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).
I measured from the edge of GO station north of Manitoba (where the Presto machines are), to the Ontario Place entrance gates south of Remembrance Drive. 850 metres. I suppose if you include the length of the GO platform it get’s to 1.0 km. I have no idea if Google knows where Exhibition loop is. I simply dropped the arrow at the gate to the loop, at the end of the covered walkway, in the airphoto.
I don’t see how this isn’t true at any attraction. You spend the entire day walking. That’s point isn’t it?
I always find times estimated by Google a little slow. I guess that means I walk about 6 km/hr. And I see people walking faster than me. Looking around the literature, 5 km/hr doesn’t seem very brisk, except for the elderly. I haven’t been to Ontario Place since the 1970s … did it attract a large geriatric crowd?
Steve: The last time I looked, designing a public park so that it was not attractive/accessible for the “geriatric” grow violates a few laws around here.
How then has all the recent development at Cherry Beach been legal then? It’s over a 1.2-km walk to accessible year-round transit.
Steve: Cherry Beach doesn’t have a big, government-sponsored facility intended to attract thousands of people at a time, let alone live there. Plans for the Port Lands do include transit although at the rate we are going, what we will probably get is improved service on the Pape bus.
Between Coxwell and Donlands, the longest spacing is 650 metres. Even Coxwell to Woodbine is only 850 metres. It’s a maximum 5 minutes walk to the nearest station.
The design time used now for pedestrians is 1 m/s. I can walk faster than this and you probably can too but for many people this is the upper limit. If you live 300 m from Danforth and then have to walk 425 m to Coxwell or Woodbine then it is a 725 s walk or 12 minutes. There are a lot of people who will not or cannot walk for 12 minutes. We have to design for the person who has limited walking ability, not for those in top physical condition.
The issue is not whether improved transit (year-round, at the appropriate scale) and an improved walking experience are needed. The report clearly shows that those things are what the planning committee wants to see, and I’m sure that the vast majority among the public would agree.
The problems are that:
1. The need for an improved transit & walking experience are placed at recommendation #18
2. There is nothing within the recommendation or the background info that makes it appear that they saw this as the ‘best’ or ‘most important’ as a possible justification to placing it last.
3. The recommendation talks about the Waterfront West LRT but it does not appear that they had talked to the TTC & Metrolinx together and came up with a concise plan.
4. The TTC & Metrolinx haven’t really commented on the details of Recommendation #18 which says a lot.
5. When the TTC chair raised OneCity, the provincial government (through Metrolinx & the Minister of Transport) commented. Now Tory, a provincial appointee, is talking about improving public transit in an area that is clearly the TTC’s responsibility and unless I have missed something, I’ve heard or read of nothing substantive coming from Karen Stintz or the TTC … no comments saying “maybe we could do that” or “we’ll put it on the agenda for the next commissioners meeting.”
It’s not just the TTC, either. The lack of talk, discussion, or any form of action plan from the provincial government makes me wonder why the Provincial Government even bothered with this ‘important’ study if they weren’t planning on doing anything with the recommendations.
Or maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit?
Steve: We’re also seeing some shilly-shallying in the press about a casino site again. Tory’s report may have scotched the idea of Ontario Place, but just across the road is a big parking lot called Exhibition Place. It’s a city site run by an agency notoriously uninterested in contributing to the quality of urban life.
I’m only considering its current use. Clearly a future use, in the unlikely event it actually happens, requires proper transit. (perhaps one of those airport-style automated, elevated people movers to Exhibition loop and station?). Improved service on the Pape bus would be a godsend. Unlike the relatively predictable Parliament and Sherbourne buses, the Pape bus, at least along Esplanade, bears little resemblance to any schedule. It normally makes more sense to walk 1.3 km from Parliament and Front to Union station, than rely on the Pape bus.
Robert Wightman writes:
If you really live 300 m from Danforth and 425 m to Coxwell/Woodbine, that puts you in the exact centre of the Danforth/Coxwell/Mortimer/Woodbine block. So presumably you’d just go the 300 m to Mortimer and take the bus, than building an extra subway station at Glebemount. Or I suppose you could be at the corner of Roseheath and Hanson, in which case you’d walk the 450 m to Coxwell or Woodbine and take the bus. Ironically I know people at that corner, and they tout how close they are to Coxwell station. And really, if one is concerned about this, wouldn’t one choose a house that wasn’t as far from transit as possible? I certainly thought about this when I bought my house, and it’s not coincidental that I’m 150 metres from a streetcar stop, even though it’s only 1 km to the subway station (might be useful one day in my old age, but very useful with a toddler!)
Yes, it appears that the Casino Management companies are offering to fund whatever needs to be done at Ontario Place if they can be allowed to build a permanent Casino at Exhibition Place. I suppose that a cash-strapped city that would like to do something with the Ex grounds would be happy to make such a deal … on paper it looks like it solves multiple problems and won’t cost the city too much money.
I don’t think I’m wrong in guessing that the idea of a permanent casino at the Ex grounds (whether or not it is tied in to improvements at Ontario Place) will become a wedge issue over the remainder of this year & early next year … just in time for councillors to find a platform for the next municipal election in 2014.
One thing that surprises me though … John Tory is the Chair of Civic Action which is about to start a GTA-wide public transport campaign … you’d think that he’d be pushing hard for better public transit planning at Ontario Place as part of an improved GTA transit & transport network.
As perhaps the only person here who has actually lived at Ontario Place, I can assure you that the present TTC CNE transit loop is too far from Ontario Place for “residential” use. Ontario Place is not right on Lakeshore Blvd., either. The walk from the centre of South Marina to the “new” loop is over 1 kilometre, whereas the walk to my car on the OP South-East lot was half that.