The first of two public meetings on the City of Toronto’s so-called “reset” of transit plans for the waterfront was held on May 25, and a second is to follow tonight (May 26).
The presentation deck from these meetings is now available online.
Updated May 27, 2016 at 5:30 pm: The preliminary evaluation grids for various routing options have been added to this article following the original discussion of each section of the study. This raises an obvious question of how options can be scored before important factors such as demand projections, design and costing are known, and whether the preliminary scores will bias the discussion and evaluations to occur in Phase 2 of the study. Scroll down to the end of each section for the additional material. (Apologies for the resolution. The grids are not available online, and I am limited by the quality of the paper copies distributed at the meeting.)
There is a lot of material to digest here, and the process is not helped by several factors:
- Council has imposed a very short timeframe, considerably less than would normally be taken for the scope of work.
- All proposals that have ever been on the table for the past few decades and a few new schemes are up for discussion, including some that should have been discarded quite early in the process. In part this is due to the many incomplete studies of various sections of the route that never got to the point of killing off the unworkable options.
- The City and consultant staff presenting this material are not intimately familiar with the details of many proposals, nor with the history of how they came to be part of past studies.
- Conflicting goals of previous studies, not to mention of today’s Councillors and community groups, make a “one size fits all” solution impossible.
- Beyond identifying a few locations where GO/Metrolinx might add stations in the Lake Shore corridor, there is little discussion of the role GO/RER can and, equally importantly, cannot play in handling travel.
- There is very limited origin-destination or demand information with which to validate or compare proposals, or to put them in the wider context of competing demands for transit funding.
- A vital consideration for any network is the effect on travel times. After spending millions (or even billions), how would the speed and capacity of travel have improved?
- The real meat of any discussion remains for an as-yet unapproved “Phase 2” study that would include [text taken from the presentation]:
- Feasibility studies (including but not limited to demand forecasting, operational assessments, further developed cost estimates);
- Potential Environmental Assessment(s) or amendments to existing Environmental Assessment(s);
- Pursuing the implementation of short term strategic improvements that minimize long term throwaway costs; and
- Advancing a Business Case and pursue funding opportunities.
As someone who has worked for years in hopes of better transit service to the waterfront, all of this is quite disheartening. So many competing ideas are on the table, so many competing priorities, and so little desire to spend pervades the discussion. We may end up with nothing at all.
Growth in the Waterfront
The need for better transit to many parts of the waterfront is quite obvious to anyone who looks at the forests of new condo towers along the water and neighbourhood close by to the north. Much of the projected population growth in Toronto is located in the southern part of the city (an area considerably bigger than the traditional “downtown”), but transit improvements there always come second (at best) to proposed expansion elsewhere. Where suburban subway boosters take a “build it and they will come” approach to subway advocacy and treat rapid transit as a trigger that will, they hope, bring new population and jobs, the waterfront already has both, and is growing apace without adequate transit support. Improved transit to the eastern and western waterfront rank in the top five performers of the City’s “Feeling Congested” study.
This growth will not all arrive “tomorrow”, but it certainly will build in over coming decades. Already, access by transit across the waterfront is inadequate, and this will only get worse as time goes on.
Subdividing the Study Area
The study is broken into four segments to bring the permutations among the options down to a manageable number. This is laudable, although what can be lost is the dependencies between goals for one section with those of another.
The overall scope from Long Branch to Woodbine and north from the lake to Queen was set by Council’s terms of reference. At the May 25 meeting, a few in the audience complained that Scarborough was not part of the study. They should take this up with their Councillors, but equally this belongs in a general review of Scarborough’s transit, not just the waterfront. This is touched on but not really explored for options within section 04 that would link the eastern part of the streetcar network into a new LRT route through the Port Lands into the core.
Long Branch to Humber
The existing area contains diverse travel demands, many of which are not oriented to downtown. (Note that the skew in maps here is in the originals.)
An important issue in southern Etobicoke is that there is a great deal of “local” demand for travel within the area, or at least to locales that do not require coming east of the Humber River. At Kipling and Lake Shore, Humber College is a new major destination, and development will continue further north (some beyond the study area such as the Six Points).
The streetcar service on Lake Shore might, or might not, be upgraded to “LRT” although exactly what this would mean is up for debate. The worst of traffic congestion occurs at the east end of the line, and it is not clear that a private right-of-way and, possibly, the loss of some local stops would benefit transit quality further west. For one section of the route, through Mimico, the road is too narrow to allow conversion to “LRT” in the style of Spadina or St. Clair.
GO stations are mentioned here as a possibility, but there are a few obvious problems:
- Without attractive fares, people will not use them unless convenience overwhelms cost.
- Station locations well north of Lake Shore cannot be accessed directly except for riders on the north-south bus routes serving them.
- GO will not stop at such closely-spaced points, certainly not for its long-haul trains to Hamilton and beyond that will remain as diesel operations.
- There is a basic question about service capacity both on present and future infrastructure.
The outer part of the Waterfront West LRT scheme has always been the most challenging in terms of the area it will serve, and the nature of demand along the Lake Shore. This is something of a chicken-and-egg problem because streetcar service to downtown has not been reliable or attractive for decades, and this route becomes a choice of last resort. How much this might change depends not just on improved frequency and speed of service on Lake Shore itself, but on what happens on the long trek to downtown for which options and choices in other segments are vital.
Three options are considered:
This amounts to little more than some sort of improved streetcar service, but without a full conversion to an “LRT” right-of-way.
Lake Shore would be upgraded with a full right-of-way treatment. This runs into problems at the narrow section in Mimico, and the question of whether it is actually needed on the wider part of Lake Shore further west.
This concept responds to proposals for an LRT line on The Queensway. What is not clear is whether the demand that might originate there is (a) sufficient to warrant an LRT line or (b) actually oriented to downtown as opposed to points north and west, or to midtown locations via the Bloor subway. The Queensway LRT option has been dropped from further study because it is remote from the waterfront itself and does not address demand in the Lake Shore corridor.
Update: Preliminary Evaluation
Both options on Lake Shore score “Very Good”, although that’s a bit of a stretch considering that both 1A and 1B have different scores on several aspects. The Queensway option 1C scores lower both because it is remote from Lake Shore, and because its cost is higher as a new line rather than an upgrade to existing infrastructure. What is not clear in this or any other evaluations is the weight given to each component, or the degree to which the same external effect (e.g. close to the water) counts multiple times under different criteria.
Humber to Strachan
This segment presents two types of problems in that it has the characteristics both of a “bridge” between two origin-destination areas, but it also might be called on to provide local service to neighbourhoods along the route. Much depends on the chosen alignment, and all of the desired services and links cannot be provided by a single route:
- Liberty Village is a fast-growing area north of Exhibition Place now served primarily by the King streetcar, although the area is building out north to Queen and will tax that route as well. Aside from service capacity, a major problem is physical access from the residential area north of the rail corridor to potential new services further south.
- Although outside of this segment, the condo developments from Fort York eastward might or might not be served by any new through route coming east through the Exhibition grounds.
- Proposed development on Lake Shore near and within the Ontario Place site is remote from any service along the existing streetcar network or a westerly extension beside the rail corridor.
- Service to South Parkdale including a connection to existing service on Roncesvalles will be difficult or impossible for some of the proposed alignments.
- Any service passing through Exhibition Place must be immune from seasonal and special events in the grounds. It is pointless to advertise a “rapid transit” service to southern Etobicoke if it shuts down every time there is a game at BMO field, or the grounds are taken over for the CNE or a racing event.
- Potential GO sites are shown below at Sunnyside and Parkdale/Liberty Village. GO has already criticized both of these as difficult if not impossible for their trains due to space constraints and platform curvature.
Six proposals for this area attempt to thread from a common origin at Humber.
This concept’s name “Complete the Missing Link” is a political one originating with a Councillor for southern Etobicoke. Its premise is to link into the existing Exhibition Loop after travelling south of the Gardiner along Lake Shore between Sunnyside and Dufferin. The existing Queensway right-of-way from Humber eastward would be used, but it is unclear how the route would fly over or under the rail corridor and Gardiner Expressway to reach Lake Shore Boulevard. Note that the transition occurs west of Roncesvalles roughly at the lowest point of the Queensway trackage relative to the other corridors. (A transition at Roncesvalles itself is not practical because of the intersection’s complexity and existing levels of road and transit traffic.)
This and other schemes linking directly to Exhibition Loop raise the question of how the existing access to GO Transit’s station (immediately west of the streetcar loop) would be handled if the streetcar trackage is extended further west.
A route north of the rail corridor would branch off somewhere around Roncesvalles and be sandwiched between GO Transit and the south end of properties to the north. It would arrive at Exhibition Loop on the “wrong” side of the rail corridor to connect with the existing infrastructure.
This option has been dropped from study because it has severe effects on properties in south Parkdale along the north edge of the rail corridor. It also would have a more difficult connection right at Roncesvalles rather than further west clear of traffic and other streetcar routes.
In concepts 2C and 2D, the LRT line does not enter Humber Loop, but stays on Lake Shore from that point eastward. In one option (2C above) it swings south of the Exhibition passing by Ontario Place, while in the other (2D below) it follows the same path as 2A along the north side of the Ex. These options have the advantage of avoiding the King/Queen/Roncesvalles area and the general problem of crossing the rail corridor, but they are very much express routes from the Humber to Strachan serving little in between. North-south access would be possible, but it would not be a simple or short link in many places. The route along the south side is remote from much of the population in south Parkdale and Liberty Village.
Another variation on the Lake Shore routing is to stay with the right-of-way on The Queensway as far east as Colborne Lodge Road and then swing south to Lake Shore.
Finally, with Concept 2F, the “LRT” stays entirely on the existing streetcar system via The Queensway, King Street and Dufferin Street. This is a difficult option considering the level of service already operating on King and through the Roncesvalles intersection, not to mention road congestion in the area. This option would almost certainly have the slowest travel time of all, and though cheaper, might not be very attractive to potential riders. There is not much point of improving an “LRT” in Etobicoke only to have it morph into an ordinary streetcar line in Parkdale.
Update: Preliminary Evaluation
The two lowest ranked options (“Fair”) are 2B (North of Rail Corridor) and 2C (Lake Shore LRT), although for different reasons. Everything else comes out with a “Good” although various components contribute to this.
A good example of the inconsistencies in this process can be seen in 2F (Dufferin/King) which ranks low on speed and capacity, but high on cost because it is cheapest. Without an actual demand projection (a process that itself will produce variable outputs depending on the network configuration), we do not know whether there is a screenline below which some options simply do not work. A “very good” construction cost may not represent good value for the task at hand, but that’s not part of the evaluation.
Strachan to Parliament
The downtown segment has many options including four routes from Strachan to Bay, and various schemes for dealing with Union Station. All of the approaches from the west have problems, and there is no clear, simple path to Union Station.
This is a point where the planners’ stance gets a bit complicated. On one hand, they say that for the eastern waterfront, they are using the already completed (and approved) Environmental Assessment for the LRT line, but on the other hand, the access to Union Station is up for major redesign to the point where very little of the “approved” LRT remains. The presentation dwelt on the cost of linking in both at Union, and further east at Parliament/Cherry, even though this was less of an issue further west, and certainly does not inform major proposals elsewhere in the network.
To put it another way, there appears to be a bias against certain configurations before we have even worked out which of them works best as a transit scheme. This is particularly evident in comments about Union Station (see the next section of this article for details).
Unlike the options further west, the concepts here link with specific alignments to either side. What might be a “preferred” or “better” option seen in isolation might not work well with the chosen plans to the east or west.
Using the existing Fleet Street route (an area that was specifically improved in anticipation of the WWLRT) implies that the line further west would come into the north side of the Ex south of the rail corridor to the existing loop. Fleet presents issues at Bathurst because of the need for all service to swing south across Lake Shore (which gets a lot of green time while transit awaits its cycle), and because of the comparatively slow journey into Union via the 509 route.
The “Bremner streetcar” has been around for a long time in TTC plans, but it has several major problems:
- The proposed route north via Fort York Boulevard from Fleet Street potentially conflicts with activity at Fort York itself as well as the future “Under Gardiner” project.
- There is no provision for a transit right-of-way on Fort York Boulevard west of Bathurst.
- There is no provision for a transit right-of-way on Fort York/Bremner east of Spadina, an area noted for severe congestion and large crowds of pedestrians around the stadium.
Over the years, it has been fascinating to see this line show up repeatedly on maps giving the impression that no planner has ever been south of Front Street. During the presentation, mention was made by the consultant that a tunnel approach might be needed, and I suspect that the tunnel grows further west every time the idea is reviewed. However, existing underground structures south of the Convention Centre could well block this option.
An alignment north of the rail corridor would pick up the new street planned for the south end of Liberty Village. However, this really only works if the corresponding option 2b is selected, and it has been dropped.
Also, this would leave the line “dangling” at Bathurst Street where it would face a very congested Front Street that is designed for motor traffic, not transit.
The presentation included a bizarre comment about how a Front Street alignment might serve a future GO station on the Bathurst Yard lands. It is unclear how what would essentially be a streetcar line would handle the effect of 2,000 at a time peak loads alighting from GO Trains. Moreover, just like GO, an LRT/streetcar originating in southern Etobicoke and serving Liberty Village would be full by the time it arrived at Spadina.
Finally, there is a tiny problem with Front Street at Union Station where the street has been substantially pedestrianized.
This whole idea is badly thought out, and should have been struck in Phase 1 of the study, but it survives.
Finally we come to the continuation of a Lake Shore alignment. This, like concept 3A, connects to the Queens Quay trackage shared with 509 Harbourfront and thence to Union, but it would connect at Bathurst/Lake Shore in a different manner, further to the south.
Update: Preliminary Evaluation
Only the “North of Rail Corridor” option 3C ranks as “Fair” with all others as “Good”.
The Union Station Conundrum
Four sets of options are presented to deal with capacity issues at Union Loop:
- Modify the loop
- Build a second loop specifically for the new western LRT
- Through-route service on Queens Quay east and west
- Redistribute access to the waterfront
Before going into the details, it is important to remember how we got into this mess in the first place. When the TTC designed Union Loop, they grossly overestimated its capacity at the time including:
- No provision was made for the platform space lost to car swingout on the very tight curve.
- The full capacity of the passageway between the subway and loop was assumed to be available for unidirectional flow when, in practice, half of the space is consumed for queued passengers.
Here is the loop as originally designed.
The loop is constrained to the east and west by the Customs House building and Union Station respectively. The passageway to the north now terminates on the new northbound-to-Yonge platform of the subway station which is at the south side of Front Street.
The last time a design for an expanded loop was published was back in 2009 before the arrival of Mayor Ford stopped all work on waterfront transit in its tracks.
Even this design is not current because a link is planned to a new building on the east side of Bay that will contain the new GO bus terminal. A spur structure is shown in the drawing above, but it is unclear what platform area it would link with, particularly for riders wishing to ride south on the streetcar/LRT services.
The optional link into the railway station has not been built, of course, because this expansion project which could have been undertaken concurrently with other work at the railway station and on Queens Quay just sat on the shelf.
This is still a tight layout especially if three separate services would operate here and the whole thing would require much more capacity simply for pedestrian circulation.
Now let’s look at the options that the “reset” is contemplating. Take a deep breath – truckloads of crayons gave their lives to bring you these designs.
A.1 is the scheme shown in the TTC drawing above and includes the new junction to the eastern waterfront line at Queens Quay. This was the state of design as of about 2010. As mentioned earlier, there are serious question to be asked about the loop’s capacity, and one alternative scheme was to extend a new tunnel east under the rail corridor presumably through the substructure of the rail viaduct to a point east of Yonge and then south to Queens Quay.
This would avoid the creation of a junction or the need for streetcars to turn around at Union. One issue to be resolved would be access across the tracks between the subway station and the north/eastbound platform for the streetcars.
The planners are not much enamoured of this scheme because it requires a tunnel and would be expensive. Also, operationally, this scheme would require all service arriving at Union to continue east to wherever the first turnback will be built on Queens Quay (likely east of Parliament). This creates a link between the eastern and western services that could be hard to manage (think of the Queen car and its through service to Long Branch).
For reference, the original scheme A.1 above would have emerged onto Queens Quay just west of Freeland Street.
The second loop scheme would require an underground loop somewhere west of the Air Canada Centre. This will be challenging considering that the space is already occupied by the Convention Centre. Moreover, the walking link to Union would be fairly long and riders from the west might rightly ask if this is how they will be expected to access the subway and core area. (I think here of Scarborough riders who complain about the Kennedy Station SRT transfer which, compared to this, is short and sweet.)
In scheme C.1 service from the west (or at least some of it) does not enter Union Loop but continues through to Queens Quay east. No service design has been proposed, and in any event this does not address the additional demand that riders bound for the eastern waterfront will place on Union Loop.
Now things get really blue sky, although for a tunnel that is probably not the appropriate metaphor. The existing Bay Street tunnels would be converted into pedestrian and cycling links from Front Street to Queens Quay (how the cyclists would get in and out has not been explained).
A few points are worth noting here:
- Such a link would impose a 500m walk (about the length of three subway stations) on the connection from Queens Quay to the core. This will very substantially add to travel times.
- A long walk is an accessibility issue, especially if the walkway is not functioning, a not uncommon situation for TTC infrastructure of this nature.
- The existing link to the Island Airport is slightly less than 1/3 of the length of the Bay Street tunnel.
- The example shown above from Amsterdam is a mere 110m long.
In other words, we would rip out the direct link from Union Station to the waterfront that so changed access to this area a quarter-century ago because we don’t want to expand capacity at the loop.
The street level bypass would provide a combination of street trackage for through service to Queens Quay east and access via the existing tunnel to Union. This would consume a great deal of space at the already busy Queens Quay/Bay intersection which has just been redesigned. This option is a non-starter and has been dropped.
In this scheme, the existing tunnel access on Queens Quay disappears, and all service runs through to Queens Quay East. The idea that the demand between Union and the Queens Quay service would be provided by an “enhanced” Bay bus service is laughable given the usual state of traffic in this area, and the need for thousands of passengers to transfer on street. Again, the travel time, all in, for trips to/from Bay and Front would be substantially longer thanks to this arrangement.
Its purpose, by the way, is to get rid of the tunnel portal and thereby beautify Queens Quay, a project which recently completed at great public cost.
An on street loop around downtown would add to the existing service on King the very substantial traffic of streetcars serving the waterfront. Again, there is an absence of basic analysis of traffic and passenger volumes, not to mention travel time, that should knock this scheme off of the table.
Even more fanciful is an LRT extension up Bay Street. The idea that Bay Street actually has room for a new streetcar service either at grade or underground (where it would run smack into many services including the existing subway) is one of those proposals that make seasoned transit activists like me weep. This is so far away from any version of “reasonable” that I have to ask whether a pot dispensary has opened near the project office.
Parliament to Woodbine
The western part of this segment contains the already-approved waterfront east line including:
- A link north under the rail corridor to the new trackage on Cherry Street
- A link east via Commissioners to Leslie and trackage serving Leslie Barns
- A link north via an extended Broadview Avenue to Queen and thence north to Broadview Station
- A link south to Cherry at the Ship Channel
The matter of the link from Queens Quay to Cherry came up in the May 25 session, but the presenters didn’t know much about it beyond that it might be expensive. This is an odd statement considering that the detailed layout for New Cherry Street is part of the EBF transit scheme, and the link shows up in drawings of the revamped Gardiner Expressway. Indeed, the reason the new track on Cherry is on the east side of the street is so that it will easily hook up with the south-side trackage on Queens Quay once that is built.
As for links to the east, it is unclear why an “LRT” paralleling Queen beyond what is already planned for Commissioners is needed as the section between Leslie and Woodbine does not see much congestion. There is again the question of the comparative travel times for riders bound to the core via Queen Street as opposed to the more roundabout route through the waterfront, especially if a direct service into Union Station is cut as proposed above.
Two schemes for an eastern link are proposed, one via Lake Shore and one via Eastern. The link via Lake Shore connects at Woodbine, and therefore could not be used for a Kingston Road service to downtown unless it was extended north. Lake Shore itself is quite busy and attempts to shift the carhouse access to any route that would have installed track there were rebuffed strongly by the TTC and the City.
The Eastern corridor would link to the south and of Russell Carhouse (another Leslie Barns access option the TTC and City rejected), and thence to Kingston Road. Whether this would be any benefit to riders from the Beach or from Kingston Road is quite another matter.
Update: Preliminary Evaluation