Is the TTC Sabotaging Queen’s Quay’s Redevelopment? (Update 5)

Updated June 20 at 2:45 pm: The York Quay Neighbourhood Association issued a press release detailing a meeting between many interested parties and a representative of Mayor Ford’s office.  There is very strong support among residents and businesses on Queen’s Quay to get this project underway without it being entangled in political or bureaucratic bungling.

Updated June 10 at 11:15 am: Christopher Hume weighs in on the subject in the Star.

Updated June 8 at 11:30 pm: At today’s Commission meeting, Vice Chair Peter Milczyn moved that this issue be deferred to the July meeting, and suggested that this delay could go longer (the next meeting will be in September).  This will allow Waterfront Toronto and Council to formally make the necessary budget adjustments to ensure that the Queen’s Quay work can begin in the fall.

Earlier in the day, at a meeting of Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Committee, there was a discussion of the political situation as well as the progress of design work.  Waterfront Toronto had originally hoped to launch a partial project with funds in the budget as it stood, but finally came to realize that this was not practical.  Two options for partial completion were equally unpalatable:

  • rebuilding 800 metres of the 1,500 in the entire scheme would leave a difficult transition between the “old” and “new” parts of the street, and would not address the TTC’s need to rebuild all of its track
  • rebuilding only the north side of the street and leaving the park, pedestrian and cycling improvements for the future would negate much of the design benefit of the new landscape, and could leave Queen’s Quay permanently half-finished

There are at least four projects whose funding could be reallocated in the short term:

  • the regional sports centre
  • the Fort York bridge
  • the East Bayfront LRT
  • the East Bayfront storm water treatment system

With the Ford brothers in power, no LRT will be built in Toronto, and at best we will see a busway in the East Bayfront as a “temporary” measure.  How the buses would navigate through extremely congested traffic to reach Union Station is a trick nobody has yet explained.  This project has gone from an initial estimate of $150m to $300m, and the delay in reconstruction of Union Station Loop has probably taken us past the point where it could be co-ordinated with other projects in the area.

The storm water treatment system is not planned for construction for 5-7 years, and some of its budget could be “borrowed” to complete the Queen’s Quay west project.

If this is all sorted out, some utility relocation work will be done in fall 2011, and reconstruction of Queen’s Quay from west of Spadina to Bay will begin in March 2012.  The work would be completed in one construction season.

Waterfront Toronto will hold a Community Update Meeting on Thursday, June 9 at the Lakeside Terrace from 6 to 8pm.

The design work is now at the 90% level with detailed engineering at 60%.  The next round will take this to the point of issuing tender documents.  Over the past six months, detailed block-by-block work has been done to resolve many issues along Queen’s Quay, and all parties are now in agreement with the plan.  An important change is that the north side of the street has been revised so that the sidewalk space isn’t an afterthought.  On the streetcar right-of-way itself, the hoped-for grass median has been replaced by paving because neither the TTC nor the Fire Department were happy with the problems of driving on and maintaining sod.  The main illustration on the Central Waterfront page has been updated to reflect the new design, although you can still find grassed version elsewhere.

At the TTC meeting, Councillor Milczyn spoke warmly of the importance of the Queen’s Quay project describing it as “absolutely critical”.  This suggests that Mayor Ford and his circle will not oppose the project.  Waterfront Toronto has strong support from developers whose East Bayfront projects are not viable without good transit service, and from the Federal government.

Updated June 4 at 3:20 pm: I am prepared to accept that the “June 8” deadline is a typo given that the phrase “end of June” appears later in the report.  However, the report also states that work on the technical documents must begin in “June 2011” to hit a March 2012 construction start date.  At the very least, this is a case a bad editing and lack of attention to detail by the seven people who signed off on the report between May 26 and June 1 as it made its way to the agenda (this info is available only on the hard copy, not online).

The online version has been updated to read “by the end of June” in the recommendation.  Here are the original version and the summary sheet showing the approvals by various officials.

Updated June 4 at 1:30 pm: According to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross, there is an error in the report.  The request for confirmation of full funding “by the end of June 8” should read “by the end of June”.  A typo, they say.

Original post:

A report on the TTC agenda for June 8, 2011 proposes that the TTC proceed with design and construction of the tracks on Queen’s Quay “as is” rather than in a modified layout to suit the proposed revisions to Queen’s Quay West.

Although the new Queen’s Quay layout was the product of years of consultation and detailed design, Waterfront Toronto has been slow to get their ducks in a row on financing.  Partly this arises from the slower than expected redevelopment of waterfront properties, a revenue stream that the agency counted on to fund some of its projects.  To compensate, Waterfront Toronto has proposed to shuffle funding among some of its project envelopes, but has not actually gotten around to formally asking permission to do this.  This leaves the whole scheme vulnerable to claims it is unfunded, and to the potential for outright cancellation in the now-frosty political climate at City Hall.

Anyone who has ridden on Queen’s Quay east of Spadina will know that this track is in bad shape.  It was built before the “new” standard with a robust base and resilient track mounts to limit vibrations.  Some parts of the route have always given problem with the roadbed settling, and now the track is completely worn out.  (The original Harbourfront line opened in 1990.)  The TTC has reached the point where reconstruction, originally planned for 2009, cannot be deferred, and it is now scheduled for spring 2012.

The report recommends that if Waterfront Toronto cannot get its funding in order for the full Queen’s Quay project by June 8 (the date of the meeting), that the Commission authorize staff to proceed with design on the current alignment.

Updated:  This date has now been changed to “the end of June”.

There is more going on here than meets the eye.  Although the TTC has set up an ultimatum, the first Waterfront Toronto heard about it was when they were contacted by The Torontoist for comment.

The TTC report claims that if the tracks are rebuilt in their current location, the Queen’s Quay design can still be implemented, but that there wouldn’t be room for a two-way street (three lanes wide) north of the tracks.  That may sound like a minor change, but it’s enough to get the war-on-the-car crowd fired up and the whole scheme killed.  Given the way the TTC has reacted to overall plans for Queen’s Quay West and East, I can’t help thinking that there is a hidden agenda at work.

Between the TTC and the City’s Technical Services group (the folks who actually do detailed road designs and handle tendering for construction), delays on streetcar construction projects for the past years are legendary.  Everyone knows about the problems on St. Clair, and the Roncesvalles job had a late start in 2010 because the City was too busy doing design work for a myriad of “economic stimulus” projects.

Elsewhere in waterfront planning, the TTC’s scheme for expanding Union Station Loop has run aground on escalating cost estimates, potential conflicts with the expansion projects in the railway station, and construction timing problems in the entire Union Station precinct.  Getting this work done does not seem to be a high priority for the TTC or for the city, and throws the entire issue of transit to the developing waterfront into question.

If someone at the TTC actually reads this and actually wants to do something constructive (rather than using the situation as yet another chance to bash Waterfront Toronto and complain about project costs), they would extend the deadline for funding confirmation to September.  It is very hard to believe that it would be impossible to complete the design work and tender documents for a late March 2012 construction start date if a firm decision were held off, especially when the TTC gave Waterfront Toronto no indication that the situation was so critical.

For its part, Waterfront Toronto really does need to get all its friends (including the new-found Minister of Finance in Ottawa) behind its Queen’s Quay project so that this can get underway.  Waterfront Toronto runs a lot of feel-good public participation (one is coming up on June 9), but what’s needed here is some old-fashioned barn-burning politics.  Tell people how endangered the waterfront plans are, and make sure the folks at City Hall understand this isn’t just an issue for a few pinko downtown activists, but an essential part of the economic development of the lakefront.

If the real agenda is to shelve the Queen’s Quay project, if the TTC is being used by the Mayor to create a fake issue, a way to sabotage yet another “Miller legacy”, this would be quite disgraceful.  The waterfront has always been viewed as an area where transit should be the first and best way of getting around.  Indeed, the density of development planned there could not be handled if the modal split for transit and autos were at the typical level for new suburbs even though by delay we almost guarantee that’s how people will be forced to travel.

The TTC, and by this I mean the Commissioners, must start acting as if they really believe in transit, not just in counting the pencils, cutting service, and watching while Toronto loses its way, again, on becoming truly a “transit city”.

28 thoughts on “Is the TTC Sabotaging Queen’s Quay’s Redevelopment? (Update 5)

  1. So 22 years (1990-2012) is that the average span for streetcar tracks? what about these tracks comparing to the others like the 501/504/512/etc…?

    Steve: That was the “old” style track, and it’s amazing it lasted this long. Parts of it have been patched, and parts are just embarrassingly bad.

    I remember when the TTC has the 509 as a LRT/orange line (before it merged with 510), am I old?

    Now to QQR…

    I think the final location for tracks was going to be on the south side right?

    Wouldn’t the TTC have to completely re-don Bay/QQ? I mean the curve of the tunnel out of the QQ/Ferry Docks station was built so the tracks come out the middle of the road, they would have to extend the tunnel curve some metres south so the tracks can be on the south side right?

    Steve: The tracks would be slightly south of their current location leaving room for three lanes on the north side (east, west and turning). The existing eastbound lanes would largely be replaced by sidewalks and a cycling path. The tunnel entrance stays where it is.

    Also in that situation, wouldn’t they have to move the Spadina switches south (including the loop)? also what about the Spadina-Bathurst part?

    Steve: Most of the section west of Spadina is not affected, but there is a proposed reconfiguration of the Spadina Queen’s Quay intersection that the TTC seems to have forgotten about in their evaluation of their otherwise simple change.


  2. The current layout of Queen’s Quay doesn’t suit anyone: not transit, not pedestrians, not bicyclists, not drivers. I am riding along Queen’s Quay several times a week, and in the morning it’s wretched and in the evening it’s gridlock. The signals manage to slow everyone down, unless you’re a driver leaving a condo or parking lot driveway.

    If the TTC brass figure that just rebuilding the tracks in the current layout is worthwhile, given the way the current line operates, I can only conclude that they’re either dupes for the Fords, idiots, or secretly looking forward to changing Queen’s Quay to a bus route.


  3. I’m confused. The Torontoist article says that the real thwart is whether City Council would approve reallocation of funds from other future Waterfront Toronto projects to the Queens Quay project (i.e. no additional external funding is needed, Waterfront Toronto has the money already).

    In fact, according to Torontoist, a reallocation of funds between Waterfront Toronto projects won’t be considered by Council until January 2012. How then is it even possible for Waterfront Toronto to secure funding by the end of June 2011?

    Could this item be slipped into the Council agenda scheduled for June 14th?

    Steve: Yes, provided that the Ford Bros. want to let it pass. Otherwise it will be referred to a committee where it will languish.


  4. It amazes me that revitalizing Queens Quay is still being discussed. It is an unfortunate human reflex to resist change – but amongst TTC planners and members of City Council? Here are a few reasons why the Queens Quay project must proceed as planned:

    1) It had a successful trial run five years ago and was at that time a top priority in Waterfront revitalization.
    2) Millions have been invested in planning, designing, environmental assessments, public meetings – not to speak of WaveDecks and parks.
    3) Traffic has finally been sorted out with participation from all stakeholders.
    4) Queens Quay must be changed from the ugly, dysfunctional street it is today, to a beautiful treed boulevard that works for vehicles, TTC, tour buses, bicyclists, pedestrians and businesses.
    5) The Pan Am Games open here in 2015. The Waterfront will be our face to the world.

    Doesn’t anybody travel? Have they not seen spectacular waterfronts in other major cities? In Waterfront Toronto’s plans, Queens Quay becomes a local street that will serve the people who live, work and play there. An estimated 10 million visitors come to the Waterfront each year for festivals and recreation. It is a huge economic engine for the City, and its future should not be decided by the TTC or any member of City Council. The mayor who presides over a revitalized Queens Quay will be remembered for this momentous improvement to Toronto. Let it happen.


  5. I notice that at the WT Design Review Panel on 8 June they will be discussing:

    CWF Public Realm: Queens Quay Boulevard
    Design Development
    Adriaan Geuze, West 8 + DTAH

    Moving the deckchairs on the Titanic or a positive sign?


  6. Ulla says:

    “Doesn’t anybody travel?”

    I’m guessing not, otherwise some members of council would not be referring to the Sheppard subway extension as the largest infrastructure project in the world.


  7. Where can I read the precise construction schedule?

    “…late March 2012 construction start date…”

    The ripping of the streetcar tracks begin in March 2012? or the relaying of new tracks begin in March 2012? I thought the tearing of streetcar tracks was to begin in the fall of 2011.

    Steve: Yes, it was, but because Waterfront Toronto hasn’t got its ducks in a row, the whole project is running late.


  8. Sorry, I answered my own question regarding whether tracks would be ripped or laid in March 2012. But is there a construction schedule posted yet, or are they figuring that out between now and March 2012?

    Steve: No schedule yet.


  9. Actually, the question I had really wanted to ask is how long does it normally take to plan and prepare a project on this scale? You seem to be sure that 9 months (July 2011-March 2012) is more than enough time to do the design work.

    Steve: Less than nine months is tight, but I think that the TTC owes Waterfront Toronto and Council a chance to have a proper say on this. Considering that the first WFT knew of the deadline was when they were contacted by Torontoist about the TTC report, I can’t help thinking that there’s a big communication gap here.


  10. Here’s part of the response I got from Waterfront Toronto:

    “Waterfront Toronto does have the funding, albeit scattered under different projects. Therefore, they would have to reallocate money from other future projects to the Queens Quay project by the end of June. However, they need City’s approval to reallocate this funding. This decision will not take place for the TTC June deadline.”


  11. Hmmm, the Peter St. footbridge looks really wheelchair accessible.

    Steve: And what is that supposed to mean in the context of this debate?


  12. Steve,

    Do you know the proposed ‘paving’ treatment is for the LRT ROW?

    I hope its not the usual concrete……

    Steve: Asphalt over concrete.


  13. “Steve: Asphalt over concrete”

    Ewww, West 8/DTAH is allowing that? I would hope for at least impressed concrete (to look like brick/stone), ideally brick/stone would be the choice, if we can’t do sod.

    Steve: They tried very hard to have something other than plain asphalt, but between various agencies beating down all proposals, they gave up as there are more important issues.


  14. Disappointed about the decision to not use sod tracks.

    Regarding the Asphalt, so will the tracks and road look like the tracks on Dufferin Street south of King Street? Why would the TTC build most of its streetcar tracks in concrete, and then the Queens Quay tracks are surfaced with asphalt instead? What are the differences, functionally?

    Steve: Queen’s Quay will be built in concrete just like track elsewhere in the system, with only the topmost layer in asphalt to give a different colour and some sound absorbing benefit.


  15. Seeing how the 10 year projected ridership for the Queens Quay East route would already exceed the capacity of buses, I suppose we can make a case for the original East Bayfront LRT.

    Steve: You are being far too logical. If your argument prevailed, we would have a Finch West LRT project on the books today.


  16. “rebuilding only the north side of the street and leaving the park, pedestrian and cycling improvements for the future”

    That might be the best comprise for now. Lines can be painted on the existing road to create a wider sidewalk and cycling path. There are several other cycling paths made from old abandon roads.

    Rob Ford cycling platform promoted off road cycling routes, like this project would create. He was so enthusiastic about this route his map marked it as already completed.

    One thing don’t understand is why the changes to the road costs sixteen times as much as rebuilding the tracks.

    Steve: The problem is that we would wind up with a rebuilt roadway, but none of the amenities that would bring the street to its full revised design. There is no point in doing half a job.


  17. Instead of rebuilding tracks they should be building tracks… down Bremner to a temporary loop near Lower Simcoe. Then QQ, the Union Station and portal work could occur without disrupting service probably in a future administration.

    Steve: Bremner is utterly unsuited to an LRT line given its width. Also, there’s a lot more of QQ than the part from Simcoe to the portal including complete reconstruction and realignment of the intersection at Spadina. Some of the worst track on QQ is west of Simcoe.


  18. Steve,

    I should have made myself clearer. When I said is Bremner, I also meant the Ft York Blvd Connection to Fleet St. At 5 traffic lanes + tree lane is this combo too wide? IMO, a loop in the park at the NW corner of Bremner/Simcoe could be a terminus for the 509/510 with good walking connections to downtown.

    Steve: The problem is east of Spadina around the stadium, especially when it is very busy with tour buses and pedestrian traffic. As for a surface loop at Simcoe, there is one word I have “accessibility”. That’s an extremely long “walking transfer”.


  19. It seems to me that having the streetcar swept path in a different colour asphalt would be a damn sight more useful in mixed traffic than an ROW… like at Broadview/Queen where the cars are always getting too close to the turning 504s.

    Steve: Asphalt is not used for the road surface on shared lanes because heavy trucks push it around, especially where there are streetcar tracks acting as dams.


  20. Just a quick update on what happened at the meeting last night. It was apparent that Queens Quay Revitalisation was the top issue on many people’s minds. The Queens Quay project was the largest chunk of the presentation.

    Waterfront Toronto board members and staff aren’t sure when the issue of funding reallocation would come up, or which committee would look at it first before council. I take it that they aren’t holding their breath for it to be on the agenda at next week’s Council meeting. They did mention, however, that they expect this funding situation to be resolved by September. I’m not confident that the TTC would be that generous, however.

    The rest of the evening was about the technical design of Queens Quay. The presentation might be online soon, hopefully.

    Steve: I skipped the meeting because I had seen the technical info (and heard some of the political debate) in another meeting earlier in the day. Thanks for the update.


  21. Hi Steve,

    I’m sure some skeptical Councillors would want to know what the implications for this funding reallocation are. And if they don’t get a straight answer, they would find every excuse to oppose the reallocation.

    I believe someone from Waterfront Toronto mentioned that condos that are being developed on the East Bayfront should be inhabited by 2013 or 2014. If funding for the storm water treatment system is deferred to fund the Queens Quay project, what are the implications of not having the storm water treatment system completed in time for 2013/2014 influx of condo dwellers?

    Steve: The storm water project was not planned to start until about 2016-18 anyhow, by which time other monies would be found to build it.

    Also, if funding for the East Bayfront LRT (or transitway if it’s not rail-borne) is delayed for the same reason as above, you mentioned that we risk having too many new residents ending up car-dependent, since transit would not have led the development. Could we build the East Bayfront LRT much later than originally proposed, and expect that the population shift to being transit-oriented as originally envisioned?

    Steve: It would be difficult, but with Rob Ford in office, it’s a hard slog to get any new “streetcar” lines built. Add to this the fact that the project cost estimate has doubled, and this is not a project that will see the light of day until a different mayor and better financial support.

    Is the regional sports centre part of the “Lower Donlands” area which was criticised for being too suburban and precluding mixed-use neighbourhoods? I wonder what the status of this is now. Would deferring it again (for the Queen’s Quay project) compromise WT’s ability to finish it in time for the 2015 games?

    Steve: This facility was not part of the 2015 games plan, and so deferral or cancellation is entirely possible.


  22. Speaking of the waterfront east LRT, has the City and Mayor Ford’s fetish for PPP considered having the condo developments on East Bayfront pay for a large portion of the LRT?

    Steve: No. The LRT was an important factor in encouraging those developments to be built. That’s another factor in PPP: public investment leads to private investment.


  23. Thanks Steve,

    When had we been expecting the East Bayfront LRT to open, pre-Ford era? Also, I thought that the Cherry Street Streetcar was supposed to have opened by now (do you know what happened)? Not that it’s going to open in the next four years anyways.

    Steve: Cherry Street was delayed at Queen’s Park’s request because (if you believe this) they were worried about it getting in the way of work for the Pan Am Games. Who knows when it will start again, certainly not under a Ford administration.


  24. Can’t they use astroturf instead of real grass for the tracks?

    For the love of god, let’s not have any more poured-concrete tracks.


  25. “Cherry Street was delayed at Queen’s Park’s request because (if you believe this) they were worried about it getting in the way of work for the Pan Am Games.”

    Really! Even though it could have been finished last year, and they’ve still got another 4-5 years to work on the Pan-Am games!


  26. Is grooved rail normally used for asphalt track (since asphalt flows and deforms)?

    Steve: Yes. I wonder if the TTC has thought of this, although they may assume that unlike regular in-road track, there won’t be many vehicles driving on the asphalt, and this won’t be an issue. They have not bought grooved rail for ages.


  27. Have there been any updates on the reconstruction of the streetcar tracks on Queens Quay?

    Steve: It will happen this summer. The construction plans are almost complete for the Queen’s Quay redesign, and the car tracks are part of the 2012 project. Waterfront Toronto expects to announce the details quite soon. (I bug them about this quite regularly.)


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