This article is based on the public presentation held on September 18, 2017 at Harbourfront Centre. A similar presentation will be held in southern Etobicoke on September 26.
The “Waterfront Transit Reset” project was launched by Council at the end of 2015 to review all of the outstanding plans for transit from the Mississauga border to Woodbine Avenue. The first phase of this review reported in July 2016, and that provided the springboard for Phase 2 which will report to Executive Committee on October 24, and thence to Council at its meeting beginning on November 7.
Given the geographic scope, the review has been broken down into segments (and a few sub-segments) to focus on problems particular to locations across the waterfront. The four main segments are:
- Southern Etobicoke
- Humber River to Strachan including Parkdale and Exhibition Place
- Strachan to Parliament including the Central Waterfront and much of East Bayfront
- Parliament to Woodbine including the Port Lands
The presentation was done west to east, and in a single go without questions. This was something of a marathon for the audience, and I am not sure this was the best approach given the complexity of issues in some areas. As someone who has followed the detail of this study since its inception and participated in consultation sessions, I am quite familiar with the issues and was just getting an update. Those who came to this fresh, as many did, had a lot to take in.
A further problem is that the presentation included no cost estimates, and limited information on issues such as construction effects and complexity that could inform a choice between alternatives. This is particularly true of the review of Union Station. There are no travel time estimates to show what time savings, if any, various options present. Such estimates must exist as they are a critical input to the demand modelling process.
For this article, I will take a different approach and deal with the simpler parts of the study first just to get them out of the way, leaving the knottiest problems to the end.
Updated September 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm:
Projected Demand in the Waterfront
The heart of any transportation study is the demand projection for various components under review. The chart below shows the 2041 AM peak hour demands forecast by the City’s planning model.
There is a fundamental difference between the projected demands from the western part of the line and the eastern one. From the west, the demand has the conventional inbound-to-core pattern for the AM peak. At the core and to the east, the peak flow is outbound, south to Queens Quay and east to new office and school developments.
This chart is missing some vital data that would put other parts of the discussion in a better context:
- It assumes the presence of the Bremner link although this is the least likely to be built beyond an upgraded bus service.
- There is no screenline west of Bay Street to indicate the demand arriving and leaving to the west right at the portal. With 2,350 going east and 3,700 coming south, this implies a substantial outbound demand to the west. Without the 750 each way on Bremner, these numbers would be higher.
- The comment about higher demand in the east without the Relief Line does not explain whether the modelled values shown here include that line or not.
It is impossible to evaluate the demand numbers when there is no sense of staging of projects or of networks with some pieces “in” or “out” of the mix.
There is also no sense of the time frame over which the various demands will evolve, only that this is the 2041 end state. Any decision of the order of projects (and indeed their worth relative to other parts of the transit network) must be in the context of changes that are anticipated in the short, medium and long terms. This also begs the question of whether there are changes in the pipeline that will require heroic efforts in building up transit service to avoid short changing growing parts of the city (much as we already see in Liberty Village).
Another factor in any plans for the Waterfront network is the degree to which it serves major entertainment and recreational destinations. This will bring substantially stronger off-peak and seasonal demands that would be found on the transit network as a whole.
Ridership growth on the TTC has been stronger during the off peak period, if only because there has been so little growth in peak service. Strong off-peak demand is good for transit economics because the fixed cost of infrastructure is spread over more hours and riders, but the flip side is that peak riders have more incentive to abandon the TTC.
The study only considered the area east from Bay Street in a minor way because this had already been the subject of previous detailed work including an EA for the initial segment extending streetcar service to Parliament and Queens Quay. Other lines are part of the eastern waterfront plans:
- Queens Quay connection east to Cherry
- Cherry connection north to Distillery Loop and south to the Ship Channel
- Commissioners connection east to Leslie Street and Barns
- Broadview connection south to Commissioners
There is also the proposed Relief Line that would serve the development at East Harbour (the Unilever site) and connect with the King and Cherry streetcars at Sumach Street, as well as a planned GO station serving East Harbour.
Demand east from Leslie to Woodbine is trivial, and this area would be served with, at most, improved bus service for the foreseeable future.
The idea of a Bremner streetcar has been around for ages even though there really isn’t room for one on the streets where it would run, and nobody has explained how it would deal with the congestion accompanying any event at the Dome (aka Rogers Centre). The projected demand is nowhere near LRT territory, and some of the design options elsewhere would preclude construction of the line.
Looking at the western part of the streetcar line, there are a few issues on the table:
- Reconfiguration of GO and TTC facilities at Long Branch Loop to make a more convenient connection between streetcar, bus and train services.
- Whether a through service from Mississauga should operate into Toronto either as a western extension of the streetcar line or as a bus link, possibly through-routed north to Kipling Station and the Etobicoke City Centre at the Six Points.
- How much development and associated transit demand will occur at the Lakeview site, and where this demand will originate.
It is fairly evident that a streetcar extension is not in the cards both because of likely demand levels and because the Toronto streetcar and Mississauga LRT networks are incompatible. The Six Points is also served by transit routes originating further north in Mississauga and by the GO Milton line. The Lake Shore corridor is not the only way riders from the west will reach this area.
The study also considered ferry operations briefly. The fundamental problem for any ferry route is that the extra time required for access at both end of the trip must be offset by having a substantial demand close to the terminals. The service frequency must not impose an undue delay on trips that might be taken on other, frequent services. There has been no detailed review of sailing times or frequency, dock requirements, connecting services, foul weather operations or costs. This hobbles criticism of the mode, and gives an opening for politicians seeking a magic solution that will avoid taking road space or spending a lot to expand rail-based infrastructure.
On the outer end of the route, the demand is low enough that streetcar service is all that is needed. Moreover, in places, there are road width constraints preventing dedication of exclusive lanes for transit. There is also the passenger boarding issue of providing safety islands at all stops to eliminate traffic conflicts and to speed loading. The ability to do this varies from one section to another.
A challenge here will be to ensure that service is reliable (something the TTC does poorly), and that signal priority means what it says. On The Queensway, the combination of “signal priority” and farside stops has actually slowed operations.
For the narrower parts of Lake Shore, one option proposed is the “Roncesvalles design” with curb lane bump outs at stops. Lake Shore is an arterial road, and with considerably less transit service, especially at off peak, than on Roncesvalles, a more local street where the through traffic demand is lower. This is not a viable option for Lake Shore.
East of Legion Road, the line would operate in reserved lanes to Humber Loop although the configuration would be different for eastbound and westbound traffic.
- The reserved lane eastbound would begin at Park Lawn.
- The reserved lane westbound would end at Legion Road. This is possible because as part of redevelopment, land can be acquired on the north side of Lake Shore to widen the road and make room for the transit lane.
With the redevelopment of the Christie’s site, a new loop is proposed to replace Humber Loop’s function. This would extend the 501 Queen cars out to the condo strip on Lake Shore, and would possibly be a western terminus for part of the service on the new waterfront link to the core bypassing Queen and King.
Humber Bay to Dufferin
This area has been the subject of a previous study, the Western Waterfront Plan, that proposed a reconfiguration of Lake Shore Boulevard to reclaim part of the existing median space for a transit right-of-way and to shift the eastbound lanes to the north freeing up parkland to the south.
Three alignment options for this section survived from Phase 1 into Phase 2.
- Option 2A follows the existing Queensway streetcar right-of-way to Roncesvalles and then crossed to the rail corridor on its own bridge. This option would have made the existing King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection even more complex than it already is. A planned route along the embankment north of the rail corridor is no longer feasible due to the additional clearances needed for GO electrification. (The transit corridor would have to be further north encroaching on residential property even more than in the original plan.)
- Option 2D remains on Lake Shore rather than jogging north to The Queensway at Humber Loop. This option was rejected because it involves a difficult crossing at the Humber River.
- Option 2E is the recommended one. It uses The Queensway between Humber Loop and Colborne Lodge Road (the main road through the centre of High Park), and then dodges south to Lake Shore.
One of the options dropped in Phase 1 was to link the new waterfront route to Exhibition Place via The Queensway, King and Dufferin. This would take a supposedly faster route to the core through an area of severe congestion compared with a protected right-of-way.
Colborne Lodge Road would be closed to traffic and reconfigured with transit in the east span of the underpass, and a combined pedestrian/cycling area in the west span. To provide sufficient clearance, the road level for the transit span would be lowered slightly. This arrangement places the transit junction at a comparatively quiet location and uses a link that does not now have much road demand. True transit priority for the turning moves across eastbound traffic at The Queensway and westbound traffic at Lake Shore will be essential to avoiding a bottleneck here.
East from Colborne Lodge Road, the streetcar would run in the median of a revised Lake Shore Boulevard where the new road layout would narrow the width of intersections, an important consideration anywhere there will be significant pedestrian traffic.
Missing from the presentation (although it was included in the display boards) is the detail of the route from Sunnyside through South Parkdale to Dufferin including possible stop locations and new/altered bridges linking South Parkdale to the waterfront. This is a major omission in the slide deck, and it erroneously gives the impression that the route would run express from Colborne Lodge to at least Dufferin. That is not the intent. The illustration below is taken from the display panels online, and its poor resolution is a due to the quality of material the City posted.
Through Exhibition Place
This section of the route would link existing track at Dufferin Loop (the CNE Western Entrance Loop) to the main Exhibition Loop adjacent to the GO station.
The map above does not show clearly that the link west to Sunnyside would attach directly at Dufferin Street to the proposed extension between the two existing loops. Council has already authorized design work to 30% on this link.
A related issue here is that Metrolinx plans to revamp its facilities at the GO station, and the combined GO/TTC corridor will require an underpass for pedestrian traffic.
In a truly hilarious turn of events, Ontario Place is now talking about transit access, an option it rejected a quarter-century ago when this line was first proposed. They were more concerned to preserve their parking lot than they were to make access to their site easy for transit riders.
Exhibition Place itself is considering a new master plan, and this will trigger more talk of transit access. Unfortunately when they built what is now called the Enercare Centre on the site of the old Exhibition Loop, they pushed transit as far from the site and its attractions as possible.
These situations are tributes to short-sighted planning and the second-class position of transit as these prime sites contemplated their future business plans.
Bathurst-Fleet-Lake Shore-Queens Quay
The intersection at Bathurst has been a mess ever since the Harbourfront line was built. The largest presence is Lake Shore Boulevard, a wide arterial road that gets as much green time for traffic as possible, at times more than is actually required. But it is a road and we must not disrupt road traffic.
The study considered three options to reconfigure this intersection:
- 3A: Operational improvements to the existing layout.
- 3B: Realignment of the streetcar tracks to better separate transit, pedestrians and road traffic.
- 3C: Grade separation of the 509 Harbourfront line and relocation of the 511 Bathurst route to Fort York Boulevard.
The realignment scheme is the favoured option both for cost, and for its relative simplicity. Breaking the Bathurst link at Fort York Boulevard would eliminate the ability to through route service from Bathurst to Queens Quay, and it would put streetcars on the narrow Fort York Boulevard that was designed as a bypass road around the main intersection at Queens Quay. The underground option would also be expensive and difficult to build given its location (landfill in the former harbour, and an area of numerous underground utilities).
The relocation would not stop at Lake Shore, but would continue south to Queens Quay and east to the “crossover” east of the Music Garden where the centre right-of-way shifts to the south side of the road. This would complete the reconfiguration of Queens Quay that was cut short as a cost saving measure just west of Spadina.
The connection to Union Station from Queens Quay has vexed planners for years. Improving the capacity of this connection is fundamental to the addition of any new service, notably one to the eastern waterfront where demand is expected to be well above that now handled by the combined Harbourfront/Spadina services.
A further problem lies in the desire by parts of the Queens Quay community to eliminate the tunnel portal west of Bay and to avoid the creation of another one at Freeland Street, east of Yonge.
This has triggered a level of effort on reviewing alternatives to the existing use of the Bay Street tunnel that would render the transit link to the waterfront much less useful than it is today. (That’s my mild mannered opinion, and a much earthier version cannot be expressed in polite company.)
From the amount of work already expended, I sense that “the fix is in” even though the project is still claiming it has not chosen an option and further analysis is required. Somebody very badly wants to re-purpose the Bay Street tunnel, and to hell with the result for the transit network and riders. We might well be seeing the “Kirby Effect” in action.
Three options are under consideration for the Union to Queens Quay link, with sub-options for all of them.
Option A: Improved Streetcar Link
Union Station Loop is far too small to handle the project passenger volumes. Indeed it cannot handle some peak demands today. There has long been a proposal to add tracks on either side of the existing ones and to build platforms along the north-south segments. This would place them roughly under the existing sidewalks of Bay Street and, depending on their width, the teamways.
In both options, there would be a long new platform on the east side of Bay with provision for two long loading platforms and crossovers so that cars serving each platform would not block each other. This platform would also provide a walkway from Union Station to the new bus terminal south of the rail corridor.
In Option A1, there would also be a shorter platform on the west side of Bay that could serve a Bremner line, or could allow separation of westbound and eastbound services between the two sides of the loop.
In either case, an important operational change would be to ensure that each service through the loop had its own platform. The reference to a “mainline station” in the slide below seeks to deal with blockage of services that occurs today when a car on one route (say 509 Harbourfront) takes a layover holding up a car on the other (510 Spadina). This would not be a consideration if each route were able to bypass the others.
Option B: Walkway and Moving Sidewalk
Option B would replace the streetcar link to Queens Quay with a combination of walkway and moving sidewalk.
Physical constraints in the tunnels prevent installation of two moving walkways within one tunnel. The proposal would have only one such facility and it would operate in the peak direction only. No, I am not making this up. The direct link from streetcar service to the subway at Union would be replaced with a walk of 530m, longer than three subway platforms, for anyone who was not travelling in the “peak” direction.
The proposal includes breaks in the moving sidewalk to deal with curves and grade changes, and would provide for “connections to destinations along the tunnel”. Only Option B provides this capability in the plan, and the City needs to be clear about whether this is an actual “requirement” or simply an add-on to make the option more palatable. It should be noted that similar functionality would be provided, at least in part, by the extended platforms of the “A” streetcar options.
At Queens Quay, there are two options for a station (these also apply to Option C) with the station either on the surface on Queens Quay or underground.
If the station is on the surface, vertical access would be provided by stairways, and anyone require an accessible route would have to use elevators or escalators in nearby buildings and then navigate to the streetcar station across road lanes. The wait at a major transfer point would be in the open air, a considerably less attractive arrangement than with streetcars running through to Union Loop.
An underground passageway could also have an exit south of Queens Quay to the plaza at the ferry terminal.
In earlier studies, the idea of bringing the streetcars to the surface on Bay somewhere north of Queens Quay was reviewed. This brings on two problems:
- None of the blocks between east-west streets is long enough to fit the portal and ramp up to the surface with a grade streetcars can operate.
- The volume of transit movement at the Bay and Queens Quay intersection, coupled with large pedestrian volumes here, would make the area very difficult to operate.
Any surface station on Queens Quay requires sufficient circulation capacity to move a substantial number of riders to and from the walkway or cable car station below, including good provision for those with mobility issues.
If the streetcar goes underground, the passageway would end at the westbound platform, and riders wishing to reach the eastbound platform would have to cross the tracks. The volume of pedestrian traffic would be considerably higher if, as is likely, a ferry terminal connection were included.
City Planning staff are rather dismissive of TTC concerns about the transit/pedestrian crossing and cavalierly say this could be handled with platform doors or gates. This raises questions about the TTC’s role in the process and whether the City is driving the replacement of streetcars in the Bay Street tunnel no matter what.
I have not included an illustration of the underground station as the one included in the presentation does not accurately portray the alignment including the need for pedestrians to cross the streetcar tracks. (See page 43 of the presentation deck.)
One issue with a surface streetcar station is that the area between Bay and Yonge is now used to access the Harbour Castle hotel. One proposal, not shown in the presentation, would involve filling in the Yonge Street slip and reorienting hotel access to the land this would create. Filling in the slip would also make construction of any underground structure here, including a streetcar tunnel, somewhat less challenging by moving the water further south of Queens Quay. This proposal should be common to whatever option is chosen.
Option C: Cable Car “Funicular”
Option C replaces the streetcars in the tunnel with a cable car system. The intent is to operate a frequent shuttle service between Union and Queens Quay using four trains, two in each tunnel. The trains would pass at the midpoint, roughly at Lake Shore Boulevard, where the tunnel would be widened to provide passing tracks, but otherwise this would be a through trip with no intermediate stops. The option of connections to adjacent development are not included, and this begs the question of whether they are “must haves” or “nice to haves”.
(For those unfamiliar with the term, a “funicular” is a railway, usually on a steep grade, that operates with two cars on a single track and a passing siding half way along the route.)
The diagram below claims that the capacity is 8,250 passengers per hour per direction, far above the need of the transit link. It is quite clear that the City sees this as a supplement to the north-south pedestrian capacity from Union to Queens Quay, but does not explain how this would fit with a closed connection into the subway. The reliability claim shown below is simply not credible and smells annoyingly like the hype from a would-be supplier, not a realistic long term value.
At an operating speed of 10m/s, the 530m trip would take almost a minute (allowing for acceleration and deceleration) plus dwell time at platforms. The stated capacity requires 66 trips per hour, or a 54 second headway, and this number clearly inflates what the line can handle. The full capacity is not actually required, but such basis mistakes raises a question of whether this proposal has been examined beyond the level of marketing literature.
The stations at the north and south end of the shuttle would occupy the existing Union Loop and Queens Quay station space, and relocates the mechanical rooms now in the middle of Union Loop to the west side.
The technology is touted as “readily adaptable”, and City staff claimed that “thousands” of such systems exist around the world. This is simply not true, although funiculars are used to deal with difficult links with major changes in grade.
The station at Queens Quay presents similar issues for Option C as in Option B.
Union Loop and the Function of the Bay Street Tunnel
The impetus for these proposals comes from two sources. One, a problem that has bedevilled waterfront transit plans for years, is the cost of expanding Union Loop. This is work that should have been done while the Harbourfront line was closed for reconstruction of Queens Quay, but that got underway during a City Hall administration for which expanding streetcar capability was simply not an option. The amount of money needed is considerable, and figures like $400-500 million have been kicked around, albeit for a more complex version of the loop than the A2 version above. Moreover, the Bremner streetcar complicates whatever is done at Union, and it is clear from Options B and C (and the low demand projections) that this line is dead in the water and should be removed from the plans.
The A2 platform can be substantially built while the streetcar service remains in operation, unlike the B and C options that would require at a minimum:
- Pre-building of the eastern waterfront line at least to Parliament so that streetcar service would have some place to terminate.
- A minimum of one year shutdown of the tunnel itself to retrofit the new technology, whatever it might be, and no streetcar service east of Spadina until through operations were restored on Queens Quay.
There are three primary ways that people get from Union Station to Queens Quay during the AM peak today:
- Walking through the PATH network linking Union Station, the ACC and various buildings to emerge in the food court serving 10 and 20 Bay Street (blue line below).
- Taking the streetcar from Union.
- Walking on the surface.
The proportions are shown in the chart below with the note that a half of riders only travel between Queens Quay station and Union during the peak hour southbound, but only 5 per cent do so northbound. Anyone who has ridden streetcars eastbound along Queens Quay to Union will be well aware that this is a well-used service whose trips do not originate at the ferry docks and nearby condos that are already in walking distance of the subway.
Looking at 2041, the City foresees very substantial increases in travel between Front and Queens Quay with about 40 percent of the peak direction travel by transit and over half of the counterpeak travel. What is missing from this chart is a dis-aggregation of trips to show which path would be most likely taken by each group. Indeed, many of the trips shown will remain as walking trips.
There appears to be an attempt here to justify a major increase in the capacity of the tunnel (possible in theory with the cable car option) based on projections of pedestrian volumes. However, this ignores the very real question of whether people would go out of their way to use the cable car rather than simply walking, especially if their destination was not directly served by it.
This simplistic analysis reinforces the sense that there is an already-established preference for Option C within some part of the project team, likely the City as their staff put forward the capacity issues and are the greatest apologists for this option. The TTC is not amused, but has not put that case forcefully in public.
This is a biased presentation aimed at one technology and it skews an otherwise reasonable set of proposals for the waterfront as a whole.
What to do at Union?
There is no question that greater capacity is needed in what, broadly speaking, is the “Bay Street Corridor”, but this must be understood for all of its components. How many of the 10k/hour projected are bound for locations between Union Station and Queens Quay, notably the new developments at the corridor and immediately south of it? What are the implications for recreational trips including those bound for events at Exhibition Place? What additional inconvenience do future riders of eastern and western waterfront lines face to make their “last mile” connection at Union?
One option that does not even appear in any plans is a continuous underground passageway separate from the transit tunnel. Option A will create a platform extending all the way from the existing loop under the east side of Bay to the new bus terminal at Lake Shore. New developments planned between there and Queens Quay could be designed to continue this link further south. This would provide new weather-protected walking capacity extending the PATH system while maintaining the streetcar operation for riders bound for points east and west.
The planners must go back to their drawing boards and provide a much more comprehensive review of movements both for commuter peaks and recreational travel to understand how components of the “solutions” at Union would be used.
The TTC needs to be much more vocal in their opinion of the viability of various options so that we are not railroaded into a “solution” that they will gripe about for decades to come.
If there is political influence behind the scenes, it should be smoked out so that the public will understand what is really driving transit decisions in the waterfront.