvalles and continue in the embankment to a station at Roncesvalles to join the Queensway opposite the Roncesvalles Yard at a new signalized intersection.

3Ai – from Jamieson crosses back over the Gardiner to the centre of the Lake Shore and rises up from a point in front of the Boulevard Club to cross the Gardiner and CN Rail corridors east of Roncesvalles. It continues in the embankment to a station at Roncesvalles to join the Queensway opposite the Roncesvalles Yard at a new signalized intersection.

The option to continue to Colbourne Lodge was discarded based on additional cost, duplication of track, and poor connection to the Roncesvalles intersection.

Connecting to the King track at Wilson Park was discarded due to the complications of developing an effective connection to the Queensway at Roncesvalles. The intersection is already congested and it would become more so if another service were added to turn at that location. To improve the intersection would involve property acquisition and impacts on existing cultural sites.

All three options connect into Queensway at a new intersection west of Roncesvalles opposite the carhouse.  This strikes me as a rather odd design — two intersections in close spacing — that could be difficult to operate even though the primary conflicts would be between WWLRT cars and eastbound traffic on The Queensway.  The full design and signalling scheme, including transit priority, for this intersection need to be explained along with structural details of the proposals described above.

[End of update]

Southern Etobicoke

Finally, we have the service in Etobicoke.  When the Transit City map was drawn up, the WWLRT was shown as running all the way to Long Branch Loop at Brown’s Line.  Current service is provided by half of the Queen cars running through from downtown, and I have discussed the problems of this arrangement at length elsewhere.

Later this year, short turn operations will shift from Humber Loop west to the new Park Lawn Loop planned for construction in the summer.  This will improve service for the Humber Bay condos (at least the ones east of Park Lawn), but it won’t do anything for people living further west.

The TTC is now conducting a study of a transit right-of-way on Lake Shore.  There is some opposition to the proposed street changes from affected communities.  The situation is almost surreal with a reserved lane study for a street that now sees as little service as the TTC can get away with running, and where streetcars are rarely trapped in any congestion.


Keeping track of all of the studies on various parts of waterfront transit can be challenging, and I’m sure that there’s information I have missed here.  My faithful readers/commentators will fill in the blanks, no doubt.

49 thoughts on “All Over The Waterfront (Update 4)

  1. You people seemed worried about snow plowing and grass watering on a grassed right of way. How about grass cutting on a line with a 2 minute headway? Would you want to cut the grass and dodge trolleys? Perhaps the TTC could design a multi purpose works vehicle that could sweep/plow snow in the winter and water/cut the grass in the summer while grinding away the corrugations. If the TTC gets a lot of private rights of way then they are going to need maintenance cars for the above.

    The artist’s renderings also had grass on lower Spadina. This would really freak out the TTC if they had to plant grass on most of their rights of way. One benefit of this is that it lowers the city’s albedo and reduces the temperature. Does the TTC want to do all of the new track for transit city like they are doing St. Clair? What happens in 25 years when they have to replace the track? Will they close the line down while they jack hammer out the old track or does the TTC even think about the future?


  2. I don’t believe that cutting grass is a big issue. This can easily be done during the night. Besides, doesn’t a frequent headway help keep the grass from growing too high? 😉

    I do have concerns about the longevity of track work is when it is buried in soil for grass to be planted. Anyone know how much extra maintenance costs might be for this type of track.


  3. I don’t think grass will grow in between rails in our climate. However, the concrete encasement planned for these ‘Transit City’ lines is nuts – especially in our climate. There’s a reason why rail lines use gravel roadbeds – it’s not just a fluke or some alien conspiracy.

    One of the world most “touristed” harbours has an elevated expressway running between in and the city – Sydney, Australia.


  4. What exactly is the objection to use ballasted rail on the TC lines? Personally, I find the traditional railroad aesthetic quite pleasing.

    Steve: Emergency vehicles cannot drive on ballasted track, and pedestrians, who will inevitably try to cross the road, risk tripping hazards. It’s a catch-22. If you make the pavement smooth so that vehicles and pedestrians can drive/walk on it, you lose some of the exclusivity and add to future maintenance costs compared to open track as on The Queensway.


  5. Emergency vehicles on the green area might not be a problem. There are honeycomb cell products which allow green areas to be driven over – here’s an example called PermaTurf. Another product is Ritter Grass which has been used adjacent to airport runways (presumably for emergency vehicles, or when aircraft stray off the runway when turning)


  6. The adversity to ballasted tie construction within the TTC has nothing to do with emergency vehicles using the ROW. While it has been decided at higher levels that median ROWs shall be usable by emergency vehicles, I was speaking of something within the TTC itself.

    There may be a few instances on Transit City lines where something other than a median would be possible and since the need for emergency vehicle usage would be non-existent, ballasted tie construction would be a great cost savings as this can be built for about $30 million per kilometre versus about $50 million for concrete encased rails. In the discussion that resulted in my learning about this adversity, the possibility of a south-side ROW on Eglinton from Don Mills west to where the eastern portal of the underground portion came up. This is one of very few places within Toronto where a parallel to the road ROW is possible due to the low number of driveways and side streets (there are none, in fact). It is the dislike of ballasted tie construction within the TTC that would prevent its use here.

    Hopefully, they will come around to using this where it is practical. After all, they finally accepted that the pantograph will be in their future! 😉

    Steve: And we won’t ask how the subway has run all these years without rails encased in concrete.


  7. Ballasted-tie trackage can end up needing frequent ballast tamping to keep the track straight and level. The Queensway trackage is far from straight and level. The ties also need to be changed out occasionally due to rotting, and this can be difficult in the narrow confines of a centre-of-the-road ROW. There really is supposed to be a lot more inspection and maintenance involved with these types of lines so I assume this is the TTC’s objection.

    I wonder if concrete-encased-rail construction would be cheaper if it were done like I saw recently in a photo from San Francisco MUNI. MUNI was using no cross-ties at all in this example, solely relying on the concrete to keep the rails aligned. And this is in a severe earthquake zone! When the TTC switched from wood ties to steel ties, every few tie-downs there is a full metal crosstie. These full steel ties may not be used at every single tie-down, but they must be awfully expensive. If San Francisco can do without any of them perhaps we can do with at least fewer. The materials cost difference over all the lines would be staggering.

    Steve: I understand that the TTC is moving back to having more full ties because the smaller versions are not staying anchored in the concrete as well.


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