Updated October 15, 2015 at 10:20 am:
Because the options for the Waterfront West line are not fully explained or explored in the City report, I have added the drawings of the options from the Environmental Assessment to the end of this article.
A few weeks ago, I reported on a presentation at the TTC Board meeting by Deputy City Manager John Livey on the status of various rapid transit plans and studies. This was by way of a preview of reports that were expected at the City’s Executive Committee meeting on October 20, 2015.
One of these reports has now surfaced on the subject of Waterfront Transit, while another on SmartTrack is still in preparation. (Reports on the Relief Line and Scarborough Subway studies are not expected until the new year pending results from the UofT’s new demand model.)
The new report proposes a “reset” in the status of the many waterfront studies and proposals given that many of them are incomplete or out of date. The area of study will be south of Queensway/Queen from Long Branch to Woodbine, although there is passing mention of Scarborough which has its own collection of transit problems in the Kingston Road corridor.
The fundamental problem along the waterfront and areas immediately to the north is that population and plans for development continue with no end in sight, while transit planning, such as it exists at all, looked much further afield for signature projects. Moreover, origins and destinations in the present and future waterfront are not conveniently located along a single line where one scheme will magically solve every problem. Transit “downtown” is not simply a matter of getting to King and Bay. There is a mix of short haul and long haul trips, and a line designed to serve the first group well almost certainly will not attract riders from the second.
There has been significant growth in many precincts along the waterfront, including South Etobicoke, Liberty Village, Fort York, King/Spadina, City Place, South Core, and King/Parliament. Further, significant growth is planned for emerging precincts, including Lower Yonge, East Bayfront, West Don Lands, North Keating, Port Lands and the First Gulf site. There is currently a latent demand for transit south of Front Street as witnessed by transit loading on the King and Harbourfront streetcar services. King Street, for example, represents the most southerly continuous east/west transit line and is regularly experiencing near or at-capacity conditions through much of the weekday peak periods. The extent of latent and anticipated future demand creates an imperative for defining a long-term transit solution as soon as possible. [pp 1-2]
Better transit on King and Queen, whatever form it might be, will address demand from redevelopment of the “old” city north of the rail corridor, but it cannot touch the “new” city south to the lake. Service on the rail corridors (Lake Shore and Weston) can address some longer trips, but with constraints on both line capacity and service frequency. Despite politically-motivated claims, the GO corridors will not be “surface subways” with service like the Bloor-Danforth line, and GO service is constrained to operate through some areas that are not well placed relative to the local transit system.
A map in Appendix 2 of the report gives a sense of the many proposals, but even this map is incomplete.
Notable in this map are:
- The proposed Park Lawn GO station (originally proposed for an extended Legion Road and a branch from the Queen 501 car) is not shown. More generally, it will be important to understand the capabilities and limitations of any new services in the rail corridors and how these will relate to the local network.
- A link is missing between the Waterfront West LRT and the existing system at Colborne Lodge Road rather than at Queensway & Roncesvalles (where there is no capacity for additional transit traffic). This alignment was in favour during the Miller era at City Hall, but dropped from sight along with the rest of Transit City.
- There is no differentiation between ordinary mixed traffic areas (Dufferin north from Exhibition Place, Bathurst Street) and locations with reserved lanes (Spadina Avenue and Cherry Street), and the “LRT” term is used for both.
The degree to which the waterfront has been ignored is clear in this statement:
Waterfront transit is largely absent from the robust program of transit infrastructure investment currently underway and, to date, it is not under active consideration for any funding that may be available through existing Provincial and Federal government funding programs. This, in spite of the fact that both the Waterfront West and Waterfront East LRTs are ranked in the top five unfunded rapid transit proposals in the preliminary analysis undertaken by City Planning as part of the five-year review of Official Plan transportation policies (known as “Feeling Congested?”). [p 2]
This is to be rectified with a consolidated plan that would be put together by a consultant plus staff from the City, TTC and Waterfront Toronto.
The work would lead to a plan for a continuous waterfront transit network with east/west connectivity, as well as strong integrated north/south connections that would link the City to the waterfront. This network would be further integrated with regional transit network components, including the GO and subway systems, Smart Track and connections to Scarborough. [p 2]
Links to Scarborough are, needless to say, difficult given that Queen Street (the north end of the study area) ends just beyond the western Scarborough boundary. Southern Scarborough’s lakefront is very different in character with the Bluffs, and with the main street, Kingston Road, some distance north of the lake. Moreover, Scarborough’s development has focused further north (with the 401 as a magnet) while the old part of that City was left to its own devices. Two schemes for LRT on Kingston Road (either as an extension of the 502 route east into Scarborough, or in the far east as part of Transit City) are nowhere on the radar for transit investment in the medium term. GO Transit runs into Scarborough, but with a different service plan and station spacing, and with a fare structure that would penalize those attempting to make “local” trips along that corridor.
Indeed, many past plans for local transit the waterfront took as a basic assumption that GO Transit simply didn’t exist as a travel option. Whether this will change substantially is hard to say, but Metrolinx is noticeably absent from the study team.
We often hear about “transit first” planning, but that’s all we get – plans, but no construction. Back in 2003, Council approved the Central Waterfront Secondary Plan.
The plan calls for early implementation of higher order transit before journey-to-work patterns are established, in order to encourage transit-oriented travel patterns of residents and employees from the outset. Expanded GO Transit rail services and an upgraded Union Station are also referenced as critical elements of the new waterfront transit network. [p 5]
That transit is especially important for commercial development because employees have to get to work, and without good transit, a site isn’t competitive with the main part of the core area let alone other parts of the GTA. This has been a major concern for developers wanting to build in the eastern waterfront.
The study will include public participation and is expected to make an interim report in the second quarter of 2016 (with a final report to follow in the third quarter). At $500k, this will not be a mega-study, and that is probably just as well as much work has already been done. The question is to assemble it and make sense of the options.
An aspect of this study that raises a red flag is the role in which “waterfront transit” is described:
The transit reset for the Waterfront LRT would address and update a number of factors as they apply to the study area. The first priority would be to consider waterfront transit in the context of local and regional transit initiatives. Key among these is the role that transit along the waterfront can play in serving the access needs of the six million residents of the Toronto region, of which 2.6 million are within the City. Toronto’s waterfront is a unique regional asset and must be made accessible by a network of quality transit services, ideally linking to a main east-west distributor spine. This network would need to be integrated with regional transit components, including the GO and subway systems, Smart Track and connections to Scarborough. [p 8]
There are multiple types of traveller and journey along “the waterfront”, and in the desire to be “regional” (and possibly attract subsidy dollars) we must not lose sight of the substantial local demands. Moreover, some parts of the study area, notably King and Queen Streets, are only tangential to the waterfront, not an integral part of its transit service. They deserve attention and improvement independently of any “regional” or “waterfront” role they might play.
As I previously reported, the cost breakdown of the “East Bayfront LRT” is dominated by work at and near Union Station:
The breakdown of the $520 Million East Bayfront LRT is as follows:
- New eastbound passenger platform: $112 Million
- Extension of Bay Street tunnel to Freeland Street: $156 Million
- Surface infrastructure: $66 Million
- Rolling stock: $36 Million
- Queens Quay revitalization: $150 Million [p 9]
Oddly, the report suggests that a incremental approach might be found to developing the EBF LRT, although this would be a challenge with the lion’s share of the work required to upgrade the terminal at Union. It will be essential that the capacity of any new loop be credible, unlike the TTC’s original claims for the existing loop that vastly exceeded actual capacity. (TTC missed the effect of the curved loop on operating speed and passenger safety on the platform, not to mention the loss of platform space. They also presumed that the full capacity of the linking passage would be available on a unidirectional basis even though traffic is bidirectional and queues awaiting streetcars routinely back up into the subway station.)
What is badly needed here is a study that looks first at actual needs, and the diversity of locations to be served, before trying to nickel and dime the exercise by combining or foregoing routes. SmartTrack advocates are particularly bad on this account as they claim that their project solves every problem when in fact it only touches on part of the regional needs, some of which are not even in Toronto.
Important questions must be asked including:
- What service level will SmartTrack actually be able to offer, and how much of the study area can it realistically serve given its location?
- Is an “LRT” line to Long Branch actually necessary (effectively an upgraded version of the Queen car) as opposed to simply improving service on Lake Shore and providing streetcars with a faster route to the core? How does this relate to the proposed Park Lawn GO station?
- What route will a Waterfront West line take to reach The Queensway, and what areas will it serve?
- What are future plans for the Exhibition Place lands, and can these be served only by a line running along its northern edge under the Gardiner?
- Is an LRT line actually feasible on Bremner Boulevard given competing uses of land and traffic patterns?
- How will the line on Queens Quay West deal with increased traffic to the Island Airport?
- What can be done to improve transit capacity through Parkdale, Liberty Village and points further east along King Street? Is diversion of any of this demand a reasonable goal?
- What is the practical capacity of Union Station Loop as redesigned to accommodate more services, including the link to Union Station?
- What is the likely buildout timetable for the eastern waterfront including its transit components? When will new demands arise for which capacity must be in place in advance?
- Will eastern waterfront transit’s priority be hijacked by other “regional” plans that look good on a map, but do not provide the fine-grained access these lands will require?
The City and Province have ignored transit for the waterfront, the core area and “downtown” for years because it suits many politicians to champion transit in the suburbs where, to be fair, there is an even greater need for improvements. The problem, of course, is that development downtown has not stopped, while “transit first” threatens to be “transit last, if ever”. This must change, and soon.
Updated October 15, 2015:
The Waterfront West Environmental Assessment included various options for this line which are mentioned in the Executive Summary, but not illustrated. Here are the detailed drawings [large pdfs]. The alignments using Colborne Lodge Road are Route 3A(ii) and Route 4B.