The TTC’s 2010-2019 Capital Budget contains a project description for the WWLRT that throws the whole project into serious doubt. Metrolinx funding has been deferred to 2022, and the schedule for the project now looks like this:
- 2022 Construction starts; Park Lawn Loop is built
- 2026 Service begins from Exhibition Loop to Dufferin
- 2028 Service begins from Dufferin to Park Lawn
- 2029 Service begins from Park Lawn to Long Branch
Most of the Lake Shore community residents who have attended EA meetings to discuss the design and effect on their neighbourhoods will have to wait two decades to see the project implemented. Whatever happened to Toronto’s “Transit First” model for the waterfront? Must we wait for the complete condoization of Lake Shore before anything happens with transit service? How relevant will 2009 studies be if the project isn’t actually in operation until 2029?
This project has been gerrymandered throughout its history to suit whatever pet project (pro or con transit) happened to be on the front pages, and the idea that the line might actually have some useful transit function often appeared secondary. Indeed, the original 1990 study describes a line that is unrecognizable in today’s plans which have been updated by amendment without any formal public participation or any sense of overall direction for the project.
Although the proposal goes back nearly two decades, we have very little to show for it. First came a shuttle from Union to Spadina, then an extension to Bathurst, and finally an overbuilt right-of-way on Fleet Street. Even as it was under construction, the Fleet Street right-of-way was no longer considered the primary route for a future waterfront service which would now run via Fort York and Bremner Boulevards.
The “Bremner LRT” was born as an alternate route from the east side of Exhibition Place to Union Station bypassing the Bathurst/Fleet intersection. Someone at the TTC finally realized that the toonerville trolley operation along Queen’s Quay, stopping at every lamp post for so-called transit priority signals, was inadequate for a frequent service into Union Station. Alas, the road on which it should run was planned for, at most, bus service east of Spadina. West of Spadina, there is a reservation of modest width. By the time anything actually operates there, we will probably have a crop of mature trees that will be a significant barrier to LRT construction proposals.
West from Bathurst, Fort York Boulevard is not designed to accommodate LRT. Debate continues over the alignment near Fort York where one TTC proposal conflicts with a proposed Visitor Centre and parking that will soon be approved by Council. (The new parking area is intended to replace existing parking within the precinct of the Fort itself.)
The original scheme along the water’s edge serving Ontario Place and the southern part of Exhibition Place was “amended” to a grim terminus behind the Horse Palace and under the Gardiner Expressway. At the time, Ontario Place did not wish to lose their parking lot which was considered far more valuable as a way to lure visitors than a transit line. Building a new underground terminal as part of the Trade Centre (which stands on the original Exhibition Loop site) was deemed too expensive, and this left us with the loop under the Gardiner remote from many activities at Exhibition Place.
The TTC proposes an extension west on the same alignment at least to Dufferin. This will require a complete change in the stop design because Exhibition Place will now be a line station, not a terminus. This will also affect GO passengers and who can now walk directly into Exhibition Place. A grade crossing with the LRT line is impractical given the surge volumes pedestrian traffic from the trains.
Various schemes exist to get the line from Dufferin to a connection with the Queen route somewhere in Sunnyside, and a debate rages between the City and the TTC over which is appropriate. The City prefers a connection via Colborne Lodge Road (the first traffic signal on the Queensway right-of-way west of Parkside Drive), while the TTC is pushing a connection into the Queen/Roncesvalles intersection.
Further west, the proposed Park Lawn Loop project is on hold as it isn’t really needed in the short term. Residents of the Lake Shore communities continue their battle with the TTC over roadway design while pleading for reliable, frequent service on the 501.
Toronto needs to rethink the purpose of and plans for service to the Western Waterfront. When the WWLRT was first proposed, it would have ended at Park Lawn, but, as part of Transit CITY, the scheme was extended west to Long Branch. Long before 2029, there will be frequent all-day service on GO’s Lake Shore route at headways that will likely be better than those now operated by the TTC on the 501. Fare integration may have actually taken place, and riders will treat the GO service much like a subway line rather than a commuter train.
In this context, does a local LRT route all the way from Union to Long Branch make sense? Will the TTC still be trying to find some way of making the 501 work while starving Lake Shore of frequent, reliable service?
Redevelopment of Exhibition Place lands will begin soon with a new hotel planned for the north side of Lake Shore just east of Ontario Place, and in decades to follow, we will certainly see more of the CNE parking lot disappear under buildings. Indeed, one might wonder whether the CNE, midway and all, will actually still exist in 2029. (Attendance at the 2009 CNE was about 1.3-million. Three decades ago, in 1980, it was 3.1-million. The TTC carried 2-million trips to and from the CNE in 1980, and GO handled about 542,000.)
Transit for Exhibition Place must be designed to serve a variety of year-round events in a convenient manner. As the southern edge of the park redevelops, a design intended to serve buildings along the northen edge will no longer be adequate.
New development and transit riding already exists and will continue to intensify north of the rail corridor. Liberty Village and the surrounding area, as well as new developments along King and Queen West will require better transit service. Although one could argue for a Queen Subway, such a proposal would fundamentally alter transit accessibility (depending on station spacing), would do little for people living in neighbourhoods well south of Queen Street, and would likely not be in service for a very long time given competing demands for capital funding.
Options include transit service east from Dufferin via an extended Front Street, but this runs into challenges when it reaches Bathurst. Would it dodge south across the Bathurst bridge to join the Bremner LRT into Union, or continue east on Front? Could some service be diverted south from King via Dufferin so that a “Roncesvalles car” as well as improved “508 Lake Shore” service run into downtown via Front and Bremner?
I don’t want to entertain yet another debate on excruciating details of the options here (we have been over this at length before), but the overriding concern must be a plan for what the city will be a decade or more in the future, not what it is today.
As things stand now, there are multiple studies and proposals. Some have the force of approved and amended plans, others are under study, still others are wistful sketches on café napkins. Decisions of past decades haunt us and limit what we consider as officially “possible”. This is no way to plan the waterfront.
The City, TTC, GO/Metrolinx and all of the waterfront neighbourhoods must consider many questions:
- How will new development east of Exhibition Place, south of the rail corridor, be served? How soon will service on exiting routes be improved, and what, if any, additional routes are needed to ensure adequate capacity and attractiveness of transit in this area?
- How will Exhibition Place and Ontario Place redevelop over coming decades? Should the originally proposed waterfront line to Ontario Place (or something similar) be built as a branch off of the existing streetcar network? Should service be provided on both a new south branch as well as the existing north branch to serve events in different parts of the park?
- How should the growing population in Liberty Village, King West and Queen West be served? Is a Front Street line needed north of the rail corridor at least between Dufferin and Bathurst?
- Does the western extension from Exhibition Loop to Dufferin along the north edge of Exhibition Place fit into future plans for that part of the site?
- What need will there be for transit service to the western waterfront between Parkdale and Humber Bay? Is the WWLRT the appropriate way to provide such service?
- How will the Lake Shore communities evolve, and will their downtown-oriented travel be handled by GO, by a WWLRT, by north-south bus routes connecting with the BD subway, or by a local east-west streetcar service?
- How will all of this fit into the TTC’s capital spending plans?
Yes, this sounds like an excuse for yet more studies. However, we need to look at the waterfront as a unified set of neighbourhoods both present and future. We need to look at transit improvements as part of a network, not as incremental, disconnected extensions that may prove inappropriate in the larger scheme.