Waterfront Transit Update July 2013

Many projects affect the development of Toronto’s waterfront and transit services.  It is easy to lose track of how everything fits together, and this is an attempt to put updates for the various parts in one place.

For an overall map of the waterfront, go to Waterfront Toronto’s site and click on “View Map”.

Construction progress photos can be found on pages for individual projects, and a good overview is available in the minutes of the Waterfront Toronto Board meetings under the CEO Reports and Construction Updates.   (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked page, click on “View Details” for a meeting, and select the report you wish to view from the pop-up menu.)

Waterfront Toronto will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, July 24 from 6:00 to 9:00pm at the Toronto Fire Academy, 895 Eastern Ave (at Knox) with updates on the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection, and the Lower Don Lands Master Plan.

Central Waterfront

This area runs from Jarvis west to Bathurst.  It includes:

  • The Queens Quay reconstruction project that will bring a new streetcar right-of-way for the Harbourfront and Spadina services as well as a totally new look to the street and pedestrian areas between Yonge and Spadina.
  • The Lower Yonge Precinct stretching from Yonge east to Jarvis.

Queens Quay has been under construction since fall 2012 with work to date concentrating on reconstruction and expansion of utilities — water, sewage, hydro, gas, telecom — to accommodate the rapid population growth.  Preliminary work related to restoring the streetcar tracks has begun, and the reconstruction should be finished before Christmas.  However, work at Union Station will block access to the loop for passengers until February 2014.  While the line has been closed, the TTC has been repairing the tunnel from Queens Quay to Union and rebuilding the overhead for pantograph operation.

Spadina streetcars will resume operation to Queens Quay Loop just before Christmas 2013 if current plans hold.  There is a remote possibility that this might be advanced to November, but much depends on the progress of work around the new loop and surrounding streets.

The lines will reopen initially with standard CLRV streetcars as the rollout of the low floor fleet is not planned until spring 2014.  TTC plans a “big bang” conversion of all service to the new cars on Spadina rather than a gradual implementation with mixed CLRV/LFLRV operation.

Navigating Queens Quay is a challenge with lanes constantly shifting depending on where work is in progress.  Early plans were thrown awry by Toronto Hydro due to the late approval of their capital program by the Ontario Energy Board.  Moreover, construction problems at some sites have delayed work, and schedules for other utilities had to be reorganized to suit what could be done.

The Queens Quay construction site includes a newsletter updated weekly giving details of construction progress and plans.  Webcams show the status of Queens Quay in real time, and many other documents give an overview of this project.

When it is completed, the streetcar right-of-way will be in more-or-less the same place it was before, but with the following changes:

  • Trackbed built to current TTC standards with resilient padding to damp vibrations.
  • Overhead built for pantograph operation of the new low floor streetcars.
  • Wider platforms at stops both for capacity and for accessibility.
  • Some stops have been relocated to suit the new road layout.
  • The entrance track at Queens Quay Loop will be shifted west to give more room for other traffic on the east side of this roadway.
  • New transit priority signalling will be installed.  (Whether this will be any better that the old setup remains to be seen.)

The “new” Queens Quay will have road traffic to the north of the streetcar right-of-way in the area that formerly held the westbound traffic.  Typically there will be one lane each way with turn bays provided at intersections.  The general design for the street has much more generous pedestrian space to the south of the streetcar right-of-way.  The former eastbound lanes will now hold a cycling path (the Martin Goodman Trail) and a widened south sidewalk.  The detailed 2009 design shows the block-by-block details of what will be built.  Some of this has been fine tuned, but the basics are unchanged.

Lower Yonge Precinct

This is a huge piece of land stretching from Yonge to Jarvis, and from Queens Quay north to Lake Shore.  Development plans for this area are far from finished, but they are likely to include:

  • Very high condo towers on the land north of the Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge.
  • Reconstruction the the Toronto Star building including doubling its height.
  • Replacement of the LCBO warehouse and store by a major development.
  • Possibly redevelopment of the Loblaws site at Jarvis.

The study for this site also includes the section of Harbour Street west to Lower Simcoe.  Harbour will be reconfigured with the demolition of the York Street off ramp from the Gardiner Expressway to provide an at-grade connection at Lower Simcoe.  The precinct proposal includes the extension of Harbour (which now veers north to join Yonge) straight east through to Jarvis.

The introductory presentation to a May 22 public meeting gives a general overview of the development planned for the Lower Yonge, East Bayfront and Keating Channel Precincts.

East Bayfront

The East Bayfront stretches from Jarvis Street to the Parliament Slip south from the Lake Shore/Gardiner corridor.

Development is already well underway in East Bayfront, but a burning question is “what to do with Queens Quay”.  Unlike the western section, Queens Quay East still looks like an industrial arterial even though new buildings, parks and bits and pieces of infrastructure pop up along the way.  With residential developments now underway, this area can no longer be ignored for transit and for streetscape revitalization.

The general plan is to make over Queens Quay East in a layout similar to the western section now in progress.  This would include an eastern branch of the Harbourfront streetcar service running initially from Union Loop to Parliament Street.  However, escalating cost estimates and complexity have delayed commitment to this project, and the best condo buyers, students at George Brown, and workers at the Corus building can expect in the medium term is better service on the Bay and Sherbourne bus routes.

One might reasonably ask why the expansion of Union Loop needed for the Waterfront East transit line is not happening while the line is shut down and Union is being torn apart.  That reasonable question runs headlong into funding problems and the fact that, as a Waterfront Toronto project officially, it wasn’t on anybody’s radar as a high priority job.

Waterfront Toronto undertook a study of pre-LRT transit options for Queens Quay East.  Almost all of them involved difficult routings of surface buses or streetcars to connect at Union Station.

At its last meeting, the Community Liaison Committee suggested that rather than attempting a short-term “fix”, that whatever money is available be concentrated on rebuilding the public realm — make the east side look like the west — even if the LRT line is only present as a provision for a future upgrade.  This idea was well-received by Waterfront Toronto’s Board.

Since then, funding for the LRT project has been included in the proposed Development Charges Bylaw now before City Council.  Whether this will survive the onslaught of developers seeking to minimize costs that will be assessed against future residential and commercial space remains to be seen.  The new bylaw must be in place for early 2014 to replace the current one which expires at the end of March.

The challenge for any bus service to the eastern waterfront is the connection at Union for transferring passengers.  Even when the construction now underway is complete, the growing demand will tax the sidewalk space available at the Bay Bus transit stops.  Buses will have to compete with other traffic through the Bay Street underpass and the mixed traffic south to Queens Quay.

West Don Lands

This includes an irregular block of land from west of the Don River from King south to the rail corridor and west to Parliament, but excluding the Distillery District.  Much of this land has been vacant for decades because of soil contamination (an earlier scheme called “Ataratiri” was stillborn because of this).  Soil cleaning technology has improved over the years, and that opened the area for development.

First, however, construction of a flood protection berm on the west bank of Don was required to direct any high water south to the lake.  Recent storms have shown the flooding the Don is capable of.  A new park, Corktown Common, was built on the berm and it recently opened for summer 2013.  Some finishing work is still needed on east (“wet”) side and at the King/Queen approaches to the Don bridge.

Streetcar services will divert via Queen and Parliament for three to six weeks while work is underway on the King Street section of the bridge.  The date for this has not yet been announced.

The first residential developments to be occupied are at King & River with buildings by Toronto Community Housing and the private “River City” condos.  These will be served by existing streetcar services on King and Queen.

The “Pan Am Village” is under construction south of Eastern to the Rail Corridor/Distillery District.  In the short term, this will be athletes’ accommodation for the games, but the units will become condos afterwards joined by a new YMCA and a student residence for George Brown College.  The village will not host any games events and it will be a closed site.

A webcam linked from the project page shows the site from the east looking toward the flood protection berm and Corktown Common.

Cherry Street is the main north-south link through the West Don Lands.  It will continue the Queens Quay layout north for spur streetcar line off of King.  Construction of the right-of-way south of Eastern is already in progress.  This will continue north to King in 2014 with special work to be added in 2015.  Service will not begin until spring 2016 when the loop north of Cherry Street Tower is installed.  The loop’s site will be used for bus storage during the games.

The missing link in funded plans is the widening of the Cherry underpass at the rail corridor.  As of July 2013, there is no money in any project budgets for this, and we could have a Waterfront East line ending at Parliament and a Cherry spur a few blocks away to north.

Lower Don Lands

This includes land from Parliament Street Slip to the East Don Roadway and south from the Lake Shore/Gardiner to the Ship Channel.  The first part to be developed will be the Keating Channel Precinct from the Gardiner/Lake Shore to south side of Keating Channel at Villiers Street.  This will include new residential areas on both sides of the channel.

(The Keating Channel is the small channel south of Lake Shore which is crossed by the smaller of two Cherry Street bridges.)

Road realignments that would link Cherry, Queens Quay East and the port area to the southeast are planned as part of the Lower Don Lands redevelopment.  This will involve shifting Cherry Street further west below the rail corridor and south to the Ship Channel.  A new bridge over the Keating Channel will include provision for a future LRT line that would, tentatively, end at the Ship Channel (the second, larger bridge on Cherry).

Transit service to the Keating Channel Precinct will initially be provided by buses (route details are not settled yet and they will depend on the pace and location of development).  The area is now served, infrequently, by the 72 Pape bus running west to Union Station.  The 6 Bay bus would likely be extended east on Queens Quay in advance of LRT construction there.

The single largest project in this area is the reconstruction of the mouth of the Don River and the reclamation of former industrial lands between the Keating Channel and the Ship Channel.  Extensive redesign of the river and provision of flood control is a prerequisite for residential and commercial redevelopment.

The Don now empties into Keating Channel.  This will be changed to give the river a more natural form meandering through a park (which itself will be a flood control area) south of the new Keating Channel Precinct.  A secondary spillway will be provided directly south of the river through parkland to the Ship Channel.

In conjunction with the new river course and spillway, a berm will be required on the east side of the river to protect the eastern Port Lands and southern Leslieville from flooding.  To the west of the river, the elevation of some streets will change to keep them above flood levels.

Development of this area is at least a decade away because a great many new units will be built closer to downtown first.  Eventually, the LRT line will be extended into this area, but that work also involves the reconfiguration of the Cherry, Parliament, Queens Quay and Lake Shore roadways.  The proposed arrangement is:

  • Parliament Slip would be filled in to allow Queens Quay to run straight east rather than swinging north as it does now to connect with Parliament Street.  Queens Quay would merge into Lake Shore roughly at the existing Cherry Street intersection.
  • Cherry Street, which now veers east on the south side of the rail corridor, would instead veer west to a new alignment.  This would take it behind buildings now on the west side of “old” Cherry Street, and will require a new bridge over the Keating Channel.  This bridge will include lanes for the LRT extension.

Illustrations on the Lower Don webpage show a bulbous landform on the west side of the park.  This has been revised in current plans to retain a flat edge that can be used by ships tying up in the harbour.

Port Lands

This area includes everything south of the Keating Channel that is not part of the Lower Don Lands, and it includes part of the Film Studio district east to Ashbridges Bay.  This is a huge area, comparable in size to the existing downtown Toronto.  Development of vacant lands in this area will be primary commercial, but is decades in the future given the distance from downtown.

There is a proposed extension of the Waterfront East LRT from (new) Cherry east via Commissioners Street to connect with the Leslie Barns, but like so much else in the Port Lands, this is not going to happen soon and the 72A Pape Bus will continue for many years.

East of the Don — The Lever Site

The former Lever Bros. site south of Eastern on the east side of the Don River has been purchased for redevelopment.  Current plans suggest a commercial area, but this is rather out of the way given likely development rates and patterns well into the 2020s.

Development here may stimulate the proposed southern extension of Broadview Avenue into the Port Lands.  Although there have been preliminary plans for transit service into this area, nothing substantial is likely to be built for many years.

Depending on its alignment, a “Downtown Relief Line” running under the rail corridor or along Eastern Avenue could serve this site, but at the expense of Queen & Broadview a few blocks to the north.  This is just one example of the problems faced with the DRL which cannot serve every possible neighbourhood on its route from Riverdale into downtown.

Union Station Second Platform

Work at Union Subway Station is now underway to add a platform south of the existing tracks so that northbound-to-Yonge trains will have their own platform separate from the University trains (which will continue to use the existing platform).  Waterfront Toronto is a partner in this project because, among other things, it will increase station capacity for travel to development in the new “Southcore” downtown between the rail corridor and the lake.

This project will be completed in late 2014.  When it is finished, access to connecting transit services will change from the arrangement that was in place before.

The new platform is at the same elevation as the streetcar loop and the passageway to that loop (the section now between the loop platform and the foot of the escalator) will open directly onto the new subway platform.  The escalator will become part of the vertical circulation between the new platform and the expanded mezzanine.

The path from the GO concourse under the east wing of Union Station now exits into the moat separating the station building from Front Street.  New stairs were installed recently to connect the moat into the western half of the TTC fare concourse.  These will remain in place until the “dig down” lowers the GO concourse to the same elevation as the subway concourse.  GO will shift its operations to the new west concourse later in 2013 or early 2014.

A related project now under construction is the “Northwest PATH”, an extension of the underground walkway system.  This will link the northwest corner of the railway station diagonally across York Street and north to Wellington where it will connect with existing walkways under the office towers.  The new PATH will give commuters from the western side of downtown an alternate route to Union Station.

When construction of the new subway station platform is completed, Front Street will be restored to a new configuration with much expanded pedestrian facilities.

An extensive gallery of projects related to Union Station is available on the City’s website.

Gardiner Expressway Replacement or Reconstruction

Over past decades, there have been various schemes to rebuild, relocate or remove the Gardiner Expressway from Toronto’s waterfront.  These have not been well-received especially by suburban politicians and motorists.

A current proposal, now making its way through an Environmental Assessment, would affect only the section of the road from Jarvis Street east to the Don River.  This section is overbuilt relative to demand (it was intended to serve the Scarborough Expressway as well as the DVP), and with its large size and location relative to surrounding areas, it blocks development and improved land use on the northern edge of East Bayfront.

Rather than duplicating my earlier writing here, I will simply link to my recent article for Torontoist on the design alternatives that will be a starting point for discussion.

6 thoughts on “Waterfront Transit Update July 2013

  1. I have no doubt that a full Queens Quay East LRT linking to both Union and Cherry (and eventually going to the Portlands) is the best answer to transit in that area but I think all the current talk (and cost estimates) are for the section from Union to Parliament. Though it is not going to be as useful as the direct link to Union I wonder why there seems to be no discussion of NOT building a loop immediately north of the rail berm on Cherry – planned for 2015 – and bringing that line through the berm and south to Queens Quay now. As you note, this will need to be done at some point and I assume that this short section, even with a new tunnel under the berm, would be much cheaper than building the new portal at Freeland. Much of the new residential development is happening at the eastern end of Queens Quay.

    (Though a new streetcar-only tunnel under the berm is certainly going to be necessary eventually. I can also see no real reason why, initially, the streetcar could not use the current roadway under the existing bridge – even if it needs to be controlled by traffic lights so that both streetcar tracks could occupy the whole of the northbound side. I doubt we are talking of a very frequent service, at least initially.)

    Steve: I don’t think trying to shoehorn the LRT through the existing opening is a good idea especially if through riding becomes popular as it is on the Spadina side. But, yes, this project needs to get official recognition, not be a leftover looking for funding like so much else on the waterfront.


  2. Vibration is of course damped, not dampened (with a spray bottle?).

    Steve: Hmmm … Damp track is prone to wheel squeal on curves, but really wet track is not. The water has no effect on vibrations, however. I will correct this howler.


  3. Vibration is of course damped, not dampened

    Not to get too deep in the definitional weeds, especially with someone as knowledgeable as Joe, but is “vibration dampening” actually incorrect? Merriam-Webster Online has the first definition of “dampen” to be “to check or diminish the activity or vigor of : deaden”, and some professional articles use the term, as do industrial product catalogues. I’m curious as to if this is meaning-creep for “dampen”, or if this is just an alternate use of the term.

    Steve: Well, the OED, which I take to be the authority in these parts where HM still holds sway, gives as one definition of the verb “damp” the sense of opposing vibrational effects so as to reduce them. Specifically this was for strings, but in wider use for vibration or oscillation of any kind. I am not sure whether we can regard the four tracks of a streetcar line as being the strings on an extraordinarily overgrown cello, but the rubber wrapped around them has a similar effect to a mute on stringed instruments with the additional property of mechanical isolation.

    “Dampen” is defined as “to dull or deaden” which has the same general effect, at least in this case. Adding “-ing” to one or the other may well be a matter of taste, or in the best of English usage, the word means what I say it does, and if you understand me, wait a few decades and it will become an “acceptable use”.

    As I am of a musical persuasion, I will stay with “damping”, and leave “dampening” to the fogs that blow through Council Chambers.


  4. I understand that soil conditions aren’t exactly conducive for full-blown tunneling for the Gardiner but I’ve been wondering about how a trench would be. The Gardiner could be lowered into that and with a boulevard built on a deck right above the trench.

    Steve: One of the Gardiner schemes involves a buried expressway with a local road on top. The biggest problem whether the road is underground or elevated is that ramps chew up a lot of real estate and interfere with the local road at the surface. They are particularly nasty for pedestrians as anyone trying to cross Lake Shore at an interchange with the Gardiner can attest.


  5. I don’t know if you already explained elsewhere: how does the transition work on Queens Quay West of Spadina? It looks like there is a traffic signal for Eastbound car traffic to cross from the South-side to North-side of the streetcar ROW. How does the Westbound bicycle traffic cross from the South-side cycle path to the North-side bike lane?

    Steve: This is not clear. On the detailed drawings, the westbound path just ends at the point where the road crosses over, but there is no crossing shown to get to the north side where the existing westbound lane picks up again. I will have to chat with the Waterfront Toronto folks to see if there is a more recent design for this intersection.


  6. The October 30th WT CEO Report has a table on the new Development Charges. For the QQE line it says:

    Project Description: East Bayfront Public Transit, Queens Quay Bay to Parliament
    Total Estimated Project Cost ($millions) $145
    City Wide DC Revenues ($millions) $100
    Unfunded Amount ($millions) $45

    LRT Loop, Tunnel and Portal
    Total Estimated Project Cost ($millions) $350
    City Wide DC Revenues ($millions) $280
    Unfunded Amount ($millions) $70

    Total Estimated Project Cost ($millions) $495
    City Wide DC Revenues ($millions) $380
    Unfunded Amount ($millions) $115

    Are these new figures? A shortfall of $115 million does not seem impossible to find, if the costs do not escalate.

    Steve: These figures were originally in the City of Toronto report on the Development Charges bylaw. At the board meeting, which I attended, John Campbell stated that there would be a report on the option to be recommended for the transit connection from Union to QQ East on November 20. That’s the internal date, with public release to follow.


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