Waterfront East LRT: Will This Ship Ever Sail? (Updated)

Updated September 4, 2012:

The full set of Waterfront Toronto reports and the City Manager’s recommendations arising from them are now available in the Executive Committee Agenda for September 10.

I will not attempt to summarize all of the material in these, but a few critical points deserve mention.

  • Although the revitalization of the mouth of the Don River is a central theme in this entire project, and illustrations showing the effect abound in the reports and publicity, in fact this work has been relegated beyond the 30-year timeframe of the financial projections.  The river mouth changes are in “phase 4” which is beyond the 30-year line.
  • Similarly, transit improvements to the area beyond the level of bus service, possibly but not necessarily as BRT with dedicated rights-of-way, are pushed off to phase 3 and beyond.  Transit is now described as “demand led” rather than the “transit first” policy around which much of the East Bayfront and Port Lands were being planned.
  • The connection to Cherry Street under the rail corridor is not even costed in the report and lies off in the vague future.

The fundamental problem for Waterfront Toronto and for the City is that the economics of a self-financing project simply do not work.  In the City Manager’s report, some shuffling of components allows the scheme to show a “profit” in the short term, the first decade, by the expedient of delaying or dropping expenditures to future years.

The City Manager’s Report shows the evolution of the costing model.  The first cut (page 4) used conservative assumptions and produced a net cost of $189.2m for the first 30 years.  This was reworked (page 5) with more generous assumptions to achieve a positive cash flow in the first decade, and a reduced net cost of $118m over 30 years.  Note that the tables are clearly titled “phases 1 and 2” and therefore omit costs associated with the river mouth and with the upgrade of transit services to LRT.

As someone who has been involved in many of the public discussions of these plans, I am deeply disappointed on three counts:

  • The shift of “phase 3” beyond the 30-year line was not made clear by Waterfront Toronto in its recent public meetings.  This verges on dishonesty from an organization previously well-known for plain dealing with the public.
  • The idea that Toronto would pre-build a good network of transit lines into the waterfront districts has been abandoned, and we are back to the standard TTC approach of running a bus, now and then, once a few people start to complain about service.
  • The myth that private sector development will somehow relieve the City (or other levels of government) from funding the Port Lands revitalization is exposed for what it is.  If Toronto wants to reinvigorate this huge tract of land, it will have to invest money in the process.  This issue — how to actually pay for the waterfront and what staging strategies could be taken — is completely absent.  Council is asked to approve the proposed scheme without knowing what alternatives might be available or what financing strategies would be needed to achieve them.

Building new neighbourhoods of this scale requires major investment in infrastructure and in the operating cost of providing services.  If Toronto is not prepared to pay these costs, then the Port Lands will sit empty for a long time.  Someone may propose they be rescued with a special project such as an Olympic Games or a World’s Fair.  That’s wishful thinking, and simply playing the slots at a race track may prove a better investment.  We cannot make the future of the waterfront dependent on the world’s desire to let us put on a big party.

The original article from August 12 follows the break …

Waterfront Toronto held the fourth and final of its public consultations for the much revised Port Lands plan on August 8, 2012.  This review is the culmination of the ham-fisted intervention in waterfront planning attempted about a year ago by the Ford brothers that was soundly rejected by City Council.  Many community groups have worked for years on the waterfront file, and they banded together as “CodeBlue TO” to fight for the integrity of neighbourhoods, parkland and transit in the eastern waterfront.

Many groups and individuals watched and argued as Waterfront Toronto appeared to gut the original vision for the Port Lands.  The grand park that won so much praise (not just locally, but internationally) suffered major cuts, and the Port Lands threatened to turn into just one more development project aimed at maximizing city revenue and accepting second best for design.

The fourth version of the review tries to aim between competing interests, but I can’t help feeling something has been lost along the way.  Part of this comes from a recognition that the area (a block of land as big as downtown Toronto) will not develop as quickly as early plans hoped and that some of the industrial uses will remain for decades to come, possibly forever.  In turn, this reduces the income available from development revenues and puts more emphasis on getting something built that will fund the public amenities.  The sad part is that creating those amenities as an investment in the city’s future isn’t part of the agenda, at least of the current administration.

Two major features of original development plans are the victims.  First off, the restructured mouth of the Don River and associated parkland, the very project that contributes so many of the “beauty shots” in pitches for this scheme (including its current version), does not actually happen until the later phases of the redevelopment.  We’re being sold a beautiful vision of the waterfront with little guarantee that we will ever reach the stage where it is built.

Second, the transit service to the eastern waterfront and Port Lands has been downgraded from an LRT line to BRT (which may be little better than a bus now and then in a reserved lane) with a possible LRT upgrade in the distant future.  The idea of investing in first quality transit for the waterfront has fallen off of the table, a victim of cost-cutting and short-sighted planning.

Some responsibility must lie with the TTC here because of the lengthy, convoluted planning and constant revisions (both to designs and to costs) for the eastern leg of the Waterfront LRT.  Any project with enough design delays and cost escalations loses momentum, and other planning goes around it.  Development in the East Bayfront (Yonge to Parliament) will be lucky to see the Bay and Sherbourne buses appear now and then, and the connection to Union Station will be a bus fighting its way through traffic to Front and Yonge.  LRT is now spoken of as coming at least a decade, possibly two, in the future.

Another problem lies with demand planning and the eventual buildout of development in the Port Lands, East Bayfront and other neighbourhoods that would be served by new transit lines.  The rationale for a Waterfront East line lay with a projected demand of over 4,000 passengers per hour at peak.  To put that in context, the scheduled capacity of the King car in the AM peak is under 3,000 (although the line could use more service if only the TTC had cars and budget headroom).  However, a goodly chunk of this demand originated in the Port Lands and it is unclear when and how much of this demand will actually materialize.

This leads to a Catch-22 situation.  If the transit provided to the new developments is at the TTC’s “just enough” level, many residents will be faced with a decision of trying to use infrequent transit or driving (or cycling and walking where that is an option).  The whole idea of “transit first”, of overservicing a neighbourhood (as would typically be done with a rapid transit project), of investing in good service to build demand, is no longer part of the equation.

This problem is not unique to the waterfront.  All over Toronto, people make do with whatever service the TTC and their funding partner, the City, deign to give them.  The attitude is that there’s always room for more riders riding fewer buses, and that transit is a drain on City resources rather than an investment in the quality of our neighbourhoods.  We fantasize about tens of billions in rapid transit schemes, but lecture any rider with the temerity to demand better service about the parlous state of city finances.

The Fourth Proposal

This section follows roughly the sequence of the Waterfront Toronto Presentation.

Council’s direction for the review appears on page 2.  It includes two critical requirements that have shaped the recommendations:

  • investigating opportunities to increase private sector investment involvement
  • identifying mechanisms for minimizing the City’s obligation to fund the development of the Port Lands

“Private sector investment” can mean just about anything ranging from developer contributions to pay for improvements related to their projects to private financing of the upgrade of waterfront lands and infrastructure.  The key point is the minimization of City investment.  In the best Toronto tradition, we want a new waterfront but we don’t want to pay for it.

Those readers who are unfamiliar with the evolution of waterfront plans may be mystified by references to a scheme called “4ws realigned”.  Various arrangements of the river and the new developments over the years had their names and “4ws” came to be the preferred solution.  Unfortunately, it has some major problems that somehow were missed when the “final” proposals were made to Council last year.  These are addressed in the “realigned” version that will go to Council this fall.

The evolution of the plans is traced on pages 23 to 37 of the presentation.  I will deal only with the plan as now proposed.

Pages 6 and 7 show downtown Toronto with an overlay of the Port Lands to give a sense of scale of the new development.  This is somewhat misleading in that roughly half of the Port Lands will remain as industrial uses for the foreseeable future (all of the lands south of the ship channel, and the eastern end of lands to the north of the channel).  All the same, it’s still a lot of land especially considering the amount of development coming on stream in nearby areas.

Page 8 subdivides the Port Lands into planning districts.  The areas labelled “E” around the river are residential blocks, while area “F” is earmarked for retail development.

Page 10 shows the evolution of development.  The most important factor in reclaiming the Port Lands is flood protection.  All of these lands and a goodly chunk of south Riverdale lie in the flood plain of the Don River.  The “100 year flood” territory (an extent of flooding I have not seen in my lifetime) is shown as the “Existing” state of the area.

In Phase 1, a new spillway is created west of the Don Roadway linking the current foot of the Don River south to the ship channel.  This reduces the flood exposure of lands between Cherry Street and the lake allowing for their development.  Phase 2 adds a berm along the Don Roadway that protects lands to the east.

Phase 3 realigns the mouth of the Don and consolidates it with the existing slip between Cousens and Polson quays.  Instead of emptying through the Keating Channel (at the north end of the Port Lands), the river would flow south parallel to the Don Roadway and then west through the lands south of Commissioners Street.

This scheme considerably increases the flow that can be handled by the main path of the river and eliminates potential flooding into developed areas.  It also creates a large park around the new river mouth, the signature element of the whole proposal.

“Phase 4” is a postscript to the plan.  It presumes that eventually the owners of the Lafarge cement plant on the north side of Polson Quay will decide to relocate from the Port Lands.  At this point their land would be redeveloped and include a naturalized south bank of the realigned river.

Page 11 shows the main transportation elements for the Port Lands.  A major change since earlier versions is that Commissioners Street is retained in its current east-west layout rather than dodging north closer to the Keating Channel.  This change is possible because the new Don River alignment is further south and no longer conflicts with the existing street.

As in previous plans, Cherry Street is shifted west from the point where it emerges under the rail viaduct south of the Distillery District.  It shifts back to its existing alignment south of the slip between Cousens and Polson quays.

Page 12 shows additional changes in the plan to accommodate industrial activity in the port.  The western dockwall of Cousens Quay is used by Redpath Sugar to tie up boats over the winter season, and the northern dockwall of Polson Quay is used by Lafarge.  Maintaining navigation access to these areas requires that the nearby lands not extend into the lake as originally proposed.  The area south of the shipping channel remains industrial, although improved access across the ship channel is proposed via new lift bridges.

Pages 14 and 16 show hypothetical views including Cherry, Bouchette and Commissioners Streets with LRT.  That’s a bit of a stretch, and I can’t help thinking the presentation borders on dishonesty by showing a mode that won’t actually be there for decades, if ever.  We will be lucky to get the route south on Cherry let alone the other two.  Indeed, the LRT plans (see Phase 3 below) place streetcars on Don Roadway, not on Bouchette, an honest mistake no doubt, but troubling for the inaccuracy.

Page 19 shows the Phase 1 state of development.  This includes a realigned Cherry Street with a BRT on Queen’s Quay East and the new Cherry south to the ship channel.  The LRT spur from King through the Canary District stub ends at the rail corridor.  Worth noting here is the large amount of hatched gray area north of the lake shore.  These are future developments (some now under construction) that will compete with the Port Lands in Toronto’s housing market.  They are notably closer to downtown.

Page 20 shows the Phase 2 development of the Film Studio district.  This will be mainly retail space and it is unclear how that type of development will (a) co-exist with the studios and (b) draw its customers to an out-of-the-way location that is poorly served by transit and remote from residential areas in the waterfront.  This is not the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale.  This part of the plan is important to the financing of the entire scheme because of the relatively high value assigned to retail space.  If the retail plans don’t work, neither do the financial projections.

Page 21 brings us, finally, to Phase 3 and an LRT network that is built after the fact on a presumed base of the BRT implementation.  This sort of evolution sounds good in theory, but one wonders whether the initial BRT infrastructure will be designed for easy conversion to LRT, whether money will be saved today by making it harder to convert in the future.

An argument can certainly be made for earlier construction of LRT connections from the eastern waterfront via Commissioners to Leslie Street and the new Ashbridges Bay carhouse.  This would provide the TTC with an alternate access to its major new streetcar yard and would establish the infrastructure needed for LRT operations as development in the Port Lands builds out.

The “Business Case”

An “upfront investment” of $150-300 million will be required to provide infrastructure for the early phases of redevelopment.  It is unclear whether these funds will come back to the city through development charges, future tax revenues, or some other mechanism, but one way or another the spending is necessary to launch the process.  I suspect this number will rise as components that are not strictly part of Waterfront Toronto’s plans (such as advancing some of the LRT construction) are added to early phases.

Discussion of the “business case” begins on page 50.  The introduction reiterates the desire to minimize city investment in infrastructure and the hope that the project will be self-financing, or at least paid for by the Tooth Fairy otherwise known as the “private sector”.  This raises two big problems.  First, development charges that would be applied against specific developments, placing a premium on land the city might sell, will simply depress the price they might otherwise receive.  Second, if some of the infrastructure is financed by the private sector, the borrowing costs will be higher than for public sector investment, and this will translate to future higher payments to service this debt.

Page 52 lists the many impediments to development of the Port Lands.  This is not comparatively clean residential or farming land out in the suburbs, this is industrial land sitting on fill.  The entire site is remote from the city and poorly connected for road and transit access.  There is a limit to the degree a beautiful view of the lake will generate sufficient extra value to pay for infrastructure upgrades.  Indeed, the further east one goes, the less that being “on the lake” is a factor.  Anyone travelling through the future retail district today may know the lake is nearby, but it’s certainly not a prominent feature.

Page 53 details the estimated cost of developing the Port Lands property north of the ship channel, and this totals $1.9-billion.  Some of this would be recouped from development charges and more might come from regional charges such as the proposed transit levy, but there are many fingers in those pies and no guarantee that the waterfront will get an early, priority call on this funding.

Moreover, it is not clear exactly what the $1.9b actually buys and does not buy.  I asked about the transit component, and was told that this only pays for the BRT, not the future LRT even though that is supposed to be part of Phase 3.  This sort of low-balled pricing is exactly the thing that screws up so many projects when Council discovers that new spending beyond their expectations is required.

Waterfront Toronto conducted a projection of the market for various types of space (residential, retail, etc) over the next 30 years to determine how much of the $1.9b could be offset by development revenue.  The numbers come up short, and at this point we get into some financial hocus-pocus where the answer can be anything you want depending on the assumptions you make.  A great deal of this exercise is an attempt to mask the fact that tax revenue, regardless of what we call it, will be required to make this scheme work.

The degree to which city-wide revenue streams should be used depends on what they were intended to pay for (e.g. a transit improvement tax) and whether they are net new revenues (a regional development charge, in effect a tax on new construction).  If money is redirected from existing streams, that is simply a decision on spending priorities within the current tax structure like any other budget decision.

One funding source that was explicitly rejected was “Tax Increment Financing”, the premise that increased taxes from new development should be used to fund the infrastructure improvements that made this development possible.  The problem is that with land that is generating little tax revenue today, TIF funding would strip the city of revenue it needs for operations such as police, fire, transit and social services.  We would simply have a shell game where “new” tax revenue paid for the infrastructure investment’s debt, while “old” tax revenue would be redistributed from other parts of the city to pay for the new neighbourhood’s services.

The presentation concludes that “a public/private partnership is required to accelerate revitalization”, but does not spell out just what this means.  Someone has to shell out the funding for the initial investment in infrastructure, and there will likely be ongoing net costs such as transit once the neighbourhoods are built.  A bit of accounting trickery can shift these costs to other budget lines, or balance them with new revenue streams such as a transit tax, but this does not make the costs vanish.  If we want new neighbourhoods and better services, we will all pay for them one way or another.


The Port Lands scheme is improved in the sense that it might actually be achieved, and it now recognizes the constraints on which lands are suitable for development.  All the same, it’s a long-term plan that will compete with many others through changing political times in Toronto’s future.

I can’t help thinking of the Waterfront East transit scheme and its LRT network as a cousin of that derelict ship, Captain John’s Restaurant, a dubious diner recently closed for non payment of rent and utility charges.  Like Captain John’s, the transit plans never leave the dock, and the outside promise, the drawings, the bold “transit first” planning, is never quite matched by the dwindling bill of fare.  Toronto seems destined to view transit with a few buses and, maybe, reserved lanes as good enough for the waterfront, and to stop planning seriously for anything more.

19 thoughts on “Waterfront East LRT: Will This Ship Ever Sail? (Updated)

  1. Steve, thanks for this. But I am a little confused. Is the official position of Waterfront Toronto now that it will be ‘BRT first’ on Queens Quay East from Union to Cherry? I understand the LRT plan has run into some funding troubles, but was under the impression Council was looking at ways to accelerate its implementation, with staff due to report in the Autumn. Or has the decision now been made to abandon the LRT plan, at least in the near term?

    Steve: Waterfront Toronto appears to be pre-judging the report that will come to Council in the fall, and I was told by the Deputy City Manager, John Livey, that the idea of funding the East Bayfront LRT and its connection to Cherry Street was simply not going to happen given competing demands for transit funding. Council may think differently, but WFT seemed to have its heart set on a BRT scheme months ago.


  2. By “business case” that means a “profit” for the business owners. If there is no “profit” for them, they wouldn’t put their own money into it. Even better if they could use someone else’s money so they can make money for themselves (at low interest rates of course).

    Steve: The entire fantasy world in which “business cases” are put together these days is quite disheartening. We continue to pretend that we can get something for nothing, and that businesses will invest out of the goodness of their hearts in what is basically swampland. What we are seeing is the culture of two political classes — those who think that the private sector has the answer to everything (a position of dwindling credibility), and the folks who understand that public spending is actually a good idea in the right circumstances.


  3. Personally I found the unwillingness to speak to the details of the BRT proposal to be more disturbing than the prospect of buses themselves. In all fairness to the TTC and Waterfront Toronto buses will be quite capable of meeting the demand in the Port Lands for the next 10-20 years, and I suspect that money for Queen Quay East will be found in the next year or so once council gets back to transit; how far out that money will be is another question. I’d guess it will be a very tight timeline to get in before the suburban light rail projects are really moving; doing it at the same time really stretches credibility beyond the breaking point and even this council would see a post 2020 timeline as little better than abandoning the project.

    The problem is that Waterfront Toronto won’t talk about what they mean when they talk about BRT, nor do they even seem to know where the apparent savings come from but the vague notion that buses are cheaper than rail. Are we looking at full ROWs? If we are what are the savings? More importantly, how much of the savings are going to create throwaway work when if/when we do convert to rail? At the end of the day a plan that builds full right of ways for buses in the Port Lands is not going to be dramatically cheaper than light rail (especially if it builds rail into the ROW from day one, the only realistic way to avoid the total project cost being higher than rail from day one), and a BRT light akin to VIVA will significantly shorten the length of time buses are sufficient while having the potential to really screw up the ability to build right of ways later.

    Then you have the whole issue of routing these buses. Waterfront Toronto seems to intend to through route with a BRT on Queens Quay east, but as of now the plans are still for rail as early as possible (and as I said above, I suspect that project will happen sooner than most are expecting right now). If we find ourselves in the position of operating light rail on Queen Quay but not in the Port Lands (in terms of capacity probably the most likely outcome IMO) where are the buses going to go? Some combination of Front Street and the Esplanade seem the only real options at which point it’s pretty well a fiction to call the operation rapid transit at all, any gains on the waterfront will mostly be lost around Union Station.

    Buses may have a place on the waterfront, but as of now there still isn’t a plan, and more worryingly Waterfront Toronto doesn’t seem to realize it. I could go into how that happened, but really what we need now are solutions, and I have a hard time seeing any between Metrolinx’s indifference the TTC’s dithering ineptitude and Council’s utter lack of comprehension. This leaves me with the feeling that the BRT proposal is a distraction best abandoned as soon as possible. I get the feeling that we can get by with local buses until rail is really needed on the waterfront, and given the state of transit planning that seems a much better option than gambling that we can pull together a second round of funding and construction. In my professional life I’ve said a number of times that generally the choice is between BRT and LRT full stop, and that conversion of BRT almost never actually happens; this may be one of the rare cases that conversion to rail later can be made to work technically and financially, but I don’t see the planning in place to allow that, let alone the political will or even mechanisms to make it realistic.


  4. It will be interesting to see how the report on transit priorities coming to Council in October will deal with this WT (BRT) plan and the very specific motion for an LRT. passed by Council in July.

    “City Council on July 11, 12 and 13, 2012, adopted the following:
    1. City Council support and endorse the East Bayfront LRT line as an added priority for Toronto’s transit network.
    2. City Council request the City Manager and the Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Transit Commission, in consultation with Waterfront Toronto and Metrolinx, to report to the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting on October 12, 2012, addressing the following:

    a. explore funding and financial tools that may be available to complete the waterfront rapid transit plan, and
    b. explore connecting East Bayfront with Cherry Street to facilitate transportation for the Pan/Parapan Am Games Athletes’ Village and future residents in the West Don Lands and East Bayfront.”

    It will also be interesting to see how the landowners & developers will respond. Their letter seems quite specific that they want an LRT.

    Steve: I got the impression that staff think that motion will fall by the wayside for lack of support, and the LRT plans for the waterfront will prevail. They certainly seem to be prejudging the situation and are not even presenting optional scenarios to show the relative costs and phasing that might be undertaken. Similarly, they leave the river mouth and its parkland to phase 3 without discussion an alternate staging. Both of these alternatives would require more money up front, but at least then we could have the discussion of going down that route rather than having staff simply omit it from the report.


  5. I’m starting to wonder about the wisdom of self-financed development. It may be a zero-sum game in that attracting development to this part of the city will just subtract it elsewhere. So lets consider something that will create value from nothing.


    What if we just naturalize the mouth of the Don, tear up the pavement, and plant trees. People don’t want to live beside a concrete plant, but it’s okay to walk or play soccer beside one. In Vancouver terms, make the Port Lands our Stanley Park rather than our False Creek.

    There wouldn’t be any new taxpayers in the Port Lands itself, but the value of of all the adjacent areas would certainly increase which would promote densification. Eventually, when the nearby market dries up, even concrete suppliers will pull up stakes.

    And fill in the Keating channel. Evey plan I’ve seen keeps it which keeps the Port Lands separated and makes the area design artificial.

    Steve: Yes, I would love to see a discussion of the function of the Keating Channel once the alternative river outlets are in place. It seems to be a total waste to retain it for marine purposes.


  6. Not building a LRT on the eastern waterfront is a mistake. This is intended to be a densely populated residential/commercial neighbourhood with tens of thousands of residents. Without a LRT (and possibly a downtown relief line somewhere on the north side), residents will be dependent on overcrowded buses alone.

    On the other hand I have to disagree with you with the Ontario Place LRT. I don’t think that there is enough demand, outside special events, to justify this, and I don’t think that there is much redevelopment potential here. I think that condo development on the scale needed to justify a LRT is unlikely because the artificial islands on which Ontario Place is built are *extremely* close to the island airport flight path, even closer than the existing condos at the foot of Bathurst Street. The only feasible location for condo development is the current Ontario Place parking lot, which cannot accommodate very much development. Bus service is sufficient here. For special events, and a possible casino, the Exhibition GO station would be far more convenient for riders coming from many parts of the suburbs (despite the longish walk) if more frequent Lakeshore GO train service existed.

    Steve: If we were talking of an Ontario Place LRT all the way from downtown, I might agree with you, but as this would only be a spur off of the existing route on Fleet, I think the economics are different. Also, I’m thinking in the context of larger scale development not just of the Ontario Place site but of the south side of Exhibition Place. That said, I do agree that the eastern waterfront has higher priority and population potential.


  7. Ironically, getting LRT to the Portlands might be easier than LRT to East Bayfront. Couldn’t the Portlands be served by an extension of the Cherry Street stub? Widening the rail corridor underpass is presumably much cheaper than expanding Union loop and splitting the Bay Street tunnel.

    Indeed, maybe Union is the problem. Would an East Bayfront LRT be much more feasible if it stayed above ground and went to, say, King station instead?

    Steve: The Cherry Street connection requires a new span in the underpass to give enough room for the two LRT tracks, pedestrians, cycling lanes and road lanes. When you talk about going to King Station I presume you mean via Cherry. The problem from a staging point of view is that in the short to medium term, the transit service is required on Queen’s Quay west to Bay. There have been many alternative designs for the connection to Union and none of them is easy to implement. However, part of the cost comes from the constant delay and the lack of integration of the reconstruction of Union Loop with other work now in progress.

    Add to this the TTC’s desire to include provision for a Bremner car (the Waterfront West LRT’s alternative route) and the costs really go up. I think an underlying problem with so much of the waterfront transit planning is that it has been piecemeal all the way from the Port Lands through the central waterfront through the Ex and beyond. This was a deliberate tactic by politicians of the day to get a little bit built, and then a little more, but the result was an uncoordinated collection of projects and a lack of an overall project vision and sponsor. Compare this to the constant pressure and political activity that led to the Spadina/York/Vaughan subway, a much larger project, but one that has been around for roughly the same period as the waterfront schemes.


  8. Speaking of in-the-distant future, did it occur to Metrolinx or Queens Park that developing the vehicles now for LRT lines that would open no earlier than 2020 would mean the possible use of technology and designs that grow obsolete by the decade?

    And while the low-floor LRT vehicles may still be in use a decade from now, delaying them by that long is time lost in taking full advantage of the technology during its height. Is there a cost associated with this?

    Steve: The TTC, Metrolinx and K-W orders are based off of the most recent of the Bombardier cars, and it is unlikely that there will be a massive technology shift in the near future. Minor ones may be incorporated in the order as they go along just as changes in the base vehicle were incorporated in the TTC order. The TTC cars will be in revenue service in late 2013, with luck, and their delivery will take place over several years. Changing for minor technology updates has to be carefully decided as it has effects on maintenance, spare parts and staff training.


  9. I agree that they need to go back to the drawing board. Assuming that the York Street off-ramp will be history, I’d actually take the eastern edge of the park for a new streetcar tunnel entrance, and have all waterfront streetcar routes turn off of Queens Quay to reach Union underground via York and Bremner. City Council was entertaining the notion of inserting a new street on these park lands to facilitate RBC WaterPark Place III, so why not a streetcar tunnel?

    There’s already a signalled intersection at that location anyway. The TTC could have an underground stop underneath the park (partially anyway) and another at York and Bremner. The Bay Street tunnel and existing Queens Quay Station would be decommissioned.

    Steve: This was one of the variations on access to the Bay Street tunnel that was looked at during the EA. As I remember, there are problems with the length of the ramp needed to get cars down to the level of the existing tunnel. This is a common problem with many alternatives.


  10. With any luck, a future City Council can have a better effect on Waterfront Toronto. David Miller showed that a city-building mayor can kick-start plans and fund projects if (s)he wants to, and this whole recent process proves that any plan that exists can be changed. (Not to say that the waterfront’s history isn’t already proof of that.)

    It is concerning that the scheduling for this wasn’t made clear…


  11. How does the rescheduling for the LRT beyond the 30 year mark jive with Council’s decision to make it a priority?

    Steve: It does not, and this raises intriguing questions about just who is pulling strings behind the scenes. At the very least, a version of the plan showing a faster LRT buildout should have been included for comparison.


  12. Though I can certainly see the need for a Waterfront East LRT going over the Don River and into the Portlands at some point, it seems unwise to restrict the discussion to the ‘final” product and not look at phases. Similarly to how the subway has been (is being) built it would surely be best to start the process by building the LRT on the blocks of QQE which are already being built up – that is the section from Yonge to Parliament. It was this section that was examined during the transit EA. (This came out strongly in favour of the LRT and rejected surface links to the subway because of the current gridlock on the north-south streets.)

    I admit that a major part of the cost is the underground link between QQE and the subway (presumably an expansion of the existing tunnel to Union Station and a better loop) but bus transit is simply not going to be enough for already planned developments. If the City looked at phases Phase 1 could be Union to Parliament, Phase 2 could be the link through the Cherry Street rail bridge (which would allow connections to the north and east) and Phase 3 would be bringing the line over the Don and into the Portlands area.

    Steve: The problem here is that Waterfront Toronto has backed away from an LRT in the East Bayfront, never mind anything further. We will wind up with the oddity of the Cherry Street stub connecting to King but to nothing else.


  13. “Steve: This was one of the variations on access to the Bay Street tunnel that was looked at during the EA. As I remember, there are problems with the length of the ramp needed to get cars down to the level of the existing tunnel. This is a common problem with many alternatives.”

    Actually, I don’t think the EA cited the slope of the ramp as the problem with the Bay Street portal, but the EA gave a lot of attention was given to the impact on automobile traffic (!)

    Steve: It depends on your point of view. If the ramp must fit between existing east-west streets, this dictates its slope. Several locations were ruled out because the maximum slope ramp would not fit. This is a location where the auto traffic situation is severe, and there isn’t a hope of getting a change in the road layout. If all this had been decided years ago when there were possibilities of land swaps to get the desirable mix of road and transit geometry, there might have been a chance, but all of those blocks are nailed down now with existing buildings and developments well down the pipeline.


  14. It sounds like the same old, same old with Toronto transit planning: let em’ ride buses. We’ll build higher-order transit in the future, we promise. Meanwhile, people wait decades and all they get is more talk, more plans and more lines drawn on maps.


  15. I used to have the greatest respect for Waterfront Toronto, but I think they’ve stumbled as their role has shifted from creating a vision to executing it.

    They clearly misread the political tea leaves on the ferris wheel fiasco, but wasn’t their role to be above politics and consistently advocate for the long-term view? (That their original Lower Don Lands plan didn’t take into account key industrial land uses seems rather embarrassing.)

    They set expectations so high in the planning process that it seems like it’s one disappointment after another. The Corus Quay building isn’t anything special; the George Brown building is better but perhaps not by enough to win over the skeptics. At York Quay, they built a great parking garage but the above-ground public space was literally an afterthought (due to budget), with plans that seem to squander the opportunity to do something truly great. Large chunks of East Bayfront and West Don Lands have fallen off the consultation radar as they’ve been handed over to developers; nothing to do but cross fingers that those developers stay true to the community-led plans.

    I hope the rebuilding of Queens Quay West is successful, and perhaps a turning point: both in convincing more Torontonians that it’s worth some money and effort to improve the waterfront, but also in reminding Waterfront Toronto not to settle for second-best.


  16. Obviously this is WT’s plan, but how much influence does the Commission have over it, since they will be obliged to operate the resulting services? Could TTC say “that won’t do”, assuming they had an inclination to, or has the City Manager been assured there will be no murmuring from Davisville?

    Steve: If anything, the TTC has been dragging its feet on waterfront transit even more than WT itself. Combine this with their incompetence in coming up with a credible cost estimate for the project, and the fact that it has already been deferred once on that account, and we have a situation where the TTC is the last organization I would look to for leadership on this file.


  17. This seems to be the typical way these things go:

    1) Start out with a brilliant plan….
    2) Push it off until the next government is elected
    3) The next government makes a whole bunch of changes to it, then goes to step 2.

    Eventually they make a mistake in step 3 and it gets built, 1/10 the size, for 10 times the money.


  18. This staeement from the President of Castlepoint Group – about expanding Pinewood Studios) may help move proper transit up the priorities.

    “Mr. Romano cautioned that in order for the plans to work, transit must be a priority. He also cautioned the city not to depend too heavily on development charges to finance the infrastructure work required in the area, including extensive flood protection required at the mouth of the Don River.”


  19. Meanwhile, in Portland

    There is controversy because the streetcar was extended to a post-industrial area that has barely started to see redevelopment, while bus routes are ‘being slashed’.

    The writer of the piece describes the streetcar as being more of a ‘development tool’ (than a transit service)

    Cheers, Moaz


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