This is the third and final part of my review of the transit reports that will be before Toronto’s Executive Committee on April 9, 2019, and at Council a week later.
In part one, I reviewed the financial issues presented in the reports together with the Scarborough Subway Extension, now known as the Line 2 East Extension (L2EE).
In part two, I turned to SmartTrack, the Relief Line and the Bloor-Yonge station expansion project.
This article reviews the streetcar/LRT projects as presented in the current set of reports.
Relevant documents include:
- Main report: Toronto’s Transit Expansion Program – Update and Next Steps
- Attachment 1: A status update on all projects
- Attachment 3: Waterfront Transit Network – Union Station-Queens Quay Link and East Bayfront Light Rail Transit. [Note: The properties of this attachment were incorrectly set by the authors. Although it really is Attachment 3, it appears on browser tabs as if it were Attachment 2 for the Scarborough Extension.]
- Attachment 4: Eglinton East LRT
- Attachment 5: Eglinton West LRT
Much of the LRT network still at some stage of design or construction is a remnant of the Transit City plan announced in 2007. Pieces have have fallen off of that network proposal, notably in Scarborough, but also a few key links that would have knitted the network together allowing sharing of carhouse and maintenance facilities. Confusion about the planning, ownership and funding scheme for parts of the network complicates the situation further.
Although the province has announced that it wishes to take over “the subway”, the boundary is unclear because a previous government decided to take over at least part of the Transit City LRT network, notably the Eglinton/Crosstown and Finch West routes. The Ford government prefers to put as much transit underground as possible, but if Toronto wants to extend an existing route (for example on Eglinton East), the city’s preference will be for surface construction to keep cost within its ability to fund projects.
Among the LRT projects, the Waterfront line is particularly important both as a new connection into the core from the east and the west, and because it supports new commercial and residential development in a very large area that has already started to build out into a transit desert by comparison with the rest of the core area.
The major issue remaining (other than actually funding and building the project) was the nature of the connection to Union Station. This has now been settled as I detailed in a recent article. The plan is to retain streetcars in the Bay Street tunnel, but with reconstruction and expansion of Union Loop to increase its capacity. This station handles heavy demands for day-to-day commuting, but even more riders attempt to use it during special events along the waterfront. The projected future demand is much higher than the loop handles, with great difficulty, today. Leaving it “as is” is not a viable option.
Currently, approximately 1,000 passengers use the existing streetcar service southbound between Union Station and Queens Quay in the AM Peak Hour and up to 1500 passengers use the system northbound in the AM Peak Hour. Additionally, thousands of walk trips are made along Bay Street and in the PATH network between Union Station and destinations in the Queens Quay and Bay Street area.
During special events at Exhibition Place or in the Central Waterfront, transit demand at the existing Union streetcar loop is even greater, exceeding weekday peak volumes. For example, during the Canadian National Exhibition, hourly volumes approach 2,000 on the 509 Harbourfront streetcar. Queues for streetcar service during these events routinely extend into the Union Station concourse level.
Future AM peak hour transit demand in the corridor is projected to be 4,000 to 8,000 passengers southbound by 2041, with significantly greater numbers of walking trips. Demand projections assume all Council-approved transit projects including the Relief Line South, and fare integration. [Attachment 3, p. 4]
To put this in context, the existing 504 King service peaks at about 3,000 per hour eastbound at Bathurst Street in the morning rush. A volume of 8,000 per hour is roughly the same level as the Bloor-Danforth streetcar service just before the subway opened in 1966. Whether development and demand ever reach this level remains to be seen, and there is considerable leeway in that estimate. Nonetheless, the waterfront service will be among the heaviest transit links in Toronto, and the Bay Street tunnel is critical in getting riders through the very congested area south of the traditional downtown core.
Options that are already decided for the waterfront line are:
- Segment 1 (see map above):
- The western terminus will be at a new loop near the proposed Park Lawn GO Station at the “Mr. Christie’s” site.
- Operation west of Park Lawn will remain a streetcar line with some selective upgrades along Lake Shore Boulevard.
- The Humber River crossing will remain where it is on The Queensway.
- Segment 2:
- The route will dodge south to Lake Shore at Colborne Lodge Drive using the eastern half (northbound) of the existing road underpass, and will run east to Dufferin through a reconfigured park and road layout.
- A new connection (already in the design stage, see below) will link the existing streetcar system from Dufferin Loop to Exhibition Loop.
- Segment 3:
- Queens Quay East will be redesigned in a manner similar to the area between Bay and Spadina. An interim terminal loop would be built at Small Street west of Parliament.
- Cherry Street will be realigned south of the rail corridor, and New Cherry will become the main north-south link into the Port Lands. A new span will be opened under the rail corridor for the streetcar/LRT tracks to continue on the east side of Cherry as they already do in the Distillery District.
- Queens Quay will be extended east across Parliament Slip to connect with the new Cherry Street.
- Segment 4:
- As part of the transit plan for the East Harbour development (former Lever site), Broadview will be extended south to Commissioners so that a streetcar service can operate south to East Harbour and thence westward to Union Station.
- Track on Commissioners will extend east to Leslie Street providing a second access route to Leslie Barns.
The revised stations at Union and Queens Quay present construction challenges and the link could be closed for up to five years. The City is considering a staging plan that could see an east-west link on Queens Quay open first so that the loss of streetcar service to the waterfront is for as short a time as possible.
Other factors that will affect the timing of various components include the Gardiner Expressway reconstruction and realignment from Jarvis to the Don River, SmartTrack, the Relief Line and other works at East Harbour.
At the Exhibition grounds, design work is underway for a link between the existing Exhibition Loop (just east of the GO station) and Dufferin Loop. As an interim step before construction of the LRT extension to Humber via Lake Shore, this would allow service from King Street West (and hence either The Queensway or Roncesvalles) to enter downtown via the waterfront rather than along King. It is not clear how much of a time saving this would actually provide considering the benefits of the King Street “Pilot” which is about to become permanent, especially during any period when the Bay Street tunnel is closed for reconstruction. Service on King from Dufferin to The Queensway would still be subject to congestion problems, notably at Jameson and especially at The Queensway.
Design work on the eastern leg of the waterfront line is already past the 30% mark. With the decision to retain streetcars in the Bay Street tunnel, that portion of the project could move ahead to 30% design and a Class 3 cost estimate for at least the first stage of the Queens Quay East project.
However, this project is not funded despite being among the City’s top transit priorities because of the growth already underway and planned for the eastern waterfront.
Toronto’s waterfront is a unique and defining characteristic of the City. The area sees millions of annual visitors at its many venues and natural amenities and is increasingly becoming a mixed-use environment with new residences, schools, parks and workplaces. In the coming years, thousands of new residents will call the waterfront home, and many more will travel to and from the area on a daily basis to work and play. Population in the larger waterfront between Long Branch and the Port Lands is projected to increase by approximately 280,000 (83%) between 2011 and 2041, and employment growth for the same period is anticipated to increase by approximately 190,000 new jobs (38%). The East Bayfront in particular is anticipated to accommodate 6,000 residential units and 8,000 jobs, with millions of square feet of employment space. The completion of the waterfront transit network, and the improvements to the Union Station-Queens Quay Link in particular, is critical to support existing residents, businesses, tourism, and future growth. [Attachment 3, pp 3-4]
Eglinton West LRT
The western extension of the Eglinton/Crosstown LRT re-emerged from the wreckage of John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal for this part of the city. In SmartTrack, a line would have branched off of the GO Weston corridor at Mount Dennis and headed west along lands north of Eglinton Avenue that had been reserved for the Richview Expressway. This scheme failed on several counts including the fact that some of the corridor had been sold by the city for development and there were houses where Tory (or more accurately Tory’s ill-informed consultants) would have put trains. Another problem was the near impossibility of making both the turn and the grade change from the rail corridor to Eglinton without doing severe damage to existing residential neighbourhoods enroute. The fallback position was to embrace the original LRT scheme, although it is still referred to in some documents as if it is somehow a part of SmartTrack.
Although the City did sell off some of the expressway land, they reserved enough to allow for widening Eglinton Avenue to the north to make room for an LRT right-of-way in the centre of the road.
The biggest controversy over the proposed LRT line is its effect at intersections, specifically for turning moves. The line passes through central Etobicoke, definitely Ford country, and a strong contingent wishes to see it buried in part or whole.
The City did nobody any favours with the original intersection designs that require a “Michigan left” for turns off of Eglinton. This would require vehicles to make a right turn onto a cross street, then a U turn to wind up facing the desired direction. The geometric requirements of this for large trucks, not to mention the additional lane weaves needed, killed the credibility of the scheme and needlessly undermined the surface LRT proposal. The designs have reverted to standard left turns across the LRT right-of-way, but the damage was already done.
Doug Ford is now Premier, but this extension is not at the top of his priority list. Comments from the team advising the government claimed that the City of Toronto had not given an underground option serious consideration when in fact various grade-separated schemes were reviewed (see below). If this is a case of an “advisor” parroting a standard political mantra without checking the facts, that is troubling for the success of good-faith negotiations with the city. The advisor has retracted his original comment, but has created a credibility problem that must be overcome in future talks.
There are two segments to the proposed extension:
- The Toronto Segment runs west from Mount Dennis to Renforth Gateway. This was the subject of recent reviews. In most cases, the line crosses above the Humber River on a bridge, but the all-underground scheme goes under the river.
- The Airport Segment runs north from Renforth Gateway to Pearson Airport, presumably to a transportation hub proposed by the airport authority. The design shown for this segment is a preliminary version by Metrolinx, and much of it is grade separated.
No funding is in place for either segment, and of course the cost will depend on the degree of grade-separation chosen. Toronto will not contribute to the line’s cost outside of the city, and it is unclear how the Airport Segment will be funded.
There are four concepts for the Toronto Segment as described in Attachment 5 [p. 5].
Option 1: 10-stop surface-running concept as recommended to City Council in both July 2016 based on the findings of the Initial Business Case (“IBC”) jointly prepared by the City and Metrolinx, and in December 2017 based on a further review of targeted grade separations to alleviate perceived traffic impacts.
In this scheme, the Toronto Segment is on the surface from the Humber River westward.
Option 2: 10-stop underground concept, developed in response to both the need to provide transit connectivity to the community, and a strong community desire to construct the EWLRT underground.
In this version, almost all of the Toronto segment is underground including at the Humber River, except for the approach to Renforth Station. The stations are the same as for the surface option.
Option 3: 3-stop elevated and underground concept, previously considered in the July 2016 Initial Business Case jointly authored by the City and Metrolinx, with parallel bus route.
In this version, the line is effectively an express route across Etobicoke stopping only at Jane, Kipling and Renforth Gateway. The portion from the river to west of Scarlett Road would be elevated, and the line would then dip into a tunnel to just east of Renforth Gateway. This is an option designed around regional travel and it assumes most who would link to the Eglinton corridor would do so as a bus-to-bus transfer. Another obvious effect is that with few stations, there is little opportunity or pressure for Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
Option 4: 7-stop elevated and underground concept, developed by the Community Working Group, with parallel bus route.
This is a variation on Option 3 with stations added at Martin Grove, Islington, Royal York and Scarlett Road.
Options 2 through 4 are underground with varying numbers of stations, and cost estimates for them reflect this. The cheapest of all is Option 1 which is almost all at grade.
All of the underground options assume tunneled construction as on the main Crosstown route. This could contribute to the cost estimates for the underground options, especially at stations depending on the assumed tunnel design (twin bore with large box stations versus single bore with stations stacked inside of the tunnel).
The estimate shown here for Option 1 has been updated with a Class 4 value of $1.8 billion [Table 2, p. 15]. There is no comparable class 4 estimate for the underground options.
The Toronto Segment is not ready to progress beyond this preliminary level because Metrolinx is considering the regional effect of a surface or grade-separated extension and its stations as an access to Pearson Airport. No information on Metrolinx’ analysis or preference is available.
Planning and conceptual design for the Airport Segment from Renforth Station to the proposed Regional Transportation Passenger Centre (“RTPC”) at Pearson International Airport is being led by Metrolinx with support from City and TTC staff. The Airport Segment concept has not significantly developed from the alignment contemplated in the project’s 2010 Environmental Project Report because the RTPC concept, being advanced by the GTAA, has not advanced to a point where the terminus of the Airport Segment can be identified with any certainty. As a result, the Airport Segment of the overall EWLRT extension is further behind the Toronto Segment in the project lifecycle.
Notwithstanding the City’s identification of a preferred EWLRT concept and development of Class 4 cost estimate for the at-grade LRT option with 10 stops, the next phase of work can only reasonably continue once Metrolinx has completed their analysis. Because Metrolinx is the asset owner of the Crosstown LRT and future LRT extensions, concurrence on the preferred option for the project is required to continue to advance per the agreed to Stage Gate Process between the parties. [p. 4]
The conclusion of this analysis is that the surface-running LRT would achieve the City’s objectives and would offer a good choice for travelling between Mt. Dennis and the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre, and around the community. All other options have much higher capital costs, which would limit the City’s ability to invest in other important transit and infrastructure projects. The conclusion of the additional analysis undertaken, is that the surface-running LRT option continues to be the preferred option in meeting the City’s project objectives. [p. 5]
Ridership projections vary for the four options. The table below applies to the Toronto Segment, and the travel times are end-to-end from Renforth Gateway to Mount Dennis.
Option Stations Grade Travel Peak Separated Time Demand 1 10 No 25' 2,700 2 10 Yes 19' 3,500 3 3 Yes 12' 3,800 4 7 Yes 16' 4,100
After a review, options 2 and 3 were rejected.
Compared to Option, 1, Option 2 would have a longer construction period with resultant impacts to traffic and adjacent communities, risks associated with construction under the Humber River and ongoing risk of flooding to the tunnel. This option is also has much higher capital, lifecycle and annual operating costs than Option 1.
Option 2 would also have more property impacts than Option 1 to facilitate tunnel boring machine (“TBM”) launch and extraction sites, as well as station construction sites and entrances.
Option 2 is not recommended because its high costs would limit the City’s ability to invest in other important transit and infrastructure projects. [p. 11]
Option 3 would have more property impacts than Option 1 but fewer than Option 2, to facilitate TBM launch and extraction sites, as well as station construction sites and entrances.
Similar to the findings of the 2016 IBC, Option 3 is not recommended because it does not meet the City and TTC’s objectives for connectivity, and would do little to improve transit in the area where it is built. [p. 12]
This leaves Options 1 and 4 on the table, and the city prefers Option 1.
Option 4 would have more property impacts than Option 1 (but fewer than Option 2) to facilitate TBM launch and extraction sites, as well as station construction sites and entrances.
Compared with Option 2, Option 4’s elevated segment across the Eglinton Flats eliminates the risk of construction under the Humber River and ongoing risk of tunnel flooding through the floodplain. The elevated segment and removal of three stations also results in Option 4 having a lower capital cost estimate than Option 2, while lifecycle capital costs and annual operating costs are similar. [p. 12]
There was strong public support for the various underground options during public consultations, and this will be difficult to overcome especially by comparison to Scarborough where the subway option for the Line 2 extension won out over an LRT network.
Most of the participants adamantly supported Option 4 or Option 2, mainly due to the perception that an underground LRT would have fewer impacts on traffic and vehicular travel times than a surface-running LRT. Those supportive of these options were of the view that a fully underground LRT would provide the most relief to current and future traffic congestion on Eglinton, provide the least number of impacts on the local community during operation, and require less maintenance and fewer delays due to inclement weather. Many participants did not consider project cost to be a significant issue and felt that the additional cost to construct either of these options would be worth the long-term benefit. [p. 13]
The review of Options 1 and 4 [see p. 14] attempts to thread a path between the two views, but at the end comes down to perceived value versus impacts.
Option 4 offers a good, pragmatic balance between connectivity and speed of the LRT with economic benefits that exceed those of Option 1. Nonetheless, it does not meet all of the City and TTC’s policy objectives for transit connectivity and would require the TTC to maintain the operation of the Eglinton West bus service.
The improvement in travel time between Option 1 and Option 4 is partly due to the reduction of stops, and partly due to the fully-exclusive nature of the transit right-of-way. With further refinements to traffic operations and transit signal priority, travel time for Option 1 can be improved to approach that of Option 4. [p. 14]
The study argues that the addition of a surface LRT line would not in itself worsen congestion that arises from a poor existing design and the pressure of future traffic growth.
The Eglinton Avenue West corridor is unique in Toronto because it was originally planned to accommodate the Richview Expressway, which was cancelled in 1971. The right-of-way is over 100 metres wide in places, and is characterized by very wide boulevards between the street and private properties.
The Highway 401-Highway 427-Highway 27-Eglinton Avenue interchange at the western end of the EWLRT corridor was also originally designed to direct traffic to the planned Richview Expressway. Because the Expressway was never built, seven lanes of traffic exit the highway interchange and are required to stop at an urban stoplight at Eglinton Avenue and Martin Grove Road. As a result, the Eglinton-Martin Grove intersection is one of the city’s most congested intersections. Operational issues spill over to intersections along the Eglinton corridor including Kipling Avenue and Islington Avenue.
Extensive simulation modelling suggests that the traffic network in the area around the potential EWLRT corridor is saturated during peak hours today, and estimates that travel time in the Eglinton West corridor between Renforth Station and Mt. Dennis Station will approximately double by 2041.
The surface-running LRT would not remove any through- or turning-lanes of traffic, but would only change signal timing along the corridor. In other words, a surface EWLRT is not the cause of congestion, nor would building an underground LRT mitigate this congestion. [p. 16]
Although the city prefers Option 1, I would not be surprised to see Option 4 win out if the province comes to the table with substantial funding. In either case, the City and Ministry of Transportation must address the road configuration and capacity, and any LRT construction will have to thread through the revised design and construction.
Eglinton East LRT
The Eglinton East LRT is the victim of the financial shell game played at Council with money for the Scarborough subway. Although the LRT was supposedly funded at least to University of Toronto Scarborough campus, that money would be needed to build the subway extension. The Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro has covered that bait-and-switch scam in detail.
There was a time in 2018 when the idea that federal money through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) would be available for this line. But, no, the PTIF money is now earmarked for the subway extension, the Relief Line, Bloor-Yonge Station expansion and SmartTrack.
Planning continues regardless, although at some point all governments will have do decide whether we are just wasting our time on this and other unfunded transit projects.
Transit debates about LRT vs buses often go down the path of saying “let’s just run buses”, but this can be challenging.
The EELRT would provide approximately the same transit travel time between points along the corridor as the future Business as Usual (“BAU”) scenario where the existing bus services are maintained and grown to meet demand. In all cases, the frequency of the LRT service is less than bus frequency in the BAU scenario, but the LRT would improve transit reliability, crowding, amenity, and would provide higher capacity.
There is a strong need for a higher-order transit service to be provided along the Eglinton East corridor. Future travel demand modelling estimates that approximately 4,800 peak period, peak direction (PPPD) riders would ride buses in the Eglinton East corridor in a future scenario where there is no higher-order transit investment. While it is technically possible to provide enough buses to carry this many riders in the future, accommodating them would require large expansions to the Kennedy Station bus terminal and storage facilities. Operations of this terminal and the buses along Eglinton Avenue East would be a challenge, and reliability and comfort would be low.[Attachment 4, p. 3]
For reference, the peak service on King Street today provides for about 3,000 riders/hour maximum. Eglinton East would need 50% more.
The full line would run from the underground Crosstown station at Kennedy surfacing west of Midland Avenue, then east via Eglinton and Kingston Road. A short tunnel section would take the line under Lawrence East and a short way up Morningside. From there, the route continues north with a jog through the UTSC campus to Sheppard, then west and North via Neilson to Malvern Centre.
From a staging point of view, the section north of UTSC is considered to be “Phase 2”.
Because the extended Crosstown would be close to the proposed Scarborough Subway extension, work on the subway will include provision of piles to provide stability for future work without disturbing the subway tunnel.
Three concepts for the route were considered:
- From Kennedy Station to the proposed underground station at Kingston Road, Morningside and Lawrence East.
- From Kennedy Station to UTSC.
- From Kennedy Station to Malvern Centre
The challenge for these options is that vehicles must be stored and serviced somewhere.
If the line ends at Kingston Road (option 1), then additional storage will be needed at Mount Dennis, but the available expansion space there is intended for the Eglinton West extension’s cars.
If the line ends at Malvern Centre (option 3), there remains the question of the Sheppard East LRT’s status together with the proposed carhouse at Conlins Road (below). Option 3 also requires co-ordination with plans by the Ministry of Transportation for reconstruction of the Morningside-401 interchange.
As an alternative, a maintenance facility could be built south of Highway 401 only a short distance north of UTSC. This could be part of option 2, and the facility would replace the one originally proposed at Conlins Road, including for the Sheppard East LRT if it is ever built.
The cost estimate for various options is shown below. Note that the options add on each other so that the marginal cost of going to Malvern with option 3 is $0.4 billion compared with stopping at UTSC under option 2 which is the recommended one.
The cost of the maintenance facility, wherever it might be built, is not included below.
Option 2 is the recommended one. The extension beyond Highway 401 to Malvern would be treated as a second phase depending on both construction plans for the highway and the future of the Sheppard LRT proposal.
Eglinton Crosstown LRT
The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is under construction by Metrolinx who will own the line. The tunnel between Black Creek and Brentcliffe was physically complete in mid-2016, although much additional work is needed to add the tunnel floor, track and the many systems that comprise an underground railway. This work is ongoing. Construction of the eastern surface section is underway and at various stages between Brentcliffe Portal (between Laird and Sunnybrook Park stations) and Kennedy. Underground segments at Don Mills (Science Centre Station) and at Kennedy are cut-and-cover projects. A small amount of track has appeared on the line east of Victoria Park, but Eglinton Avenue itself is a mess of overlapping construction work for utility relocations, road widening and creation of the LRT right-of-way.
For detailed information on work along the corridor, see the Crosstown Construction Updates page.
At Mount Dennis, the maintenance building was substantially complete in fall 2018, and Metrolinx hopes to have track installed east to Keele (Keelesdale Station) for vehicle testing later in 2019. Vehicle deliveries from Bombardier are badly behind schedule.
Under the City/Metrolinx agreement:
- The TTC will operate the LRTs located in the City of Toronto on behalf of Metrolinx;
- The City and the TTC will establish service levels and set fares;
- The City and TTC will be responsible for operating and regular maintenance costs of the LRTs, as well as retain farebox revenue and non-fare box revenue; and
- Metrolinx will continue to retain asset ownership and control of LRTs in the City of Toronto, and will be responsible for lifecycle maintenance costs. [Attachment 1, p. 8]
The consortium of SNC-Lavalin, EllisDon, AECON, and ACS Infrastructure Canada was contracted by Metrolinx to build the Crosstown, and it is known as Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS).
CTS has been awarded a contract by Metrolinx to:
- Design, construct and finance an integrated transit system consisting of 25 stations/stops, track work, signaling, communications and other required infrastructure; and
- Maintain the LRT system for 30 years, including lifecycle repair and renewal of building and system components. [ibid]
There is a lot of gray area in this split of responsibility especially as it relates to maintenance and where the distinction between “regular” and “lifecycle” might lie. The TTC and Metrolinx are working to finalize an operating agreement before revenue service begins in September 2021.
Finch West LRT
The Finch West LRT project is much earlier in its construction cycle than the Crosstown and is still at the stage of soils testing and utility relocations along the route. Preliminary work on the maintenance facility begins this month (April 2019) and at some other locations.
This route includes two short underground portions: one is at Finch West Station where the line drops below grade to connect with the existing station on Line 1 at Keele Street; the other is at Humber College.
This line will operate with Alstom vehicles, a first for Toronto, thanks to Bombardier’s repeated failure to meet delivery targets for the Crosstown project.
Substantial completion is planned in 2023.
For detailed updates, visit the project website.
The Omnibus report is completely silent on the Sheppard East project, and its status could charitably be described as “on life support” thanks to constant political pressure for a subway linking Don Mills Station to the extended Line 2 at Scarborough Town Centre.
Recent correspondence from the team negotiating the “subway upload” to the province does not mention Sheppard, although it is clear that restoring the 3-stop Scarborough extension option will take Line 2 to up to Sheppard. This link was part of Mayor Rob Ford’s original subways-subways-subways plan, and it is sure to reappear if only as part of a wish list by subway backers.
The future of any Sheppard East service, be it subway or LRT, is unlikely to be resolved in the current terms of Toronto Council or the Ford government at Queen’s Park.