Updated February 16, 2021 at 10:00 pm: The discussion of the new design for Union Station has been updated with additional info from the Waterfront Transit Team describing the smoke control design of the station as well as a clarifying of the change in elevation of the tracks. Thanks to them for these details.
Updated February 18, 2021 at 6:00 pm: Additional and revised drawings from the public presentation on February 17 have been added to this article.
Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto and the TTC will hold an online public meeting on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm with updates on design work for the eastern leg of the Waterfront LRT to Cherry Street and associated changes to Queens Quay East.
The presentation deck for this meeting is online, and there are introductory videos by Nigel Tahair, the program manager in City Planning, available from the project’s website. All drawings in this article are taken from that presentation, or from the condensed version used at the public meeting.
[Full disclosure: I have participated in Advisory Committee meetings for this project, but have not published info from these discussions as they were works in progress.]
This project has been in the works for a very long time. When the Cherry Street service began in June 2016 (itself the subject of a long design process for the West Don Lands), the intent was always to continue south and link up with a line on Queens Quay East. Design work for that branch of the LRT is finally underway. Along the way it has been diverted by issues such as appropriate method of linking Union Station to the waterfront, development options in the Cherry/Queens Quay neighbourhood and the role of the proposed Ontario Line.
The current work arises from a motion at Executive Committee on December 10, 2020:
City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to report back on the recommended schedule and funding requirements for the Union Station to Queens Quay Link and the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit section of the Waterfront Transit Network, including phasing options and an updated business case, as part of an update on Waterfront Transit Network priorities prior to the 2022 Budget process.”
The study covers three segments of the line:
- Area 1: The existing Bay Street tunnel and the future junction at Bay & Queens Quay.
- Area 2A: The original scope of the surface section extending to just east of Parliament Street.
- Area 2B: The extended surface section from east of Parliament and north to Distillery Loop on Cherry Street.
Note that in the map below, the alignment of Cherry Street is the “new” street that will be built as part of new Port Lands across what will become Villiers Island. The new street jogs west south of the Gardiner Expressway rather than east.
Because expertise in underground construction lies with the TTC, they are designing Area 1. Waterfront Toronto is responsible for Area 2.
The study is also looking at staging options that could extend the scope south and east into the Port Lands.
Area 1: Union to Queens Quay
The existing Bay Street tunnel runs from a loop at Union south to Queens Quay and then turns west to a portal to street level. The line dates from 1990 and suffers from design decisions that constrained growth in demand including a small connecting passage and platform area at Union, and small exits at Queens Quay with no direct connection to adjacent buildings.
Variations on the new design have existed for many years, although initially these focussed on expanded capacity at Union. More recently, the need to expand Queens Quay Station became evident. The diagram below shows the expanded stations and the new East Portal to Queens Quay.
Many of the buildings here did not exist in 1990 when parking lots covered much of this area. The building on the northeast corner of Bay and Lake Shore is quite recent, and it includes the new GO Bus Terminal that replaced the one south of the Customs House building on Front east of Bay.
Growth will continue as shown below. These buildings do not all contribute to demand on the LRT line because they are in walking distance of Union. A major problem, however, will remain at Queens Quay with less-than-ideal connections from the station to existing and future buildings compounded by the seasonal volumes of traffic bound for the ferry docks.
The existing loop at Union has always been too small both because of physical constraints and because designers did not take into account the dynamics of passenger demand under various conditions.
- The diameter of the loop is constrained by adjacent buildings. An early proposal for Union Station from advocates for the line would have used surface running via Bay, Front and York Streets with a station directly above the mezzanine of the subway station. This was opposed by City road planners who still dreamed of the Front Street connection to the Gardiner Expressway and saw Front as an express route across downtown. Expressway plans are very hard to kill.
- The available space on the platform for waiting passengers was limited by swingout of the CLRV streetcars, a factor that was not included in calculations of platform capacity. This has improved with the use of Flexitys that do not protrude into platform as much as the CLRVs.
- There is strong bidirectional demand to and from the waterfront to housing and to recreational destinations. This was not taken into account in considering the capacity of the passage linking to the subway which is further limited by its doubling as queuing space for the platform.
The proposed new station platforms would extend the entire length of the rail viaduct on both the northbound and southbound side of the tracks with unloading northbound and loading southbound. Each direction would be double-tracked with crossovers allowing cars on the Queens Quay west and east services to arrive, unload, load and depart independently of each other. A constraint remains at the loop, but this is no longer used for loading passengers, only for circulation.
In the diagram, note that the inner tracks, closest to the support columns, are the existing tracks, and the outer tracks and platforms would lie behind what is now the tunnel wall.
New links would be added into the as-yet unopened Bay Concourse of the railway station and emergency exits have been added to meet present-day fire code.
Also shown here is a junction with a Bremner streetcar line that would operate through the basement of the Scotiabank Arena and turn south on Simcoe to Bremner. This has been on maps for decades, but is unlikely to ever be built. Nonetheless it survives because it has never officially removed from official plans. (Note that there are physical conflicts between some of the tracks shown and the columns holding up the rail viaduct.)
A complication not addressed in this drawing is whether the new platforms will be in the “paid” or “unpaid” area. If “paid”, then any entrance must include fare barriers. Important, but missing from these design proposals, are the details of the entrances and how they relate to adjacent buildings.
Also not shown here are fire code related changes to track elevation to improve air circulation in the station. It is not clear whether this requirement has been dropped or if there is a design workaround. See update below for additional information about smoke control and other design features.
The text below has been replaced with information received after the article was published.
The new station would have much wider platforms and space for circulation as well as for waiting passengers. The drawings below contain some oddities, and I have asked the project team for clarification:
There is a glass wall limiting access to the loading area on the west platform. This is not a place where one would want a pinch point. Moreover, the wall is not shown in the upper left illustration of the platform. There is a similar wall on the east platform, but it lies between the two sets of tracks (including across the crossover). Earlier versions of this station design included grade changes required to lower the tracks and improve air circulation space to meet modern fire code. This is not shown on these diagrams.
Update from the Waterfront Transit Team:
The aerial rendering on page 52 is misleading. There are no “glass walls” proposed. These are glass smoke control screens proposed to be hung from the ceiling above edge of each platforms to act as smoke canopies to create a smoke “reservoir” above track level to contain smoke during emergencies in the event of smoke/fire from track level.
To resolve the complex problems of both fire and smoke separation from the many adjoining buildings as well as passenger safety and convenience, one single, large vestibule is proposed that extends from the North end of the East platform to the North end of the West platform. This vestibule is created through fire-rated glazed partitions around the perimeter of the track tunnel loop, with door thresholds provided at all access points. The doors will be on hold open and tied to the fire alarm system. This allows for continuity of the passenger circulation around the length of the loop rather than interrupted or constricted movement from small vestibules on the pathways that will inhibit passenger flow and result in bottle necks at each building entrance and exit locations.
The proposed track profiles and tunnel infrastructure at Union Station has been lowered by approximately 1.4m compared to the existing track elevations to accommodate structural, utility and civil requirements as well as alignment with the adjacent 141 Bay St underground structures. All proposed gradient through-out the platforms and passenger circulation route will meet AODA requirements for accessibility. Where possible, gradient along the pathways will be minimized (i.e. by lengthening the sloped floors to further reduce the slope) and improve access for customers.Email from Waterfront Transit Team, February 16, 2021
Queens Quay Station is small with room for only one car on the platform at a time. This would be a particular problem for inbound service that would back up into the new junction south of the station.
The capacity of links to the street is limited consisting of stair and (sometimes working) elevator on the west side, and a stair on the east side. This station is not a paid area.
The expanded Queens Quay Station will be able to hold two cars in each direction. A major change here is the addition of a tunnel crossing to the south side of Queens Quay for access to the Ferry Docks. Access to the tunnel is via stairs and elevators from each platform.
Due to the constrained space, there are no escalators. It is conceivable that these would be available from the east platform within 11 Bay Street, but nothing is shown for the west side into 10 or 20 Bay (which share a common lobby) other than a new emergency exit. At the very least, any design work should address how an improve connection including escalators might be added at least to ensure that this is not precluded in a first phase of construction.
The existing pedestrian crossing at the south end of the station will be removed. It is needed today because the only accessible access to the station is via the elevator on the west side.
In a previous iteration of planning, the new eastern portal would have been between Yonge and Freeland Streets, one block further east. This arrangement was required because the entrance roadway to the Harbour Castle Hotel on the south side of Queens Quay would be blocked by a portal west of Yonge.
However, placing the portal east of Yonge requires that a major sewer crossing Queens Quay be relocated (or alternatively that the tunnel dodge under it) and this would add substantially to the cost.
A revised scheme puts the portal west of Yonge in front of the hotel, but reorients its entrance to the east side of the building on existing parking and a partial filling of the Yonge Street slip. This design has been refined to improve circulation space for vehicles and shift the greenery to the pedestrian areas.
Here is the front of the hotel as it appears today.
The view below looks southwest across Yonge and Queens Quay. Note that the layout of the hotel entrance area is based on the original design (left, above), not the revised one.
Update: Here is the same area in a view shown during the February 17 online consultation. Note that this includes some of the marine uses like water taxis that were missing in the drawing above.
Here is the view today showing the Yonge Street slip.
Important issues during the development of this plan were the transit service required during construction, and the extent of the buildout of the proposed eastern waterfront network that would be undertaken in this round of construction.
The Bay Street tunnel will be closed for a few years due to the scale of changes at Union and Queens Quay stations. During this period, alternative service to the waterfront must be maintained. This is a very different situation from the era when the original line was built and the transit connection consisted only of the 6 Bay and 77 Spadina bus routes.
In an early version of this plan, the first phase of the Waterfront East line would have ended at a temporary loop at Small Street, just west of Parliament on the triangle of land formerly used as the Sidewalk Labs office. While simpler and cheaper, this limits other options:
- The streetcar line would be a stub serving only the area west of Parliament and it would provide no connection to the developing area to the east nor to the Distillery District.
- The planned reconfiguration of Queens Quay east of Parliament might be delayed because it was not part of “phase one”.
- There could be a sense that transit to the eastern waterfront was not a priority, even though this was intended to be a “transit first” neighbourhood.
Note that the map below shows the waterfront as it will exist after completion of the new Don River alignment and the creation of Villiers Island between the Keating Channel (the current outflow of the Don into Lake Ontario) and the new river.
Three additional segments of the waterfront network are included in the phasing study:
- Extending east from Parliament on a realigned Queens Quay to New Cherry Street and then north to Distillery Loop. This would bring service to planned developments and would allow through service between Queens Quay, Cherry and King Street.
- Extending south via New Cherry Street to a planned loop at Polson Street. The recently installed bridge at New Cherry over the Keating Channel (south of Lake Shore) is actually the transit bridge to Villiers Island. (The streetcar line will not cross the Ship Channel south of Polson Street.)
- Extending east from New Cherry via Commissioners Street and then north via the planned Broadview extension to East Harbour and beyond to Queen Street.
Realistically, I do not expect to see the extension across the Keating Channel for many years, and buses will continue to serve this area.
The Ontario Line comes up from time to time in discussions about waterfront transit. It is important to remember that the nearest station west of the Don will be Corktown Station near King and Parliament. That is not exactly handy to the neighbourhood, and East Harbour is even further afield.
An important part of the phasing will be to complete as much construction as possible before actually closing the Bay Street tunnel. This will allow any alternative service to operate on streets that are not themselves torn apart for the new line. In the first optional configuration:
- The 510 Spadina car is rerouted west to Exhibition Loop replacing the 509 Harbourfront car during most periods.
- A 509 Harbourfront tripper is routed north on Spadina and east on King to Church during peak periods and for special events (e.g. CNE service). This is a variation on the former 521 King Exhibition sevice.
- Three bus routes would link the waterfront to Union Station:
- The 6 Bay bus is routed via Front and Yonge to Queens Quay.
- A 509 bus would operate from Queens Quay Loop (at Spadina) to Union Station via Yonge Street.
- A 519 bus would operate from the eastern waterfront over the (by then) completed streetcar right-of-way to Yonge Street.
A second option would see through streetcar service on Queens Quay. This requires that the new portal and connection east from Bay Street be completed as soon as possible after the Bay Street tunnel closes. Indeed work could begin at the Yonge Street portal and work west breaking into the existing structure when service in the tunnel is suspended. This would also require the reorientation of the hotel entrance to occur early in the process so that the portal could be built.
Rather than thinking of these as options, it would be better to consider them as stages. There will be an inevitable period when through service will not be possible, but this could be minimized by staging each portion of the project.
Cherry Street will be realigned south of Lake Shore. Here is the view looking south from Cherry today. This is an inhospitable intersection, even for motorists. Coming south on Cherry, one must cross under the Gardiner, join with Lake Shore eastbound, and then turn south on the existing Cherry Street to enter the Port Lands.
The New Cherry Street will cross Lake Shore and then veer slightly west (to the right) to meet the extended Queens Quay.
Cherry Street passes under the rail corridor immediately south of Distillery Loop. The existing, but inactive, Cherry Street signal tower will be moved to a location further east by Metrolinx for preservation. The design for an expanded (or twinned) underpass for streetcars has not yet been finalized. The streetcar lanes will be on the east side of New Cherry continuing the design north of Distillery Loop, and this will continue onto Villiers Island. The recently installed bridge is actually the transit bridge for New Cherry Street, and it will get a wider twin later in 2021 for the roadway.
Queens Quay East
The alignment of Queens Quay will change at Parliament Street. Today Queens Quay swings north to Lake Shore and connects to the south end of Parliament.
In the new design, the Parliament Slip will be partly filled, Queens Quay would be extended eastward running just north of the silos on the east side of the slip. Parliament would extend south eliminating the dog leg at Lake Shore. The eventual eastern end of Queens Quay would be at Munition Street, but the streetcar lanes would extend only to New Cherry (see the Network Phasing map above).
Here is the view looking south from Lake Shore east of Parliament showing the silos and the Parliament Slip.
In the original 2012 study of Queens Quay, the design was based on the western section of the street that is already reconfigued. The revised design implements a more distinct zone between the pedestrian and cycling areas and the road/transit portion of the street.
The Martin Goodman cycling trail has been widened, and its profile slightly changed to include a small grade change at its edge. The intent is to give more room for bicycles and better mark the boundary between the cycling and pedestrian areas.
At intersections, the original design was something of a free-for-all, a “mixing zone” where somehow each user of the street would figure out where they should be. There are still going to be overlaps which are hard to avoid, but with a better delineation of “who goes where”.
The design will use pavement treatments, trees and pole lines to give visual cues about each zone’s boundaries.
Funding and Construction
There is no funding in place yet for this project, although property owners in the eastern waterfront are becoming impatient waiting for the transit service they were promised as an enticement to build. Waterfront Toronto itself was distracted by Google and the Sidewalk Labs scheme, and design work on the Bay Street tunnel was needlessly delayed by consideration of impractical alternatives.
Will we actually see the line built within the next decade? Much depends on continue support from Mayor Tory who must wrest focus away from suburban subway plans enough to get approvals and funding for the line. The eastern waterfront can be transformed, but there has been far too much foot-dragging on what is a comparatively simple project.