How Can Transit Serve a Revived Ontario Place?

Today a Ministerial Advisory Committee headed by former Ontario PC leader John Tory released its analysis and recommendations for the future of Ontario Place.

For those readers who are not familiar with Toronto, Ontario Place is a park opened in 1971 with then-futuristic architecture on the shore of Lake Ontario west of downtown Toronto and immediately south of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds (now known as Exhibition Place).  Over the years, its attractiveness faded and much of the site was recently closed pending a review of its future.

Access to the site has always been a problem because the transit loops are at the north side of Exhibition Place over 600m from the entrance bridge to Ontario Place, provided that events within Exhibition Place itself do not block off a straight route south.  The recent Indy car races and the annual CNE itself are two good examples.

Forty years ago, the Ontario Government toyed with a magnetic levitation train under development by Krauss Maffei.  A trial installation of a one-way loop around the grounds was proposed, but all that was ever built was a few foundation slabs and pylons for the elevated guideway.  This project ran out of steam when the German government, a partner with KM, withdrew its funding.  Technical problems also arose, and a simplified version of the technology appeared roughly a decade later as the Scarborough RT replacing the originally proposed LRT line in that corridor.

Many years later, the Waterfront West LRT proposal included a route turning south (and underground) from current point of entry to Exhibition place, under Princes Boulevard (the main east west street in the park), and emerging into the land now occupied by the Ontario Place parking lot.  This scheme was strongly opposed by Ontario Place management who preferred to cater to motorists coming to their site rather than transit riders.

Within Transit City, there is also a Waterfront West LRT.  Its alignment through Exhibition place included various options differing mainly in whether the route followed the north or south side of the park.  Because the WWLRT was seen as an “express” route to southern Etobicoke (a dubious claim at the best of times), a southern route was seen as taking passengers “out of their way”.  Sadly, there has been no recent examination of transit to Exhibition Place as opposed to through it.

The Advisory Panel’s report includes a short section on transit to Ontario Place on pages 45 to 47.  This includes:

ONTARIO PLACE IS UNDERSERVED BY PUBLIC TRANSIT.  TTC streetcars and the GO Train do not go to Ontario Place. Streetcars go as far as Exhibition Place, and the commuter GO Train service provides access at the GO Exhibition station that is adjacent to the streetcar loop. The only mode of public transportation that goes directly to Ontario Place is the Dufferin Street bus — but this is only in the summer season.

Well, no, the Dufferin bus does not GO to Ontario Place per se, only to a loop along Princes Blvd provided that it is physically possible to operate buses on this route.  This service is infrequent presuming that it is not short-turned.  (Some of the Dufferin buses did run south to Ontario place in 2011, but this operation was dropped for 2012 because Ontario Place closed.)

The Advisory Panel recommends that parking for Ontario Place be provided in either a parking structure (under of above ground) or by Exhibition Place which has a vast amount of parking most of the year long.

Among the options proposed by the Panel are:

WE SEE A NUMBER OF OPTIONS TO IMPROVE THE ACCESS REQUIRED to generate the crowds Ontario Place needs to attract:

First extend Dufferin Street further south to provide direct bus access to the area and extend the streetcar loop from Exhibition Place.

Second, create more north south pedestrian and cycling paths.

Finally, bicycle storage and rental locations must grow — to encourage riders to bring their own bicycles, and to link to the growing network of bicycle rentals.

Notable by its absence is any mention of the implications improved north-south access through Exhibition Place will have for events that now take over the entire park.

This brings us to a recommendation:


Working with the PRIVATE SECTOR and PROVINCIAL and MUNICIPAL PARTNERS, Ontario Place should explore NEW PUBLIC TRANSIT OPPORTUNITIES to better access the western lakeshore area. [Caps are in the original text]

It is unclear what exactly is meant by a private sector role in “new public transit opportunities”.  The fundamental point in any transit scheme is that only with very high, sustained demand is there any hope for profitability and hence attractiveness of any scheme to the private sector.

Possibly Queen’s Park hopes to recycle the bits of infrastructure dating back to the Mag-Lev scheme, or hopes for someone to propose a monorail loop around the grounds as an alternative to extending the streetcar/LRT trackage.  This would impose a needless transfer for riders trying to reach any development on the south side of Exhibition Place.

Finally, Metrolinx has its own scheme to bring the “Don Mills / Downtown Relief Line” west from a proposed GO terminal at Bathurst Street into Exhibition Place.  If that’s a goal, and it will happen quickly (not very likely), then this will compete with other proposals that would be termed “short term”.

As with the eastern waterfront, planning for transit to the western waterfront has been a slipshod affair between the TTC, the City, Waterfront Toronto and Metrolinx.  If we are serious about redeveloping Ontario Place and the lands along Lake Shore Blvd., we must include good transit as an essential part of any plan.

Updated July 28:  The Globe & Mail weighs in with an article (the print version includes a large map).