In an unusual move for a public agency, Metrolinx published a blog post seeking to set the record straight on various issues about the combined Ontario/GO line corridor through the Riverside/Leslieville area.
The article begins from the premise that there is misinformation about the project:
There’s a lot of anticipation about how the Ontario Line will make it faster and easier to move around the city, but there’s also a lot of speculation and inaccurate information floating around – particularly when it comes to the vibrant communities of Riverside and Leslieville. All of this conflicting information can be confusing, so let’s take some time to sort the myths from the facts.
Sorting myths from facts can be challenging with Metrolinx because they are notoriously reluctant to share information. When they do hold public sessions, it is common to find staff do not fully understand their own project, or worse refuse to talk about contentious parts of it. They seek cheerleading, not consultation.
Metrolinx quite openly implies that community groups are putting out false information:
If you hear something about the Ontario Line that doesn’t sound right, you can find a source of truth about the project at Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine.
“I want people to know they can come to us at any time to get the facts about the project and what it means for them,” says Malcolm MacKay, Program Sponsor for the Ontario Line.
“There is definitely some speculation and inaccurate information going around, and we want people to base their opinions and feedback on the most up-to-date plans.”
What does Metrolinx claim in their article, and how does this stack up with the real world?
Myth: Running the Ontario Line above ground means widening the rail corridor and extending far into parks and other important neighbourhood spaces.
Metrolinx trots out something that is old news. Early in the process, after the general layout of the corridor was known but without specific plans (something Metrolinx has still not provided), there was an attempt to map Metrolinx and Federal railway standards onto the corridor. If these were followed, the corridor might have to be much wider than it is today.
Metrolinx subsequently clarified that they will not require these clearances, although they have yet to address requirements with respect to adjacent structures like the Jimmie Simpson Centre where the GO rails will be moved much closer to the building than they are now.
There will be a clearance zone around electrified rail territory as shown in the diagram below.
The federal standards are shown below. Note that there is an 18-foot (5.486m) separation required between the track centre line and any adjacent structure. This is considerably smaller than the spacing shown in the diagram above. The Metrolinx diagrams are silent on spacing to fixed structures such as buildings, as opposed to vegetation which can grow into the rail corridor.
There is a proposed 30 metre setback between new railways and residential areas in Canada, but it has not been implemented in part because it is seen as too onerous. Moreover, new railways are comparatively rare.
Myth: The Ontario Line will destroy neighbourhood parks.
Metrolinx claims that this is not true, and that they will keep most of their work within their existing property, except at new stations at Queen and Gerrard.
The diagram below purports to show the situation where the corridor runs between Bruce Mackey and Jimmie Simpson Parks north of Queen Street, and specifically north of the Jimmie Simpson Centre (about which more below).
This diagram misrepresents the actual dimensions of existing parkland on the west side of the corridor by implying that a considerable green space would remain outside of the Metrolinx property line. To understand the issue, we have to look at just where that property line is.
Here is a map showing the rail corridor in Riverside (from Eastern to Gerrard). The red line show the Metrolinx property line. (Click to open an expanded version.)
Here is the segment between Queen and Dundas magnified. A few things to note about this image:
- The Jimmie Simpson Centre (lower left of the image) is right at the Metrolinx property line.
- There is a considerable treed area in the portions of Metrolinx property that are not used by the rail line itself.
- The westernmost track is separated from the other two as a remnant of the former Riverdale Station.
Another way to understand where the boundaries lie is shown in this photograph of construction of the rail corridor. The street on the left is DeGrassi, and this shows how far the railway corridor extended into what is now thought to be parkland.
Although this may be Metrolinx property, it “feels” like part of the adjacent parkland and contributes to its overall presence in the neighbourhood. If one compares the cross section shown by Metrolinx to the actual location of the property line, one can see that they have shown the best case where there is green space beyond their property on the west side, and no nearby structures on the east side.
Myth: Important community spaces like the hockey rink and basketball court at Jimmie Simpson Park will be wiped out to make room for the Ontario Line.
Metrolinx claims that the Jimmie Simpson Centre is “not going anywhere”. However, this claim runs aground on other Metrolinx plans and policies regarding “Mobility Hubs” and “Transit Oriented Development”.
Although we hear less about them today, there was a period when Metrolinx was obsessed with Mobility Hubs, designs, or major redesigns, of locations where transit lines met. They have a long study about standards for such hubs and a small brochure. This includes the following map.
The Ontario Growth Plan includes provision for zones of influence around stations where cities are required to intensify development, the so-called MTSAs (Major Transit Station Areas). These affect almost all stations no matter what the character of their location. The City of Toronto is currently working its way through studies of the many MTSAs within Toronto around existing and planned rapid transit corridors.
The mobility hub map above does not include a hub at the proposed Ontario Line station in Riverside because this map predates the OL plan. Moreover, the proposed station at Queen and DeGrassi is not shown as an MTSA by the City, and Metrolinx claims to have no designs on the area for development to support the line’s construction.
The station at Gerrard potentially will see considerable development because it has existing commercial property and parking. Note that its zone of influence extends almost to Queen Street. Here was how this was presented to the Metrolinx Board in 2019.
All of this may leave the Jimmie Simpson Centre unscathed, except that Metrolinx was rumoured to be considering that site as a potential mobility hub early in the Ontario Line’s design. It would not be much of a hub with little commercial development and only the connecting streetcar services on Queen Street. That plan appears to have been dropped, but Metrolinx has never acknowledged that it might have had designs on the site.
At Queen Street, just west of the Jimmie Simpson Centre, Metrolinx illustrates the layout as below. For clarity, of the four GO tracks, the two on the west side (left) of the corridor are existing tracks and the two on the east side are new. This shows how much closer the railway will be to the JSC than it is today.
The Ontario Line is shown to the west of the GO tracks including space for a platform. This is poorly illustrated because obviously riders must be able to get between the platform and the trains without an intervening gap. The overhead support poles for the OL should be on the outside, not the inside of the corridor. A further problem with this diagram is that it does not show how people would get between the platform and the street.
The drawing does not portray the west side of the site correctly at all. There is no “existing ground” with trees beyond the Metrolinx property line because this line is at the east sidewalk of DeGrassi Street. Where there is now open space and trees there will be a retaining wall and noise barrier. The drawing gives the impression that the corridor is swimming in space when it is, in fact, tightly constrained. (A similar problem exists south of Queen as well.)
Myth: Noise and vibration from passing trains and new noise walls along the rail corridor will ruin the quality of life in surrounding neighbourhoods.
Metrolinx claims that noise walls and quieter electrified train service will result in noise levels that will actually be lower in most areas in the community. They say that “Ontario Line trains will be quieter, electric-powered trains and many GO trains will also be electric-powered”. This is a correction from earlier public consultations where they claimed that all GO service would be electrified. (Only about half of the LSE service will be electric with the Bowmanville extension running with diesels.)
Please see my article A Very Busy GO Corridor for details.
There are three key issues here:
- Metrolinx has not published a study of the consolidated noise effects of all services in the corridor. The only published information addresses GO improvements separately from the Ontario Line.
- The studies do not deal with a “do nothing” possibility where rail service increases, but using diesels rather than electric trains.
- The studies do not distinguish between the current situation where there is a train now and then, and one where there will be a train of one type or another more often than once a minute.
There is a huge change in the daily count of trains proposed in this corridor, about nine times as many trains as today. To be fair, not all trains make the same amount of noise, but they will be a constant presence. Over half of these will be Ontario Line trains.
Myth: Ontario Line work will eliminate all tree cover in neighbouring green spaces
Metrolinx states that “some trees within the rail corridor will need to come down”, but they have not provided a map showing the extent of the planned cutting. Judging by the trees visible in the corridor map above, there will be a lot of trees, and it is not clear whether there is room in the remaining space outside of Metrolinx property to hold all of the replacement trees they will provide. Green somewhere, but not necessarily here.
If Metrolinx is going to claim that elimination of tree cover is a “myth”, then they should produce “before and after” comparisons showing which trees will be removed and where the replacements will go.
Trees are the sort of neighbourhood improvement that could fall victim to budget cuts just as artwork and new open space vanished elsewhere (the Davenport Diamond project). Metrolinx does not have a good track record at keeping its word to communities.
Open Season on Community Groups
It is clear that Metrolinx is smarting from criticism about their plans in Riverside/Leslieville and elsewhere in their network. Their past tactic of gaslighting critics and trying to sideline their positions now appears in print, not just in verbal exchanges during consultations.
They really should check their facts.
Many of Metrolinx problems are “own goals” where their lack of prior consultation, secrecy and arrogance leave affected parties distrustful if not downright hostile. This is a huge contrast to the way consultations were handled by the City of Toronto for the Relief Line.
With a new round of consultations about to begin, making your opening salvo an attack on the credibility of the people you plan to meet is incredibly insensitive. Metrolinx clearly has no intention of dealing in good faith. They would prefer to divide the community and isolate their critics.
Metrolinx owes the community an apology for this abusive approach.
But that’s the Metrolinx way.